What a blessing it is to be exposed to so many different cultural values and perspectives in life! I am extremely grateful for my thirty-eight years living with the Chippewa Cree tribe in Montana. They taught me so much about the presence of the Great Spirit God in all of creation.
Randy Woodley, a Cherokee descendant, gave me a very clear picture about the present destruction of Sacred Earth, especially in the United States. Native American people lived with the land, respecting the natural balance of life. They knew the earth belonged to the Great Spirit and cared for it with great reverence and awe. When the European people came, they did not understand the Native ways and had a different perspective of this new land. They wanted to live on the land, not with it, and benefit from all its resources. The Native Spirit Ways of reverencing the earth and communicating with the Great Spirit for direction were threatened.
Earth is a gift, one to be shared and used according to its purpose. That is very different from the attitude of “it’s mine”; “it’s private property”; “don’t trespass”; “I really don’t need it, but I own it.” I learned about the attitude of sharing from all the Native American ceremonies of giving. If you admired something, the Native people would give it to you as a gift even if they needed it. Embedded in their culture is the practice of giving.
In the past, we dismantled the Native American culture by forcing their people onto less desirable land called reservations, isolating them from any advancement, and forcing them to give up their lifestyle and values. We tried to control them with meager government handouts and removed their children from their homes to provide them with the “white man’s” education. But the gifts of optimism and endurance seem to run in their blood, and we are blessed that their wisdom and generosity in relationship to Earth and to their fellow human beings persists today.
Western culture has viewed nature as a collection of commodities, disregarding the gift of Earth that supports all life. Hunger, poverty, climate change, war, and other problems have resulted. If only we would live the Gospel of Jesus and build the kingdom of God and not our own. Pope Francis urges us to look to Native Americans and other indigenous people for new ways to live:
Indigenous peoples are a living appeal for hope. They remind us that human beings have a shared responsibility in the care of the “common home.”…
The earth suffers and the native peoples know about dialogue with the earth; they know what it is to listen to the earth, to see the earth, to touch the earth. They know the art of living well, in harmony with the earth.
The life of our universe will continue if we concentrate on the common good of all of God’s creation. I thank God for the wisdom of our Native American people, seeing the presence of God in all creation.
– Sister Margaret Mary O’Doherty, OP
Sister Margaret Mary recently returned to her native New York after more than 40 years of ministry to the Native American community in Montana