"Take only what you need. Take only that which is given." -Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
The Honorable Harvest is practiced by native people of North America. This practice allows for humans to coexist with nature and share in a respectful and sustainable manner the Earth's land, plants, and animals. Understanding human connections to the environment has challenges but from an Ojibwe perspective it is important to make the time to reflect on how humans impact the Earth. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and writer of the book "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants." Kimmerer shares native perspectives on environmental ethics in the article The 'Honorable Harvest': Lessons From an Indigenous Tradition of Giving Thanks:
"If we understand the Earth as just a collection of objects, then apples and the land that offers them fall outside our circle of moral consideration. We tell ourselves that we can use them however we please, because their lives don't matter. But in a worldview that understands them as persons, their lives matter very much. Recognition of personhood does not mean that we don't consume, but that we are accountable for the lives that we take. When we speak of the living world as kin, we also are called to act in new ways, so that when we take those lives, we must do it in such a way that brings honor to the life that is taken and honor to the ones receiving it."
The canon of indigenous principles that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest. They are "rules" of sorts that govern our taking, so that the world is as rich for the seventh generation as it is for us.
(Read the full article here: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/good-health/the-... )
CS16 students in Environmental Stewardship class has been focusing on how and why environmental ethics are developed and consider how culture and history influences our connection to the environment. Eleva Potter, Assistant Director of Student Instruction, reached out to northwoods community members to include indigenous perspectives on environmental justice and stewardship. Eleva arranged two separate presentations for the CS16 students and staff to gain valuable experiences. The first presentation was about environmental justice and the second was a Maple Syrup Celebration, both providing new perspectives on how we come to know, respect, and love the land.
In February, it was a pleasure having guest speakers Jerry Jondreau and Katy Butters share their personal stories and the stories of native people in the midwest. Jerry and Katy talked about Ojibwe culture and tradition as one that connects people intimately to the land. They shared that that the Ojibwe perspective of environmental stewardship promotes coexisting with nature and being intentional with your actions. Jerry stated, "be extremely careful and know your actions have ramifications" so students could think about their own interactions with nature and with people of different cultures and practices.
As Kimmerer states, "Recognition of personhood does not mean that we don't consume, but that we are accountable for the lives that we take." Jerry reminded the Conserve School students and staff that life is not just the humans but the plants and animals that make up the land. By understanding our impact as consumers, we can make the connections to people and land that we should honor, as it provides us water, nutrients, shelter and a sense of place.
Also discussed was how the state, federal and tribal laws influence native communities and how they manage natural resources and care for the land. Jerry explained treaty rights in the area and how the Ojibwe people have kept the right to hunt and harvest on public lands in the Northwoods.
This presentation was relevant to the work we do at Conserve School, as students in Environmental Stewardship class are discussing Environmental Justice. One topic that is discussed is how people in positions of power have opportunities to create space for multiple voices to be heard and considered. Jerry and Katy's presentation also involved looking at different perspectives on the environmental issues and whose voices are being heard. Having Jerry and Katy speak helps students understand an indigenous point of view on environmental stewardship.
CS16 Maple Syruping Celebration
With maple syruping season upon us, Jerry and Katy returned to Conserve School this past week to introduce students and staff to an Ojibwe tradition of offering a gift to the maple trees. This native tradition has been used for hundreds of years by native people and is a special process of reflection, acknowledging the gifts that nature provides us, and giving thanks and an offering to nature. Visiting Conserve School with Jerry and Katy for this ceremony were Damon Panek and Bazile Panek, a CS14 alum. Damon facilitated the ceremony and said that through this process we are "taking a moment out of our busy lives to recognize the gifts that are in nature." Throughout the ceremony we were given opportunities to reflect on how we are connected to the land and how maple tree tapping, a process of accessing food, is a special action. Similar to hunting, fishing, farming and cooking, "the action of making food is a special action. Our ability to make our food is a gift and through this ceremony we are acknowledging that gift," shares Damon.
Before their arrival on Wednesday, students prepared wild rice, cranberries, and venison with Eleva. The wild rice, cranberries and venison were all harvested in the northwoods of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The significance of this meal is show gratitude and reciprocity for the maple trees that are giving us their sap that we make into maple syrup.
Conserve School was grateful to have these guests on campus to share with the students and staff a tradition that provides context to a native culture and the practice of reciprocal giving.
Last week students tapped sugar maple trees in their Outdoor Skills class and learned multiple ways to collect sap and make it into a syrup. The process of tapping, collecting sap, boiling it and jarring syrup will take several weeks and is weather dependent. The syrup that we make is used at meals on campus for pancakes and salad dressings. As we enjoy the sweet treat of the maple syrup throughout spring we can reflect on the CS16 Maple Syruping Celebration, the Ojibwe people of this area, and the importance of connecting to the land.
By creating the space at Conserve School for students to learn about native people and practices there is a greater understanding on how environmental ethics and values are formed. A special thanks to Eleva Potter for inviting guest speakers Jerry Jondreau, Katy Butters, Damon Panek and Bazile Panek to campus to share their stories and perspectives on environmental stewardship and for arranging the CS16 Maple Syrup Celebration.