The Necessity of Learning to Become Native Again
By Jesse Wolf Hardin
The topic of what it means to be “native” or “indigenous” is a highly contentious one, ruffling the feathers of landless, cultureless “white folk” far more than it bothers even most activist Native Americans. It is, however, an essential exploration for everyone on this planet, with a true and irrevocable connection to the living land being the best and only long term chance that our human kind has.
IN-DIG-E-NOUS: adj. 1) Occurring or living naturally in an area; native.
2) Intrinsic, innate.
“We see in the present best efforts of groups of non-Indians an honest desire to become indigenous in the sense of living properly with the land.” -Vine Deloria. Jr. (Sioux historian)
One does not take as good of care of a place when they imagine they are only visiting. In this age of constant migration, the best hope for the suffering environment may lie in people of every race and culture settling down and committing to a place that speaks to them, heeding the implorings of its spirit and tending to its needs. The survival of myriad other species, and the future of humanity as well, may hinge on the degree to which we are able to set aside our comfortable habits, preconceptions and assumptions – and rebecome conscious participants, discovering what it means to be native again.
Now more than ever we need to look to not only the remaining land-based tribal peoples, but to the qualities and possibilities our primal minds. Indigenous modes of perception become all the more essential as our modern society reels out of balance both ecologically and spiritually. The land-informed stories of indigenous populations can help us recover our lost awareness of self and place. The knowledge of how to live in balance, in a sustainable way, already exists– in the ways of the ancient ones of every continent. The information is all too often lost along with the unraveling of tribal customs, with time tested skills and informed insights vanishing as fast as the lands appropriated for development. As our existence and enterprises become increasingly commercial and controlled, our pleasures ever more vicarious, our sense of both culture and place perverted or absent, as both our schedules and our thoughts race ever faster, we can still turn to they who have lived here, and loved here the longest. Turn to the Indian elders, the placed peasants, the Hispanic dirt farmers with their knowledge of weather and wild foods, Amish farmers, those nomads still following the reindeer and the seasons, or the Kayapo and their jungle pharmacy. We must turn to them, not in order to emulate or simulate, but in a respectful search for the truths that are our birth right, for what it means to truly belong. We are not “settlers,” we are simply the unsettled.
For all the differences in the world views and cosmologies of indigenous peoples, there are certain qualities they generally share in common. From the Saami of the northern edge of Scandinavia to the Australian Aborigine, primal perception is likely to incorporate the following tenets:
1) The Earth is alive, self directed, with it’s own primal consciousness.
2) Life is inspirited and thus sacred with an innate, intrinsic value. The rocks and the lichen that feed on them, the trees and the rain that drips down them, all creatures and all people are vested with spirit, meaning and purpose.
3) All elements of the sacred whole are interconnected, interdependent, interrelated at the deepest levels… and all should be treated as our relatives. At the root of all personal and societal turmoil is the illusion of separateness, a dis-ease which must be guarded against from birth until death. Since there is no truly “other,” all beings are hurt by the dishonoring or degradation of any one.
4) Humanity’s additional cognitive abilities position us not above the rest of creation, but sorely in need of deliberate rituals to keep us grounded in relationship, purpose and place. Our unique gifts were meant to result not in libertine distraction, but advanced responsibility. Our kind is called to attend to the needs and lessons of the natural world we are a part of…. to acknowledge, partake in, protect and provide for the plants, animals and waters that in turn nourish, instruct, inspire and house us.
5) Existence is to be smelled and tasted, embraced and absorbed. No words for food are meant to substitute for the benefits of eating…. and all symbols and gestures are meant to bring us deeper into the actual wordless, physical, emotional and spiritual experiencing of life.
6) Everything in the world functions in part as a message, and all that happens to us, positive or negative, is potentially a valuable lesson. All truths and all beings are tested, and it is through these challenges that we earn our blessings, demonstrate our qualifications, validate our worth, manifest our love.
7) Spiritual knowledge or power requires the complete, painful dissolution of illusion and the fearful societal self… and a committed realignment and recommitment according to the designs of Spirit and Place.
8) Such designs exist for all things, heeding the imperatives of Gaian rhythm, pattern and will.
9) All things occur in cycles, and all energy and life seek to circle— to return to its migrational origins, to spin in the grass before settling down nose to tail. All there is is an eternal now, rolling over in place like a salmon, exposing in turn each of its sides Summer to Fall, Winter to Spring, first night and then day. Humankind, too, turns in place, sequentially offering up the face of an anxious infant, a tempestuous teen, a focused adult, a grandfather or crone.
10) The Seeker’s quest moves towards and never away from authentic self and inspirited place, heightened awareness and applied magic, meaning and mission…. a true journey home.
Primal mind isn’t just for the shamans and seekers of a few tribes, the tranced-out Ladakh, Kogi or the Shuar. It is, rather, a region or capacity of the instinctual human body, accessible by even the most predisposed of us. It surfaces during love making, while crossing the slick head of a waterfall, in the presence of enraptured children, whenever circumstance and surprise have delivered us most fully into our sentient bodies. At these times the Earth reveals itself as unquestioningly sacred, imbued with the numinous. Even the most mundane expressions of inanimate Nature appear alive, and one can sense movement in patterns of fiber and the grain of mineral and wood. We find ourselves in the timeless now, the eternal bodily and psychic engagement with the present, a part of an interconnected universe that unfolds and contracts in cycles. Even if only for the shortest period of time, we jettison words for reality, symbol for touch, and know the world through our primal minds. We feel more alive, complete, tested and worthy. And we are. Honored to be. Honored to be here now.
We each become more indigenous to the degree that we reside in our primal minds, in place, in the bosom of the land, in the lap of the moment. Becoming: coming to be, leaning how to really be, coming onto and into one’s self. In re-becoming native, we re-create a contemporary culture, community, vocabulary, spiritual practice, and finally a history true to our mixed-blood ancestry and the urgent and trying times at hand. Along with our grounding comes an almost forgotten humility. We look to the the first “two legged” peoples to inhabit this continent for guidance, but we must also each establish our credibility directly with the land. We need to own our deepening connection, the fact that we too belong to the places we’re promised to— even as we actively respect the ways of those peoples who showed respect to the land for so long before us.
In time we may come to recognize being native as a condition of relationship. Of sensitivity, engagement, reciprocity and allegiance. To survive, those facing the tests of the next century will have had to learn to be placed. And they’re likely to be of ever more mixed blood. They will be the descendants of Shona and Aborigine, Mongol and Semite, Hispanic and Cree, and they will have learned respect. They will be the proud inheritors of the affections of Aphrodite, the temperance of Chuang-Tzu, the resolve of Odin and Ogun, the determination of the Berserkers and the spirit of Crazy Horse. No matter where they’re situate, they’ll have survived because they came to know and manifest themselves, completely and unapologetically, as indigenous.
And this alone will have brought them great satisfaction.
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