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Several years ago Charlie and I visited an indigenous community along the Rio Negro in the Brazilian rainforest.Some of the leaders expressed concern that some environmentalists, who should be natural allies, focus almost exclusively on the land and appear not to see or hear the people at all.The difference is that indigenous people have the benefit of being regularly reminded of their responsibilities to the land by stories and ceremonies.
Indeed, we call the earth Etenoha, our mother from whence all life springs.” Indigenous people are not the only people who understand the interconnectedness of all living things.
There are many thousands of people from different ethnic groups who care deeply about the environment and fight every day to protect the earth.
My husband, Charlie Soap, leads a widespread self-help movement among the Cherokee in which low-income volunteers work together to build walking trails, community centers, sports complexes, water lines, and houses.
The self-help movement taps into the traditional Cherokee value of cooperation for the sake of the common good.
When contemplating the contemporary challenges and problems faced by Indigenous Peoples worldwide, it is important to remember that the roots of many social, economic, and political problems can be found in colonial policies.
And these policies continue today across the globe.
The stories are shockingly similar all over the world.
When I read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which chronicled the systematic destruction of an African tribe’s social, cultural, and economic structure, it sounded all too familiar: take the land, discredit the leaders, ridicule the traditional healers, and send the children off to distant boarding schools.
Protecting the environment is not an intellectual exercise; it is a sacred duty.
When women like Pauline Whitesinger, an elder at Big Mountain, and Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone land rights activist, speak of preserving the land for future generations, they are not just talking about future generations of humans.