Indigenous Wisdom for our Climate Crisis
Updated: Nov 13, 2019
Elder Dave Courchene – Nii Gaani Aki Innini (Leading Earth Man) – is a respected Elder and Knowledge Keeper of the Anishinabe Nation, who has devoted his life to environmental stewardship. He is known internationally for his leadership and vital role promoting hope, peace, cultural understanding, and environmental sustainability. He has shared the stage numerous times with spiritual leaders that include the Dalai Lama and in recognition of his work he has received several prestigious awards.
In 2002, he created a special place for sharing ancient Indigenous knowledge – the Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness – based on a vision he received many years ago, to promote the sharing and protection of the traditional ancestral knowledge of the First Peoples.
Elder Dave Courchene begins by stating that understanding that the Earth is a living entity is fundamental to having a sacred relationship with the Earth:
“The Earth has a spirit; the Earth has intelligence. We come to know the Earth by knowing ourselves, connecting with our own individual spirit. The spirit of each of our beings comes with and carries moral and ethical principles of what should be the basis of our own conduct. We understand these moral values as natural laws.”
Courchene explains that natural laws are always in effect, and that youth need to learn about these laws, and their roles and responsibilities of stewardship, in order to live a good life.
“All the laws of Mother Earth are based on respect, love, kindness and sharing. They are all positive – they teach us that we are all connected. There is one law that our people have always practiced in order to show an expression of love to the Earth: it is you never take more from the land than what you need in order to survive. The minute that you take more than you need, you open yourself to this value of greed - that is what is happening to these people. The thing with greed is that it can never be satisfied; you’ve got to have more, and that is why there is a continuation of the exploitation of the Earth; anything they can find profit from, they are going to exploit it.”
He continues explaining the consequences of the way human beings have treated the Earth, and the consequences of being guided by values and by an economic system that has no respect for life, no respect for the land itself:
“There is a great truth and that is that the ignorance of natural laws is the real cause of human suffering. What is happening in our world is that we have lost balance. We all have to change a lot more and give up the material life we have become used to in order to embrace the spiritually elevated life required for our species to survive. Survival always meant being connected to the spirit and certainly to the Earth.”
Elder Dave Courchene also speaks about the critical need to have a collective vision that is reflected in how we treat people, how we treat life, and how we treat nature, that models a way of life connected to the natural laws of the land:
“Everyone matters. Each of us has something to contribute to and it will take a combination of individuals with different skills. Our survival depends upon each of us supporting the natural laws every day. How we are all going to take care of the Earth is a collective vision. Part of the answer is in you, part of the answer is in me”.
At the same time Courchene highlights the importance of valuing the uniqueness of each one of us and taking the time to understand our personal identity:
“That is the challenge in humanity today - they want everybody to think the same or be the same. The first thing we need to do as individuals is to understand our personal identity, our gifts and our purpose.”
Indigenous people have always relied on visions, dreams and their spiritual experience to give guidance and direction in life. That experience is an experience of being connected to the Earth, to the Spirit:
“Our people have always followed a vision. That is why we have been so connected to the Spirit and the land. Whenever the Spirit gives a vision to an individual it always becomes a vision for the collective, it always leads to a vision of peace for humankind. You must remain firm in your belief in your vision, you must never give it up. Only when we align our human spirit with higher spiritual reality will we find peace. When we become awakened spiritually, we begin to see more, to feel more. We begin to trust the Spirit.”
The process of education from an Indigenous perspective necessitates forming relationships with living beings in one’s environment, including the living and breathing Earth itself:
“In our culture we are encouraged to spend as much time as we can on the land because out of the land, we get everything we need in order to live and to survive. You know, our people have always recognized Mother Earth to be the real teacher to understand life. Through nature itself we are able to hear the voice of that spirit - through the wind, the birds, the animals and the trees. All it requires is any individual to make that effort to go to the land, to be with the land – you begin to feel the life of all of creation.”
Indigenous knowledge is described as a living knowledge, connected to the land and ceremonies, holistic, and related to knowing ourselves, our place, our connections and relationships with other living beings and the Earth.
“Our heart has always been in the land as indigenous people and because of that, we hold a knowledge and an understanding that we want to share. Our knowledge keepers still speak the ancient languages and have kept our ceremonies, our ways of seeking and sharing knowledge. They are the ones whom are traditionally sought out for guidance. There are still a few left among our nations waiting for those who want to learn about natural laws.”
While unmitigated climate change poses a growing threat to the survival of Indigenous Peoples, more often than not they continue to be excluded from the global processes of decision-making. Elder Dave Courchene shares the challenge indigenous people face today on how to share their way of life.
“As much as the youth are sounding the alarm and raising the bar of concern on climate change what is still missing in the conversation is the voice of our Indigenous peoples, our Indigenous knowledge keepers. People are not paying attention to what we are saying about spirit and that the Earth is a living entity.”
He also educates us on the true meaning of reconciliation and on an understanding that the connection with the Earth and nature is a vital part of healing.
“We are taught here in this country about reconciliation; true reconciliation is behaving with high moral conduct, reconciling with the land and truly listening to what the indigenous people have to offer in their leadership on our homeland.”
Finally, Elder Dave Courchene shares his deep love for the next generation and his hopeful and positive vision for the future.
“It is important to leave a legacy for our children that can ensure that they can have a future. This will require a change of heart, a heart that acts with kindness, respect and humility.”