July 29, 2011

Save the Wakarusa Wetlands: An NMAI intern shares an environmental concern:

Purdue and Haskell Students2
An environmental battle is being waged in America’s heartland. For more than a decade, this issue has split the city of Lawrence, Kansas, with the outcome affecting the future of the Wakarusa Wetlands ecosystem. On one side are the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, The Haskell University Wetlands Preservation Organization, the Sierra Club, the Jayhawk Audubon Society, Save the Wakarusa Wetlands, and the Kansas University Environs and Ecojustice organizations. On the other side is the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) and Kansas Governor Samuel D. Brownback. The disagreement stems from a proposed 6-to-10-lane highway called the South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT). If approved, it would run directly through the wetlands in order to connect Interstate 70 to Kansas Highway 10.

The Haskell–Baker Wetlands is located south of the city of Lawrence in the Wakarusa River Valley. Historically, the floodplain consisted of approximately 18,000 acres of wetlands which provided critical habitat to support a rich diversity of plants and animals, in addition to hydrological functions. For over a century, the Wakarusa–Baker Wetlands ecosystem has undergone drastic changes. Prior to 1884, the federal government purchased land that Copperhead2
included the wetlands for a United States Indian Industrial Training School whose purpose was to introduce European-American vocational training to Native young people, with the girls focusing on sewing and cooking while the boys did blacksmithing, wagon-making, and farming. The wetlands south of the campus were drained for these boys to farm. The farmlands continuously flooded until their disuse in the 1930s.  In the 1950s, the federal government deemed the wetlands surplus land and sold it back to the city of Lawrence. In 1968, over 500 acres of the wetlands were given to Baker University. Construction of the Clinton Dam in the early 1970s altered the Wakarusa River to prevent seasonal spring flooding. This dam also considerably altered the natural water source of the wetlands. Today, only 600 acres of wetlands remain in the Wakarusa River Valley.

The Kansas Department of Transportation, which is in charge of this highway project, asserts that drivers currently must travel through the streets of Lawrence in order to access Interstate 70 from Highway 10. This slows down traffic, increases the possibility of accidents, and increases air pollution in the city. KDOT’s plan to build the SLT through the wetlands, instead of using an alternate route south of the Wakarusa River that borders the wetlands, is detrimental to the health of the wetlands and the history that they hold. Pending resolution, KDOT cannot begin any construction on the road, but Governor Brownback has pledged $192 million in support of the project.

Haskell Medicine Wheel Haskell Indian Nations University, a historic all Native American university, resides beside the Wakarusa Wetlands and has a history tied to them. A Medicine Wheel earthwork designed by students, staff, and tribal elders was dedicated in 1992 in the heart of Haskell’s property within the wetlands. The Medicine Wheel is a place for prayer for many of Haskell’s students and other visitors to the wetlands. Thirty-First Street, a two-lane road, runs between the Haskell–Baker Wetlands. The traffic is heard easily on the Haskell side and constant litter clutters both sides of the road.

Follow the leader2 My club, the Wetlands Preservation Organization, has been the caretaker of the Haskell Wetlands. We understand their history and importance. The wetlands hold a diverse ecosystem of animals and plants, many of which can be used medicinally. As caretakers, we clean up the trash that habitually shows up on 31st Street and throughout the wetlands. We have also been busy this last year building an eco-friendly boardwalk to welcome visitors into the wetlands. Trails run through the trees for hikers to use, and dog-walkers often walk the cross-country trail that curves throughout them. We plan on creating an informational kiosk so that people may learn what lives in the wetlands and why they are important. We speak out for the wetlands that can’t speak for themselves. At the moment, our case is in the 10th District Court of Appeals, with KDOT attempting to continue the construction of the SLT.

 6a25496u detail

Haskell Indian Nations University opened in 1884 under the name the United States Indian Industrial School. In 1887 the name was changed to Haskell Institute, then Haskell Indian Junior College in 1970, and finally Haskell Indian Nations University in 1993. To American Indians, Haskell is among the most well-known Indian boarding schools in the United States. Boarding schools were originally used to assimilate Indian children into mainstream American culture and often incorporated militaristic protocols. The children were forced to cut their hair and discontinue speaking their languages. They could not practice their culture in any way, oftentimes could not associate with their siblings who attended the same schools, and could not return home for a period of years so that they wouldn’t be in contact with their families. One of Haskell’s early punishments for those who disobeyed rules involved being locked in the school jail, an extreme measure for young children, the youngest at the time being 3 years old. Every morning the children would wake up to bugles, each day they marched in lines to their destinations, and each night ended with bugles. The meals at the school consisted mostly of gravy and lacked proper nutrition. 

Many students died during these early, darker years of Haskell. By bringing together children from many different areas, the school exposed students to germs that they never had contacted before.  Many fell ill, were not given proper medical attention, and when their bodies could not fight off their sickness, they perished. Since the children were not allowed to visit their families, and since families who came to visit weren’t allowed to stay in town due to prejudices at the time, the wetlands became a meeting place for them. Children would escape to the wetlands to hear news from home and to pass on messages. The wetlands were also where children escaped to get away from the harsh boarding school. Some believe that children who had passed on may also be buried out there. A cemetery on the campus contains only a hundred gravestones, while there are many more children still unaccounted for. The wetlands became a sort of sanctuary for those children who sought to escape forced assimilation. 


Following this early history, in 1926 the university administration used the wetlands as a gathering place for Indians. Tents were set up in an “Indian Village” for the thousands of Indians who came to town to participate in the dedication celebration for the new Haskell Stadium. The Indian Village was created in part so that the school could show the difference between the more “savage” Indians and the boys and girls who were going through the Haskell system. Haskell wanted to show that they were producing modern, acculturated citizens and used the visiting families as a backdrop of the past. A buffalo kill, competition dancing, and the clothing of the visitors were highlighted in newspapers.

Haskell is a very special place to me. I have grown so much through the years I have been there and have received many great opportunities, such as this internship at NMAI this summer. Haskell is the pinnacle of Indian Country and is a living picture of our history as part of the United States: Starting off as a boarding school where Indian culture was to be washed away, Haskell has evolved to become a 4-year university that embraces its diverse Native population—a history that is very important to acknowledge.

Protest at KU2
Caitlin in the wetlands Native scholar Vine Deloria Jr. said, “The first and most familiar kind of sacred lands are places to which we attribute sanctity because the location is a site where, within our own history, something of great importance has taken place.” Even though most of the wetlands do not belong to Haskell anymore, and the SLT would be built through Baker University’s portion, they are still a part of the school, in history and in spirit. If this road is built through the wetlands, it will be paving over a portion of Haskell history, silencing it in stone. I am here to pass on this story in hopes that others will listen and understand why it is that these wetlands need to be saved. Wado—thank you! 

—Jessica Lackey

Jessica Lackey is a senior at Haskell Indian Nations University. She is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. Jessica is currently an intern
in Collections Management at the National Museum of the American Indian's  Cultural and Research Center in Maryland.

Photographs (from top to bottom):

Students from Haskell and Purdue universities commemorating the 40th World Wetlands Day, February 2, 2011. Photo courtesy of the Haskell Wetlands Preservation Organization (WPO).

A turtle in the Wakarusa Wetlands. Photo by Mike Caron.

A copperhead in the wetlands. Photo by Jessica Lackey.

The Haskell Medicine Wheel. Photo © Jon Blumb. Used with premission.

"Follow the Leader"—students crossing the wetlands on the Old Farm Road. Photo by Teresa Zaffiro. 

Students on campus at Haskell Institute, May 11, 1908 (detail). Lawrence, Kansas. Photo by J. L. Morris. Library of Congress pan 6a25496.

The Wakarusa Wetlands. Photo by Jessica Lackey. 

A wetlands protest at Kansas University. Photo courtesy of the WPO.

"Caitlin in the Wetlands." Photo by Jessia Lackey 

Comments (5)

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Save the planet the best post ever.

It is extremely important that we all band together in order to preserve our civilisations future. Good on you guys!

At least some people still care.

I must stop and visit the Haskell Wetlands, I have a small dog that loves taking walks in nature.
I would love to know the outcome of the case you had.
Thank you for all you do in fighting to preserve our wonderful world, and the plants and animals that reside here!
Beautiful photos and I loved the information.
Thanks so much for this article.

The snake shown in picture looks very scary.

July 23, 2011

Creating a Climate of Change: A Sustainable Future for the Living Earth (live blogging the 2011 Living Earth Symposium)

Tim Johnson (Mohawk), NMAI Associate Director for Museum Programs, is introducing the symposium, with a brief review of the museum's interest in environmental issues as Native issues. We have come to realize that one of the things that needs to happen is a change in values. Right after the symposium, the museum will have a ribbon cutting for Conversations with the Earth, an exhibition of video, audio, and photographs documenting indigenous responses to climate change around the world.

José Barriero (Taíno) introduces Lambert Torivio and Cornell Torivio, of the Pueblo of Acoma Buffalo Dancers, who offer the opening blessing and honor song.

The symposium's keynote speaker is social thinker and writer Jeremy Rifkin. Commentary will be offered by Gregory Cajete, chair of Native American Studies and associate professor of education at the University of New Mexico, and Melissa K. Nelson, assistant professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University.

Jeremy Rifkin: The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis

Jeremy Rifkin apologizes for beginning on a very somber note, wondering climate change will have an apocalyptic impact on human population within a few generations. Rifkin: The primary economy on the Earth is photosynthesis, and human beings are now consuming 31% of that economy’s productivity. "We are devouring the Earth." Iroquois leaders considered the impact of their behavior on their children's children's children. They did not live for the present. We would not be where we are now if we had had the same consciousness.

Rifkin outlines three key events that factor into his forecast of the end of the current industrial age:

Petrocarbons impact virtually everything we do; they are especially key to productivity in agriculture. In 2008, the oil price shock of $147-150 a barrel was the earthquake. The collapse of world markets in the months afterward was the aftershock. 50,000 years from now, the 1st (18th-century) and 2nd (19th-century) Industrial Revolutions will be seen as the Carbon Age, an era that almost collapsed the planet.

Comparing global peak oil production and peak oil per capita: There is disagreement over when we reached/will reach peak oil production—the moment when half the planet’s recoverable reserves have been used. Earlier forecasts were for 2020 to 2035, then 2010 to 2015. The International Energy Agency (IEA) believes production peaked in 2006 at 70 million barrels a day.

Peak oil per capita, however, was reached a generation ago. Every time we try to re-grow the economy at the rate achieved before 2008, oil prices are going to spike, and that will ripple all across the supply chain. We can see it happening in the current recession: As oil prices rise above $90-100 a barrel, the economy begins to stall. "This is a wild end game between growth and collapse."

The second event driving Rifkin’s forecast is the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of 2009. "You cannot escape the laws of thermodynamics." Quantitites of CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gasses are already in the atmosphere. How serious is climate change? Worse than anyone will admit. "For 30 years, I have gotten it wrong; I have underestimated the feedback loops in the atmosphere." Scientists' midrange scenario of a temperature rise of 3 degrees centigrade worldwide during this century now looks optimistic. A greater increase would create a climate similar to that during the Pleiocene Age. The droughts, the floods, the hurricanes we see now are all the result of dramatic changes to the hydrological cycle caused by climate change. 

But atmospheric physicist James Hansen says these projections are wrong, because our understanding of feedback loops in the atmosphere was incomplete. Calculations of greenhouse gases at 300-350 parts per million (ppm) of in the atmosphere are too low. Instead, Hansen estimates greenhouse gases to make up 400 or more ppm, and foresees an increase in global temperature of more than 6 degrees C this century.

For Rifkin, a large part of the problem is that we're living off unworkable ideas about the meaning of the human journey and our place in the world. Here he offers a quick review of Western concepts of human nature, from original sin to the notion of enlightened self-interest to Freud’s emphasis on id and ego. And then we wonder why we feel so isolated: Our ideas have made us monsters. 

Yet for 94% of our history as a species, we did not have a concept of private property.

Contemporary neurological science shows that human beings, many primates, elephants, and no doubt some other species have mirror neurons, where scientists now locate the mental experience of empathy. For Rifkin, we are social animals—homo empathicus—not models of autonomy. Countless experiments show that we are wired for empathic distress. Empathic evolution is integral both to selfhood (it’s happening to someone else, no to me) and to the moral imagination that let’s us recognize other people's experiences as equal to our own.

Empathy is our transcendent value, and it evolves over history. Historians chronicle the out-of-the-ordinary, the pathologies. Rikfin is interested in what we can learn the blank pages of history. (See his latest book, The Empathic Civilization.)

During 90 percent of human history, human power was the primary source of energy. The hydraulic civilizations, powered by water technology, followed; by these, Rifkin means the civilizations from the Fertile Crescent to the empires of Mesoamerica. This age also saw the rise of the great religions and their extension of empathy beyond the clan or tribe. The coal/steam/oil energy revoltution of the 19th century created new needs for organization and communication and a new unit, the nation state. These different consciousnesses—mythological, theological, ideological—are not lost, but are layered within human development.

Now the infrastructure built on carbon has become unsustainable. This new age is being defined by an explosion of distributed, lateral connectedness. When distributed communication is combined with distributed energy, we will have a 3rd Industrial Revolution.

What is meant by distributed energies? Coal and oil are not found in everone’s backyard; their exploitation is centralized and requires centralized administration. But we all have all the distributed energy we need in our backyards, as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy.

Rifkin has been consulting with the European Union (EU) to support this 3rd Industrial Revolution. The first pillar was working toward using renewable sources for 20 percent of the EU’s energy. Now the goal is 30 percent. Large solar, geothermal, wind, etc., energy projects are a necessary step to get us off carbon. But why would we only collect them in central locations?

Pillar 2 in the EU is infrastructure to allow for more distributed energy-generation and collecting, Specifically, that means converting the entire building stock of Europe to be independent power plants. Actually, some of the new construction in Europe will generate more energy than it consumes and will contribute energy to the grid.

Pillar 3 is the development of fuel cells to store energy when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing. Space exploration has been running of hydrogen fuel cells for 30 years, so we know it can be achieved. We also know that the conversion loss from fuel cells is much less than the loss entailed in central energy distribution.

Pillar 4 will be the energy Internet.

Pillar 5 will be fuel-cell vehicles. The EU is already working on creating energy tracks at stoplights, etc., that can power up fuel cell cars as people use them.

Rifkin applauds the Obama Admnistration for its interest in forward-thinking energy development. The problem with the Obama Administration's approach is that U.S. policy-makers don't have a narrative to counter the existing centralized structure, which is served by lobbying interests. With this new narrative in Europe, the specific steps to take are becoming apparent.

It's a system and a paradigm change to distributed capitalism. The music companies didn't understand the distributive economy. Encyclopedia Britannica didn't understand Wikipedia. Newspapers didn't understand the Internet. Distributed energy has the same potential.

The key is to become aware that energy is not a few reservoirs sitting under the ground. It is sources all around us that we have the capability to connect. Can we do it? Our way of thinking about the issue is already changing. Children are coming home from school asking why we do the things we do. They are becoming aware that every activity has an ecological footprint that affects everyone else and the future. This is an understanding that Indian cultural traditions always had.

How do we extend empathy beyond the nation to the human race, to our fellow creatures, and to the planet Earth? Rifkin: "I don't know if we'll get there in time. You young people will find out. Send me a postcard." To date, Europe is leading this effort, but no one can tell a story like America. And once we understand this story, we can change things very quickly. Until the 14th century, very few human beings had seen themselves in a mirror. The manufacture of mirrors changed our sense of consciousness, our self-reflection, our understanding of how we are different from others and how we are the same. The Apollo astronauts' view of our planet is accessible to every child who hops on Google Earth. That's a shift of consciousness.

"How many of you took part in National Geographic's genetic project? My family did, but I can save you the cost." Genetic research shows us that we all came from 2 individuals. We come from family.  

And all the other life forms on Earth have a right to be here, too.

This is the legacy for our time: Move this story out. Don't get sidetracked. If we are truly at a pivotal point in the history of our species, we have to make this new distributed, collaborative energy revolution happen.

Gregory Cajete (Santa Clara Pueblo): Creating Sustainable Communities in a 21st-Century World: An Indigenous Perspective

["Good day" in Tewa.] Every day we get up and are alive is a good day. Thank you, Jeremy, for underlining the criticality of this event. What I have today really parallels Jeremy's thoughts."

Many of the environmental issues we're dealing with today are not things we can solve as individuals. So creating communities becomes central. [Cajete shows an image of a Mimbres plate with a positive/negative design of a human profile and a sandhill crane.] Like many forms of indigenous art, this plate embodies a people's understanding of what it is to be empathetic. The two images cannot be separated.

In many ways, indigenous peoples are the canaries warning of climate change. We have stories that our parents and grandparents have told us about changes to the places we live. A recent conference of indigenous peoples in Asia also made this clear. "I like to describe our role as 'the indigenous mind rising.' And when I say 'indigenous,' I want you to remember that we are all indigenously human."

At Santa Clara Pueblo, we have lost our watershed due to enduring drought. We are shifting to conservation. Indigenous people have been affected by climate change all over the world and have been speaking out about climate change, about how to preserve our communities, how to use our traditional technologies.

Climate has always been in a state of change, but in many ways this process it's snowballing. We were noticing subtle changes 30 or 40 years ago. Those cumulative effects—since it is a feedback system—are now becoming very pronounced in every region.

How do we survive as indigenous communities? Survival requires the exercise of knowledge and sovereignty, but it also requies collaboration and collective action. Community is something that has to be practiced, that evolves, with every generation. Like everyone else the world, we see our sense of community being challenged. And we see the need to re-create ourselves.

Indigenous societies were intelligent enough and wise enough to find ways to reinforce our sense of empathy and the essence of what it is to be human within a community through ceremonies and the 7-generation thinking we've been talking about.

The response also has to be about indigenous ideas of knowledge—from traditional knowledge to observed knowledge to spiritual knowledge to contemporary knowledge. When you look at indigenous languages, you see that indigenous communities seem to operate from biological metaphors that express life principles. Somewhere along the way, the human community moved to metaphors based not on life but on the machine. Our consciousness of community is deeply connected to the metaphors we live by, including these increasingly mechanical metaphors.

So it's not just about changing the way we live, it's about changing the metaphors we live by. We, as Americans, lack a sense of communal good and of taking responsibility for the impact of our actions on every other being. Our ceremonies, like the First Salmon Ceremony in the Northwest, often exist to help us remember to remember this connectedness to other living things.

The indigenous example can represent an example for non-Natives, though Native peoples have often been off the radar for most people. This movement for creating community is one of those examples. Cajete: "We are all related, we are all related, we are all related. And we are all part of Turtle Island." Indigenous people have always known that we are part of the Earth as a living entity and that we are responsible for it. Now we need to take a hard look at the education policies and other policies that make us complicit in the current crisis.

What I have been advocating is the recreation of cultural economies around indigenous paradigms, to find ways to translate these ways of living and knowledge bases into present practice. So I've been involved in creating indigenous schools and other forms of Native education to bring these ideas forward in economically viable indigenous communities. Cajete: "Is that possible? It has to be possible, Otherwise we have no hope."

For us, as indigenous people, we have culture and community. I ask young people to think of our amazingly rich cultural histories and bring that forward. Some of the key concepts are environmental integrity, spiritual purpose, relationship and respect, and commitment.

"We are all kernels in the same basket. So I want you to come away with the thought that there is also great human resilience that I am betting on, that we are up to the task" of living sustainably and richly.

"Thank you from a deep place in my heart." 

Melissa K. Nelson (Turtle Mountain Chippewa): Re-Indigenizing our Bodies and Minds through Native Foods

Nelson is the editor of Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future.

"Thank you. I want to talk today about indigenous health and indigenous foods. As we're facing these crises, I believe it's indigenous learning and the best of Western learning that are going to get us through."

I've been privileged to do this work for the last 18 years through the Cultural Conservancy in San Francisco, which has been focused primarily on California's Native peoples. We do our work through research, education, advocacy, and alliance-building.

As you know, the foods of the Americas have fed our peoples for thousands of years, and have fed the world for the last 500 years. Ecocultural revitalization is a way to restore our place-based understanding of community. 

This is in contrast to the arrogance of modern thought. How do we move to a post-Conquest world in which we recognize our empathic nature? One way is through the foods we eat. Native foodways can help us to reconnect back to the earth. 

What are Native foodways? All the different ways we learn to find, produce, and use foods. Native foodways are also about restoring the land bases and resource bases of communities. In Northern California, for example, abalone was an important Native food. Where once there were 11 species of abalone, now there are 3. So following Native foodways is about restoring native seed banks. It's about reconnecting consumption and ceremonies.

One of the concepts we discuss is food sovereignty: "The right of peoples to define their own . . . policies . . . appropriate to their own circumstances. . . . All peoples have the right to culturally appropriate food to sustain themselves. . . ." Reconnecting with our Native foods connects us to our land-based cultural identity. Reconnecting with our Native foods is also a source of security. It relies on the human community and the more-than-human community. It is, with the water we drink and the air we breathe, how human beings become our environment and how our environment becomes us. "We are not only what we eat. We are where we eat." Here, I think of Winona LaDuke’s wonderful capsulization of this principle: "Wild rice should taste like a lake."

Food is also a part of indigenous medicine. It is part of a sacred cycle between humans and plants and animals and among human generations.

So how did we shift from this concept of food as a sacrament to our existence as a fast-food nation? For indigenous peoples, it was pretty systematic, beginning in the 15th century, as lands and waters were stolen. For others, somehow industry has taught us that wild rice shouldn't taste like a lake. "The value of food is weighed in dollars . . . not in its ability to nourish." —John Mohawk.

At the extremes, our bodies will take what they need from the unreal stuff all around us, from radioactive iodine to the estrogen in plastics. Illnesses correlated to our lifestyle and the loss of heritage foods are pervasive in the United States and increasingly around the world. "We have eaten the poison and it is only matter of time before it attacks a vital organ." Those vital organs include our soil and water resources.

Native peoples are addressing these issues. Re-indigenizing our diets and our way of life is a way of decolonizing our bodies and restoring health to our communities. One of the most important reasons we are here on Earth is to feed each other, spiritually and imaginatively, as well.

Question: For Mr. Rifkin: Can you comment on the future of jobs for us?

Jeremy Rifkin: There are two things happening at the same time. With new technologies we are seeing the end of mass wage labor, just as carbon energy brought about the end of slave labor. It's not happening just in the U.S., it's happening everywhere. The silver lining is that we have a 40-year period in which we will need to build the infrastructure I talked about. That entails hundreds of millions of local jobs for two generations. We have to prepare young people both to do those jobs and to be ready for the distributed economy that will follow. What I imagine at mid-century is that half the population of the world will be working in the not-for-profit sector. This is where we're headed, if we can make it. If we can get people up to par and can live more sustainably, people will not have to spend their lives as machines.

Question: Do you support free choice or government coercion to bring about these changes? And hasn't modern food made it possible to feed much larger populations? 

Melissa Nelson: I did not mean to imply that we need to eliminate the industrial food system. I would say that the system needs to be changed. And I'm skeptical about the promise of genetically modified foods and chemically dependent agriculture.

Jeremy Rifkin: We need to talk about the shift from food to feed. One-third of the grain produced in the world today is used to feed livestock. At the high end of the scale we gorge ourselves on an animal diet and die of diseases of affluence. Those at the low end suffer diseases of poverty. And forecasts are that livestock production will double, so in the near future more than 60 percent of the world’s grain stocks could go to produce meat. The answer is to move down the food chain, to restore local agriculture (it's happening around the city of Rome), to recognize that we will not be able to afford the energy cost of bringing ourselves grapes from Chile. It makes sense from a business and cultural point of view.

Question: I'm from Ojibwe, and one of the things we're really concerned about is water. It's not just the climate we need to be worried about, it's water, including industrial pollution. My community is involved right now in trying to keep mining away from the oldest mountain range in the world, the Penokee Hills.

Melissa Nelson: Migwitch. Thank you for those important words. Water is the first medicine. There is a lot of exciting work being done in green technologies, using plants to heal water.

Question: Corporations should not have the same rights as people. How are we going to change corporate structures?

Jeremy Rifkin: In the last industrial revolution, everything became big. The three largest corporations are still energy companies. The 3rd Industrial Revolution will be distributive, connecting thousands of small producers with millions of buyers. Think of Etsy, the Internet site that empowers independent craftspeople to market the things they make, or the car-sharing programs around the world.

In my next book, one of the sections is about how we will move to a corporate culture that's more network than market. We need to rethink economic theory based on the laws of energy. But we also need to rethink what the good life is.

We've been relying on GDP to define economic progress. Now there's a movement toward developing better ways to measure quality of life. It will be a struggle, but if we can create distributive power, it will happen. Young people's thinking is very different from my generation's thinking. We still think ideologically. When young people judge behavior, they ask, “Is it centralized, authoritarian, top-down, and closed? Or is it distributive, egalitarian, lateral, and open?” Power is never surrendered easily, but history is not on the side of the centralized model.

Gregory Cajete: I'm wondering where the Indian is in this. We've been marginalized and ignored, and I suspect that very few people are aware of the resistance that's been going on for 500 years to maintain our lands and our traditions. So I guess I would ask Jeremy, where is the indigenous voice? Because to do what he is talking about will require the contributions of all the people of the world to change our consciousness and bring back the sense of community and communal ownership.

There are several ways you do that: through education (which has been for Native people too often a tool of indoctrination and assimilation). What we're taught and how we're taught does not match well with the kinds of things we've been talking about. In some ways, the social media revolution is a good example of distributed education, of people educating each other. Look at the Middle East. In the United States it's just as bad, if we could see it: The battle of the budget, which is nothing more than a quick fix, is really a crisis of community. For too many people, there's a deep apathy about people's sense of self and of meaning.

As it turns out, there are about 600 million indigenous people in the world, and for some time they have been meeting among themselves. This museum was created in some ways as a place where they could share their voice with the national psyche. I'm hoping the next generation will be able to change the larger educational system.

Jeremy Rifkin: The greatest beneficiaries of the revolution I'm talking about will be the developing countries. 25 percent of the human race today has never had electricity. Another 20 percent have only very limited access to electricity. We know in Africa that when you can have a solar cell on your roof, it liberates women, because women are the beasts of burden of those societies.

When we flatten the distribution of power, we will all become indigenous. Not to romanticize the past, or go back to the past, but every culture wants to share its wisdom, to share its experience. I think that's the mission of indigenous cultures: To take the gifts you have and share them with the world to change all our stories.

Question: Is there widespread consciousness of climate change in Europe?

Jeremy Rifkin: We started sort of top down with the environmental organizations. But we quickly realized all the parties to the economy had to be involved—industrial and governmental, as well. The key is who controls the power, which is why we brought the cooperative associations—the ICA—to the table. The key will be who controls the power. And indigenous peoples will play a key role in showing us that culture is primary, and that our story, or what a human being is, revolves around our narratives, our beliefs, our connections.

From José Barreiro, on behalf of the museum, out heartfelt thanks to everyone who took part today.

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Comments (15)

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It was good to know about the museum's interest in environmental issues. Solar energy is turning into a viable Large Scale Energy Source.

It all helps , every little change for the better, every little watt of energy. We are a Native owned company and are involved in helping Native Communities ( as well as non native) change to energy efficient outdoor lighting. The large savings can go back into the budget or we can add even more lights where needed and at a lower cost. If your Tribe is interested and we have not contacted you yet please call us, generally there is NO UPFRONT cost as we utilize what is currently being paid. LED Street Lights


I love green projects. Keep up the good work!

Creating the sustainable future for natives and the earth is important. I agree with the green projects. Very important.

Really good info.Keep up the good work!

Great Work..

>>"Petrocarbons impact virtually everything we do; they are especially key to productivity in agriculture. In 2008, the oil price shock of $147-150 a barrel was the earthquake."

So true.. And history is almost repeating itself now in 2013. Crude oil prices are back in the $110 a barrel range and people are waking up to Alternative Fuels/Renewables and Climate Change issues.

I wish we had the political hoodspa to purse to a consistent energy and climate change policy and not just do window dressing.

your blog has a wonderful story,thnx for sharing us...

Yes, you are right the daily changes should be going on in our climate means so many disasters are going on in our environment..So its time to save our world and takecare about the climate of earth. The tree plantation is one kind of good idea to save our world, and save the people's.

Every green project doesn't matter how big or small it is contributes to our sustainable future and the future of our kids and our Nature.According to collected data renewable energy sources provide about 18% of world energy, but much of the energy is produced in the traditional way, with use of biomass for cooking and heating from 13 from 18%. We all have to go for green energy and i mean not only for solar but for all other types like wind, geothermal, biomass...

it's already 2014 and still climate change is a very huge problem, because not everyone cooperates, and not everyone knows what impact/s it could bring us.

I was very pleased to find this site and wanted to thank you for this great read!! I am definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

I just wanted to add a comment to mention thanks for your post.

"Petrocarbons impact virtually everything we do; they are especially key to productivity in agriculture. In 2008, the oil price shock of $147-150 a barrel was the earthquake."

it is necessary to inform about the climate change.

July 21, 2011

Living Earth 2011: So many things people love about the museum, all on one weekend

When I began applying for internships this past winter, the National Museum of the American Indian was on the top of my list for several reasons. One was its commitment to showcasing Native voices, an approach that makes it unique among the Smithsonian museums—or museums in general, for that matter. Programs featuring Native performers and artists make the NMAI a living museum, a site for meaningful interactions between the traditional and the contemporary. Another reason I wanted to intern at NMAI was for its beautiful landscape, which serves to establish the museum as an organic oasis amidst the bustle of downtown DC.

Now that I’m at the as a summer intern, I’m thrilled to be working on a program that combines all the things I love about the museum. The Living Earth Festival, which takes place this weekend, July 22, 23, and 24, celebrates indigenous contributions to environmental sustainability and activism. The festival seeks to present both traditional and modern methods of addressing climate change, environmental issues, and health concerns.

LivingEarthFestLogo This year, the Living Earth Festival is being held in tandem with several other museum programs. Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change, a new multimedia exhibition, will open on Friday, July 22, alongside the festival. Also Friday, as part of the Dinner and a Movie series, artist Will Wilson (Diné) will present his Auto Immune Response project, a work that examines humans’ impact on the environment. 

Knowledge and Technologies

The festival will showcase three themes, the first of which is knowledge and technologies. Both Native and non-Native researchers and practitioners will demonstrate how they and others in their fields apply science and technology to current environmental and food health concerns. Friday from 2 to 4 PM EDT, the museum will host a live webcast on diabetes awareness, education, and healthy living with the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC) in Albuquerque, NM. Panelists include Dr. Neal Barnard, Margaret Brascoupé (Tesuque Pueblo), and Caitlin Baker (Mvskoke Creek) in the museum's Rasmuson Theater, and Lois Ellen Frank at IPCC. 

Saturday from 1:30 to 4 PM EDT, the symposium Creating a Climate of Change: A Sustainable Future for the Living Earth, featuring Jeremy Rifkin, Gregory Cajete (Santa Clara Pueblo), and Melissa K. Nelson (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), will discuss how we can cultivate a culture that embraces the principles of sustainability. also available via live webcast

Celebration and Ceremony

The second theme highlighted at the festival is celebration and ceremony, which rejoices in and respects the complex relationship between ourselves and the environment. Native performers will demonstrate traditional and contemporary songs, dances, and storytelling that honor our relationship with the Earth. As part of the Indian Summer Showcase concert series, an outdoor concert Saturday from 5 to 8 PM EDT will feature Native musicians including Gregg Analla (Laguna and Isleta Pueblo), the Plateros from Tohajilee, NM,, and the Pappy Johns Band, from the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, as well as the Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Team. The festival will also include hands-on activities that utilize natural materials and traditional techniques, giving visitors the chance to create their own pottery and make cornhusk dragonflies. 

The Plateros
Plateros, a three-piece family band from from Tohajilee, New Mexcio, the eastern agency of the Navajo Nation, will perform Saturday evening, July 23 at the Living Earth Festival. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Bounty and Artistry

The final theme showcased in the festival is bounty and artistry, acknowledging the Earth’s role in nourishing both our bodies and our creativity. Native artists will demonstrate traditional arts including basket-weaving, bow-and-arrow-making, and carving. Demonstrators will also illustrate traditional culinary methods and dishes. On Sunday, an outdoor cooking competition will pit Don McClellan (executive chef of Atria Vista del Rio) against reigning champ (and Mitsitam Native Foods Café executive chef) Richard Hetzler in a battle to serve up appetizers, entrées, and desserts that incorporate local foods and the traditional Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. Each of the competing chefs will be accompanied by culinary students from the DC Central Kitchen. In support of the DC Central Kitchen's Healthy Returns Program, festival-goers will receive a biodegradable totebag as a thank you for making a $10-value food donation such as granola bars, packets of trail mix, individual 100% juice boxes, or individual boxes of raisins or nuts. (Please do not donate perishable items or sweets such as candy or cookies.)

Living Earth Farmers' Market set up 8.6.10 020

The 2011 Living Earth Festival will include an outdoor farmers’ market with fresh produce, New Mexico roasted peppers, and traditional American Indian dishes from local and Native-owned farms and cooperatives. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.

Local farmers will participate in an outdoor farmers’ market, and each participant will address an aspect of agriculture, covering topics such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), urban gardening, bees, and commercial vs. free-range beef.

Finally, visitors will be able to purchase green chiles and have them roasted by the University of New Mexico Alumni Association (UNMAA), Washington, DC, Chapter.  Donations accepted by UNMAA for the roasting go to support their scholarship fund.

Whether you are interested in environmental issues, traditional Native arts, or just love great music and fresh food, the Living Earth Festival has something for you! The festival is a great opportunity to experience all of NMAI’s excellent programming, all rolled in to one fun-filled weekend. We hope to see you there!

—Lindsay Inge

Living Earth Festival schedule 2011

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I am not sure how I ended up here tonight, stumbling posts does that :-) Sounds like I missed a great festival. I like the idea of technology playing a part in it learning more about where we can learn more about the environment and our food supply. I buy all my produce from our local farmers market and love learning about the different cultures while I am there. I have a lifestyle Blog and am from Minnesota.

Great articles - sadly the main culprit in the lack of empathy for our future is the drive for profits and greed. When we have entities that are nameless and faceless with the only objective being profit then we have a beast that cannot be stopped, unless consumers organize and reject ALL companies who don't adhere to a new human survival constitution. It is modern fascism without nationalism - profits at all costs without loyalty to any nation or even to the human race itself. It can all change by the people for the people but will require a new awakening. Thank you for a great start!!!

Dave Holden/Youth Motivational Speaker/athlete

I have always enjoyed learning about other cultures and I really enjoyed reading your article. It was definitely full of a lot of great insight about the Natives.

I was saddened to be reminded about the mistreatment of these people. How sad and how wrong it was on so many levels.

I thank you for sharing this article for all to see.

Carving My Dreams in a Gourd

Irma Luz Poma Canchumani (Quechua) is a traditional gourd-carver whose work is featured in the exhibition Conversations with the Earth, opening at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington this Friday, July 22, 2011, and on view through January 2, 2012. Sra. Poma Canchumani also participated in the exhibition as a video producer. She is interviewed about her art and ideas by Maja Tillmann of Conversations with the Earth’s partner organization InsightShare. 

Maja: Why did you decide to carve a gourd on climate change? 

Irma Luz Poma Canchumani carving Irma: I come from a peasant community, Cochas Grande, which means “big lagoon.” On behalf of my community, I want to express the need to harmonize the whole world.

Since childhood, I have always liked to explore how life was in former times. I am interested in understanding how we are treating Pachamama (Mother Earth). Do people spray crops? Do they care or not to sow seeds? Do they watch how the Earth is sown or harvested and where food comes from? I see little respect for life, and we all see too much inequality. This is why I created this gourd.

I am very sensitive to my dreams. When I meditate in the evenings, I am alone with the moon. I look at Waman Wasi (the local sacred mountain) and think of Huaytapallana (the regional sacred mountain) and of Pachamama and soon I begin to dream. The next day I concentrate and carve my dreams into a gourd.

I have always had in mind that people can gain awareness and behave soundly with Mother Earth. Discussing with my lifelong friend, Maja Tillman the many things I can express with my art, we arrived at the topic of climate change. We talked about how the trees are being chopped down, how natural plants that protect Mother Earth are being destroyed, that there are almost no medicinal herbs left. When I see the mountains without trees, without herbal plants, it is evidence that people are not aware or do not know how to take care of Mother Earth.

Maja: Did filming the videos as part of Conversations with the Earth influence your decision to carve the gourd?

Irma: In a way it did. When we filmed Conversations with Pachamama in 2009 I found much evidence of what I knew already. So I began to think about carving a gourd.

Maja: What was the process of carving the climate change gourd for the exhibit?

Irma: The gourd is a wild inedible fruit. When it is ripe, the inner part dries and only seeds remain inside. So, first of all, I had to find a gourd big enough to express all my thoughts. Because I was planning on carving a gourd on climate change, with many scenes I wanted to depict, I knew I needed a huge gourd. I found five of the same shape and bought them from the middlemen from Chiclayo, Piura, and Trujillo who bring gourds to our community, Cochas. I still have the other gourds, so I can make many more.

After I sketched out my work on the gourd, I used a burin (chisel) to engrave images. I don’t improvise, but concentrate deeply. It is better to be alone. I sort out mentally what I want to draw. Before I start, I sketch the main parts with a pencil. After that I engrave all the images directly onto the gourd.

When I work with the gourd, I honor Pachamama and the majestic Huaytapallana who provides pure water. I concentrate so deeply that for moments I feel that I am dreaming. I interpret my dreams in thoughts and then I carve them. Once I finish engraving I rub paper ashes on the gourd so that it gets black and then I apply cooking oil to clean it.

Gourd being rubbed with ash Gourd being oiled I worked day and night because it takes seven months to make a gourd, including the research. But I enjoyed carving it so much that I will probably make more gourds, because I am researching new stories that I can add.

Maja: Do you use coca leaves as a ritual to concentrate and to get a beautiful gourd?

Irma: Yes, I get energy and the permission from Pachamama as well as intelligence and wisdom. Coca leaves are sacred. When I chew the leaves before I start to work, I ask all my desires in my heart and my Holy Mountain Huaytapallana fulfills them. If the coca tastes sweet my work will be good, if it tastes bitter, its better that I not do anything.

Maja: What do you think of climate change?

Irma: My grandfather and my mother used to tell me about life in former times—their childhood, how they lived, how they planted and harvested, and what they used to eat. I see that life was better before. People were honest and loved each other. When I was a girl, my grandfather, Rufino, and my father, Augustin, grew potatoes. If somebody passed by during harvest time, we would give them something. Today, if you walk along the fields, people don’t even recognize you; they don’t even offer you a glass of water. I have reflected upon these things. It is a pity that we don’t care anymore for other people. I can tell that we are losing our culture. Everything is hate and envy, trash is all over, nobody sets the right direction. We are polluting Pachamama instead of caring for her.

Once, I cultivated potatoes with natural fertilizer [organically]. My mother and I took them to the market in Huancayo. Our potatoes were not perfect ,and nobody wanted to buy them. Other vendors sold big potatoes, and people bought them without knowing what is harmful for them.

When I was a child there were water springs, trees, and many plants in Achkamarca. Nobody has been taking care of that landscape; they even poured kerosene into the spring. I ask myself why do they have to do that? If you visit Achkamarca, you will find residues of insecticides, pesticides all over.

There used to be many trees. My grandfather would cut down one tree and then planted 20 new trees. Today everyone cuts down trees, but nobody replaces them. The mountains that I recall from my childhood now are naked, unprotected. No shade for the hot season.

I observe all of this and express it in the gourd with the idea that Pachamama is suffocating, she is vomiting, too much contamination. Nobody is caring for Pachamama.

People destroy everything because the want to earn more money. We will reach a point and there will be no water and a lot of money. Would we be able to eat money or drink money? This time is coming soon. Cities have water scarcity, and there are water wars. Everyone is claiming that there is no water but nothing is done to face the necessity of protecting Mother Earth. Who is going to stop this? We all must gain awareness and take care of Mother Earth!

Maja: Please describe what you carved on the gourd. Scene 1

Irma: The first part deals with marriage in former times. Getting married was a matter of respect and honor between husband and wife. We had been educated that way, our parents giving us love, honesty, and culture. They have taught us how to look after plants and how to dress properly. Today women have lost the divine taste to dress properly.

I also describe here all I know about medicinal plants. As a child I would collect passion fruit and healing plants with my mother. We raised our animals according to certain rules. All animal droppings were used for natural fertilizer. We never had to buy it.

The second part deals with the agricultural calendar—the twelve months of the year explained on the basis of each ritual related to a saint we celebrate each month, as well as sowing and harvesting according to the moon, the stars, and other signs in nature.

Scene 2 We observe animal behavior, cats, frogs, and birds. We listen to the river, if it sings or talks. This is our custom. We also pay respect, offer gifts to Mother Earth in the form of coca, cigarettes, and alcohol. The Apus (mountain divinities) recognize us as their children and welcome us. When we approach Pachamama and the Apus, we are confident and do not feel fear. Why should we fear them if they provide us with all we need? That is what I explain one by one in the twelve months.

At the end, I express how Mother Earth cries, suffers, claims justice. She cannot bear the insecticides. But people use tractors, destroy and cut down the trees, use huge fields and monoculture, without realizing the harm they are causing.

On the top of the gourd is represented the majestic Huaytapallana, my community of Cochas, my home and my mother’s place in front of Waman Wasi. All the customary dresses used by my parents and grandparents are depicted, as well as the agricultural tools used by men to work the fields. I also show how people pollute the river. It is like rubbing detergent, soap and plastic in your mouth, in your eyes—the river chokes, becomes blinded. When it rains, the river goes wild because it does not see—it’s blind.  This is why there are so many floods.

Maja: What do you expect people to learn when they see the gourd?

Scene 3 Irma: I wish that everyone who sees the gourd appreciates the art and follows the content. They must gain insights and think about the traditions of respecting Mother Earth.

I also want people to recognize where our food comes from and which food is the best for us. A perfect big potato does not mean that it is the best kind.  I prefer to eat small potatoes, not necessarily perfect, but that have been cultivated naturally. The big ones have chemicals and hormones in them.

I hope people tell others about what they have understood and explain it to many other people, so that we all can regain a good feeling towards Mother Earth. She gives us so much, everything! That is not well understood by everybody.

I hope that people, who have the chance to see the gourd, get together to do something for Mother Earth. If they don’t, we will all regret it.

Maja: Do you like being part of the Conversations with the Earth project? What does it mean for your community?

Irma: I love it and I congratulate all the people who are part of Conversations with the Earth! They are the people who want to save Mother Earth.

Being in the group helps me clarify my mind; it stimulates me to do research, to learn, and inspires me to act. When I went to Copenhagen and Panama, I got in touch with other cultures. I have seen similarities and I have learned many new things. In Copenhagen many people asked me about the way I dressed. I told them, the colors of the embroidery come out of my heart full of love and happiness. Other people told me that their countries are also very affected by climate change, illness, and lack of water.  I think we should help each other instead of just waiting for external help.

I hope people take time to see the gourd, the videos, and the photographic exhibition in the museum on how climate change is affecting us. I hope there will be a growing awareness to cooperate, to join efforts and work to save Mother Earth!           

Thanks to Gleb Raygorodestky for inspiring this interview, Maruja Salas for helping with the translation and editing, Katell Chantreau and Rodrigo Otero for the photographs, and most specially to Irma Luz Poma Canchumani for giving the interview and for being so positive and full of energy.

—Maja Tillmann

Illustrations, from top to bottom: Irma Luz Poma Canchumani (Quechua), with the gourd she carved for Conversations with the Earth; rubbing the carved gourd with ash, then finishing the surface with oil; three scenes from the gourd; Irma Luz Poma Canchumani. All photographs © CWE. Used with permission.

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What an art... I can't make that my self... art require a person to be creative. The step by step person definitely is not suitable for these kind of task :-)

Everything about art deserved to be posted, such a beautiful art you posted about. Thx

Now this is what I call art! Not many people appreciate the the nature of this art; it's something i wish others could understand.


This is just too good. I am on way to learn such kind of art. Its very tough.

What beautiful art! Thanks for the post.

Wow... Amazing design.

It almost looks like a tattoo.


June 30, 2011

Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change

Jimmy John (Gwich’in) at his winter camp near Arctic Village, Alaska.

Have you ever wondered how climate change is affecting people in different parts of the earth? The National Museum of the American Indian will address this question when the exhibition Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change opens on July 22, 2011, in the Sealaska Gallery on the second level of the museum in Washington. Through photographs, video, and audio, tribal communities from the Arctic to Brazil give first-hand accounts about the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples, as well as examples of traditional knowledge and its value in developing appropriate global responses. 

Voices from 15 indigenous communities in 13 countries come together in the exhibition, which is collaborative effort with the nonprofit organization Conversations with the Earth (CWE). Starting with the Gwich’in, who relate how the caribou and other wild foods they rely on are declining due to erratic temperatures, forest fires, and melting permafrost. The Gwich’in, who live in northeastern Alaska and the northern Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada, call themselves the “People of the Caribou.” According to residents and scientists, warmer temperatures have created an array of complex problems. “We need cold weather,” said Allen Tritt (Gwich’in), a resident of Arctic Village, Alaska. “The elders said if it doesn’t get cold, in the future everything’s gonna be changed.”


Charley Swaney (Gwich’in), Arctic Village, Alaska. Swaney and other Gwich’in hunters are concerned about new patterns in caribou migration and declining herd numbers. They constantly monitor the landscape and its animals and their movements. “We may not have much,” Swaney said, “but what we have is out there.”

Contrasting with the Gwich’in of Arctic Village are the Guarani of Brazil. Some 10,000 people live in and around the Guaraqueçaba forest on Brazil’s southeastern coast. Restrictions on subsistence practices have created a regional poverty belt for the Guarani. Over the last two centuries, Brazilian policies have caused steady encroachment on the Guarani territory where indigenous people have never held formal title. After centuries of development, just seven percent of the original Atlantic forest jungle remains. Many people whose families have lived in the forest for generations are now forced to resettle in the state capitol of Curitiba.

“The indigenous people are the true environmentalists. It’s the Indians that preserve the land. Locations where you have the most jungle, best preserved, are the indigenous lands. It’s because nature to us, the Guarani, is living and has to be respected. The laws imposed here in Brazil are already complicated. And when foreign companies come here investing in this area and buying land, it affects us even more because there is greater restriction,” said Jorge Gonzales Wochnicki (Guarani), a resident of the Guaraqueçaba forest. “They don’t want us here [in the forest] . . . but human beings are part of the ecosystem. All this richness that you see was preserved because the people have been here.”


Regional leader Leonardo Werá Tupa (Guarani), prayer house on Cutinga Island, Brazil. “Before the lines were drawn for Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia," Werá Tupa explains, "the Guarani were here.”

Other communities who collaborated in creating the exhibition include the Kichwa from Mojandita Village, Equador; the Manus from Manus Province, Papua New Guinea; The Gamo from the Gamo Highlands of Ethiopia; the Zanskari from Ladakh, India; the Yaqui and Comcaac from Sonora, Mexico; the Kuna from Ustupu Island, Kuna Yala, Panama; and the Quechua and Aymara from a number of locations in the Peruvian Andes.

Conversations with Earth will be on view at the museum through January 2, 2012.

—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI

All photographs by Nicolas Villaume, ©2011 CWE/Nicolas Villaume. Used with permission.

The museum is grateful to The Christensen Fund for its generous support of this exhibition.

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What a night. I love all pictures in ths blog. Just can't wait to see another story of Amercan Indian.

Excellent article. I find it particularly interesting to find out how the indigenous people of the Arctic region will adapt to global warming. This and other factors are changing the migratory patterns of many of their food sources. We are seeing the natural food chain being gradually displaced in these areas, not to mention their entire way of life.

For the most recent updates from the Conversations with the Earth (CWE), please visit CWE FB Page @ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Conversations-with-the-Earth/159461664069502

One of the biggest problems we have culturally is governments and the people of the new countries overlook the ways of the natives.
Natives have done what they do for thousands of years for a reason. Then we come in and literally mess everything up.
There is a lot we can learn from them because they know more.

We need to save the planet for all future generations. The Indian people were there time far ahead!