There is a spiritual bond between Indigenous people and the land.
The Earth is our mother, and she cradles the bones of our ancestors. The land has memory, and it remembers the steps of past generations that are alive in us still. When we are on our ancestral grounds, we are home. We can feel the land welcome us home. We can lift our heads a little higher and breathe a little deeper, because we are home and at one with the land.
How long will this be true for Indigenous cultures if extractivism continues as it has? The deforestation, pipelines, mining, overgrazing and GMOS are destroying the lands of our people. The waters are no longer drinkable and are not safe to bathe babies in. Greed and disregard have left most Indigenous people with nothing but broken spirits and little hope.
We are losing lands to mining, industry and deforestation. This means losing our languages, our way of life and the wisdom and knowledge of the elders because so much energy has to be put into just surviving.
This is a tragedy that goes far beyond losing a homeland. It is a tragedy that robs a people of their culture, their connection to the past and the future. It is robbing whole populations of hope and their spirit.
On my reservation, which straddles Northern New York State and the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, we are struggling to teach our children the ways of the Earth and water because of the damage that has been done by industry and waste dumping.
For 500 years, Indigenous people have been under siege from greed and racism. Generations have fought back against land grabs and forced relocations. My father’s generation fought back against the stripping of our language and culture in the boarding schools. My generation fought against governmental interference and to regain our language and tradition. This generation is fighting against the devastation caused by tar sands, pipelines, fracking, mining and deforestation. We fight these battles not for ourselves but for future generations, our ancestors yet to be.
If, in this time and place, we do not put an end to extractives and all forms of environmental devastation, there will be nothing left for our children to be rooted in. They will have no connection to the land and creation. The vision of such a world brings pain and sorrow to Indigenous Communities around the globe.
In Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis writes:
Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle lined to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.
In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.
When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture. (Chapter 3, section II, 145–146)
We have to continue this fight, not for us, but for the seventh generation to come.