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How Science Ignores The Living World — An Interview With Vine Deloria

This interview of Vine Deloria by author Derrick Jensen, was published in July of 2000, by The Sun Magazine.

Today, it is more relevant – and more important – than when it was published.

Deloria passed away on November 13, 2005.

 

July 2000: Vine Deloria is one of the most important living Native American writers. For more than a quarter century, he has produced an extraordinarily readable critique of Western culture. Central to Deloria’s work is the understanding that, by subduing nature, we have become slaves to technology and its underlying belief system. We’ve given up not only our freedom, but also our relationship with the natural world.

Deloria was born in 1933 on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. For many generations, his family has straddled white and Indian cultures. One of his ancestors, the son of a fur trader and a Yankton Sioux headman’s daughter, had a vision that his descendants would serve as mediators with the dominant society.

Deloria’s father, a Dakota Episcopal priest, took his young son to the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and pointed out to him the survivors who still lived on the reservation. Deloria left home at sixteen to go to a college-preparatory school in Connecticut. After graduation, he turned down an acceptance to the University of Colorado and bought a used car with his tuition money. He went on to study geology for two years at the Colorado School of Mines (my own alma mater) before enlisting in the Marine Corps reserve. In 1956 he enrolled in Iowa State University, where he met his future wife, Barbara Jeanne Nystrom.

They moved to Illinois so that Vine could attend a Lutheran seminary in preparation for becoming a minister, like his father. For four years, he studied philosophy and theology by day and earned money as a welder at night. Although he completed his education, he grew increasingly disappointed with “the glaring lack of solutions” the seminary provided.

In 1964, Deloria went to work as the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, and there he began to see the importance of building a national power base for Indians through grassroots organizing. He soon came to appreciate the need for trained Indian lawyers who could defend tribal sovereignty and treaty rights within the legal system, and in 1967 he enrolled in law school at the University of Colorado.

Deloria maintained his ties to Christianity, even being elected to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. In one of his books, however, he posed a challenge to the religion of his childhood: “If, as they claim, Christianity is for all people, why not let Indian people worship God after their own conception of Him?” Deloria no longer identifies himself as a Christian, but, if pressed, offers that he is a “Seven Day Absentist.”

Since receiving his law degree in 1970, Deloria has written many books and lectured at colleges all over the country. In both his writing and his speaking, he has never shied away from direct assaults on injustice. It’s as though he doesn’t have time or patience for the polite indirectness that characterizes so much political dialogue today. His book titles alone testify to this directness: Red Earth, White Lies (Fulcrum Books) won the 1996 Nonfiction Book of the Year Award from the Colorado Center for the Book; Custer Died for Your Sins (University of Oklahoma Press) brought accounts of the trail of broken treaties up to date; and God Is Red (Fulcrum Books) remains one of the best books written on Native American spirituality.

Deloria recently retired from his position as a professor of history, law, religious studies, and political science at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He lives in Golden, Colorado, with his wife, who edits much of his work.

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Jensen: What would you say is the fundamental difference between the Western and indigenous ways of life?

Deloria: I think the primary difference is that Indians experience and relate to a living universe, whereas Western people — especially scientists — reduce all things, living or not, to objects. The implications of this are immense. If you see the world around you as a collection of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, you will inevitably destroy the world while attempting to control it. Not only that, but by perceiving the world as lifeless, you rob yourself of the richness, beauty, and wisdom to be found by participating in its larger design.

Science insists, at a great price in understanding, that the observer be as detached as possible from the event he or she is observing. Contrast that with the attitude of indigenous people, who recognize that humans must participate in events, not isolate themselves.In order to maintain the fiction that the world is dead — and that those who believe it to be alive have succumbed to primitive superstition — science must reject any interpretation of the natural world that implies sentience or an ability to communicate on the part of nonhumans. Science insists, at a great price in understanding, that the observer be as detached as possible from the event he or she is observing. Contrast that with the attitude of indigenous people, who recognize that humans must participate in events, not isolate themselves.

Ironically, although science prides itself on being a search for knowledge, Indians can obtain knowledge from birds, animals, rivers, and mountains that is inaccessible to modern science. And Indians can use this knowledge to achieve better results. Take meteorology. Scientists know that seeding clouds with certain chemicals will bring rain, but this method of dealing with nature is wholly mechanical and forces nature to do our bidding. Indians achieved the same results more peacefully by conducting ceremonies and asking the spirits for rain. The two methods are diametrically opposed. It’s the difference between commanding a slave to do something and asking a friend for help.

Being attuned to their environment, Indians could find food, locate trails, protect themselves from inclement weather, and anticipate coming events thanks to their understanding of how all things are related. This knowledge isn’t unique to American Indians. It’s available to anyone who lives primarily in the natural world, is reasonably intelligent, and respects other life-forms for their intelligence. Respect for other life-forms filters into our every action, as does its opposite: perceiving the world as lifeless. If you objectify other living things, then you are committing yourself to a totally materialistic universe — which is not even consistent with the findings of modern physics.

The central idea of science, as it has been developed and applied, is to get machines or nature to do the work human beings don’t want to do. This is immensely practical, but in a shortsighted way.

Jensen: How so?

Deloria: Developing the automobile, for example, allowed people to get quickly from place to place, but at what cost, both in terms of accidents and of damage to the natural world? And what effect have automobiles had on our spiritual life?In a capitalist system, whoever supplies the money determines the technology. This means that science, as it’s applied, is never really for the good of humankind, but instead for the good of the financial elite or the military.

In a capitalist system, whoever supplies the money determines the technology. This means that science, as it’s applied, is never really for the good of humankind, but instead for the good of the financial elite or the military. It also means that science will be dominated by the authorities who have found institutional favor, whether they have the best evidence for their beliefs or not.

When beliefs and knowledge harden and become institutionalized, we turn to institutions to solve all our problems: people purchase food grown by others, settle their conflicts in courts and legislatures rather than by informal, mutually agreed-upon solutions, and wage extended and terrible wars over abstract principles instead of minor battles over the right to occupy land for hunting and fishing. Similarly, beliefs about the world are processed into philosophical and rational principles rather than anecdotal experiences, and religion is reduced to creeds, dogmas, and doctrines.

Now, every society needs educated people, but the primary responsibility of educated people must be to bring wisdom back into the community and make it available to others. Because of hierarchies, European thinkers have not performed their proper social function. Instead, science and philosophy have taken the path already taken by Western religion and mystified themselves. The people who occupy the top positions in science, religion, and politics have one thing in common: they are responsible for creating a technical language incomprehensible to the rest of us, so that we will cede to them our right and responsibility to think. They, in turn, formulate a set of beautiful lies that lull us to sleep and distract us from our troubles, eventually depriving us of all rights — including, increasingly, the right to a livable world.

Rather than trusting our own experiences and senses, we often look to scientists for explanations of the world. In giving explanations, these scientists defer to the dogma and doctrine they learned in universities and colleges. It’s gotten to the point where almost anything anyone with a Ph.D. says is taken as gospel, rather than as someone’s opinion.

One example of this credulity is the widespread acceptance of the notion that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait. Newspapers and textbooks say that archaeologists have proven there were waves of people moving to and fro across the Bering Strait, but they haven’t proven anything of the kind. Assuming that carbon dating is anywhere near accurate, and that the researchers didn’t throw out as “noise” any results they didn’t agree with, all they can prove is that a group of people lived in such-and-such a place, however many years ago. Everything else is just theory and speculation. Respect for other life-forms filters into our every action, as does its opposite: perceiving the world as lifeless. If you objectify other living things, then you are committing yourself to a totally materialistic universe — which is not even consistent with the findings of modern physics.

Jensen: So you view the theory that human beings came to North and South America across the Bering Strait as an article of faith, rather than as fact?

Deloria: I’ve yet to see any remotely convincing evidence to support it. It’s a doctrinal belief that institutional science has imposed on us.

The effort to deny that Indians are native to this land really started with the old Spanish clerics, who tried to identify Indians as either survivors of Noah’s flood or members of the lost tribes of Israel. So modern scientific theories are part of an entrenched line of thought: a Judeo-Christian insistence on seeing the world through Eurocentric eyes. Indians cannot simply be Indians. They have to have come from somewhere in or around Europe.

Jensen: Why is this issue of deep origins important?

Deloria: People want to believe that the Western Hemisphere, and North America in particular, was vacant, unexploited, fertile land waiting to be cultivated according to God’s holy dictates. The hemisphere thus belonged to whomever was able to “rescue” it from its wilderness state. We see the same rationalization at work today in the Amazon and elsewhere. If the Indians were not the original inhabitants of this continent but relative latecomers who had barely unpacked when Columbus came knocking on the door, then they had no real claim to the land and could be swept away with impunity. Thus, science justifies history and eases the guilt over five centuries of violence. Even today, I hear some non-Indians say, “Well, aren’t we all immigrants from somewhere?” The short answer is no. By making Indians immigrants to North America, Westerners are able to deny the fact that this is our continent.

Another way science has assuaged Western guilt is by claiming to prove that Indians are just as destructive as Westerners. You’ve probably heard of the Pleistocene overkill hypothesis, which states, without any real evidence, that as soon as Indians “arrived” here, they started killing everything in sight. When the hypothesis was first proposed some fifty years ago by Carl Sauer, it was shot down almost immediately by Loren C. Eiseley, who raised numerous concerns that have never been refuted. One is the fact that not only large mammals disappeared during the Pleistocene Epoch, but also birds, mollusks, and frogs, which could not have been hunted to extinction. Also, there is no evidence that tribal hunting groups using ancient techniques could exterminate — or even significantly alter — an animal population, unless the hunters and prey were restricted to a very small area. The example of modern tribes who still use Stone Age methods supports this.

So the overkill theory remained dead in the water until the 1960s, when it was revived by a book called Pleistocene Extinctions. Since then, as the destruction of the natural world has become ever more difficult to ignore, Westerners have needed ever stronger salves for their consciences, so the theory has risen up again in full force. Although there is still little real evidence to support it, its ideological function — to prove that destructiveness is part of human nature, and not just the result of a destructive way of living in and perceiving the world — is important enough to justify its admission into the scientific canon.

There’s even a new theory that Indians were responsible for the near extinction of the buffalo. According to this argument, Indian winter encampments deprived the buffalo of feed, and so the population plummeted.

Jensen: How could anyone make that claim?

Deloria: Simple: by ignoring all evidence that contradicts the thesis, such as 1870s newspaper reports of white hunters shipping out trainloads of buffalo hides. In the Dodge City area alone, hunters killed 3 million buffalo in three years.

Jensen: If Indians didn’t cross the Bering Strait, how did they come to inhabit this continent? What do the Indians themselves say?

Deloria: That last question isn’t asked often enough, and points out another problem with the scientific tradition. Somehow it is presumed that scientists, and thus Europeans, know better than the Indians themselves how Indians got here and how they lived prior to Columbus. That attitude is patronizing at best. Instead of digging and analyzing, why don’t researchers just ask the Indians? And then, having asked, why don’t they take the answers seriously?

Indians’ beliefs about their origins vary considerably from tribe to tribe. Many tribes simply begin their story at a certain location and describe their migrations. Others will say they came from another continent by boat. (Of course, archaeologists generally refuse to believe them, because they think Indians couldn’t have built boats, which is absurd.) A number of tribes say that they were created here. A few say they came here through a portal from another world. They walked into a cave or tunnel, for example, until it was completely dark, and they continued walking until a tiny light appeared ahead of them. As they kept moving toward it, it grew bigger, gradually revealing itself to be an entrance to a new world.

Personally, I like the Pacific Northwest tribes’ idea that, in the distant past, the physical world was not dominant, and you could change your shape and experience life as an animal, plant, or bird. Then the world changed, and some people were caught in different shapes and became animals, plants, and so on.

Much of the Indian knowledge of origins is revealed in ceremonial settings and involves views of time, space, matter, and cosmic purpose that the scientific perspective considers heretical. Because of this, such accounts are generally dismissed out of hand as superstition: nice campfire stories that have no connection to reality.

Jensen: Philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend has said that “whatever fails to fit into the established category system or is said to be incompatible with this system is either viewed as something quite horrifying, or, more frequently, it is simply declared to be nonexistent.”

Deloria: That’s standard scientific procedure. You throw out the results you don’t agree with, turn to the results that “make sense,” and say, “See, this is proven.” It’s nonsense.

Scientists gather data from what appear to them to be similar sources and circumstances and, after much meditation, announce the discovery of “laws” that govern the universe — with some notable exceptions we rarely hear about. Sometimes these “anomalies” are acknowledged and become the basis for fruitful discussion, but more often they’re simply swept under the rug. The increasing sophistication of scientific measuring instruments continues to reveal flaws in the previously agreed-upon canon, yet this seems not to bother a great majority of scientists, nor the rest of us, who should care far more than we do.

Scientists impose highly restrictive laws upon the natural world, thereby limiting its potential for response. They are asking incomplete questions of nature and, in many cases, irrelevant ones. In my opinion, fields purporting to be scientific should devote considerable time to reexamining what they can really prove and what is speculation, and then restate their principles. Standards of evidence need to be erected. There’s got to be some discipline and courage. Scientists should be willing to speak out when authoritative-sounding pronouncements are being made on the basis of questionable — or nonexistent — evidence.

I like the Pacific Northwest tribes’ idea that, in the distant past, the physical world was not dominant, and you could change your shape and experience life as an animal, plant, or bird. Then the world changed, and some people were caught in different shapes and became animals, plants, and so on.

Jensen: A friend of mine says that science is an even better means of social control than Christianity, because if you don’t believe in Christianity, you’re simply doomed to burn in a hell you don’t think exists, whereas if you don’t believe in science, you’re presumed to be stupid.

Deloria: I think science has replaced Christianity as the dominant religion in our society. You see evidence of this whenever someone goes to court to try to establish or protect religious rights. If science and religion come into conflict, religion always loses. That’s true for everyone from Christian fundamentalists to Indians to Orthodox Jews: anybody who has a religious view that’s unacceptable to scientists.

Jensen: What are some better ways of perceiving and living in the world?

Deloria: I would say one alternative to forcing nature to tell us its secrets is to observe nature and adjust to its larger rhythms. This alternative is practiced by many other cultures, but it scares a lot of people in the West because it derives information from sources that may be tinged with mysticism. For example, many centuries ago, three sisters appeared to the Senecas and said they wished to establish a relationship with “the two-legged people.” In return for the performance of certain ceremonies that would help them to thrive, the sisters would become plants and feed the people. The three sisters became beans, corn, and squash. And the soil of the Seneca farmlands was never exhausted, because these three plants, in addition to sharing a spiritual relationship with one another, also formed a sophisticated natural nitrogen cycle that kept the land fertile and productive.

The white man came later, planted only corn and wheat, and soon exhausted the soil. Then, after conducting many experiments, scientists “discovered” the nitrogen cycle and produced chemical fertilizers to replace the natural nitrogen. But now we know that these chemicals have unpleasant side effects that may be even worse for us than they are for the soil.

The point is that, for every scientific “discovery,” there may exist one or more alternative ways of understanding natural processes. But we can’t know what these alternatives are until we absolutely reject the idea of forcing nature to reveal its secrets and instead begin to observe nature and listen to its rhythms.

Jensen: I’ve heard about South American tribes who can take a poisonous plant and, by some complex process; boiling it three times, skimming off the froth, and so on — turn it into medicine. Usually, the tribes are assumed to have arrived at these processes through trial and error, but this seems ludicrous to me, because the original plant is a deadly poison. By contrast, you’ve written that “getting information from birds and animals regarding plants is an absurdly self-evident proposition for American Indians.”

Deloria: There are plenty of Indian stories where a plant will appear in a dream and speak to someone, or a person is walking through the forest, and suddenly a plant will say, “I’m edible, but you’ve got to do these various things in order to eat me.”

When I was much younger, I would bring Indian plant knowledge to scientists for them to investigate. But they always wanted to take the plant apart, break it down to see what its constituents were. Their efforts were pointless, because that’s not the way the medicine men use it. They use it whole, and then they get the natural product out of it by making a tea, or a poultice. You can’t chemically disassemble it, because it’s the whole of the plant that cures, not any one ingredient.

Jensen: This seems to get at the heart of the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous cultures: seeing the plant as a whole and letting it literally speak to you, versus putting nature, as Francis Bacon said, “on the rack and extracting her secrets from her.”

Deloria: That’s true, although most of the greatest scientists dabbled considerably in spiritual matters and believed that mystical and intuitive experiences provided them with knowledge. This is true even of Descartes, the first materialist, who is famous for articulating the mind/ body, human/nature split. He said an angel came and explained things to him. Heisenberg, Einstein, and Bohr all had sudden insights. What’s the difference between that and the Indian performing a ceremony and hearing the plant say, “Do this”?

Jensen: I’ve heard of ceremonies in which Indians would sing to the corn. How does that help? What does singing do for the plant?

Deloria: We’re giving energy and respect to the plant. It’s kind of like when you’re trying to teach your kid how to play basketball, and even though he can’t hit the hoop, you say, “Hey, that was really a good one.” You’re not only telling the plant, “We respect and appreciate you”; you’re also making a fuss over the fact that it’s growing. It’s a straight transfer of energy.

Any fool can treat a living thing as if it were a machine and compel it to perform certain functions. All that’s required is sufficient force. But the result of force is slavery, both for the victim and for the wielder.

Jensen: In one of your books, you cite the Osage chief Big Soldier on this: “I see and admire your manner of living. . . . You can do almost what you choose. You whites possess the power of subduing almost every animal to your use. You are surrounded by slaves. Everything about you is in chains, and you are slaves yourselves. I fear that if I should exchange my pursuits for yours, I, too, should become a slave.”

Deloria: That’s the best thing any Indian ever said. I teach at the University of Colorado, and so many of my students are convinced that they are free, yet they act just like everyone else. They all do the same things. They all think alike. They’re almost like a herd, or clones. They’re enslaved to a certain way of life. The thing is, once you’ve traded away spiritual insight for material comfort, it is extremely difficult ever to get it back. I see these kids hiking in the mountains, trying to commune with nature, but you can’t commune with nature just by taking a walk. You have to actually live in it. And these young people have no way of critiquing the society that is enslaving them, because they get outside of it only for the occasional weekend. They may see beautiful vistas and develop an aesthetic appreciation of this other world, but they’re not going to get to a metaphysical understanding of who they really are.

In this sense, poor Appalachian whites and rural blacks are much closer to the natural world than my students, because they live in it twenty-four hours a day. These groups also have in common their oppression by industrialization and the destruction of the land on which their lives depend. Their connection to the natural world teaches them who they are. And it’s not just an abstract connection, but a relationship with a particular tree or a particular mountain.

Jensen: How does being in one place for a long time teach you who you are?

Deloria: If you live in one place long enough, you begin to lose the defenses you’ve erected in order to survive in industrial civilization, and you fall into the rhythm of the land. You develop a different sense of the natural world and no longer have to think of things in the abstract. You think, instead, of how the land looks and what it’s telling you. I would think many Appalachian people have this sense, especially the ones who’ve lived back in the hills for five or six generations. They have begun to adjust to the land, as opposed to forcing the land to adjust to them. If you talk to them, you’ll find they don’t have many of the abstract concerns that so-called civilized people have.

Jensen: What sort of abstract concerns?

Deloria: Always wondering who you are. Always trying to prove yourself, to prove that you are good enough, strong enough, rich enough, good-looking enough. Always trying to define yourself in terms of what you do for a living or what your hobbies are or what you can buy. I can see how that would be an effective survival technique in New York City, but if you live in a place where you’re not always having your identity called into question, you don’t need to worry about those things. You can simply be yourself.

Because of the industrial machine, no one really has an identity anymore. So you have to keep giving people numbers and meaningless ways to define themselves. If you look at the bestseller list, you see all these books offering to tell you how to be yourself. Well, when the land gives you a foundation, you don’t have to struggle with that question. If you live a long time in one place, you have an ongoing experiential context. If you don’t, your life is limited to little disconnected experiences. To really feel alive, you’ve got to grab as many of these experiences as you can. Thus, you’ve got MTV and malls and discos.

Why do Western people — and the Near Eastern peoples from whom their religions are derived — need a messiah? Why is their appraisal of the physical world a negative one? . . . Why do they insist on believing that ultimate reality is contained in another, unimaginable realm?

Jensen: How have modern Indians been separated from the land?

Deloria: Obviously, there are some whose tribes came from the swamps of south Georgia, but who live on a reservation in Oklahoma, or on the south side of LA. People my age mostly grew up on reservations or in towns near reservations, but now a substantial number of young Indians grow up in the suburbs. When these kids come back to Indian culture, they are grasping the images rather than the substance. That’s why it’s important to live in one place, or at least to visit your place and your people often: to stay in touch with who you are, you need to know not just your peer group, but your family and your ancestors and the tribe you were born into. Young suburban Indians often can’t distinguish between the Indians of their tribe and all the information put out about Indians in general. Black Elk Speaks has become a kind of bible for a whole generation of Indians, but it’s really only about one Sioux medicine man.

Loss of ethnic identity, of course, is not just an Indian problem. It’s happening in the big cities. Take Roman Catholic churches. It used to be that you would have an Irish Catholic church, and two blocks over an Italian church, and then six blocks down a Lithuanian church. Now, for financial reasons, the three churches have to consolidate into one, and people lose that sense of community based on ethnicity. They become homogenized into one great big church that stands for nothing, because they’ve had to make so many compromises.

We all need to relearn our own cultural traditions. About six years ago, I brought together traditional people of different tribes for several conferences on Indian knowledge. The whole thing was very emotional, almost traumatic. Few of the Indians in the audience had heard real Indian storytellers tell about their own traditions. A storyteller would get up and speak for forty minutes, and the entire audience would be in tears. People would come to me and say, “I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.” I’d respond, “Well, this is what our ancestors did. They didn’t spend twenty-four hours a day hunting buffalo. They’d kill a buffalo, have a feast, and then take a few days off to sit around the campfire and tell stories.” Those traditions built incredibly strong characters and happy people.

Jensen: How can we revive that sort of community?

Deloria: Well, in my own case, I would start by pulling together what’s been written down and getting to know it reasonably well, but then I would go out and ask some of the elders how accurate it is. Most books tell only part of the story, and some actually get things wrong. The authors just happen to find some Indians who want to talk and write down what they say. Once it’s in print, it becomes absolute: “This is what Sioux Indians believe,” or “This is what Shoshones believe.” But medicine men and elders often know better.

Many of these elders probably reached adulthood in the 1930s. This means their grandfathers did not grow up on reservations, but were the last generation brought up in freedom. Now we’re losing the last people who ever spoke to the last people who were free. We’re at a very dangerous time. When my generation goes, people are not even going to remember rural communities with no paved roads. In the small towns near reservations, there are no longer any benches where people can sit and talk. Where can we find the coming together, the old visiting? Not at the tribal councils, which are just about policy decisions. Not at the powwow, where everyone is trying to win the dance competition. The old kinship responsibilities are all fading away. How many people today, Indian or otherwise, know where their grandparents are buried? There are no family cemeteries anymore. There is no returning to a place where you feel at home.

Jensen: Why do you think the West destroys every traditional culture it can reach?

Deloria: I don’t think those in power want it known that there are other ways of living, because for the industrial state to succeed, all the citizens have to be part of the economic machine. If you have people living out in a rural area pretty much self-sufficiently who spend their time singing and writing poetry, it tempts those who are still part of the machine to try to seek better lives themselves. If you saw the lack of stress in indigenous people, and then looked at the stress created by the industrial machine, you’d realize that the whole system has gone crazy. We don’t control machines; they control us. So the system has got to crush any alternatives.

This is the legacy of Christianity. The stated Christian ethic is to “love thy neighbor,” but, historically, Christians have been afraid and suspicious of any neighbor unlike themselves. And if those neighbors won’t change, they’ve simply killed them. Certainly, millions of Indians were given the choice of Christianity — and enslavement — or death. The same thing happens today, but it’s generally couched in economic terms, rather than religious ones.

Jensen: How are Indian religions different from Western religions?

Deloria: Most Indian cultures never had a religion in the sense of having dogmas and creeds, nor did they have the sort of all-powerful deity that Christians speak of — a specific higher personality who demands worship and adoration. Rather, they experienced personality in every aspect of the universe and called it Woniya (“spirit”) and looked to it for guidance.

Jensen: So Indians believe everything has spirit?

Deloria: Not exactly. It’s not something they believe. What happens in the different Indian religions is that people become so intimate with their particular environment that they enter into a relationship with the spirits that live there. Rather than an article of faith, it’s part of their experience. I think non-Indians sometimes experience this, too, when they spend a long time in one place.

Indians believe that everything in the universe has value and instructs us in some aspect of life. Everything is alive and is making choices that determine the future, so the world is constantly creating itself. Because every moment brings something new, we need to strive not to classify things too quickly. We must see how the ordinary and the extraordinary come together into one coherent, mysterious story line. With the wisdom and time for reflection that old age provides, we may discover unsuspected relationships.

In this universe, all activities, events, and entities are related. Thus, it doesn’t matter what kind of existence an entity enjoys; whether it is human or otter or rock or star, it participates in the ongoing creation of reality. To Indians, life is not a predatory jungle, “red in tooth and claw,” as Western ideology likes to pretend, but a symphony of mutual respect in which each player has a specific part to play. We must be in our proper place and play our role at the proper moment. Because we humans arrived last in this world, we are the “younger brothers” of the other creatures and therefore have to learn everything from them. Our real interest shouldn’t be to discover the abstract structure of physical reality, but rather to find the proper road down which to walk.

I would also say that another major difference between Western and indigenous religions is that aboriginal groups have never had any need for a messiah. In fact, there really is no place for one in their cosmos.

Jensen: Why is that?

Deloria: If the world is not “a vale of tears,” then there’s no need for salvation. Indians know nothing of a wholly different world — a heaven — compared to which this world has no value. Indian religion is instead concerned, as sociologist Robert Bellah has noted, with “the maintenance of personal, social, and cosmic harmony, and with attaining specific goods — rain, harvest, children, health — as men have always been.” The North American Indians don’t desire transcendence. They simply want to learn more about the reality that confronts them.

Why do Western people — and the Near Eastern peoples from whom their religions are derived — need a messiah? Why is their appraisal of the physical world a negative one? Why do their societies suffer such crises? Why do they insist on believing that ultimate reality is contained in another, unimaginable realm beyond the senses and the span of human life? I don’t understand it. Religion, as I have experienced it, isn’t the recitation of beliefs, but a way of helping us understand our lives. It must, I think, have an intimate connection with the world in which we live, and any religion that favors other places — heaven and the like — over the physical world is a delusion, a mere control device to manipulate us.

Jensen: What, then, to an Indian, is the ultimate goal of life?

Deloria: Maturity: the ability to reflect on the ordinary aspects of life and discover their real meaning.

Now, I know this sounds as abstract as anything ever said by a Western scientist or philosopher, but within the context of Indian experience, it isn’t abstract at all. Maturity is a matter of reflection on a lifetime of experience, as a person first gathers information, then knowledge, then wisdom. Information accumulates until it achieves a sort of critical mass, and patterns and explanations begin to appear. This is where Western science derives its “laws,” but scientists abort the process there, assuming that the products of their own minds are inherent to the structure of the universe. Indians, on the other hand, allow the process to continue, because premature analysis leads to incomplete understanding. When we reach a very old age, or otherwise attain the capacity to reflect on our experiences — most often through visions —we begin to understand how experience, individuality, and the cycles of nature all relate to each other. That state seems to produce wisdom.

Because Western society concentrates so heavily on information, its product is youth, not maturity. The existence of thousands of plastic surgeons in America attests to the fact that we haven’t crossed the emotional barriers that keep us from experiencing maturity.

Jensen: I’m friends with an Okanagan Indian, from British Columbia. I once asked her where dreams come from, and she said, “Everybody knows the animals give them to us.” How would you answer the same question?

Deloria: You have to remember that the Indian relationship to the land is not abstract, but very particular, tied to one piece of ground. My people come from the plains, so we say dreams come from the spirits, not from animals. This is because, if you look around the Great Plains, you see only three large wild creatures: the buffalo, the bear, and the wolf. And you don’t run into them all the time. On the other hand, in the Pacific Northwest, where your friend’s from, there are so many living things that a person is in danger of disappearing into the crowd. So if she says that dreams come from animals, she’s absolutely correct — for her area. If I say dreams come from spirits, I’m correct, but only for the plains.

Jensen: It seems pretty clear to me that if the dominant culture has its way, it will destroy the planet.

Deloria: No question about it.

Jensen: What can we do, then?

Deloria: So long as we perceive science to be a cure-all for everything and a means to overcome nature, there’s nothing we can do. Our answer to increasingly violent weather, for example, is to build cement bunkers to protect us from tornadoes. We’re adjusting to the destructive system rather than abandoning it.

Jensen: You’ve suggested the beautiful possibility that extinction might not be forever, but that, instead, the endangered creatures go away and come back when their habitat is once again being treated properly.

Deloria: About ten years ago, I spoke to members of the Society for Ecological Restoration. I told them that traditional Indian knowledge says that beings never become extinct. They go away, but they have the power to come back. I predicted that, in their restorations, if they were preparing the area right, plants they thought were extinct would begin coming back unaided after four or five years. Plants would come back first, and then animals, and then birds.

Of course, my audience thought I was crazy. But later, when I went to get a cup of coffee, several people followed me. They said, “You’re right. We’re seven years into a swamp restoration in Wisconsin, and all the original plants are back.”

This is not as extraordinary as it might sound. The elders tell us that the buffalo used to go back and forth between two worlds. In the summertime, people would find themselves in the middle of a big herd for weeks. But in the wintertime, there would be only a few buffalo down in the river bottoms, or up in the grasslands. Where were the huge herds? According to the Sioux, they were underground. There were about ten places where they went in or came back out.

When I first heard that, I didn’t believe it. Then I talked to some of the elders, who said, “Of course,” and showed me the buttes where the buffalo used to come out in the springtime. I thought, This is insane, so I scoured the literature, but I couldn’t find any accounts of big buffalo herds in the wintertime. Then, come June, the damn plains were covered with buffalo. In the fall, they started disappearing again.

I’m still working on this one. But that’s what life is all about. You take disparate facts, bring them together, and say, “Now, what’s the real question?” And so often you’re amazed to find that the matter is much deeper than you ever imagined. But the point is to ask the questions, and keep asking them.

Campaign Announcement: NO Deal For Nature | Stop the Corporate Capture of the Commons

Campaign Announcement: NO Deal For Nature | Stop the Corporate Capture of the Commons

February 9, 2020

 

Illustration: Betrayal, artist Mario S. Nevado

A new international campaign has been launched which alleges the WEF is guilty of spearheading a bid by corporations and financial institutions to “monetize” nature on a global scale.

It is calling on people across the world to hold public meetings, disseminate information, form local campaign groups  and “to take whatever action is necessary” to halt the so-called “New Deal for Nature”.

An online statement from the “No Deal for Nature” alliance [1], whose slogan is “life is not a commodity”, has already won the support of several academics and campaigners.

It warns that “under the guise of environmental protection” a massive exploitation scheme is in fact being drawn up, with the aim of maintaining the current wealth and power transfer from the poor to the rich.

The WEF boasted on its own website that “young climate activists, including Greta Thunberg” would be attending the Davos event in Switzerland from January 21. [2]

WEF stated it would be discussing “how to address the urgent climate and environmental challenges that are harming our ecology and economy” and “how to transform industries to achieve more sustainable and inclusive business models”.

However, the WEF also revealed it would be examining “how to govern the technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution so they benefit business”. [3]

The package of policies known as the “New Deal for Nature” is being promoted not only by the WEF, but also by  the United Nations (UN), [4] the World Bank [5] and the controversial World Wildlife Fund (WWF).[6]

The UN has admitted it wants to “advance a new political agenda” involving “increased promotion of innovative financing that supports green infrastructure”. [7]

The new campaign describes this agenda as a “monstrous and unprecedented assault on our living world by the capitalist system”.

It warns that nature and humanity alike will suffer, with the threat of “further Indigenous displacement and genocide”.

The campaigners conclude: “The NDFN must be stopped. We call on all those who care about nature to speak out now”.

 

[1] http://nodealfornature.org

[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/davos-abandon-fossil-fuel-economy-climate-change-greta-thunberg/

[3] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_AM20_Overview.pdf

[4] https://truepundit.com/al-gore-un-officials-team-up-to-push-a-new-deal-for-nature/

[5] https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/five-ways-help-nature-help-us

[6] https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?339010/A-new-deal-for-Nature-and-Humanity

[7] http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/28333/NewDeal.pdf

 

CONTACT: nodealfornature@protonmail.com

Twitter:

 

5 reasons to say “no” to the New Deal For Nature

  1. Conceived of by vested interests. The “The New Deal For Nature” (NDFN) is being drawn up by the world’s most powerful corporations, financial institutions, and conservation NGOs, including WWF. WWF has been complicit in human rights abuses for years. At the helm of the NDFN is the World Economic Forum which entered into partnership with the United Nations on June 13, 2019.

 

  1. Undemocratic. The NDFN is being negotiated without any participation from the wider public. The deal will be concluded at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) conference in Beijing in October 2020 without any vote by our local, regional or national parliaments, bypassing full democratic scrutiny.

 

  1. Represents the corporate coup of the commons. During negotiations on free trade agreements such as TTIP and CETA, we saw how our governments work hand-in-hand with multinational corporations to hand over even more power to big business, privatising more public services. Now nature is up for grabs. Under the guise of taking action on the climate and ecological crises, what the NDFN entails, in practice, is the financialization and privatisation of nature (defined as “ecosystem services”, “natural capital”, “natural climate solutions” or “nature-based solutions”)— global in scale. Assigning monetary value to nature enables industries such as the fossil fuel industry to continue polluting as long as they commit to engaging in net zero activities such as offsetting carbon emissions by planting trees, or by “restoring” nature.

 

  1. Rescues the very system destroying nature. The NDFN would involve the total transformation of the global economic system to create new markets, thereby salvaging the failing global economic capitalist system that has brought us to the brink of ecological catastrophe.

 

  1. Harms those best placed to protect biodiversity. The NDFN would threaten the further displacement and genocide of Indigenous and tribal peoples as global corporations and conservation NGOs seek control of their lands to maintain hegemony under the guise of tackling climate change and restoring nature. This represents a new wave of colonisation, for peoples in the Global South in particular.

 

Further resources to learn more about the New Deal For Nature:

The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – For Consent: The Green New Deal is the Trojan Horse for the Financialization of Nature [Volume I, Act V], an investigative report by Cory Morningstar http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/02/13/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-forconsent-the-new-green-deal-is-the-trojan-horse-for-the-financialization-of-nature/

The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – A Decade of Social Manipulation for the Corporate Capture of Nature [Volume I, Act VI – Crescendo], an investigative report by Cory Morningstar http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/02/24/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-adecade-of-social-manipulation-for-the-corporate-capture-of-nature-crescendo/

The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – For Consent: To Plunder What Little Remains: It’s Going To Be Tremendous [Volume II, Act III], an investigative report by Cory Morningstar http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/09/15/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-forconsent-to-plunder-what-little-remains-its-going-to-be-tremendous-volume-ii-act-iii/

The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – For Consent: They Mean Business [Volume II, Act IV], an investigative report by Cory Morningstar http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/09/17/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-forconsent-they-mean-business-volume-ii-act-iv/

To learn more about the issue of monetising nature: Climate Capitalists, a page created by Winter Oak Press providing links to over 50 resources in various formats and languages https://winteroak.org.uk/climate-capitalists/

Accumulation by Restoration: Degradation Neutrality and the Faustian Bargain of Conservation Finance, an intervention by Amber Huff of the Institute of Development Studies and STEPS Centre, University of Sussex and Andrea Brock of the University of Sussex in the journal Antipode Online https://antipodeonline.org/2017/11/06/accumulation-by-restoration/

Guatemala: Petén at the center of the sustainable development plans of the NGOs, an investigative report by Aldo Santiago in Avispa Midia
https://avispa.org/peten-at-the-center-of-the-sustainable-developments-plans-of-the-ngos/  

Guatemala: Carbon, the Metric of Displacement in Petén, an investigative report by Aldo Santiago in Avispa Midia
https://avispa.org/guatemala-carbon-the-metric-of-displacement-in-peten/

Banking Nature, a documentary by Denis Delestra and Sandrine Feydel http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/10/30/watch-banking-nature/

To learn more about WWF’s human rights abuses: WWF Silence of the Pandas, a documentary by Wilfried Huismann
http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2013/07/22/watch-wwf-silence-of-the-pandas-a-journeyinto-the-heart-of-the-green-empire/

Victim of the WWF, a documentary by Zembla
http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/06/04/watch-victim-of-the-wwf-world-wildlife-fund/

 

 

Exposing Charities in Africa: Hypocrisy, Racism, Objectification

TeleSUR

June 24, 2015

 

 

9

Crimes list:

World Vision

* Last year, World Vision announced its decision to finally stop discriminating and hire LGBTI people. However, after the announcement saw sponsors withdraw donations – apparently more concerned about people’s sexuality than hunger, the decision was reversed and the organization continues to bring homophobia to the African continent.

* Its president, Richard Stearns, studied business administration and began his career doing marketing for several Fortune 500 companies. His wage with World Vision is almost US$400,000 a year. He has blamed poverty as often being a result of “fathers that aren’t around … Boys learn from their fathers what it means to be a good man.”

* Its publicity continues to be children-centered, simplistic, and individualistic. It tells little fairy tales: “In a nearby poverty stricken village … Mona, 11 years old, is teaching her brother a song, because Mona believes it doesn’t take much to live happily … with $39 Canadian dollars we can help people like Mona.” Cameras angle down at big-eyed children with one name and an easily digestible story of suffering, easily cured with money and religion.

* Gospel given with food: The U.S. evangelicals broadcast over their Christian Broadcasting Network and Trinity Broadcasting Network throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Save the Children

* An individualistic approach to a systemic problem. Donors choose the child they want to sponsor from a range of photos. This has many implications for the children, who become competitive with their friends who are chosen for sponsorship. The donor has the power to decide who will be more prosperous.

* In 2013, Save the Children and Britain’s biggest drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline joined hands, with GSK aiming to give the charity 15 million pounds (US$23.6 million). GSK pleaded guilty in 2012 to healthcare fraud, which involved promoting drugs, such as anti-depressants, for unapproved uses. It also fights to protect the patents of its HIV medicine, for example, which was developed using public funds, at the expense of affordable medicine.

* Like World Vision, the CEO of Save the Children, Carolyn Miles, also has a business and marketing background. In 2013 she was paid US$407,399.

* In 2014, war criminal Tony Blair was given Save the Children’s Global Legacy Award at a gala dinner in New York. Funnily enough, the year before, former adviser to Tony Blair and current Save The Children chief executive Justin Forsyth was among nine at the charity awarded US$250,000 in bonuses.

* In 2013 a whistleblower accused the charity of self-censoring criticism of energy corporations, such as British Gas, for fear of upsetting existing or future donors.

USAID

* A racist gem from USAID administrator Andrew Natsios, who was quoted in the Boston Globe in 2001 as saying Africans wouldn’t be able to successfully take HIV and AIDS treatment regimes because “Africans do not know what Western time is.” He allegedly said that many people in Africa “have never seen a clock or a watch their entire lives and if you say one o’clock in the afternoon, they do not know what you are talking about.”

* Last year USAID joined with real estate company Rockefeller to launch a US$100 million “climate resilience fund” for Asia and Africa, with the vague aim of making communities more resilient to disasters. The alternative could have been policy that reduces the U.S’s huge contribution to contamination and global warming: but that would affect profits.

Charities … as simple as white people’s individual goodness. They become saviors, while the denial of complexity, the simplistic advertising dehumanize and rob people in Africa of their dignity, agency, intelligence, and power.

* USAID has partnered with Monsanto to promote “biotechnology,” or genetically modified organisms. It launched the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project in 1991 to introduce GM crops, which benefit patent-holding companies like Monsanto and works to create dependence on U.S. corporations’ fertilizers and pesticides. USAID has invested millions in “biotechnology” in countries like Nigeria and Uganda and uses workshops on GMOs and other issues to promote policy change favorable to U.S. corporate interests.

* USAID’s slogan, “from the American people,” should be, “from U.S. corporations,” as it once claimed on its own website, “… the principal beneficiary of America’s foreign assistance programs has always been the United States. Close to 80 percent of the USAID contracts and grants go directly to American firms,” Grain.org reported. The USAID site also states that the organization works to promote “democratic” institutions (even though the U.S. is no model of democracy) and to “foster an environment attractive to private investment.” With its bureau for Africa located not there, but in Washington, D.C., Andrew Herscowitz, coordinator of the bureau, describes his position as “facilitating private investment to bring cleaner energy and electricity to millions across Africa.” Apart from the fact that that is another thing that the U.S. itself needs, its also another example of taking advantage of colonialism-caused lack of infrastructure to help companies make profits.

* Many governments find it hard to stand-up to USAID, as it functions as a mouthpiece of the powerful, warmongering U.S. Grassroots organizations, however, are often more willing to resist.

World Food Program

* Despite being the food assistance branch of the United Nations, and allegedly more neutral than some other charities, the WFP has corporate ties, and is problematic in similar ways to other charities

* It cooperates with USAID, Save the Children, and receives significant donations from Monsanto. In 2011 for example, the WFP held a donation drive in which each dollar raised would be matched by a dollar from Monsanto. Monsanto however, contributes to world hunger by making farmers dependent on their seeds and with destructive agricultural practices.

* WFP overlooks the role of big business in exploitation and causing poverty, instead promoting the private sector’s role in the so called elimination of hunger. It is part of the Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was formed in 2012 to facilitate private corporations’ profiting from hunger and as excuse for the rich nations to wash their hands of any responsibility.

* WFP states on its website, “Cause related marketing generates support and awareness for your business … presenting a unique opportunity for companies to simultaneously do well and do good.” Other WFP corporate partners unqualified to fight hunger include Pepsico Foundation (objectifies women and spent US$1.7 million in opposing U.S. citizens’ right to know if food is genetically modified), Bank of America (2008 financial crisis) Yum (parent company of fake food restaurants KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), Caterpillar (proud demolisher of Palestinian homes), and Cargill (energy trading, crops and livestock: no self interest here, has had to recall a lot of its meat products for contamination, sued for extreme child exploitation on its cocoa bean plantations).

* Similar images such as this one using victimized, helpless children, and empowering the Western savior – “you can save lives.”

* Kenyan economist James Shikwati argued that WFP food aid was sometimes so big that it made it hard for local farmers to compete.

Clinton Foundation

The Clinton Foundation uses poverty in African countries as a public-relations tool for the families’ politicians and for the celebrities who donate to it. It focuses on health systems, not that Bill Clinton was able to do much for health in his own country: a reoccurring story with many charities. The charity is also used to foster business deals. The Clintons and celebrities conduct fly-by visits through African countries as a kind of ego parade of people pretending to care, with all attention on the “helpers” and none on the people of those countries.

* Earlier this year, the charity came under fire for not declaring tens of millions of dollars in foreign donations and in another unsurprising scandal this year, the Clinton Foundation worked closely with a pharmaceutical company to distribute “drastically substandard” antiretroviral drugs to third world countries that had no chance of helping HIV and AIDs patients, according to a Wall Street analyst.

Get Angry: Global Inequality Should Be Changed, and Charity Isn’t the Way

The thing about aid is that it always comes with conditions (working with businesses, practicing religion, spending money according to the dictates of the charity), it always involves the inequality of a much more powerful giver and a disempowered receiver, and it involves the powerful side thinking it knows better that the receiver about what they need and how to make that happen.

There’s little respect and a lot of condescension, as the boring rich try to show people in the apparently homogenous continent how to make wells, read the bible and make their own shoes. And, largely due to charities, the continent of Africa has become synonymous with poverty, starvation, tragedy – a homogenous blob of a continent of begging skinny children.

Charities simplify everything. They misinform. Solving poverty (which on the continent of Africa was due to the looting, interventions, social and economic colonization, and the constant stealing of local resources by those countries who tend to set up the charities in the first place) is as simple as white people’s individual donations. They become saviors, while the denial of complexity, the simplistic advertising dehumanizes and robs people in Africa of their dignity, agency, intelligence, and power.

Charities become competitive for money and are forced to convince their public they are dealing with the “most needy” and “deserving”. The advertising is never accountable to those people objectified by it.

Charities like the Clinton Foundation don’t deserve a pat on the back for given back a tiny proportion of what was stolen by the U.S. and Europe and their transnationals in the first place. Even less so when using poverty to dodge tax payments. Ultimately, such charities are a convenience for first world governments to outsource their social and political responsibility.

Unlike activist organizations, charities are undemocratic, alienating (donors are very disconnected from affected communities), and work over rather than with those communities. The big picture is the North (U.S, Europe, U.K, Australia, etc) has an undemocratic influence over the economies, resources, culture, and futures of countries in Africa – in addition to such influence through colonization, transnational resource robbing and so on already mentioned.

 

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