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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Environment Law

Environment Law

Visual representation of nature's laws


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Environmental law in Plains Cree is known as nakayaskamowin / wasakameskakewin, literally meaning "way of life / all-around-one's self". Environmental law deals with issues of survival…preservation of food stocks, growth of fruit and berries, sharing of resources among band members, responsibility of members to the group in specialized areas in their traditional territory (e.g., medicine plants). Environmental law applies to killing of females, wiping out families of animals, disturbing the herd of bison, utilizing all the resources in a given season, and many other areas such as these. Clearly a short analysis such as this cannot hope to cover anything more than a few principles.

Nature’s law is especially concerned with "the environment," since its enlarged view of the make-up of the universe connects humans to a sophisticated ecology. Still , given the diversity of biosphere in which the various Peoples lived, it is clearly impossible to try to articulate a common environmental law for all of Turtle Island. There was none. People near the sea had one set of laws, people of the mountains another, people on the plains still another. What did exist are elements of an ethic of respect, a simple confidence in the abundance of the earth and great thankfulness for its generosity to the People, and a kind of attitude that destroys any sense of superiority to the other beings and the earth itself – a humbleness and humility before the powers of life. Consequently, the closest we may come to one kind of basic environmental law might be found in an interview with Annie Buffalo, of March 12, 1975:

Yellowhorn: Why did the Indian people refer to the land as their mother?

Buffalo: When we pray, we say "Help us our Earth, our Mother." It is part of the religion. This is where our life comes from, because we walk on this land. Whenever we pray for our relatives, whenever we want to wish them well, we tell them to walk happily on this earth as long as they live. I do not know who first called the Earth our Mother. We always pray to our Mother the Earth that we may ever live well, and ever travel in safety, and always be happy. Everything that the Indians thought was holy came from the Earth – all their needs, such as tobacco and berries. It was often referred to as the earthly spirit, because whenever they offered anything in sacrifice, it always went back into the Earth. (Annie Buffalo Peigan Reserve, Interviewers John Smith and Tom Yellowhorn; translated by John Smith) (Price, 138)

In his own way, Cree Elder Victor Buffalo is speaking about the same relationship with the environment:

No, you don’t pray for the deceased, uh, you are asking them to pray, to intercede for you, because they’re closer to God, eh? Same with the animals. Animals are the most perfect. Anything you see they’re perfect. That’s why I respect the animal, eh? Because God made them that way, and they’re perfect, they don’t have to ability to go up or down, it’s only man that has that ability to make choices. You know sometimes man makes the wrong choices so man has the ability to, to go up or come, go away from the Creator. The creation is the perfect manifestation of what the Creator is, so they’re pleasing to God. They’re pleasing to the Creator, so that’s why we pray to the God’s creations so that, they in turn intercede for us, see? Like the eagle spirit, the spirit of the eagle, you pray to it you know, because you’re closer to the Creator – God gave you this gift, please pray for me, intercede on our behalf. The wind spirit, because that’s how I pray, I pray to the wind spirit, and it gives life, the birth of life, you know clean the earth with your wind. The sun is the perfect light, there’s nothing better than light. The sun is the most perfect light, so that’s why we pray. Without sun everything dies. That’s why we call the sun the Father. And the earth, grows when the sun is there, that’s why we call it Mother Earth, the sun fertilizes mother earth. Yeah, all kinds of ceremonies…(Cree Elder Victor Buffalo, qtd in Baillargeon) 193)

Joseph Epes Brown, a scholar of Indigenous religion, argues that, despite the diversity, common attitudes and beliefs shape the basic environmental law:

This common binding thread is found in beliefs and attitudes held by the people in the quality of their relationships to the natural environment. All American Indian peoples possessed what has been called ‘a metaphysic of nature’; and manifest a reverence for the myriad forms and forces of the natural world specific to their immediate environment; and for all, their rich complexes of rites and ceremonies are expressed in terms which have references to or utilize the forms of the natural world.

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