I just read an article by Sanjay Khanna that discusses how the government of Norway partnered with agricultural research organizations to create the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. [‘Stories That Light Up the Dark’,Yes! Magazine, September 2010.]
Even more interesting than the seed vault itself is Khanna’s observation that the lore of farmers and and indigenous people can also be lost—and it may be just as important as the seeds, even when we consider that global warming will change some of the conditions on which it is based.
The oral traditions of the Iñupiat, on Alaska’s Arctic Slope, tell of multiple ice ages, of a world that was green changing to ice and snow. The lesson they take from this is that ‘snow and ice taught us to be human and think beyond our individual selves… that we didn’t become real people until we became communities, until the welfare of the whole became more important than the welfare of the individual…’
Even closer to home [for those of us living in the Northeast] is what we can learn from the Haudenosaunee—the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. [The six nations were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations.] Their Great Peacekeeper said their duties were to ‘protect your relatives, your nation, all of life… the flower as well as the trees the people as well as the animals.… the welfare of all life, that’s your duty.’ According to Chief Oren Lyons, the Confederacy was based on three principles:
- Peace and Health – You can’t have peace without health. The names are interchangeable to us. Our greeting is ‘thank you for being well, thank you for being who you are.’
- Equity – You can’t have justice if you don’t have equity. Equity is first, justice comes after… be fair, work for the people’s interests.
- Good Minds United – The power of good minds united is your strength.
We would do well to adopt these guidelines!
Khanna’s article goes on to distill five tips for resilience from the wisdom of indigenous traditions:
- Seek guidance from people who have overcome suffering with dignity.
- Learn from those who have maintained a sense of humor through difficult times.
- Converse with grandparents and great-grandparents about their stories of hardship and the lessons they’ve learned.
- Reflect on what’s necessary for you to develop more inner strength than you have. If this is hard to do, learn techniques, such as mindfulness, to help you listen to your heart.
- Connect with your own culture by developing an understanding of, and sympathy for, the experiences and stories that your ancestors handed down in your family.
Check out the article and others in Yes! Magazine, one of the few publications that concentrates on positive practical visions for the future.