In the western way of thinking, we generally view the land as capital. The land is seen as property that is to be owned by humans. What we glean from it, we call natural resources, resources that we consider ours for the taking, to serve our wants and to provide services far beyond our actual needs.
What if there was another way to look at the land? What if we saw the land and all of its more-than-human inhabitants as gifts as opposed to resources? This is the lens through which many indigenous peoples view Mother Earth.
Natural resources or gifts? This is one of those situations where the words we use truly do matter. I believe they matter so much that the fate of our relationship with Earth and our ability to survive and thrive are dependent on our willingness to change the current narrative, to change our story.
What would it mean to view Earth’s bounty as gifts? In this scenario, the land is a source of knowledge. It is enspirited, meaning that it is seen as someone as opposed to something. It is a home, a residence to not just humans but to all of the more-than-humans that we share her with. The land is a healer. It is sacred, and we are morally responsible for her.
When we are given a gift, it is our responsibility and our honor to reciprocate, to give back in return. It is not our right to keep taking. Thoughtfully stated by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: “When your feet hit the ground in the morning, we should be thinking, ‘What can I give?'” You may be wondering how we may give back and, in essence, return to a spirit of reciprocity. Dr. Kimmerer offers us the canon of the Honorable Harvest which governs the “exchange of life for life.” We are asked to enter all exchanges between people and the Earth with these tenets in mind:
Never take the first. Never take the last.
This conveys a sense of respect, knowing that if we leave the first and the last that there will always be more available to the next being in need.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
This tenet reminds us to be conscious of our impact when we are receiving a gift from the Earth. An example would be not to thoughtlessly capture and kill “by-catch” when fishing for our food.
Take only what you need and leave some for others.
This concept seems self-explanatory and brings to mind the frantic hoarding of toilet paper and other supplies at the beginning of the pandemic.
Use everything that you take.
We are reminded to not be wasteful. We have been given a gift, and to discard that gift is disrespectful. It also points us back to taking only what we need.
Take only that which is given to you.
In this tenet, we are guided to ask permission of the giver for the gift. We state why we need the gift and if we can please harvest it. How we listen for the answer is guided by science, intuition, and cultural knowledge.
Share it, as the Earth has shared with you.
Self-explanatory but not always our first instinct.
When we come to the exchange with a sense of abundance rather than scarcity, we are grateful, and we take less. Gratitude has a way of restraining our wants.
Reciprocate the gift.
How we give back in return can range from simply paying attention and understanding what we are taking – knowing that a carrot is actually a root that is harvested from underground. And the reciprocity can be as complex as engaging in regenerative farm policy to protect the soil that the carrot is grown in.
Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.
We circle back to the reciprocal relationship. We are one with Earth and the land. There is not one without the other.
Carrots. Fish. Trees that are transformed into paper. Commodities or beings? Resources or gifts?
Dr. Kimmerer asks, “What if the Honorable Harvest were the law of the land? And humans—not just plants and animals—fulfilled the purpose of supporting the lives of others? What would the world look like if a developer poised to convert a meadow to a shopping mall had first to ask permission of the meadowlarks and the goldenrod? And abide by their answer? What if we fill our shopping baskets with only that which is needed and give something back in return?”
Can changing our story have the power to change our relationship with Earth and, ultimately, the power to save her? My instinct is telling me that it may be the only thing that can.
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