Western understanding of the environment is limited de facto because the language and cultural system on which it is based are rooted in a fundamental lie that human beings are separate from the Natural world. In contrast, the world over, Native worldviews and lifeways demonstrate the non-duality of humanity and the rest of creation.
In the English language, it is difficult to even speak of any aspect of creation without affirming this separation. For example, when we speak of the aspects of Nature that we need for survival, like “wood” and “food,” we don’t use the words that actually describe the living system, words like “tree,” “nourishment given from the Earth.” This may sound weird to a Western ear, but no stranger than a word like “wood” sounds to Natives.
It is important to understand how the language reflects our worldview and what we are up against as we attempt to integrate a deeper and more holistic understanding of the environment and our role going forward in the 21st Century.
We are facing unprecedented challenges that, according to prophecies from the Four Corners, are only expected to intensify.
The fundamental belief and experience that we exist “separate” from creation is the root cause of all of our suffering. It is only through regaining the knowing of our oneness, experiencing, literally, non-separation, that we will be able to come back into balance, restore what Mother Earth is calling for and heal ourselves, our communities and our world.
“My Aachaa, I had a traditional relationship with an Aachaa, is a mentor type role of an older person with a younger person. My Aachaa picked me out when I was 5 years old and he taught me much of what I know about being Aleut about hunting about relationship to people, and about being a man, and relationship and understanding of nature. Yet literally from age 5 to age 13 he may have said no more than 200 words to me because words are considered in a traditional way not only to be superfluous but to diminish one’s own understanding of things that are based on one’s own inherent intelligence, of what we call the real human being.” – Ilarion Merculieff
Mother Earth and the Environment
“In these prophetic times, where human beings are pushing the Earth Mother’s life support systems to the brink, it is imperative to do whatever is possible to elevate human consciousness. We must heal separation from self, from other and Mother Earth. This separation is the root cause for all the human dysfunctions that are destroying Mother Earth and ourselves.” – Ilarion Merculieff, on Oren Lyons on climate change, PTN.org
With Merculieff, Ford and Elgin
Summary: This is a panel discussion between elders and youth on: “What gives us hope and heart to keep working on what is best for our Earth in the face of difficult changes?” In this excerpt Larry Merculieff, followed by Barbara Ford and then ending with Duane Elgin, discuss “hope.”
Source: Earth Day Conference. July 2012
Summary: Larry Merculieff (Aleut) tells a story from his childhood about learning through observation of Aleut hunters and seabirds how one profoundly connects with the earth. This clip is part of a series exploring the meaning of sustainability from the perspectives of indigenous leaders from the bioregion of Salmon Nation. For a complete transcript of this interview and more from the Native Perspectives on Sustainability project, visit Native Perspectives
Source: Native Perspectives on Sustainability project. May 2010.
Summary: Larry Merculieff (Aleut) critiques the use and meaning of the term “sustainability,” and he speaks to the potential for human beings to draw upon our inherent intelligence to live in alignment with all of creation. This clip is part of a series exploring the meaning and definition of sustainability from the perspectives of indigenous leaders from the bioregion of Salmon Nation. For a complete transcript of this interview and more from the Native Perspectives on Sustainability project, visit Native Perspectives
Source: Native Perspectives on Sustainability project. November 2009.
Summary: Larry Merculieff (Aleut) suggests that understanding how to address the problems we have created requires that we ask the right questions, look inward at ourselves and engage in dialogue with diverse perspectives. This clip is part of a series exploring the meaning of sustainability from the perspectives of indigenous leaders from the bioregion of Salmon Nation. For a complete transcript of this interview and more from the Native Perspectives on Sustainability project, visit Native Perspectives
Source: Native Perspectives on Sustainability project. January 2010
– The idea of wilderness is “an interesting concept; it is a Western concept. Our people have always lived and interacted in the environment,” said Illion Merculieff, an environmental activist from the Aleut community in the north-western U.S. state of Alaska.
The Aleuts have inhabited the islands and coastal areas of the Bering Sea, in the northern Pacific, for more than 10,000 years, having adapted to the extreme climate.
“Adaptation is absolutely essential,” according to Merculieff, “but not adaptation as it is understood in the scientific community. This is adaptation that comes from retrieving information and communicating with the environment, so the environment would tell us what is happening.”
He explained that since he was a child he has communicated with the ocean, which has told him when there will be high tides and where the best places are for fishing.
with David Hall (interviewer) & Larry Merculieff (interviewee)
Summary: According to Merculieff, we diminish the meaning of our relationship to the Earth with words like “sustainability,” which have definitions too small to characterize the set of values and principles humankind must employ to truly live in a way that is mutually beneficial for all life. Native people focus instead on the underlying principle of relationship based on reciprocity, thinking ahead for the generations to come. In this 22 minute interview, Merculieff shares personal stories of his upbringing, how he got his cultural role as Kuuyux and the roots of his understanding of our role and relationship with the Earth Mother.
Source: Native Perspectives on Sustainability project. June 2007.