A 2006 wildfire in Australia. Photo: Fir0002 / Flagstaffotos

Doug George-Kanentiio: Acting Native and surviving

Australian Fires Underscore the Need to Act Native

In 2016 I wrote a column about the situation at Standing Rock and the ecological harm coming about through the use of fossil fuels. I cited an Iroquois prophecy about the coming of a time when human beings would disturb the earth by extracting things deep within her. Long ago there were species of plants and animals of great size. The animals are described as lizard like brings and the plants similar to today's tobacco and ferns. These species became extinct and were covered by the earth. There were specific warnings against disturbing them and, if this was done, there would be terrible consequences.

Skaniateriio (Handsome Lake) was a Seneca prophet active from the years 1799-1815. He had visions given to him by spirit beings who taught him the way by which the Iroquois could survive the intrusions and disruptions brought about by the settlers from the east. Along with a strong moral code he also told the people events which would occur far beyond his time. These can be read, in part, in the book "Parker on the Iroquois" as edited by the anthropologist William Fenton and published by Syracuse University Press. It is remarkable reading.

Supplementing Handsome Lake's visions are the oral teachings which enhance what he saw as the fate of this planet should humans expose that which was buried beneath. Using the remains of those plants, and particularly the great lizards, would cause tears in the veil which covers the planet and this would in turn heat the oceans. This energy would then come in the form of powerful and destructive winds.

That warning was interpreted as the Black Serpent, or Snake. It would make its way across continents as it devoured the land and people. The people gathered at Standing Rock took this and it became one of the symbols of those opposed to the imposition of an oil pipeline through sacred Dakota territory. That fossil fuel was to be exported to Asia, a region already facing ecological collapse.

A wildfire in Tasmania, an island state of Australia. Photo: Steven Penton

In Australia, that semi-arid land where the sun shines most of the year, the Black Serpent has come to rest. That nation, despite the potential of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, refuses to mandate the use of this clean energy. It generates 85% of its electrical needs from its massive coal deposits. Not content to contaminate the air, and further rip apart the earth's ozone, Australia has become the world's largest exporter of dirty coal, shipping over 475,000,000 tons to other Asian nations particularly China which is suffocating from filthy air caused by fossil fuel burning industrial plants.

That is an annual export level which cannot be sustained without further harmful consequences to humans and other life forms. It should come as no surprise that the prolonged drought in Australia is directly related to the burning of fossil fuels but what is alarming for the fate of that nation is the refusal of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to acknowledge this cause and effect relationship and turn the country away from coal. So far the fires have burned over 20,000,000 acres (close to the size of Maine) and caused the death of 23 people and hundreds of millions of animals and trees. The scars of this historic blaze will endure for generations, a bitter reminder of the consequences of an exploitative, anti-nature culture and economy.

For those who ask what is to be done, the traditional leaders of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy along wth the Hopi, Anishnabe and others have not only tried to warn the nations of the world about their actions but provided instruction as to another way of living and thinking based upon the ancestral customs and technologies of the planet's indigenous peoples. It is no mere accident that prior to the arrival of the first European colonists in Australia in 1788 the Native people there had developed and sustained a way of life stable for tens of thousands of years, one in which the needs of human beings were at an absolute balance with the rights of other species.

The challenge for Australia, if it is to survive as a nation, is to put aside generations of brutal racism and research how the original people were able to avoid ecological catastrophes by making use of innovate technologies and philosophies in harmony with the earth.

It begins with a commitment to refrain from any activity which breached the rights of the natural world. It carries on to the enactment of constitutional amendments to acknowledge that earth has legal standing in the courts and assemblies of humans. It grows to embrace the legal concept of the rights of those yet unborn, which mandates the seventh generation into the future has a right to clean air, clean water, fertile lands and liberation from the artificial constraints of economic and social classes or gender identification. It means empowering leaders who are prepared to enact and enforce legislation which gives a voice to the natural world.

What is taking place in Australia was endured by California just last year. It will be repeated in other areas of the US and Canada then across the globe if the earth is further exploited. The serpent now choking off Australia will become commonplace until the people rise up and demand radical changes in governance, spirituality and economics.

Do nothing and burn. Act Native and survive.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He has served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: Kanentiio@aol.com or by calling 315-415-7288.

Note: Content copyright © Doug George-Kanentiio

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