Reflections

A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry from Yale Divinity School

“Mother Earth Won’t Lie to Us” - An Interview with Tiokasin Ghosthorse

Tiokasin Ghosthorse is host of First Voices Radio, which explores the cultures of Indigenous peoples and the threats they face. With native ancestry in the Cheyenne River Lakota (Sioux) Nation of South Dakota, he has long been involved in Indigenous rights and advocacy. As a musician he performs worldwide on the ancient red cedar Lakota flute and other instruments. At the website firstvoicesindigenousradio.org, he says: “We have to stop with the idea of creating peace on earth and begin with creating peace with Mother Earth. We’ve tried the first alternative for thousands of years, but look where that has led us; now is the time of the Original Ways, the Native ways … We all must make peace with Mother Earth.” He talked to Reflections earlier this year.

On the folly of “saving the earth” …

It’s strange to say we can “save the earth.” The arrogance of that! We can’t save it. It’s about allowing Mother Nature to save us. I often wonder what people mean when they say “nature.” People say nature is beautiful, or needs to be healed, but it’s always out there, over there, separate. We build parks and take the wildness out of them, making them good for golf and picnics. On a smartphone we see glaciers melting, but not the species dying because of the melt. It’s hard to know empathy.

I come from outside the anthropocentric view. We see an egalitarianism in nature. Everything in nature has consciousness, everything is in balance. The Western view ignores this. The concept of “domination” isn’t even in the original Lakota language.

Regarding the meaning of survival of the fittest …

This attitude of separation from nature is everywhere. It’s in the idea that the “fittest survive,” which creates a predatory energy: By now we’ve hunted everything to death, exploited and extracted everything we can. We’re addicted to being in control. We think we’re the supreme species, with our intellectualism. We can’t accept that we’re not in charge. We can’t get away from a basic truth: Mother Nature gets to make the ultimate decision about who is fittest. Species that respect balance and consciousness will survive.

We can sound benevolent and say we need to wake people up. But you can’t awaken anyone who pretends to be awake already and uses all the right language about doing the right thing, like recycling, as if that’s enough. Mother Earth won’t lie to us. So why are we lying to her and to ourselves? A form of pareidolia is at work – the tendency to project human value onto nature, seeing Elvis’s face in a tree. If we see no human value in nature, we destroy it.

Seeking a language of the heart …

I work with young environmentalists who are fed up with the system. They know something is going wrong – our connection with the earth is broken – but they don’t know how to express it in language other than the technical vocabulary that educated them. I ask them to write 500 words about themselves. Then I ask them to circle all the times that “I” and “me” and “my” show up. Usually it’s a lot. They see how caught up they are in becoming a particular kind of person, an expert, an “environmentalist.” They realize a language of relationship with nature is missing – a language of abundance, gratitude. Instead of asking them to turn over the next rock anxiously and save the earth, I say try something else: breathing, alertness, consciousness. I want them to see “I” as a verb.

Bringing the truths of Native peoples to light …

So many cultures have things to say, and they haven’t been allowed to step up to the podium. How responsible are we journalists to purport the truth to our audiences? Is there a way to present the truth and still maintain that Indigenous people are not of the past, not second-class citizens, and show that our lives are of interest to the general populace? Of course! But where can we find the everyday truths concerning worldwide Indigenous issues? Not just from a Western hegemony of writers but from the people living, doing, and relating themselves to terra firma with intact culture, languages, and perspective. The experience of the Native person who lives the voice of Mother Earth is a different paradigm than Western reasoning, which is based in denial of Indigenous thinking.***

Doing what’s required now …

It’s not enough anymore to “do our best.” We have to do what’s required – a new way of thinking. Some people are ready for this. For others, I don’t think showing them the data will matter. You have to change the heart. If you can do that, you can change the body and the way people think about nature. It’s not sentimentalism. The earth moves for them.

*** See firstvoicesindigenousradio.org.

 

Issue Title: 
Crucified Creation: A Green Faith Rising
Issue Year: 
2019