grayscale photography of Statue of Liberty inspired Native American wall art

By Isabel Nuesse 

This week, many American’s are gearing up for another Thanksgiving holiday. A holiday told to celebrate the harmony between the Pilgrims and Wampanoags – whose land expands from Southern Massachusetts, into Rhode Island.

Source: Wikipedia 

However, this narrative overlooks the genocide of the Native American peoples. It is said that between the 19th and 20th centuries, 75-90% of the Native American peoples were killed by the European Settlers

It is significant that the month of November, during which Thanksgiving takes place, has been named Native American Heritage month. Which was only officially recognized in 1990 by President George W. Bush. 

It has taken years to acknowledge the mass elimination of the Native American’s and the theft of their lands. Much of that acknowledgment is still missing. Though, understanding the true story of Thanksgiving is the first step in finding a better path forward for our society.

As we begin to plan how we ‘build back better’ in the face of the crises of COVID-19, inequality and climate change, this work is absolutely critical.

It feels obvious to say, but to address the crises we face and to build a Wellbeing Economy, we cannot use the same paradigm from which our current economic system was born.

We need alternatives. And, those alternatives exist. 

On this day, we consider the teachings of Native American communities and how these perspectives are necessary in building a more just and sustainable economy; both in the US and globally.  

WEAll members have collectively defined 5 universal human needs that a Wellbeing Economy must deliver upon, to truly be ‘better’ than our current system. The ‘WEAll Needs’ are: dignity for all, participation in decision making, access to and preservation and regeneration of nature, connection and fairness.

Indigenous value systems inherently already address each of these needs. 

In the book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks of ‘The Honorable Harvest’: Indigenous principles or rules that govern the exchange of life for life. She notes that while these ‘rules’ are not written, if they were, they would appear something like this: 

  • Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them
  • Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. 
  • Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
  • Never take the first. Never take the last. 
  • Take only what you need. 
  • Take only which is given.
  • Never take more than half. Leave some for others. 
  • Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share. 
  • Give thanks for what you have been given.
  • Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. 
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever. 

These principles highlight an incredible act; giving, which is in direct contrast to our current extractive economy, which is very much focused on ‘taking’. This mindset validates the endless growth paradigm and centers profit ahead of the land on which we depend. 

Crucially, these Indigenous principles highlight the truth that the Earth is the source of life, not a limit to life. And that everything that comes after, is dependent on that source.

In learning more about this ancient wisdom, I ask myself,“Can we learn from these perspectives? Can we better honor the land and give more than we take?”

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin speaks to a salient point. She notes that the Indigenous communities in what we call America observed, “The problem with these new people is that they don’t have both feet on the shore. One is still on the boat. They don’t seem to know whether they’re staying or not.” 

This speaks to an investment, in our lives, in our Earth. Robin then asks, “Can Americans, a nation of immigrants, learn to live here as if we’re staying? With both feet on the shore?” 

What does a Wellbeing Economy look like from this point of view? How can we ensure that we’re building a system that requires that both feet are on the shore? One that centers the earth and grounds the Wellbeing Economy movement in our living systems?

There’s much more learning to be done. Today, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from this wisdom and to start to help right the wrongs of our past. 

To deepen our understanding, we’re looking into these Indigenous organisations and resources:

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