Over 500 years ago, my European ancestors, the original architects of the Industrial Growth Society, invaded a faraway land inhabited by peoples with an entirely different way of life, people who had not developed along the lines of industrial, mechanistic, materialistic European culture. Instead, these people had sought to follow and cooperate with the laws and ways of their life support system: Earth and its ecosystems. Some groups had strayed from this at times, but never for long or with much success. (This is not to idealize the people so invaded, some of whom had violent and hierarchical cultures; nevertheless, most lived in relative harmony with the environment.)
The Europeans, however, had come to regard nature as hostile, and assumed they had to wrestle life from it. They lived in a constant state of war with nature and with one another. They valued their man-made machines, tools, and social institutions much more than the ecosystems that gave them life.
It was very unlikely that such disparate cultures, with such divergent understandings of life, would be able to encounter each other in peace and mutuality. Had their communication and interaction been more tentative and gradual, they might have found common ground and even moved to peaceful alliance.
That was not to be, however, given the war-like stance the Europeans had taken toward life. How could they do other than fight and conquer a people so alien to them? So, tragically, they did.
We see this pattern of oppression still active today, focused on indigenous people and people of color—anyone, in fact, who appears different from the descendants of the white European colonial power structure.
And here we are today, the Industrial Growth Society having disrupted the balances of nature with its mechanistic incursions, invasions, and assaults. As a result, the global life support system is dying, or at least changing so dramatically that it may not support human life much longer.
At this very moment in time, the indigenous nations rise up. These Earth-centered peoples have survived, in spite of genocide and oppression; they are now ready to throw off the life-defeating colonial cloak that has evolved through the years from feudalism to corporatocracy. They are declaring: “No. No further down this destructive road shall you/we go. The line is drawn now in the sand. No further shall this go.”
This uprising can be seen in the historic gathering of over 200 Indian nations and tribes at Standing Rock Camp in North Dakota to protect the Missouri River and lands sacred to the Lakota peoples from the Dakota Access Pipeline. It can be seen in Idle No More, a movement of Canadian First Nations to block a multitude of mining, logging, oil and fishing projects destructive to land, water, and air, and harmful to their communities.
We see it in far Northern California in the Pit River Tribe’s years-long struggle against geothermal plants in the Medicine Lake Highlands, supported by several environmental groups. We see it as the Winnemem Wintu work to protect their remaining sacred sites from flooding from the proposed raising of Shasta Lake dam, and to educate us about the many other industrial policies that threaten their waters, fish, and indigenous life ways.
Many non-Natives are coming to realize that threats to indigenous life ways in fact threaten all humans and other complex life forms. Those of us of European descent will do well to follow indigenous leadership and support their actions in whatever ways we can.