Interconnection between our Health and the Health of our Lands

The Interconnection between our Health and the Health of our Lands-
Published March 2016 in the Monadnock Shopper newspaper.

I have been doing a lot of reading recently about “Indigenous Science” or, as some call it, the “Science of Nature.” Indigenous science takes a holistic perspective on the interconnection and interrelationship between all living being on our planet and in the universe.  Rather than separation and objectivity, which are the tools of Eurocentric science, indigenous science is holistic and inclusive.  F. David Peat, a Western trained physicist who has spent much time studying and coming to appreciate indigenous science, describes the differences in his book Blackfoot Physics as follows[1]

Western education predisposes us to think of knowledge in terms of factual information, information that can be structured and passed on through books, lectures and programmed courses.  Knowledge is seen as something that can be acquired and accumulated, rather like stocks and bonds.  By contrast, within the Indigenous world the act of coming to know something involves personal transformation.  That knower and the known are indissolubly linked and changed in a fundamental way.  Indigenous science can never be reduced to a catalogue of facts or a database in a supercomputer, for it is a dynamic and living process, an aspect of the ever-changing, ever-renewing process of nature.

Of course, we humans have been practicing the science of nature from our very beginnings.  While in the recent centuries our dominant cultural and economic systems have moved away from indigenous science, with its focus on the sacred, learning through direct experience and interconnection with all life forms on our planet and beyond, some Western trained scientists like David Peat are coming to appreciate and understand indigenous science, and even to consider that it may have some critically important contributions for us all.

One of the most important is the intimate interconnection that indigenous science perceives exists between us and our environment. According to this perspective, our health is intimately intertwined and interconnected with the health of the animals, trees, birds, rivers and rocks around us.  In a matter of speaking, we are they and they are us.

I recall so vividly a scene from many years ago when I backpacked through South America; I spent one amazing night on the island of the moon in Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the hemisphere.  I stayed with a traditional indigenous family where only the male spoke even a bit of Spanish.  There was no electricity on the whole island and the stars were the most incredible I have ever seen.  I can still close my eyes and visualize them with such depth and volume.

I had been experiencing physical weakness for several weeks caused by some bad fish, a case of pink eye and some sort of infection.  I had been taking a few things from the pharmacy but nothing seemed to help much.  I was dragging myself around when I arrived to this island and the head of the household must have noticed this because he asked me in his limited Spanish if I was having health problems.  When I replied in the affirmative, he scampered out to the back of his house and returned a short time later with several herbs which he placed in a cup, filled with boiling water and told me to drink the tea.  Amazingly, within fifteen minutes I felt totally rejuvenated and had no more health problems after that for the rest of the trip.

Now in Western Science, they would focus on what the plant was, what the active ingredient(s) were that helped me, and then probably synthesize it in a laboratory to make it purer and stronger.  But in indigenous science, it was not only the plant itself that had cured me, but it was the pristine condition of the island, the way he picked the plant (most likely with a prayer and/or offering), the type of water used in the tea, and the presence of the blanket of stars and the moon above.  Without any of those ingredients, the tea would not have been so efficacious.

This brings me to a topic related to all of us in the region, which is the proposal to run a pipeline of fracked gas through some pristine areas of our region.  According to Indigenous Science, this pipeline, which will cut through rocks and dig into our aquifers, will impact all of our health and well-being.  Because of our sacred interrelationship with our environment, our plants, animals and our own health will all be impacted.  Nature holds preciousness and taking apart or breaking apart aspects of it has repercussions at many levels, visible and invisible to our mainstream viewpoints and lifestyles.

[1] Peat, David F., Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Worldview (Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, Inc., 2002), pp. 5-6.

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