Today, March 24th, is Cherokee Nation Remembrance Day. I carry a card in my wallet that indicates my blood lineage back to the Cherokee Tribe in Oklahoma, and I've been trying to learn more about this part of my ancestry over the past couple of years.
On this day 184 years ago, Hildebrand detachment arrived in Oklahoma - the penultimate group to complete the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears was the name that most of us learned in school, but as I have spent more time learning about my Cherokee ancestry, I learned that it's also called The Removal.
The Removal was a forcible relocation of indigenous tribes away from their homelands, and a perilous journey of over 1,000 miles on foot for every person in that tribe. Historians estimate that over 5,000 Cherokee died on this nightmare.
I recently read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous author and botanist (and more). Admittedly, she isn't Cherokee, but does write about multiple tribes and the commonalities in many Native values and culture. In this National Bestseller, she brings together her scientific understanding of the world with traditional Indigenous wisdom and history to weave together tales from Vermont to Oregon that are fascinating and inspiring.
One area where I have been feeling more and more in-line with these cultures is around the reciprocity with the earth, and what that means that humans are responsible for. I'm going to write this blog as a series of 3, focused on:
1. Understanding our connection to Earth
2. Developing our connection to Earth, and
3. Humans as positive environmental forces
"For all of us, becoming Indigenous to a place means living as if your children's future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it." This is how my path towards environmentalism began. Before I had children, I was content to focus on fun and convenience. A few years in to motherhood, however, I started to look around and see how there were problems on the horizon that would become real trouble for my children - namely pollution, a lack of connection with the natural earth, and how our commercial habits were destructive practices. It was then that I started paying attention, started learning more about what was going on around me, and really beginning to understand how I could even attempt to make any of that change... for my childrens' sakes. Never in a million years could I think that it would lead to this little grocery store, attracting people from 50 miles away who share my feelings on overconsumption and the need to avoid wasting our precious resources.
Kimmerer proceeds to talk about connection with the earth, and how many Native American tribes share a culture of gratitude for everything they use and all of their food and resources. To combine this notion with Western science, the habit of gratitude is a proven psychological practice to make us focus on the positive and feel happier, and to feel connected to people and to the earth in a deeper way. (Much of our scientific conclusions can be seen in Indigenous wisdom. What else should we be paying attention to?)
"What would it be like, I wondered, to live with that heightened sensitivity to the lives given for ours? To consider the tree in the Kleenex, the algae in the toothpaste, the oaks in the floor, the grapes in the wine; to follow back the thread of life in everything that pay it respect? Once you start, it's hard to stop, and you begin to feel yourself awash in gifts."
And my favorite, as she details out the wonder about many objects in her office like the candle, the paper, the pencil... "But I notice that my eyes and my thoughts pass quickly over the plastic on my desk... I can muster no reflective moment for plastic. It is so far removed from the natural world. I wonder if that's a place where the disconnection began, the loss of respect, when we could no longer easily see the life within the object."
As we move through our days, we must look around and try to see the connections from our possessions to the natural world. Are those connections easy to spot, or do they require a bit more attention to understand? In this age of plastics, we shouldn't assume that we know what something is without verifying - that a fabric is a natural fiber, for example. The shirt on your back may be plastic or may be cotton, but it's likely a mix of both. Your dental floss may well be PFAS-laden plastic, and your chewing gum probably contains plastic too.
So on this Cherokee National Day of Remembrance, let's remember our history, and learn from our ancestors of how to live in connection with the earth. There is so much we could have and should have already learned from their culture and teachings, but it's never too late for us to learn and do better.