Two-eyed Seeing and our Environment

Unprecedented wildfires, deluges of rain, storm surges and flooding, melting ice, multi-year droughts and record high air and ocean temperatures, and rising concentrations of greenhouse gases show we are moving deeper into environmental chaos.  Now people are realizing climate change is real, and we should have been working to protect Mother Earth decades ago. Millions have been, and millions more will soon be displaced or die as a result of food and water insecurity, drought, fire, and flooding. Our social and economic structures are collapsing. People are beginning to panic and give up hope for the future.

The root of this can be traced back hundreds of years, when natural resources began to be seen as commodities to be owned for private use and profit regardless of the consequences. Industrialized nations plundered non renewable resources and polluted the land, air, and water in the process.

Indigenous people did not accept those views and practices.

“In Native American culture, by contrast, they study the interconnections of the entire ecosystem.  ‘Seeing in a sacred manner’ means perceiving interspecies links. The word for ‘prayer’ in Lakota is wacekiye, which means ‘to  claim relationship with’ or ‘to seek connection to.’ To the Lakota people, the cosmos is one family. To live well within the cosmos, one must assume responsibility for everything with which one shares the universe. There are familial obligations toward water, plants, minerals. Any harm done to the slightest of these relatives has devastating consequences for the whole ecosystem. The merest hint suffices as a warning of eco-cataclysm.

We are blinded to these subtle signs by having been taught that matter is dead and inert. Considering it inanimate makes it available for exploitation as a resource. Lame Deer insists that ‘the earth, the rocks, the minerals, all of which you call ‘dead’ are very much alive.’ He implores us to ‘talk to the rivers, to the lakes, to the winds as to our relatives.'”  Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions by John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes.

I know there are dangers related to cultural appropriation, and idealizing Indigenous cultures. I have tried to be cognizant of cultural appropriation by asking permission to take photos at Native American gatherings. But I feel led to learn more about Indigenous views and practices because the views expressed in the quotation above are similar to my own. I was led to give up owning a personal automobile forty years ago because I knew the damage fossil fuels were causing. I have tried to have a small carbon footprint by living in small apartments, not using air conditioning, etc.

I have been powerfully affected by opportunities I began to have to spend time with Native Americans. I felt a deep spiritual connection from the beginning as I joined Native Americans in Indianapolis as we worked together as water protectors to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline. Part of that connection is a shared belief in the power of prayer and commitment to nonviolence, which have been important parts of my own spiritual development and practices. I was so moved by the unyielding commitment to nonviolence of those gathered at Standing Rock even in the face of violence from state authorities. Indigenous people have been responding the same way in similar situations all over the world.

I like the concept of two-eyed seeing.

Two-eyed seeing “recognizes the benefits of seeing from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous ways of knowing, from the other eye the strengths of the Western ways of knowing, and using both of these eyes together to create new forms of understanding and insight.”   Elder Albert Marshall (Mi’kmaq, Eskasoni First Nation) from Urban Tribes, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

To “create new forms of understanding and insight,” we have to learn more about each other. I’ve written more about that in the blog titled Building Bridges. I have also been sharing a lot of blog posts related to this with the closed Facebook group, “Stop DAPL 2.0!” that has a lot of Native American members. I am trying to share about the “Western ways of knowing”.

The reason for writing this today is to try to express why I think it is important to continue to do things that will advance this idea of two-eyed seeing. That is why I plan to participate in the First Nation–Farmer Climate Unity March. I encourage you to seek and participate in opportunities for sharing between those of the West and Native Americans.

climate march poster



This entry was posted in #NDAPL, climate change, Indigenous, Quaker Meetings, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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