I've been re-reading an older book --- Steve Wall's and Harvey Arden's "Wisdomkeepers," published in 1990 and beginning to get a little dingy now. Subtitled, "Meetings with Native American Spiritual Elders," its content remains relevant, however.
Both Wall, principally a documentary photographer, and Arden, author and advocate, launched their careers with National Geographic. Their interest in the spiritual heritage of indigenous peoples developed there, and has continued.
"Wisdomkeepers," no longer in print but still available, involves visits with 17 spiritual elders of tribes scattered across the United States, among them Frank Fools Crow of the Lakota, Audrey Shenandoah, clan mother of the Onondaga Nation, and Thomas Banyaca of the Hopi. Many have now walked on; a few survive.
It's interesting to come back to this book, and others around here that explore Native American perspectives, in times of trouble like these --- times that probably are less of a surprise to indigenous peoples than they are to peoples of "the Book" --- adherents of Euro, American and Mideastern tribal Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
The indigenous perspective seems to focus on humanity as a co-equal product of creation; the Book folks, on humanity as especially created (or evolved) to subdue creation. This "subdue" business hasn't, as it turns out, worked very well in either the harmony department --- or in the long-term outlook for our planet and its resources.
Here are a couple of Sunday morning quotes from Oren Lyons, faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, the first especially appropriate for Iowans --- occupiers of a land between two great (polluted) rivers:
"One of the Natural laws is that you've got to keep things pure. Especially the water. Keeping the water pure is one of the first laws of life. If you destroy the water, you destroy life. That's what I mean about common sense. Anybody can see that. All life on Mother Earth depends on the pure water, yet we spill every kind of dirt and filth and poison into it. That makes no common sense at all. Your legislature can pass a law saying it's OK, but it's not OK. Natural law doesn't care about your Man's law. Natural law's going to hit you. You can't get out of the way. You don't fool around with Natural law and get away with it. If you kill the water, you kill the life that depends on it, your own included. That's Natural law. It's also common sense."
"Another of the Natural laws is that all life is equal. That's our philosophy. You have to respect life ---- all life, not just your own. The key word is 'respect.' Unless you respect the earth, you destroy it. Unless you respect all life as much as your own life, you become a destroyer, a murderer. Man sometimes thinks he's been elevated to be the controller, the ruler. But he's not. He's only a part of the whole. Man's job is not to exploit but to oversee, to be a steward. Man has responsibility, not power."