Today I write this letter to you as I also try to capture the importance of a research project I am doing for a class at Stanford about resilience. If you are able to read this, it means that resilience is real and in you. Ionkhiiia’takéhnhahs. Do you know what this word means? It is a Mohawk word from your culture. If yes, then your resilience is strong; your resilience is generational. If no, let me tell you.
Language is a beautiful thing. It dictates who we are and what we understand – sometimes even the things we don’t. And if you don’t understand, I want you to. Look outside; are there still birds in the sky? There are some in mine. But my sky and yours are the same, and our ancestors’ too. I don’t mean ancestors from only 100 years ago; think back to the beginning of time, to when the world was new. There was no smog, and the ozone layer wasn’t even a thing yet because there was no pollution – there was no reason to know about it. Our ancestors did not worry about a dying Earth because, for them, she was not dying. They did not hurt her like we did and do. Did you know the Earth is a her just like me and you? Ask me about the story of our creation; I will tell you all about how Mohawks believe the Earth and everything in it came to be. And I will tell you about how we believe she is hurting now, in 2020. Is climate change still a problem for your generation, granddaughter? Or have people realized the issue with our current ways of thinking and behavior? I write to you in the future, but I hope it is more like the past. We are Native American, and the essence of our culture relies on how we interact with the natural world – a world that we are intrinsically part of. Our people and others forgot this, for a time, but I hope you remember it now.
Science is wrong, but not in the ways that you are probably thinking about right now. I’m not saying that their findings aren’t right, but they are cut short of something very important to human existence. Remember how I said that we forgot our ties to the natural world for a time? Science, as we approach it now, neglects the basic understanding that the Earth is alive. Granted, it is an ancient concept specific to Native cultures like ours. But we stuck with it; despite the centuries of colonization and oppression, we still live and we carry this belief high on our shoulders. The Earth still lives. Our ancestors knew strength, they figured out how to overcome the impossibility of survival – survival of culture, survival of a people. Why are we looking to the future for answers when the past is so full of rich existence? They say we study history so as not to rewrite the past, but not all of the past is bad. More than ever, in the face of climate change and a dying world, we need to look back and remember the ways that we once loved the Earth, and how she loved us back.
Humans are to blame for the negative effects of climate change; we must also, then, be the solution. But we are so busy worrying about righting our wrongs that we forget to stop and listen to what the Earth is trying to tell us. The natural world speaks to those who want to hear it. Forget the science and hundreds of leaders who say that it is too late for salvation; they are not true leaders if they cannot lead you anywhere. If there really were no hope, life would take its course and diminish in an instant. But we are still here, which means there is still hope.
It is our very nature as humans to love and to be loved back. By a mother, a sister or a brother, a friend, a lover… and life itself. We were all born, and we will all die – even you, my beautiful granddaughter. And when you do, don’t be scared. Despite all of the wrong you will do in your life; the Earth will hold your body as your spirit leaves this world and enters the next.
In death, we become one with the soil, which grows the trees, who clean the air that all living things need to survive. Our ancestors are all around us, telling us what to do. Looking back to our history will guide us to our future.
Remember the word I asked you about: ionkhiia’takéhnhahs? It means that we help one another. Remember this until you take your last breath on this Earth. It is a concept that has been with our people for as long as we have been, and it has kept us alive. We did not give up in the face of death; we listened to each other, helped each other, and we survived. We need to now, more than ever, listen to what the Earth is trying to tell us. Don’t give up. Scientists say there is no hope; that it’s too late to fix the damage we caused; that there is no real solution. Why are they saying this? Why do they believe the Earth is done for? Think about what I have been saying to you in this letter. Have you been listening? Scientists aren’t. They see no possibility for salvation because people believe that we are going this alone. We forget that the Earth is alive and can speak. She is trying to show us how to help, science just isn’t listening. Ionkhiia’takéhnhahs: The Earth will help us if we help her.
So whether we have overcome climate change by the time you read this letter, or if you are reading this through a mask because there is no breathable air left in the world, just remember what I tell you now. Remember the past. Remember that we once loved our Earth, and she loved us back. Humans are not the only ones who see there is a problem, and we are not the only ones who can find a solution. Listen to the plants, listen to the animals and the bugs, listen to the birds who sing to us every single morning like they have for all of their lives. Help comes to those who seek it, as long as there is someone listening.