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Understanding Indigenous Culture in ND Series: One with the Earth

The truth is that for Indigenous People, EVERY DAY is EARTH DAY!

Chief Seattle in his Treaty Oration of 1854: “Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event of days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.”

Indigenous people consider Mother Earth (Unci Maka), her forests, water sources, and land, a living deity for their well-being, not a resource. She is called “Mother” as she is the grand life-giver and all life flows through her, wherein indigenous people are her children. Mother Earth directly provides Indigenous people with food, shelter, medicine, and crafts (art) and supports their harmonious way of life. This simplicity still continues today.

Traditional practices for indigenous people attest to their inherent ability to live off the land through their knowledge of when it's the right time to fish, hunt buffalo and other animals, and harvest crops for food and plants for medicine. In addition, spirituality and culture are most closely connected with indigenous people and their relationship with nature.

Indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of the global population, yet they inhabit 80% of the most biodiverse regions.

WATER is the lifeblood of Mother Earth and connects all living beings on it. Not only do Mother Earth’s waters cleanse and nourish her body, but they also do the same for all those living beings who walk her. Indigenous people have always had a sacred relationship with water as it is an integral component of what has sustained people for thousands of years. Indigenous people’s traditional ways depend on water for transportation, drinking, cleaning, and is home to many food sources. In recent years, some tribes have fought to protect the water sources on their land from development, specifically oil pipelines, in fear of future contamination. If you take a moment to understand how critical the water source is to their lifestyle and respect for Mother Earth, you can better understand their stance.

LAND provides fertility for agriculture, the growing of crops, and an environment for animals to develop. When indigenous people grow and gather crops, their focus is on keeping or returning the ground and land to its original state. In addition, the focus is on feeding their community, not for selfish purposes. Most of the food gathering and consumed together.

FORESTS provide opportunities for shelter whether in its totality or portions of shelter. Natural shelter, also known as the temple and home, has been critical to indigenous existence. Also, any animal who utilizes the forest as shelter, whether a food source for indigenous living or not, the animal’s food supply is protected by and of significance to Indigenous people as well. Indigenous people and their vast knowledge of the cycles of the forest, equate to never taking more than what the ecosystem can provide. Also, no long-lasting damage is done to the forest/food source.

The indigenous mindset is that the natural environment is not something to be exploited or even to be extracted from whether with production measures or for human needs. Engaging in a relationship with Mother Earth, in which there is a repeated and respectful stewardship wherein you only take what you need to survive, is known to many as the circle of life. Indigenous People believe that if you take care of the Earth, the Earth will take care of you. The relationship with Mother Earth is passed down from generation to generation and is taught early on to Indigenous youth.

Take a moment to hear from Gladys Hawk and learn about the difference between living off the land versus living with the land. OSEU One: Interview with Gladys Hawk - WoLakota Project

Classroom Activity from RedBasket, "We are more alike than we are different."

K-3 Grades:

Goal – Students will understand the relationship between the natural world and people. The teacher will focus on the animal helpers, four-legged and winged.

Activity– The teacher will read the book Brother Eagle Sister Sky; the lesson guide can be found on the ND Teaching of Our Elders website:

Lakota words for animals can be found here:

4-8 Grades:

Goal – Students will understand the relationship between the natural world and people. The teacher will focus on how Tribal peoples observed the natural world and used that knowledge to sustain their life.

Activity – The teacher should direct students to view the following website and pick one animal to research and present to the class. This lesson could take one to two weeks depending on the extent of the research requirements and assessment. One assessment example- record each student presenting their lesson and show it at the next teacher conference. Or have students make a poster of their findings to display at parent/ teacher conference.

*** Schools are encouraged to provide time for students to clean up their school environment. Some schools have collaborated with community agencies to plant a community garden or trees.

For more detailed and historical information, visit:

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