Diplomacy with the Nations of Life

The perception of other natural life as nations with distinct ways of life, values, perceptions, rights, and territories of their own would allow us to see the natural world in a more holistic way. This is not a new idea. This perception inspired indigenous Northwesterners to treat the first salmon taken from a run with ritual care:  for they if did not respect that salmon, they would insult the salmon people.

The treatment of other species as nations went hand in hand with whole-species and inter-generational assessments of the effects of human actions. Thus Yurok Lucy Thompson pointed out in her self-published book in 1916 that the modern laws meant to protect salmon runs lacked effectiveness. They would not  work as long as they were geared only to the actions of individual fisherman– since taken together, the actions of those fisherman created a guantlet of nets that the salmon could not navigate.  Notably, the shamans who oversaw traditional Yurok fishing indicated when to start and stop the taking of salmon from a run, thus gearing the take to the size of particular runs.

In this context, we see modern religious leaders such as Takelma Siletz elder Grandma Aggie as ambassadors between humans and natural domains such as the salmon and the waters in which they swim.  In her self-described role as a “voice for the voiceless”, she reminds us of those we might otherwise neglect in both human and larger-than-human societies.  Today, those are the ones that often the vulnerable ones  most in need our attention.

Such diplomacy entails respect for the homes of other creatures– the kind of respect with which we would like others to treat our homes. One day a Chehalis grandmother (in keeping with her sense of the value of modesty in her tradition, she requested I not use her name, though she urged me to use her words), pointed out the piles of earth on a prairie in front of her house, resulting from the going after camas with shovels.  “They really messed up the prairie”, she told me.  By contrast, one shouldn’t be able to tell that a prairie dug with the slender traditional digging sticks of her people had been dug.

I have heard this same ethic of non-disturbance of the habitat of other natural life  expressed by a number of other elders. In 1927, elder Mary Heck, speaking in Chehalis, testified before the Indian Claims Commission on behalf of her people, citing the villages that were destroyed by whites.  She added that beaver homes were also destroyed by pioneers as they drained land for their farms.

Refraining from disturbing the homes of other natural life is not an automatic response. Knowledge gained over generations of observation told indigenous root diggers how NOT to disturb the lives and habitats of others as they met their own needs. In Mary Heck’s case, she also observed the fertility the beaver’s activity added to the land.

Respect for the habitat of others provides an excellent model for respecting other human communities–a  special concern in the context of growing globalization.  Such respect must be based on the willingness to learn about the needs and views of these others. This is not an altruistic impulse.  In an interdependent world, what we learn of others enlarges our vision and our own choices.

This is a sketch of an idea I am working up into a larger paper.  I invite your response.

There is a story of a traditional African court mediation between a farmer and a hyena along the lines of the diplomacy mentioned in this post, as well as a discussion of the concept of nature having rights in  this article by Cormac Cullinan in Orion Magazine:

There is also an excerpt from his book, Wild Law on the site above.

See also Christopher Stone’s classic, Should Trees Have Standing?

Here is a Northwest independent bookseller sketch of Stone’s work complete with a number of responses and reviews.

202 Responses

  1. Dr. Holden, if we only think of ourselves as guardians of this planet and not as exploiters, changes are possible. Salmon as an important part of nature has a right to existence, free to move and spawn. And as you said, they a nation unto themselves.
    All of nature is one giant alarm system; when one part is harmed, the others will sound the bell. Blocking salmon routes via dams and over development and the drainange of chemicals, we not only hurt nature but ourselves too.
    Thus, the waters these fish use and their meat continue to sickening more people as we advance technologically and scientifically. So the question arises: what good is advancement if it means discomfort and death for the living creatures. We are only advancing materially(for, most of science is geared toward consumism) not conscientiously.

  2. There are a number of important points in your comment,
    Sayed–as well as some obvious compassion for those who stand with us in the circle of life on this earth.
    Certainly we need to define advancement in terms of how we responsibly keep our place in that circle. Perhaps we might begin to see clearly that ethics in this respect is also pragmatic: since, as you point out, as we harm others, we harm ourselves. We have some alarm bells to heed, indeed.
    Isn’t there a quote from the Qur’an that reminds us that all natural life have their communities even as humans do?

  3. Yes, there is, in verse 38 of chapter 6. “There is not an animal (living) on the earth, nor a creature that flies with two wings which does not belong to a community like you (humans).”

  4. I enjoy the continuing premise of open-mindedness, interdependency and reciprocity found throughout your course Dr. Holden especially the line, “Such respect must be based on the willingness to learn about the needs and views of these others.” I feel reciprocity is very important in our given communities and their respected environments and can be achieved through having an open mind and freely giving respect. The relationship we share with the environment mustn’t be taken for granted and we have to give back what we can especially considering the scars we are leaving on the planet from deforestation and global warming just to name a few. What I am curious of Dr. Holden is how would our country or even our local communities preserve the natural homes in the environment while enduring continuous population growth and expansion? Is it something that should be done on a government level or do we carry the burden ourselves? I’m assuming both, curious what your insights are.

  5. Hi Ben,
    As always, you ask an important question–and one which, I think, we must answer in as many ways as possible with our own choices.
    I love the idea of the new constitution in Ecuador (https://holdenma.wordpress.com/culture-and-environment/ecuadoran-constitution-rights-for-nature/) which gives legal standing to natural systems in an explicit way (based– are you surprised– on the indigenous concept of nature as “Pachamana”).
    In Hawaii there was a state Supreme Court decision a few years ago that mandated the state to act in terms of “public trust” to preserve the environment on behalf of its citizens. This notion of government trust is explored here:
    http://www.guardiansofthefuture.org/node/64 (this an essay on the precautionary principle and the public trust doctrine: there is a wonderful library of other legal approaches here http://www.guardiansofthefuture.org/lawbook.
    On the other of the spectrum you mention, there is Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest, which conjectures that there are tens of thousands of grass roots groups working for social and environmental justice on a global scale (the vast majority of which fall below the radar of mainstream news). I am, for instance, a board member of my neighborhood organization (Southeast Eugene Neighbors: http://wiki.eugeneneighbors.org/wiki/Southeast_Neighbors), which (largely before I came so I can’t take credit!) has stopped inappropriate development on the Amazon Headwaters.I can’t imagine what our city would look like without these dedicated folks who have been working ten years as volunteers (at considerable personal expense of time and money) making sure that the planning/development process in Eugene fits the goals of such things as species habitat preservation, stormwater filtration through natural systems, and maintaining a low “vehicle miles traveled” scale (to help stop global warming).
    So my answer to you is we need to work in both directions-and in doing so we are not alone.
    If you don’t have time to check out anything else via your question, do check out the “laws” section under “guardians of the future” linked above.
    Thanks for your important question. I have answered it by giving examples of the ways in which others are working to answer it– but your own answer will emerge in your own life and decisions.

  6. Isn’t it interesting that the qualities that attract people to these areas are the first things to be destroyed? We see rivers crowded with salmon and try to catch them all. Then there is no more salmon. Is it merely greed that drives people to overexploit resources, to take more than what is needed? Is it fear that the resource will soon be gone that drives them? Is it then a self-fulfilling prophesy?

  7. These are interesting questions you pose,Tami. It would be interesting to see your personal response.
    I think greed is one of those “instincts of self-destruction” the best human cultures act to discourage. (Thanks to Igbo Nobel Laureate Chinua Achebe for this perspective).
    I think if we view the pioneer perspective (deriving not just from US history but global colonialism), we see two dangerous attitudes that lead to such destruction: the first is the usury attitude toward nature and other lives (includes indigenous peoples); the second is the idea that there is so much (even if and especially if it belongs to someone else) that we need never worry about depleting it.
    So there is carelessness, arrogance — and outright ignorance– involved here.
    The good news is that we have different values and ways of behaving that we can follow, as your own critique of the destructive attitudes indicate.

  8. Treating communities as nations is an intriguing thought. I have some reservations about this however. The Western worldview pits nations against one another, competing for resources and fighting wars with each other. To me treating communities around us as our “friends” rather than “nations” would convey a different yet more positive value to all.
    The spirit of friendship would not allow one to destroy friends house or place of residence. It requires us to treat our friends with respect. Also we tend to not want to take advantage of our friends and we want to see them succeed and be happy in their lives.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Joe. I agree on our current notion of “nations”– I certainly wouldn’t want to treat the world as we treat (or organize) nation-states–and I am pondering a way to clarify this. Your post indicates the necessity of that. In using the words “nations” I am thinking more along the line of the way nations is sometimes used by indigneous peoples (as in first “nations”) to indicate peoples or communities. More than the idea of friendship, which I like and is important but can be individualized, I wanted to get at a model of human to nature relationships that treats natural others as communities with cultures, histories, ways of communicating and homes that are inter-generational.
      Perhaps this: ethnobotanist and environmental philosopher Nancy Turner who has worked with members of British Columbia’s first nations for decades, has noted that for all their cultural diversity, indigenous peoples share a “kincentric” idea of the natural world;that is, they see human and natural life as part of the same family. This also coincides which indigenous ideas of nations, which tend to be organized along the line of kin networks.
      Thanks as always for your thoughtful points.

  9. I absolutely agree that others’ habitats should be respected as humans would respect their own. However, I believe in order to effectively “respect” these habitats we must learn the others’ characteristics individually as Yurok Lucy Thompson explains in the salmon runs. Further, it may be incredibly hard to look at each individual of the other non-human community to effectively work to respect the habitat which will ultimately lead to a generalization of the species’ characteristics. So what do we do? I believe that in concentrating our efforts to learn more about non-humans’ habitats and characteristics we are working towards a mutual respect between humans and non-humans. And this may be the underlying need. Maybe, in order to respect non-humans’ habitats we must reach a comradeship between humans and non-humans where their life is just as important as our own, ending the hierarchy between human and nature.

    • Thanks for the comment,Tony. I think you have important points about how we must learn about the habitats of other species in order to respect them in order actions– and that the best knowledge, in turn, flows from an intimate relationship (“comradeship”) with them.

  10. This article brings an old phrase to mind, “Majority rules, but the minority has rights”. This article shows an interesting approach to the way we interact with other species that inhabit the same places we do. If we treated them like a “nation” unto themselves, their level of treatment should improve. I say should because with certain obvious current world events, we obviously don’t treat some nations with the same respect that we treat others.

    I do think, however, that this is a one-sided agreement. We can’t bargain with animals, or even make compromises or concessions, and have it happen on both sides. The animals will do what they do, regardless of our actions (barring of course that we eliminate them). The concept here is a sound one, but I personally think that it is just another attempt at fostering respect for those we co-inhabit the earth with. Regardless of which way you have to think about our relationships with the earth, the main point needs to be respect, admiration, and stewardship.

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew. We can’t “bargain” with animals in the sense that we bargain with other humans anymore than they can speak to us in English, but many traditional indigenous societies believe that we can indeed see animals according to their intentions and agency rather than as “just doing what they do”. Over the generations, such attention has allowed much knowledge–and spurred many wise actions toward the environment.
      You are right about this as another way to respect the others with whom we share our earth. It is my sense that we could use as many ways as possible to rethink the relationship we now tend to have in the terms you outline.

  11. A “voice for the voiceless” is so important, more so now than ever before due to the increasing human population and subsequent intrusion into natural space, as well as the increased greenhouse gases and climate change.

    Awareness, education, and action are all vital steps to stopping the devastation already perpetrated by us. the earth is so resilient; it is not too late to stop our current heading and begin the heal the hurt. And yet, if we choose not to, we are no better than a virus that feeds on the lifeblood of the earth.

    I wonder: what if the bear or the beaver could talk to us…what then? Is that what keeps us from listening to them? For, if that is the case, we are deaf to them for they ave been speaking to us for centuries. We just don’t listen.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful and caring comment, Stasey. As you indicate, we obviously need to put some extra effort into listening and responding to (and caring for) the world around us. The earth’s resilience is on our side in the healing we need to do– but only if we are on its side.

  12. First off, I wanted to comment on the really great quote that Sayed got from the Qur’an: “There is not an animal (living) on the earth, nor a creature that flies with two wings which does not belong to a community like you (humans).” Not only does this say it all, it is amazingly close to what I have read throughout this class from indigenous people like Henry Cultee. The common theme here is that we share this earth, we do not own it. To disrespect the other inhabitants of our planet (including other humans) is arrogant and counter-productive to our survival. Humans are not supreme beings who were put on this earth to dominate and exploit what/who we deem “lesser” life forms. And herein lies a truth about the Western worldview that needs drastic altering. As long as there are those who have perceptions of other humans as lesser beings continues, it will be difficult to defend and protect other life forms that are further down the classification ladder. While I agree with Dr. Holden’s assertion that “treatment of other species as nations” “would allow us to see the natural world in a more holistic way,” I think the first step is to get people to view other people in this way. Once this is achieved, I think it would have a trickle-down effect on the rest of nature.

    • Lovely and thoughtful comment, Mike. Thank you. I find this quote from the Koran quite striking as well.
      Perhaps the issue is not so much which comes first, our respectful treatment of other species or are fellow humans. I think these intertwine and model one another in both directions.

  13. This article reminds me how immensely important it is for humans to view animals and ecological communities as a lot more than property for the ownership of humans. What would happen if when we saw a beaver’s dam we merely saw it as a house with a family inside? We would never destroy our neighbor’s house, so why should we ever destroy a beaver’s home? I hope that someday humans can develop a certain amount of comradery with animals, instead of objectifying them.

    • Thoughtful perception here, Megan. I like your image of an animal habitat as a home that might be looked at just as we look at our own homes. Objectifying something is the first step in licensing violence toward it. I agree with you that we should do away with this manner of seeing those who share our earth of all species.

  14. Great analogy to consider a group of certain animals as a nation. Thus, we are remembered of the lack of diplomacy towards the nations of animals. What the nations of humans and animals both lack are ambassadors, since animals do not have the ability to talk to humans in any human language and humans have the ability neither to talk the language of animals except a very few i.e. indigenous people who learned the languages of certain nations of animals or at least who started to understand them by observing their behaviour patterns. Thus, the worldviews of indigenous people are shaped by the careful observation of animals’ behaviour etc. They lived with animals side by side and therefore, they were able to draw valid conclusions about them and their needs. In contrast to that, our worldviews were shaped for a long time by animals serving humans in various ways i.e. as food. Nonetheless, I notice changes in our personal worldviews, since we started to have pets that we are very happy of and appreciate them as living beings with needs and rights. As a matter of fact, times and worldviews changed and in this manner, many humans started to adopt an approach to animals which allowed humanity to respect and protect them.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nick. Thoughtful points about observations and sharing “language”. It would be a hopeful point to think that our worldview is changing to be more empathetic in terms of the larger than human world of nature that we share.

  15. I thought this article really hit home in a number of areas. But, there was one area which first came to mind for me. Working with Shell and being responsible with delivering refined products from the Houston, Tx. area to DFW, Shell’s pipelines crossed a number of remote areas which were under great change due to housing developments. It was hard to watch developers cut down trees (some which were near or over 100 years in age) in order to create the development. As I read this article, I could not help but think of these poor, defenseless trees. This really hit home when reading the words of Takelma Siletz elder Grandma Aggie as she reflected on the “voice of the voiceless”.

    If only trees could speak vs. just providing countless resources for humans,

    Paul Nash

    • Thanks for your comments, Paul. Some modern nations are getting to honoring the rights of natural communities–some of these are listed under the page, “right of nature” here. Since such communities have little standing in modern industrial societies, it is up to us, as Grandma Aggie notes, to speak up for them.

    • Hi Paul,

      I wondered if you linked to or read “Should Trees Have Standing?” and what you may have thought about it. I’ve not read it.


  16. This was an interesting and educational article and reminds me of forecaring. And, Tami posted earlier about abusing the things we love most. When Lewis and Clark and other explorers write in their journals we read how awesome the land was and how bountiful. This type of change in our history has not just taken place in the US or even in the Americas but also in Europe and across other nations. So, it makes me wonder when our values changed. I think at the foundation of it is when disconnection started to take hold. How do we praise the mighty awesome river and then build ginormous dams on it. Okay, for jobs and I wasn’t there or I would’ve helped to build it to feed my family if need be.

    But when we net all the fish and let none pass—who does that without thinking about the consequences? It seems to me that we have changed from a specie that was connected and appreciative to one without much critical thinking (for the majority). I like ecology and the study of adaptations, so it interests me the change our species have made.

    We are biologically wired to look after our offspring and protect them (not only just because we’re parents) to see our lineage move on. So, why are we not biologically wired to ensure healthy breastmilk, healthy rivers, healthy moral activities, healthy salmon and so forth? It’s confusing to me.
    As stated above, perhaps it is our ethic of non-disturbance which has changed, but I still have to wonder why. What purpose does that serve; what adaption, what circumstances changed the shape of our fibers as a bird changes its scales to feathers? (My bird class chiming in again 🙂
    Again, thank you for this article.

    • Hello Tina. Thanks for your thoughtful question; you have eloquently posed the question of the age. Why are we carrying out so many destructive acts toward the natural world that sustains us and thus ultimately toward ourselves? Why are we so defiling the sacred gift of life? What are we acting against our own self-interest. I think it there is not just one reason. There are many dynamics here: Nimby, the sense that humans are apart from and “beyond” nature, the sense that we must and should escape our past (and thus aren’t really looking at it or learning from it), the denial of our connection to the rest of life–all of which is tied into colonialism and the attempt to take over the lands of others (and fundamentally change the worldviews of those living there that might challenge our “one night stand” activities). Not ALL of us followed these senses in all situations or we wouldn’t be here, since no society can survive (raise children and create culture) under such conditions. But enough of us have (in part of our lives if not all) that we are in serious jeopardy. I think none of these “dominator” trends are part of our nature, or we wouldn’t be here now as a species. There are complex historical situations that urge societies into the dominator or colonial stance, but I think it is always a matter of choice whether we go along with this or not, as so many have not. I think balance is part of the key: we must not be seduced by our own cleverness into thinking we are so clever that we do not have to think about the consequences of our clever actions– nor seduced by our own power, so that we do not feel we are so powerful that we don’t have to think about the consequences of our actions on others. Thanks once again for a thoughtful comment on an important issue.

      • Well stated, Professor.

        You bring up the idea of dominance not being part of the human nature. This goes against what I’ve been taught in history. But, considering ecological adaptations, I think this is such an important point. If I can reiterate…part of our specie has become colonizing and domineering so much that we are experiencing detriment. But, our nature is actually…naturally…at one with our environment and Creator. That is what I think you’re stating here.


        • Hi Tina, thanks for your comment. OUR history is one of dominance, but not everyone’s. Interesting that most mainstream history calls all the rest of history “pre-history” and discounts it. Thanks for your always thoughtful comments.

  17. I like the statement, “this is not an altruistic impulse.” It is rather the “norm” in the consciousness of humans who know that we are all interconnected, and who choose to honor that connection, by being conscious of actions and choices. We can choose to pay attention to nature and nurture her and give thanks, taking only what is necessary to sustain life, or we can exploit her with no thought, and suffer the consequences of that nature being taken away from us, to our great, sad, peril. A very good start on your larger article.

  18. I don’t relate to the treatment of other natural life as a nation, I think it anthropomorphizes the other life. I think we should let a tree be a tree, and a stand of trees be a wood, or a forest, but not a nation. Nations are manmade boundaries which generate separatism and pride. Trees don’t need these qualities to be respected. We should be able to look at them and appreciate them for their shade, for the wood and the oxygen they provide us.

    • I agree with your critique of nations if you mean modern nation-states, David. This needs clarifying: those who used the word “nation” to refer to other species were using an analogy with their own communities, which were entirely more fluid.
      Do you think these other lives/species have meaning and purpose only in their usefulness for us? If so or not, how would you cast the understanding of this to allow us to behave a bit more responsibility toward the environment of those who will come after us, like the daughter you have expressed your love for in these comments?

  19. Yes, “Refraining from disturbing the homes of other natural life is not an automatic response.” The indigenous people had to learn for hundreds of years how to till the land and gather from it without harming it. They finally got it though. Even more, it took them that long to figure it out and they lived and interacted with nature every second of every day! In this age, we’re trying to inform our country – one that lives on asphault and man-made materials; one that interacts with nature about an hour a week – about sustainability and environmental care-taking. How much longer will it take for US to get it?! Without constant observation and interaction, we can’t really understand our impact on nature.

    • Thoughtful point, Chris. I see things like urban forestry (tree planting) in urban areas and urban gardens as ways of bringing us into contact with nature and one another in the Northwest. Alvord Farms (see link at right) is a working farm that gives summer classes to kids entirely free. These are hopeful–but as you point out, we need to “get it” and get it soon.

  20. The idea of other species as nations is powerful. We would not treat other nations in the same way we treat many other species. There is some difference of course, but the general idea of understanding this concept, and always revearing others is good. Conservation of nature is possible while also allowing for harvest as seen in many of your writings of indiginous peoples.

    • Interestingly, this metaphor/figure of speech is becoming more widespread. Since I have written this, I have seen it in several other places. Species are, after all, a form of natural community. Thanks for your comment, Ross.

  21. Treating other species as nations, with the same inalienable rights and natural sovereignty that we afford to other nation-states – this is an interesting concept that I had not previously considered, Dr. Holden. Thompson makes a very compelling point about the ineffectiveness of merely regulating individual fisherman, because you don’t know how many fisherman are operating, and whether or not their maze of nets will actually allow the salmon to pass through on their runs. It makes me think of the other kinds of regulation we have on taking from (or polluting!) the land; fishing, hunting and tree-clearing permits… limits on waste disposed. We may place limits on individuals, but no one seems to be looking out to insure the totals don’t decimate future populations. How characteristically individualistic. Clearly we need something along the lines of the of a shaman to oversee these kinds of activities. Or perhaps a diplomatic envoy to Salmon Nation, Cedar Country and the Democratic Republic of Trout? I’m being a bit facetious, but I’m rather serious in that I truly believe these populattions should be given the same respect we give other nation-states, and giving them representation would be the first step in doing so.

    • Hi Liz, Thanks for a thoughtful comment. Actually, religious leaders in indigenous societies did function as kinds of “ambassadors” to other species. From the knowledge they gained (however we conceive of it), they communicated to the human communities things like when to stop and start the salmon harvest–and where and how to burn before the fall rains set in the Willamette Valley.

  22. This is an interesting idea, and I think that it should definitely be developed into a larger paper.

    Some problems would be solved by treating animals as sovereign nations, but then again we have not always treated sovereign nations with respect in the real world. Ultimately, both humans and animals have their own needs and wants, and we should structure our organization so that there is a minimum over overlap between us and the animals. We need meet to survive, but carnivorous animals can survive without eating us. It’s hard to reconcile such a one-way symbiosis: obviously offering up people to be eaten by bears isn’t a viable solution. Is there anything that we could do about it, or are we stuck with constantly having to take from the natural world?

    • Thanks for your comment, Dan. Short of realizing just as we take other life, lions may take us (as they did in our readings from African elders), we can offer animals the kindest and freest life possible–and find ways to allow their free relatives habitats we do not take from them. You ask a great question: how do we give back to the sources of life that sustain us. There is an attitude of respect and thanksgiving-balance that prevents us from taking too much– and the Kalapuya in the Willamette Valley maintained habitat on behalf of deer and elk. Different from our domestication, since the habitat allowed them to live wild lives, rather than lives under human control. And what else? Part of the answer lies in helping to maintain the world we all share–and the rest must lie in those many ideas you all have out there, since this is a new issue for me! Thanks for raising it. I will be doing some thinking about it.

  23. Another supportive topic on the importance of interdependence and furthering globalization. I see the law of reciprocity and holistic approach tying in greatly to this topic. The salmon do need to be respected, even when caught for human use. There is a proper way to protect something and also get use out of it. I am always drawn back to a basic theory in ethics, do unto others as you would do unto yourself. Or make choices that you would have made on anyone else. That is generalized here, if we are wanting to see a more respectful future we better start respecting our surroundings now. I think that education is a big part of understanding and implementing new laws and ideas. I do believe the trees have standing!

    • I concur with your assessment of the necessity of reciprocity here, Lorena. This perspective urges us to step back from any protestation we might make of powerlessness. I certainly agree with your assessment about the standing of trees and the importance of education as well, Lorena.

  24. Viewing the world through a holistic lens, being able to see the interdependency between species or communities and understanding their respective cultures and beliefs is what our civilization needs to strive for. I think there is little hope for our current generation in achieving such an understanding, but with education, there is hope for our children. I’m in my twenties, and I see friends who are too rooted in their lifestyles with social barriers firmly in place that seem mentally unable to take ideas like this seriously. It will take dedication by those who see the importance in changing our relationship with nature and each other to foster these sentiments in future generations. Classes like this one is a testament to possible success and a brighter future.

  25. I noticed that in one of the other posts someone commented about overpopulation. I wonder how in a very crowded world how we will ever be able to live by the “ethic of non-disturbance of the habitat of other natural life.” I think our overpopulation of the earth is just another example of the way we selfishly use up the earth’s resources, taking away too much from the earth’s energy and giving nothing back. I don’t think that humans will ever live lighter on the earth until we decrease our population as well as change the way we use resources.

    • Both are obviously important, Christina. Thanks for your comment.
      And it is also important to note how much harder a child born in the US is on the earth than a child born in, say, India– some 14 times harder. So population control should begin at home.

  26. Dr. Holden, the notion that other natural life is like a different nation with its own values and way of life is new to me and I think that if it is adopted it can lead to change of how humans tend to dominate all non-human life.

    Diplomacy infers care and respect when trying to understand others, and if this is followed when thinking about the environment, I think we will tread more cautiously when encountering something we are unfamiliar with. This could lead to better policies regarding new pharmaceuticals and new industry, which can have negative impacts on the environment and on ourselves when they are wildly used without truly studying and understanding some unintended side-effects.

    The example of the salmon run and how the US policy didn’t take into account all of the fishermen still blocking the salmon run is a good lesson for us to learn. Just because we think a regulation or law will work in a certain way, there are always unforeseen side-effects.

    If we act with an intention to care for other habitats than just our own, and show respect, we will be less likely to ruin these other habitats. I think that it comes down to our inclination to want everything “right now” that has our government to create policies without studying them out and contemplating the consequences. If we would slow down a bit maybe we could see errors before they happen.

    • I appreciate your sensitive analysis in this response, Sandra. I like the idea of diplomacy that indigenous peoples express with respect to other natural lives both because of the sense of consideration and respect it entails–and because of its holistic approach. It would slow us down, as you indicate, in using up the habitat of so many more than human lives. Thoughtful response!

  27. When we humans choose to harm habitats and neglect our earth, we are not only damaging these species homes; we are damaging our own lives as well. I live in Bend Oregon and there is a spill way located on the Colorado Street Bridge of Deschutes River which runs through the center of town. There has been a constant surge among residents to transform the current spillway, because it would make the river more accessible for river floaters using it in the summer. Many environmental groups are opposing this, because in order to modify the spillway, it would cause an extraordinary amount of concrete and rubbish to be pushed downstream causing current habitats, total destruction. Although this spillway is not environmentally friendly as it is, I think any changes made to it will cause further environmental harm.

    • Thanks for your comment, Matt. The concern with shared habitat is an important one in allowing up to make careful environmental decisions. How do you think that a sense of diplomacy with other natural life might change the perspective of those willing to push concrete and rubbish downstream to enhance their recreation plans?

  28. I’m always surprised at and impressed by how long ago Native Americans began warning that Western ideas regarding treatment of the land and non-human animals were harmful. Unfortunately, their warnings went unheeded and the current ‘green’ movement is too little too late. While I do believe there is potential for improvement, I do not believe our environment can ever be restored to what it once was. And obviously, animals driven to extinction cannot be returned to their natural environment no matter how vastly improved it might be in the future.

    • Hi Susan, I agree that restoration–if we think of it as turning back the clock is a futile effort– this is an essential argument for the use of the precautionary principle. Let’s prevent harm that is irreparable once we have done it.
      Let us hope we learn the lessons history teaches us quickly! Thanks for your comment.

  29. I think the point that stood out the most to me in this essay was that if we don’t take time to understand and appreciate the different groups in nature, it will be even harder for us to relate to and understand different people groups. When we allow ourselves to become so narrow minded that we can not even see the value in nature, how then, will we be able to see the value in and learn from other cultures around the word. It is so easy for us to look at a village in a developing nation and assume that our way of life is better than theirs, but that is so ignorant! We need to learn to look at different cultures and different ways of life and be able to appreciate that. And what better way to start than to learn to appreciate what is happening in our own back yards?

  30. Dr. Holden,

    I like what you said about the refraining from disturbing others’ homes not being an immediate natural response. However, over the course of time we begin to see that when we harm others, we harm ourselves, like Sayed pointed out. After we, the pioneers, have spent some generations here in the Northwest, we are just beginning to see that by protecting non-human communities of life, we are inherently protecting our own. This seems like an elementary principle, but non-indigenous peoples are just now realizing it! Reliable prosperity must come from taking care of everything at once, not just focusing on our immediate selves.


    • I like the phrase, “reliable prosperity”, Morgan. It is time indeed that we realized that in an interdependent system, one cannot take care of oneself without caring for others who share that system.

  31. I noticed a reply above that mentioned something along the lines of the irony that lays in people’s desire to retreat to places that they turn around and destroy by their everyday activities. This response in conjunction with this passage was really eye-opening for me. As I keep learning and understanding more deeply through this course, the notion of the importance of interdependency really surfaces. There is not room for selfishness but only selflessness. Many of us have taken so much advantage of the planet. To me, salmon is rather symbolic when I think of natural life This is partly due to the fact that I live in the Pacific Northwest, but also I remember when I was in grade school that we would try every year to raise salmon eggs and release them into the wild. It is so very clear to me that we cannot and will not ever out-do nature through technology. If we do then we will be left with nothing.

    • Thanks for sharing another personal insight here, Dana. I think you are exactly right in your emphasis on interdependency. In a world that is so interdependent by nature, the selfishness of which you speak is self-defeating on several levels.

  32. The type of respect mentioned in this article toward animals, seems to me like it should inherited and traditionally taught in our society. It is sad to me that these types of concepts have been lost and now must be relearned by people, but at least there is now some hope that they can be relearned. Right now in America for the first time we are seeing a real and large scale push toward preserving our environment and respecting nature. New environmental laws and policies offer a reprise from traditional consumerism as we have seemingly reached the brink of our ability to consume. We now seek to reestablish our connection with nature and regain a natural balance by reintegrating ourselves into our environments. Treating animal species as peoples and respecting their homes shows a much needed concept in our approach to this new environmental paradigm shift. It is not enough that we desire to make amends with our environment and want to reestablish a natural harmony, but we must know how to approach that reconnection and relearn basic concepts in order to reach our goals of sustainability. By seeing the would as a community of coexisting creatures, we begin so see that our move toward sustainability not only affects us, but those creatures that share the world with us as well. This ideal of respecting animals is essential to our survival if we are to create a sustainable living system for the high human population levels we will be experiencing in the near future.

    • Thanks for sharing this wise perspective here, Joshua. I agree that our current population– not to mention, environmental degradation– makes it imperative that we create a “sustainable living system”– and that that, in turn, is based on truly grasping that our species is only community in an interdependent community of life.

  33. I think that the idea that we need to respect and treat other creatures and nature as we would like to be treated ourselves is one of those ideas that needs to be engrained into our heads. As you said, “natural life has distinct ways of life, values, perceptions, rights, and territories of their own.” We humans are gifted with the ability to make great changes in our environment, but we need to view nature as having many different cultures that we need to preserve. Our influence changes its behavior whether we realize it or not. The effects are long lasting and transferable throughout the circle of life. By getting to know nature by reacting with it every day, we will see that our actions have reactions and that negative stimulus give negative reactions, and positive stimulus give positive reactions.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Benj. I think you are right that we need to see more of the full impact of our actions, and thus we should consider ways of conceptualizing nature, such as viewing other lives as cultures in their own rights, that might allow us to do this better.

  34. I keep seeing a pattern in these readings – take what you need. That is a complete thought change for many of us, myself included.

    I remembered being up at the North Bonneville museum last summer (my kids love that area). One of the trails leads to the first salmon wheel, it was a native fishing area which became a profitable business for a fish company. They had removed so many fish from the Columbia so quickly the salmon couldn’t reproduce fast enough. Ridiculous.

  35. What stood out the most to me from your article was the idea that respecting the habitat of others can lead to a way to respect other human communities. By showing more respect to the land we live on and coexisting with the nature around us we can learn that living together is better then living against eachother. Perhaps then we can learn to see other human communities as similiar people and not always try to make them the “bad guys” but rather realise that they are people just like us.

  36. One concern I have is if we perceive other natural life as nations, we may start to segregate these different ways of life or create hierarchy with in these nations. We must make sure that before we adopt this train of thought, we must also be conscious of our nation’s current worldview. While it comes natural for indigenous North-westerners, Western culture is so caught up within itself, it first needs to pull its metaphorical head out of the metaphorical ground.

    However, this worldview could be seen as a great first step towards change. Seeing non-human life as nations immediately creates respect for them and their peoples. After that, the next step would be to drop the idea of nation and respect life for what it is.

  37. Isn’t it kind of automatic to respect the dwellings of other beings? Maybe in our culture we traverse the boundary due to our collective philosophy but I believe that it is more programmed than inherent. I wonder how many people would have the instinct to distrube a bird’s nest or a neutria nest. As a child I remember wanting to touch neutria’s in my Oregon backyard but I would never think of touching their homes. Most people do not stick their hands in tree-holes when hiking for fear of what lives there, we would not go in caves because of fear we would not touch a bee’s nest in all probability due to fear…Or is it the guise of fear, where, if we really looked we would find our intuitive natures desirous of peace for all things? Are we afraid of sharks in the water, is that what keeps people out of the ocean, or is it subconscious knowledge of the incomprehensible pollution that would poison us if we got in? I think the intuition is responsible for a good deal more than we credit it with and I think intuitively we are more apt to respect life than to be quarrelous with it.

    • Interesting point, Sky. In fact, Alfie Kohn’s work (he has several books, including the Brighter Side of Human Nature) shows that even young babies are tuned to compassionate responses for others. Some folks speculate that it was all those years of relying on communal living as we became human that tuned our biology to care for others. Or course, we are also adaptable enough so that that impulse can be overcome by cultural cues.

  38. I think one problem with our society is that we have been raised in a culture where being observant of your surroundings means a very different thing than it used to. We’ve filled our lives with so much that is unimportant and unreal that when we are faced with something like the impact our presence in the natural world has on that world, we only see how peaceful it makes us feel, or how pretty it is, etc. We don’t notice how walking across through the stream to get to the other side might destroy the life beneath our feet. We fail to notice how this will impact that stream 10 years down the road because our interaction with the area is so superficial and so transient. Our values will have to change if we are to ever truly understand how and why we must care for nature. There is so much at stake, but for many, they only see their immediate needs…their cell phone reception, their access to hot and cold running water, fast food, etc. Our lives are geared in the completely wrong direction. It would be interesting to see what people would see if they were thrown into the wilderness with nothing but their wits for a month. I would say it might be similar to the reality shows I’ve seen – I think one is called Man vs. Nature…something like that. Anyway, that isn’t even a very good comparison – someone is videtaping him so he is obviously not really alone, and it’s doubtful they would let him fall into a ravine and die because he’s not being mindful of where he steps.

    • I like the idea of being observant of your environment meaning very different things in contemporary culture, Maria. You give some very pointed examples. Time for us to start paying attention in different ways, I think.

  39. I agree with Lincoln’s comment that our current worldview would probably cause us to segregate or categorize other species in much the same way we segregate or categorize other humans. We do have a long way to go before we can embrace the idea of seeing the world as a whole, instead of seeing it as separate parts that have no true connection to each other.

  40. I hope that sometime soon we are actually able to start restoring the earth and all that has been destroyed. I know that much of the damage is irreversible, but I think that a lot of it can be remedied. It’s so important that we listen to the earth and what it has to tell us. I know that Grandmother Angie is a voice for the voiceless and that is so beautiful. We need more people to advocate for the needs of the earth, but I think that the earth does speak for it’s self a lot. It doesn’t hide when we hurt it. Animals get sick and die prematurely and plant life suffers because of what we do. We need to be more aware of how our actions affect the earth and all that we need to do is watch it.

    • I think that such restoration begins with small acts of care that flow from feelings and ideas such as the ones you express here, Alyssa–and those collected small acts can become very large in conjunction with such acts of others–and for what they model to others as well. Thanks for your compassion for other lives that share our earth with us.

  41. I learn more and more about respecting the nature through reading your articles. The salmon benefits us and as a way to thank it, we should try to not destroy it. Dealing with the nature should be reframed in a way that is based on mutualism. That as we take from the nature, we should give it back and thank it for its benefits.

  42. It feels like the indigenous people are the only people in ‘groups’ that are trying to support or save the natural world and it’s inhabitants. From past history it doesn’t appear that indigenous people have much in the way of power. Why is it that those that care most have the least influence in being able to change an outrageous situation?

    I totally agree that if we treat natural habitats the same as we would want our homes to be treated it would not only help us to grow holistically but to treat other humans with more dignity as well. Maybe with growing globalization will come a greater understanding of our other than human neighbors and they can be saved before it’s too late. I pray daily to hear something on the news that gives even an inkling that someone of power is trying to do something positive for our non human neighbors. So far i have been very disappointed but there is still so little that I know about and so much more I want to learn. This class is awesome!

    • On the point of caring and power, see my response to your comment on “plant and animal elders”.
      Thanks for your comment about this class: give yourself some credit, since what you are bringing to it helps make it what it is.
      When people in power don’t act with the values we care most about, it is time to try to change the people in power! I do think that we are fortunate to have more and more information coming out on the range of our human choices.

  43. The notion of treating other “natural life as nations with distinct ways of life, values, perceptions, rights and territories of their own” is so impactful. The minute I read just that one sentence something in my thinking shifted. Beautifully written and extemely powerful in its importance. Though I love nature and all animals, thinking about them in the way stated brings deep respect into the emotional mix which is imperative as we move to changing our dominant worldview. I say this because caring about something but not respecting its beliefs, habits, boundaries, etc. can still lead to abuse, it will just look different. I’m thinking of the temptation to think of animals as human babies which can be harmful and disrespectful. I immediately connected to the statement that keeping ourselves from disturbing or destroying others homes is not automatic. I’m going back now to the yellowjackets you talked about in the other essay. How many of us do or are tempted to destroy their nests lest we be stung rather than learning to live with them as a part of our environment. Interconnectedness runs through this essay and all the others bringing home how glorious it is and the lessons contained in understanding it. I see such warning signs by ignoring it though. Globalization is a reality now. Our society’s penchant for dominance and objectification thinking will no longer serve us rather I see it as alienating and destructive. The point made that respecting natural habitats will serve as a model for human communities is so powerful. I hadn’t as yet put all this together but now see how important truly living with new worldview is. This essay is amazing!

    • Great point about the failings of caring for something but not respecting its ways of being in the world, Sue. True indeed that inhibiting our destructive potential is far from automatic–and there are ways of thinking about those other lives who share a world with us that help us to act ethically toward them.
      I am glad you liked this–and also want to say that it is what you brought to it in your reading of it that made it “amazing”. Thanks for your comment and I do want to add that this idea of looking at other lives as possessing cultures of their own is not original with me.

  44. European scientists believe that non human animals simply go around in herds or flocks, that plants are either native or invasive to an ecosystem. Thus, they have put into our consciousness that humans are superior and that animals do not have any social, communication skills, or any other feeling that we humans claim to have.

    If we recognized these traits in the others, we would be bound to realize that they are a nation in themselves and therefore we would have to work toward them having “right” just like we do with other humans in other countries.

    We humans are stuck in this idea that only other humans can teach us anything. We need to realize that “what we learn from others enlarges our vision and our own choices.” You are always so eloquent with your words.

    As a lifelong rancher/farmer, I have certainly learned a lot from my animals and plants. It is fun to go out into a corn field on a quiet day and listen to the corn grow. If your heart and mind is quiet, you can actually hear it growing.

    • I am glad you have heard the corn grow as I did when my grandfather took me into his cornfields during an Iowa summer and we listened to this together. This is the same kind of speech that Barbara McClintock “heard” when she “listened to the corn” with the research that earned her the Nobel Prize. We make both our science and ourselves small when we fail to listen to other lives in such ways.
      I was glad to hear an OSU scientist speak of the benefits of looking at other species as having their own cultures.
      Thanks for your feedback and your comment!

  45. To be diplomatic with other worlds on this earth is certainly dificult if you are someone who does not interact with nature in some sense each day. You just don’t see it. But for others who count on nature and its non-human inhabitants as a part of their life, other worlds are easy to see; and easier to see when the worlds of those inhabitants are at risk of some sort of destruction or lack of care. Those women who have given a voice for the voiceless are great examples of people who interact with nature with their eyes wide open.

  46. An interesting concept, the word ‘nation’ however brings connotations of less than ideal relationships between the United States and other countries and to me in this respect we are treating the natural world as a nation in that we are at war with the environment and do not respect its value. However I do understand the notion of treating all communities and life with the regard of an equal. While we cannot hold the environment, animals and such to certain standards, it seems like common sense and a theme throughout that respect needs to be implemented.

    How would we do this? By altering our limiting worldviews and changing our perception of the natural world, those who are not concerned with environmental issues might understand. But then again- how? Using language that can be understood by the most modern Western person such as ‘nation’ and ‘legal rights’ might bring some non believers to the light. Last night I watched Planet of the Apes and sometimes I wish for animal’s sake that they did have the chance to give us a taste of our own medicine, despite my own superior position as a human being.

    • Thoughtful response, Cheyanne. Another writer on this forum queried how our animal “elders” might give us proper feedback on what we need to learn. I think there are other better concepts of “nations” than the idea of nation-state with its military borders. Perhaps applying our sense of nationhood to more than human lives might even allow us to revise our sense of “nation” into more mutualistic terms.

  47. The idea of treating other creatures and their habitats as nations would go along way in protecting them. Just think, when we cut into the rainforest, we would literally be invading another country. How can we justify that invasion? Then again, in a warlike culture like ours, maybe this wouldn’t work so well. After all, we have figured out how to justify numerous unnecessary invasions, and even find glory in our conquering.

  48. This topic is very interesting to me. I am intrigued by the destruction on the “voiceless” habitat’s while trying to advance our civilizations. I really have not allowed my mind to open to the numerous different challenges that face the entire world today. It is no right we destroy the homes of the earth’s sacred species. At the same time it is tough to find a balance on where and what we do not disturb. Being a business major I often tend to think of what is most cost effective or productive. There is a lot more to the equation than those factors. I think many business people could learn a lot of lessons from reading some of these works. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Jonathan. You can join some forward thinking business folks (like the ones behind the institution of the precautionary principle in San Francisco with your consideration and ethics. There are many who might benefit by reading this–but there are some who are leading the way. Congratulations on setting yourself in that arena.

  49. It has been far too long since anyone has listened to the Native Americans. It is a necessity for us to develop this dialogue. Far too long we have exploited the native lands. They were one a beautiful and productive land. Euro Americans came in and stripped the land for their own greed out of ignorance. Not only has the land been degraded, so has the fauna. The fauna of the world are nations. I really like the analogy. We need to be guardians of nature. There has to be some sort of reciprocity towards nature, and the native peoples for what we have done to the land. The land was taken for granted, the resources stripped as if they were always going to be abundant. We are a very ignorant people. We all seem to live the NIMBY lie. If we don’t reverse our course, we will have nothing to take care of and enjoy. I see our quality of life diminishing just as the early tribes of the Pacific Northwest lives did with Euro American invasion. If we follow lives of reciprocity, and a willingness to educate and be educated, we may have a chance. Nature just may reciprocate.

  50. (PHL 443 Student Reply) I believe the idea of treating every living being on this planet like its own nation would definitely aid us in ensuring we apply the right actions to them. Just as noted above, by treating the salmon as “salmon people”, we humanize them and place a stricter moral and ethical code on our treatment of them. The only potential flaw I see is the assumption made that all people care how other “nations” of people are treated. Unfortunately, this is not always true. In most cases, Americans do not lend a hand to assist unless there is something for us to gain in the end (i.e. oil, land, money). So, we must give ourselves a moral makeover as a whole in order to change how we treat everyone, humans and animals alike.

  51. Whenever I read about religious leaders such as Grandma Aggie, I feel heartened. I wish that there were more people in this world who were not afraid to act as a mediator between people and non-human entities, and I certainly believe that we could learn a lot from other species (nations). This is a huge problem in our society. We tend to see ourselves as the only species that really matters. There is a certain sense of entitlement, as if other species are only around to be useful to us. We don’t have an attitude of non-disturbance, but rather an attitude of hyper-disturbance.
    I am also dismayed, because I do not see Grandma Aggie’s ethics and ideas in most modern religions. I have noticed a distinct lack of environmentalism and not much love of the earth in most of the churches that I have attended. I don’t know exactly why this is, but I have come up with a theory. Modern Christian churches teach that followers of Christ are “in the world, but not of the world.” In a sense, the Earth is not their home, because Heaven is considered their home. Which begs the question: Why take care of a place if you’re just visiting? I realize that I am making a generalization here, and that many Christians are very “green,” but I think that this is an interesting idea to consider.
    Me, I’m okay with being “of the Earth.” I like the idea that I am taking care of my home, and that I will pass on my home to the generations that follow, hopefully a little better than when I inherited it!

    • From what I know of you, Amanda, I have no doubt you will pass on a world in which things are a little better to those that follow us, Amanda. If transcendence means irresponsibility, I don’t see it as particularly Godly.

  52. I personally believe that nature does have rights. If nature had rights, we as human-beings, endowed with the ability to experience and understand and enjoy the natural world, are also endowed with a responsibility to protect nature and its rights. I think that there is some sense of this in our “green” revolution, but this is mostly motivated by sustainability rather than an intimate relationship with nature.

    • Thanks for your comment. The “green revolution” does not always refer to environmental sensitivity, but to the attempt to create farming methods with technologies that would produce yields on a mass scale with chemicals and machinery input– as in the Green Revolution– Whoops! here. I don’t think this is what you mean. Can you indicate what you mean by being “motivated by sustainability” rather than intimacy with nature? Can you give an example?

  53. Isn’t it amazing how the natives treated everything in nature with the same respect they would give humans, and they prospered for thousands of years? Then we colonize america, introduce our self-centered ways, and after only seven decades are struggling to keep this land alive. It astonishes me how naive we are about our surroundings, and the wisdom of the natives. If only we did take more care and give nature more respect, we could be prospering right now as well.

    • It is indeed, Brandon. Especially from the standpoint of the contrast with our own worldview! We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it. A good place to begin is by acknowledging our mistakes–and the losses that came from them.

  54. This essay made me think of the difficulty of balancing our sense of getting out into nature and exploring it or observing it with the idea of not disturbing it along the way.

    As most of us work day-to-day jobs and then take the occassional “vacation” we become tourists in the natural world, balancing our need to be out among nature while also trying not to disturb it.

    It’s a difficult balancing act but one that if we are mindful of we can hope to do as this essay states and enlargen our vision of the world and our choices in it.

    • Interesting point in terms of balance here, Mark. Too much traffic on particular trails is certainly an issue. On the other hand, if you choose less traveled trails and make sure to leave a place better (pick up trash, for instance) than you found it, this should not be a problem. Also, there is always the fact that we are in nature wherever we are, since we are a part of the natural world– so there is getting out into nature by working in our yard or sharing an urban garden– or working to protect some part of the environment where we live. We don’t have to go somewhere else to get into nature…
      Thanks for your comment.

    • I definitely liked the idea of balance. I definitely think the indigenous Northwesterners had played more of this role and even the grandmother in end of the article almost noted this with showing how the way we work the earth is far much harmful than what her people would do with their digging sticks. Really, I think when you mentioned the word tourist, I really just thought about a lot of the disrespect that often comes with this, whether it be with nature or cultures around us. Overall, good point especially since this is what we need to see more of.

    • Mark, working in the State Parks, I definitely appreciate your comment. It takes three to four times the human work force in the heavy summer vacation season in each park to “maintain” nature. While parks themselves, some might argue, are in themselves a disturbance of nature, they do give people the benefit of traveling to the great outdoors, they allow people to learn more about their surroundings through interpretive programs, and parks give people safe trails to walk on to observe rather than harm non-human life. It would be really great if people stayed on trails and respected areas set aside for wildlife so we can all continue to enjoy sharing natural areas with other non-human species in the parks. This seems like a good way to start with children and adults in learning diplomacy with the nations of life – in parks where guidelines are often more clearly defined.

  55. Maybe our politicians can learn something from the indigenous Northwesterners respect for the salmon people. Also the idea of ambassadors between humans and nature was quite interesting and I thought it would be an excellent idea, especially since we are constantly pushing our ideals on others. I definitely think this would show understanding for the indigenous people and the past and may improve relations as a whole, both with the natives and nature.

    Really, I think when reading the article I kept going back to differences in worldviews and as much as we can see our mistakes, we also must remember the indigenous people did make mistakes as well, but they learned from them where we haven’t. Also, as I read I noted the word “respect” was used quite often to describe the way the indigenous people treated the land yet not once did I read it about the pioneers.

    • Thoughtful comment, Christopher. The ability to learn from our past that you stress is a central part of what made us human: stories passed between generations memorialized such mistakes so that they did not have to be repeated. There is an essay on this function of stories coming up in our class readings: https://holdenma.wordpress.com/2008/10/22/dead-bodies-all-the-way-down.
      There were some pioneers who did feel reverence toward the land, some of whom were taught this by the native peoples who helped them survive: parallels Wendell Berry’s notion of the “agrarian mind”.

  56. Having worked with the State Parks for a while, I have always found it intriguing that as you say, Professor Holden, “Refraining from disturbing the homes of other natural life is not an automatic response.” While intentionally destroying things is also not the majority view by vacationers to the parks, it does seem that people just need a little guidance in their diplomacy toward other living things.

    We have several programs at Harris Beach State Park that help kids and adults learn more about nature. There are many volunteers here working to teach about our bird sanctuaries in the large rocks off the coast here and about plants and non-human animals living all around us. It is great to see the young kids learning early about how we should have a diplomacy with the nations of life as they practice their newly acquired knowledge and earn their “junior ranger” badges for paying attention to the different species and knowing how best to protect them.

    • Great! Education of this kind is very important.

    • It sounds like the programs at Harris Beach State Park are a step in the right direction to protect wildlife around us. I wish I would of had this as a child, as I do not know anything about how best to protect certain species. As a society we must educate ourselves about animals and how to protect them.

      • Indeed, Kyle. It is unfortunate that we don’t give such information to all children, as you note. Now that you have some information (or places to find it), you can begin making these choices for yourself.

    • This is really cool. I should look into it and take a trip with my little cousins. I think we should be taking care of the nature around us, and not rely on state parks to preserve the land. We disturb so much around us, that a lot it doesn’t need to be disturbed.
      The first step as you have mention, is to educate others.

  57. I fear that the suggestion that we treat the environments of certain types of life just as we would treat a sovereign nation is no longer something that I would wish the salmon or beaver people. In the modern industrial age we have seen time and time again that it is more dangerous for indigenous peoples to live on top of valuable resources than it is to live in areas which are more difficult to live in.

    Oil, rubber, diamonds and water have shown to be resources nations are willing to fight to steal. We have seen that the analytic risk assessments associated with climate change in particular have not worked well in curtailing destructive behaviors, particularly among multinational corporations. The congress just recently decided to shelf a climate change bill. I believe that instead we need to play to a sense of empathy and emotion as these are more difficult to ignore and, for good or bad, tend to motivate people with greater vigor.

    • Congress also just shelved the Disclosure Act which would have required those who run for office to disclose who funded their campaigns. I think we must, unfortunately, chalk up both of these shelvings to the money first attitude. And it is true that the indigenous peoples most fortunate in terms of being able to preserve their cultures are those without such resources on their land.

  58. I am big fan of this view. I can’t think of a better way to create a holistic view other than promoting a “non-disturbance” ethic. Its obvious that as humans we neglect each other all the time and yet It seems possible to bring change if we teach our youth the importance of other beings “rights”. I have a three-year-old son and I know from experience that they will mold to new ideas just because they want to please those they love. I personally dislike spiders but my son won’t let me kill them now because I wouldn’t allow him to squish a little “potato bug” once. Not sure about the actual name but that’s what I always called them. He didn’t know before that day what the bug was but he was about to step on it and I stopped him, must have been the mood I was currently in. Now, after I explained to him that the little bug probably had a family, he thinks ALL creatures have families and therefore shouldn’t be hurt. I admit that I still keep a fly swatter around but he doesn’t see it. A big part of promoting such an idea is relating the connection between these various beings and ultimately how they relate to our sustainability. Mary Heck has obviously proven this point with her many illustrations regarding environmental responses to human destructive tendencies. I believe its views like these that still offer us chance at change on a grand scale and when I refer to “us” I’m talking about all natural life forms.

    • Thanks for relating your experience as a parent to our courtesy for all life, Ryan. There is certainly much that our children have to teach us. And as for your response to spiders, there are many indigenous peoples who will not kill a spider. On an ecological level, spiders do a great deal for balancing out the insect population in the many they consume.

      • The only reason I’ve grown to have issues with the spider is because i was bitten while sleeping and ended up spending 9 weeks and 3 surgeries in a hospital. Never new something so small packed such a big punch. I was in Florida and training at a military school at the time. Gave me some crazy nightmares. Actually, can’t necessarily blame the nightmares on the spider bite cause they had me drugged up for a while because they had to keep the hole in my leg open for further removal of dying tissues.

        • That is an experience that would certainly give pause to relating to spiders, Ryan. I just heard a naturalist working with spiders (spoke at the Eugene Public Library last week) who stated that the vast majority of diagnosed “spider bite” reactions are not caused by the spider’s bite, but by bacteria that get into the wound from elsewhere. The black widow and brown recluse are exceptions, given their toxic bites.
          As for the Northwest, we evidently have no poisonous spiders here– that does not mean some could not ride in an a cargo from elsewhere. Or course, I don’t know if you were bitten in the NW.

  59. Quote – “Respect for the habitat of others provides an excellent model for respecting other human communities–a special concern in the context of growing globalization. Such respect must be based on the willingness to learn about the needs and views of these others. This is not an altruistic impulse. In an interdependent world, what we learn of others enlarges our vision and our own choices.”

    I feel that another big problem that needs to be pointed out that we as a new generation has to fix that previous holistic civilizations didn’t have. That problem is over populations. I’m not sure if population control is implied in holistic points of views or not but I feel that no matter how well we work with nature to avoid harming it, eventually our very existence will be a heavy burden on our Earth’s shoulders.

    Does anyone have an holistic modeled approach to the over population issue?

    • You might be interested to know that research done by the UN consistently indicates that the best way go get women to decrease their family size is to increase their economic status: this is a no brainer as far as I am concerned. Giving women political power and economic alternatives certainly falls in line with the model outlined in this essay.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • I have thought about this as well, It is apparent there seems to be a population explosion, everywhere you look people seem to be producing more people and more development is necessary as a result. Over the next ten years, the San Francisco bay area is to increase in population by at least 1.2 million in the next 25 years, and there are regional planning processes now under way in attempts to identify how to deal with the development demands, employment demands, necessary services demands and everything else that we currently require in today’s society to live at the American human standard. When you add climate change to the mix and you live in a coastal or bayside community, and areas within that community are already threatened by sea level rise, but a population increase is identified as what is to occur, how can a region successfully plan for these issues combined? Hopefully through smart planning and development requirements becoming more stringent, transit oriented development and mixed use development will become far more mainstream and development will occur in an even more condensed area, allowing for less reliance on the automobile and more pedestrian accessibility to shopping, work, medical facilities and everything else we need. Through advanced planning, migration corridors and conservation areas will be zoned appropriately so that animals can continue to live next to humans, and can migrate without having to navigate the human factor, and open space will remain, allowing for a balance between developed and open space. And I believe that with education, woman do become less inclined to function as breeding machines and more inclined to put the tools they have picked up through school to good use by helping other people instead of having more children. And I also believe that the more economically independent a woman becomes, the less inclined she is to have a large family and in some instances a family at all. We as woman can use our mothering instincts to do good in other ways, we just need to find our calling and then apply the knowledge, insight and caring that we have to whatever it is that makes us happy and is helping others.

      • The idea that more economic power motivates women to have smaller families is not only your belief, it is backed up by UN data where this has been tried in developing countries, Lizzy. Good points!

  60. I agree with everything within this article. As I have mention before, we live in a land where others have lived here longer. We share the land and water not only other humans but other animals. They are the true inhabitants of this land, and we must respect them. Taking over what is not rightfully our is wrong. A piece of paper with your name on it and a made up symbol doesn’t mean anything. And it truly means nothing to an animals. Treat them well and they will treat us in return with the respect we expect.
    Viewing things beyond boundaries and flags that make up nations, we should look at the tree lines, and coast lines and flower beds and surround us. Those are the true nations we live on. We are not only a citizen of the US, but a citizen of the world, and we have to do our part in preserving what is around us so that we can enjoy it a little more.

    • “A piece of paper with a made up symbol” does not give us any license to take habitat from others lives, as you aptly note, Will.
      Lovely images about the true nations and their boundaries–and our larger citizenship in the world!

  61. I agree with this article, we need to treat other creatures human and on human as nations. We need to respect their right to exist. We need to allow them to live in their own way and learn from them without disturbance. Respecting other life forms teaches us how to live in harmony with other humans. If we don’t respect other life forms, we essentially hurt ourselves and our sustainability on this planet.

    We as humans feel we have dominion over the planet and other life forms. We treat everything we see as a commodity that can be bought and sold. Then we destroy our earth to make a profit and creates disturbances in the balance of life.

    • Thanks for your response, Elizabeth. I agree with you both that we need to respect the rights of others lives to exist (after all, they were part of the ecosystems that sustain us long before we came on the scene). Good point that enacting such respect teaches us to relate to other humans with comparable care.
      As a well known contemporary philosopher Bruno Latour has said, we can no longer afford the dominion rather than care ethic if we want to survive on this planet.

    • I remember growing up my family always had a garden but I can honestly say it wasn’t until I was an adult that I really understood my relationship with the garden. I use to hold a lot of worldviews where I took dominion over the natural world but from reading such material in this article I have grown to establish a relationship with nature and the more of a relationship I build the more balanced and supported I feel by nature. I agree with your ideas here, and respecting other life forms does teach us respect on many different levels.

  62. Until taking this class I have to say that I really never paid much attention to the many negative effects on the natural world around us that is caused by industrial explotation for the almighty dollar. I have even been guilty of looking down on the “tree huggers” of groups like the Sierra Club. But their ideas of preservation and not explotation is exactly right on. I will now become more actively aware and participate in promoting the idea of respect for all species and their habitats just like I do for fellow human beings.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal response, Deborah. It is hopeful that you have taken a responsible course resulting from your new awareness.

    • Good on yea. I might feel that folks over do it sometime, but it is their perspective. I think it is good that you can see there needs to be a balance with nature.

  63. Grandma Aggie’s and the anonymous elder’s reverence for the natural world and respect for other living creatures homes is a very valuable observation in the difference between native and western views. I remember watching the film “Seven Years in Tibet” and when Brad Pitt’s character was helping the Dali Lama erect the theater house they encountered worms, and all the workers would not continue their work until they relocated the worms to a safe place because they value all life and believe in Karma, and in a past or future life they may very well be that worm. Reverence for non-human life is almost nonexistent in the Western world. My mom buys wild mushrooms grown here in the Willamette Valley and ships them all over the world. She makes sure her pickers take care of the natural environment while they are picking the mushrooms because the spore beds are pulsating with live. Not only do the mushrooms need a healthy spore bed, all the other life around it is just as important for the mushrooms to grow. If the natural environment is disrupted the mushrooms do not grow back and the life around the mushrooms patches does not thrive either. The mushrooms spore beds are their home and it is important to respect and honor the mushrooms home and the homes of all other living things around it. The native grandmothers innate ability to communicate with the natural world is a valuable lesson for us all to be mindful of the homes of all living things, both plants and animals.

    • It sounds like your mother has some important things to teach by example in her protection of the mushroom habitat, Angel. Mushrooms are also one of the most likely crops to pick up pollutants so they should never be harvested adjacent to highways, for instance.
      Communicating with the natural world and listening to it, as well as caring for it, is a win-win proposition all around.

      • I agree with both of you actually. The natural way of life isn’t a bad thing at all, it is what we do with it that can be bad or good. If we intake things that are natural and good for us sometimes there can be negative impacts on the environment. Mushrooms for example are the best but it really depends on how they are used, where they are used, and where they came from. We do indeed need to communicate with the natural world as well as reality in itself to really understand it all.

        • There are some pretty wide ranging ideas (and some contradictory ones) over the definition of the “natural way of life”.
          In terms of misusing natural foraging, you have a point: I am thinking of the essay on “caring and fore-caring” here, in which the native elder was so horrified at those harvesting camas by making a mess of the prairie.

    • I totally agree that Grandma Aggies view point is a valuable one, and an interpretation not shared by many in this year of 2011. When you made the connection to 7 years in Tibet, I also remember how they had to relocate all those worms. How tremendous? I wish that the Western World View also prescribed such ruthless efforts at species preservation, but as you say, I think that the reality of that mind set begs to differ. I live in Eugene and I have two daughters. They are 3 and 5, we shop at a farmers market in the summer, and we bike to farms in the winter. They are all close by, but I love exposing my children to the wonders of growing food. I feel like that process has become severely disconnected in the modern world, and it is an experience that I deeply want to convey. Chicken nuggets don’t exist in the wild, nor do corn dogs. How we treat our world is certainly a future prediction for how it will treat us, and being mindful of all mother natures beautiful gifts is 100% mandatory for our positive legacy. Thanks for your insight!

  64. The viewpoint of animals having ‘nations of life’ is very interesting to me but it must begin with a realization that we are equal to animals in life. Without this realization, we will never be able to understand and therefore respect the other nations around us. Grandma Aggie would never allow the overfishing of salmon in a river, but would also realize the importance of protecting the river from degradation in order to keep the salmon ‘happy’ in their lives. This is the key for me because we tend to view fish and animals purely as numbers and populations without really thinking about them as mutual lives which need to be respected. I think about the T.V. show “The Deadliest Catch” where the whole show is about meeting a quota and the crab numbers in the net. The fact is that although our quotas are meant to keep the crab around for future generations, the reality is that the shows are pushing us toward less and less respect for animal nations as the article describes!

    • Thoughtful point, Brad–or at least we must honor animals as they assume their places in ecosystems just as we assume ours: the kind of equality that Thomas Berry speaks of. That is, salmon don’t have the rights of humans, but neither do humans have the rights of salmon.
      Sad example in the results of quotes: Dean Bavington documents the problems with this approach in the collapse of the Nova Scotia cod fishery.

  65. First off to begin, I think that it is terribly important to realize that an ethic of non-disturbance is not an automatic response. We are not naturally inclined to have ultimate empathy and compassion for other species’ dilemmas, but as this essay points out, it is not acceptable to ignore their voices. We must have care and consideration when we go about securing our needs, and ensure that we place ourselves in the position of others and how they are going about the same processes. We are all in this together, and our needs are no greater than others. Also, I enjoyed how this article highlighted the fact that the more we learn about others, the more we expand the vision of our own choices. Knowledge is power, and as the Elders of most tribes say, “what goes around comes back”. Reciprocity will deliver, and saving the homes of the plant and animal species now may just be the saving of our own homes in the future.

    • Thanks for your sharing your thoughts here, Shana. I am not sure we can say how humans are “naturally inclined”– given the range of cultural responses we have to our shared life world. I think Phillip’s experience with the bees, for instance, tells us something about natural inclinations toward compassion in spite of social conditioning that tells we are at the top of the animal kingdom and others only warrant our consideration as things for our use.
      I do think that we must listen carefully to ourselves and often, exercise courage and discipline, to take a different course that that to which our culture steers us.
      Thanks for reminding us that we are all in this together–and to listen better to others is to enlarge ourselves as well.

  66. This article reminded me of the Yale Forum on Jainism. It explained that their beliefs entailed reaching the goal of spiritual liberation through the establishment of a harmonious relationship with all other living creatures in the material, or Earthly world. This means that one should try to reduce their impact on those around them. In doing so, their goals are not only met but the lives of those around them are also enhanced. I definitely think that we all should try to reduce our imprint on the world around us through the implementation of sustainable practices; and by actually looking at the lives of plants and animals around us in order to compare their quality of life with our own. Only then will we all strike a balance with one another and be able to reach our goals in life.

    • Nice points, Jennifer. We need to observe others in a respectful way in order to know enough to treat them well. And “striking a balance” in the choices we make, so that we live with this world without destroying it is essential–and perhaps a sign of real human intelligence were we to get this right.

  67. I 100% believe we can practice hunting and harvesting methods that do not leave our mark on the environment. It’s a shame to read about what the Chehalis grandmother said about people digging for the camas and leaving mounds of dirt and holes throughout the prairie. Had they used traditional digging sticks the earth would have been less disturbed. Everyone should have respect for that habitat of others because I know none of us would appreciate someone entering our lands and homes and making a mess. Caring for the earth is part of reciprocal relationship we have with the land and we must honor it to ensure the land keeps providing for us.

  68. Why is is so difficult for people to respect the homes of animals? I don’t understand that.
    Most of us don’t make it a habit of going into other human’s homes and destroying them.
    I have always been told to treat others as I wanted to be treated. That didn’t stipulate humans, just others.
    And yes, we do seem to destroy the things that brought us to an area in the first place as mentioned in a previous post. That is a great point.

    • Yolanda –
      What a great statement: “Treat others the way you want to be treated”. I also grew up with this. Just as you said, we would not destroy someone’s home so what gives us the right to destroy the homes of the animals that surround us? This might sound odd, but how would you feel of animals came and took over your home? Although it is very unrealistic, it does paint of picture in your mind. If we could just live in unity and respect each other and the beautiful habit we have.

      • Indeed, Ellie–and this ethical stricture is present in many cultures: now all we have to do is apply is with respect to our treatment both of human and more than human “others”.

    • You have an excellent point about treating others as we would like to be treated, Loni: and I would add this to your own thoughtful points. The way in which we treat other species often parallels the way that we treat other humans.

    • I think it’s difficult to respect the land of animals because of our worldview toward animals. Most think of animals as something much lower than the human species. Therefore we destroy their homes because they are nothing like us. At least that’s what we think; yet when we read the web articles for this week you realize how truly special non-human animals can be. They light up this world in the same way humans have the ability to. If more people saw that, I don’t think as many habitats would be destroyed.

      • Thanks for the lovely comment about how special and precious non-human animals are– and how much they might add to our lives as teachers that “light up our lives”– it is certainly true that if we honored that, we might also find ways to protect their habitats.

  69. I really enjoyed the honest words in the paper. “Refraining from disturbing the homes of other natural life is not an automatic response”. I find this to be so true. I feel that many of our actions have reactions that we don’t even realize. To live a life, thinking of others can be exhausting, but so worth it. This is not a one person job. If we all come together and share what we know, just as the paper said, we learn and have knowledge from past generations; this world could be that much better. Since we are different, we have unique views and opinions on subjects. We need to embrace this difference and should pull all of our strengths (and knowledge) together to create a respectful environment.

    • Thoughtful points, Ellie. It is hard to make all your actions conscious– until you make certain choices a habit. Pooling the strengths of all cultures is something we might, indeed, benefit from in facing our current crises.

  70. Protecting the homes of humans and non-humans is certainly important and that’s one of the reasons why littering is so disgusting to me. Did you ever see that commercial where the chickens I think they were knocked on a person’s door and dumped a trash bag full of trash on the floor, effectually returning the litter to the rightful owner. Hilarious! This idea also reminds me of the principle of No Trace Left Behind of which I practice when I hike and camp. One trip I took, it may have been in Oregon, the group I was with even packed out all of their own human waste rather than leaving it behind. Humans carry a lot of toxins in their bodies as well as carrying non-native species of vegetation and seeds which could throw off an ecosystem.

    • Thoughtful, Amy. It is great to make sure that we care for the places we have been so as not to leave behind traces that harm them: then there is also the notion that as long as we dump our waste elsewhere and keep where we are clean, we don’t have to think about the waste we generate.

  71. Because we have already destroyed so many other ‘nations’ due to building cities and factories and various other unnatural things, I believe it is imperative that we begin living along-side each other. Just like the essay says, we must have a willingness to learn and respect the needs of others. Most importantly, though, we must learn through time and observation how to not disturb other nations while still meeting out own needs.

  72. It’s sad to think that we aren’t able to live among other creatures without disturbing their natural habitat. I wish we had a world where we could coexist in peace with one another, but it seems like the more modernization moves forward, the less we care about the natural world.
    It’s like the modern world we live in today doesn’t have a pace for the natural world. Is there any way we could keep our modern technologies while also respecting the natural world? It’s a very complex idea, but it just feels like our advancement leads to the depletion of the the environment that sustains us. Can a balance still be found in this generation?

    • I think we might phrase it that we are able to live among other creatures without disturbing their habitat: the problem is that is takes care to do this, and we so far (mostly) have not been willing to invest time and money in doing this.
      Unless and until we learn to exist without our own bodies, the “modern world” will have to have a place for nature. Nothing that we live with or on could exist without its natural sources.
      Perhaps the balance you seek can partly flow from remembering this.
      Thanks for your comment, Melinda.

  73. It’s really too bad that being respectful to other forms of life isn’t an automatic response. Why is that so? I think that would be an interesting psychology topic to research. This response really does reflect how we treat other people. Why do other’s not think about the “golden rule” to treat others the way you would want to be treated… the same goes for animals. I personally would not be to happy if some other life form came and destroyed my home, so why do humans do this to animals? I don’t even kill spiders when I find them in my home… I just let them outside.

    • According to the Dalai Lama, compassion for other life forms is an innate part of our better nature–the loving kindness we learn at our mother’s breast which we then apply to the whole of life–and that it is only in being lost from who we really are– our own good hearts that cause us to lose this kindness toward all sentient beings that you express in your idea of reciprocity here.
      Some cultures see humans (and nature) as basically good– and it seems to show in our behavior (a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy?)
      Thanks for your comment, Michelle.

  74. This essay describes the environmental version of the golden rule, “Do unto others and ye would have done to you.” If you would not like to have your home and food supply removed from you then don’t destroy the beavers dam and take all of the salmon from the river. This essay traces back to several other essays in which it shows how the impact left by the white people has been much greater than that of the previous Indian tribes to the environment. I think that it is nearly impossible for humans to not leave any footprint in an area. Even a single footprint can change an entire micro-ecosystem below that footprint. We should try to limit the impact as much as possible by not being wasteful and allowing the ecosystem as a whole to function. However, there will be at some point that the human must either hunt an animal or pick a plant for food. Balance is the key to sustainability.

    • Balance is a key, Jon. And if we look at history we seen that it is possible to help environmental resilience not merely by restraining ourselves but by acting in concert with the land–by making it more resilient for our own presence there, as did the native peoples of the Northwest.

  75. This essay like many essays here illustrates how the native’s intimacy with the land has guided them to understand their relationship and interdependence with it. Somehow it seems that all westerners have missed that. For so many years people have had the feeling that they can control their surroundings, and many natural systems have been destroyed. But like the mare that bucks off the man who tries to dominate it, at some point mother nature can strike back with vigor. Indeed our relationship with the world is quite negative. If something as small as moss or even bacteria is removed from an ecosystem, there would likely be horrible repercussions, however if humans are removed from an ecosystem, that ecosystem flourishes. I think that if all people realize their duty to the land on which they rely, like many indigenous people do, we could rid the would of environmental troubles.

    • Perceptive point, Mark: “controlling” anything works at opposite ends to being intimate with it. As you also note, it is dangerous to forget the extent to which we rely on a healthy environment to survive.

  76. Until reading this, I had never heard of such a concept, but I love it! I am very weary of the idea of ambassadors between humans and the other “nations” of creatures, yet I still think it is an excellent concept. If everyone adapted it and acted on it, then certainly habitats for all creatures would be better off. In order for us to respect other creatures, we must first respect their homes and not disturb their peace. It is essentially the same concept as “treat your neighbor as you wish to be treated” except for your neighbor in this case is a nonhuman species. But why should that matter?

  77. If only we could bring more of humanity to live in a more diplomatic fashion with our planet this planet would be so much better for it. Many humans have a very hard time seeing themselves as equals to anything they believe is lower than themselves, which is everything. No matter how many times it has been proven that there is always a cascading effect to anything that we do we still do it. Everything is effected by every change that occurs on this planet. We are more interconnected than people realize. The Native Americans realized this.

    • “If only we could bring more of humanity to live in a more diplomatic fashion”– I think we can, since WE, each of us, is an essential part of that humanity– though I understand that this often does not seem to be happening quickly enough.

    • It’s interesting what you say about a cascading effect. I think you’re right. Humans are told pretty much on the daily that their actions will have consequences, so if they are treating the natural world like it and the creatures that live in it are worthless, they eventually will suffer from their decisions. It’s not a mystical idea in the least, in fact it’s very practical.

      • Thoughtful point about the multiplying effects of our actions, Joce. It seems to me that we are not actually told enough about the effects of our actions– instead we are presented with ways to act (and consume and use technology for instance) in ways that allow us to act as if our actions had no effect on others.
        It is ironic that we do often expect our young children to learn about the effects of their actions and act accordingly!

  78. This article illustrates for me the importance of thinking about our natural world in terms of interconnectedness. We are all connected and our actions have profound affects, not only on other people, but our natural world as well. The modern fishermen were not thinking in these terms, but rather only about themselves and their own actions, which is what most of us do today, and a large part of the reason our natural resources are so severely degraded. If more of us thought and acted with interconnectedness to nature in mind, we would make better choices and protect our resources more efficiently. This is not a new idea, but one that indigenous people understand fully and one that guides their daily actions.

    • You raise an important point to consider, Jamie. We do indeed need to consider the interconnectedness of our world in order to better assess the results of our actions–and our responsibilities.
      It might help if we assumed a non-competitive view of our individuality, in which we see the potential expansion of who we are in extending ourselves to our world instead of shrinking ourselves by way of a self-image as solitary humans.

    • You raise an important point to consider, Jamie. We do indeed need to consider the interconnectedness of our world in order to better assess the results of our actions–and our responsibilities.
      It might help if we assumed a non-competitive view of our individuality, in which we see the potential expansion of who we are in extending ourselves to our world instead of shrinking ourselves by way of a self-image of solitary humans.

  79. I can stand behind the type of respect and recognition you talk about here. I think there are too many people who assume that because we occupy a space, it is ours and only ours. This type of mentality is disrespectful and leads to problems, as you pointed out. People can be very assumptive… and greedy, and therefore they have the idea that animals that share their space and their natural surroundings are not a priority. I look at it as putting the golden rule into good use: do unto others. I don’t think that rule is meant just for people. I don’t think we would much appreciate it if creatures we shared land and space with assumed our needs and necessities are unimportant or insignificant.

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective in terms of expanding the “golden rule” here, Joce. In an interconnected world such as ours, that is an important practical as well moral standard.

  80. I really enjoyed reading this essay because it illustrated how important it is to be respectful of the land and other species. Since we are interconnected, we must be willing to understand the damage we have done to prevent more damage in the future. Simply overfishing of Salmon has the domino effect because it just doesn’t affect the Salmon, it affects future generations and other species. If we continue to live in the mind frame that what is mine, is mine and I “own,” it then we will never respect the land and the living organisms on this earth.

    • I am glad you liked this essay, Kayla. I concur that understanding our interdependence with other lives may well change the ethical standards by which we treat them.

      • But, I always wonder why large corporations believe their pocket book needs to be larger than their ethical standards. Why is it okay to place toxins on soil that will harm a village? What makes it okay to privatize water and leave a village slowly dying of thirst? Why can’t there be more or stricter laws preventing these issues from happening on American soil and foreign soil? I know the answer is capitalism, but it is difficult to let these issues continue on.

    • I liked how you described our actions as a domino effect. You’re right, what we do doesn’t stay contained to one small area. You talked about how overfishing doesn’t affect salmon only, but it affects other species and ourselves, sometimes for much longer than we think.
      I believe it’s also important to apply that domino effect mindset to other things as well, including positive things. I’m sure that the good things we do to help each other and to take care of the earth will have a similar domino effect, and will continue to do good farther and for longer than we ever expected.

      • Our choices are therefore more powerful than we sometimes imagine– and this is hopeful when we make the right decisions. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      • Hi Samantha!
        Thanks for bringing up the “positive” domino effect. I think you are right to say it is important to realize good things can be passed along and continue to do good. I know sometimes I tend to focus on the negative domino effect, so it was really nice to read your post and remind myself to think positive! Thanks!

        • Hi Maddy. I think it is important that we honor our capacity to do good for one another and for the natural world– unfortunately, it says something about the effects of the actions stemming from our own worldview that we look at human actions as characteristically negative.

    • Hi Kayla 🙂
      I really enjoyed reading your response and questions/comments below. I agree with you that we need to understand how our actions have damaged the environment and future generations. I especially liked your comment about the domino effect. I think everything we do impacts the future, so we better understand what and why we are doing it! I also think you are right when you say that we need to change our thinking in order to truly respect the earth.

      • Kayla’s point the “domino effect” of our actions obviously hit home with many of us.
        As you remind us, each of us have an ethical responsibility for the effects of our actions on others– whether or not they are separated from us in space or time.

      • It’s very true! We also cannot change our ways if we don’t take the time do consider alternative ways of doing things as well. For example, we are all a little tight on cash and I would rather grow my own garden and eat delicious vegetables rather than buy something at the store that tastes like water that come from who knows where. It is cheaper and a lot healthier for you! But, not every one has the resources to have a small garden either. But it is one small thing we can do to eat healthier and sustain our own lives.

  81. I really enjoyed this article. One point I thought was interesting was that “Refraining from disturbing the homes of other natural life is not an automatic response.” It makes sense that indigenous people would of perfected their ways of sustainable living over the years and learned that their actions impact the lives of others. I wish modern society would be more open to changing their ways.

    I also really liked the idea that “respect for the habitat of others provides an excellent model for respecting other human communities…” I think it is really important to see how other people/cultures live so we can all learn from each other. Having connections to other people from different walks of life is a good way to create compassion and understanding.

    • Good points, Maddy. We will never learn such things until we also learn to honor our history. Memory, it seems to me, is a fundamental part of human life, distinctive to the human species, that which made human culture in the first place. To give this up by abandoning the past is to lose much!

    • Maddy, also we everyone has an open/feminist mindset we would be open to change and more willing to sustain what we have and respect EVERYTHING around us! Now, if someone does not want to claim to be a feminist, they can still try to be open minded and respectful. 🙂

  82. I appreciated the fact that shamans oversaw the Yurok salmon fishing and stopped the fishing when it would be necessary to protect the salmon population from overfishing. I wish that the industrial world would have the same constraints when they mine the soil and the sea.

    I went to the “If nature had rights” site. I really liked the Kenyan idea of justice. Wrongdoing is considered a breakdown in relationships within the community. Instead of focusing on punishing wrongdoers, elders seek to restore the damaged relationship.

    Aldo Leopold’s famous land ethic was mentioned in the article. I can not resist quoting it here: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

    • Thoughtful response: there are other quotes of Leopold’s on our “past quotes of the week list.”
      Many indigenous societies focus on responsibility (and restoring right relationships) rather than blame. that seems to me a much wiser and more effective one than a focus on retribution.

  83. I found that Mary Heck displayed compassionate leadership as she spoke out for not only her own villages that were destroyed, but also for the beaver homes as well. When something affects someone so directly (such as one’s home being demolished) it is very difficult to think of other’s losses and speak up on their behalf (when so much internal loss and suffering is occurring). However, Heck encompasses the true spirit of ecofeminism by putting environmental issues/rights on the same tier as her own.

    A side from that, I believe that part of the problem behind the destruction is ignorance (people do not fully understand how they effect life’s habitats. This is why it is extremely important to raise environmental awareness, because the more people know how their actions effect the environment, the more positive changes we see in society.

    • Thanks for your perceptive observation about Mary Heck’s compassion: perhaps we might someday have a worldview that so values interdependence that we see that the destruction of the habitat of other species is directly intertwined with the destruction of our own survival.
      This ties into your note about the necessity of awareness as well.

    • Yes, that is so true that ignorance is behind the destruction of nature and greed. Greed is the main player by taking land and destroying it. I am hoping more people will open their eyes and see how toxic chemicals, emissions from cars, are violating nature. This country needs to show the world we do care about nature

  84. We need to follow the rules of the indigenous Northwestern, by respect nature in the way the indigenous Northwestern treated the first salmon with respect. “Voice for the voiceless” is a great statement by Grandma Aggie, and everyone needs to be a representative for the animals and natures, since the world is in our hands. The world today is at its most peruses time, as 13 million cars are sold in China last year and this number keeps growing as does the number of barrels of oil needed to fuel these cars. Today China is having problems with pollution, with cancer being the biggest killer in China. Everyone must think not twice but three times on your impact on nature, since one day it may all be gone.

    • Of course, we cannot expect China to give up all those new cars as long as we ourselves have so many cars per capita, yes?
      Perhaps we can exert the leadership that shows us different models and possibilities in relating to our world responsibly.

  85. “Refraining from disturbing the homes of other natural life is not an automatic response”

    I would agree that this not intuitive response. It seems that this knowledge is gained from teaching empathy for all nature. It is easy for us to project human emotions on animals with a facial structure which resembles our own, but as we look at other things with “obscure” facial structures (i.e. fish, birds, insects) or no facial structure whatsoever. This condition allows us to disassociate many things in nature from feelings of grief, fear, happiness. This fosters the lack of empathy we have for things we perceive as something to possess. In order to teach empathy, we must identify all things as capable of feeling. For instance, in the children’s book, The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstien gives the tree in the book the capacity for sadness, happiness, and satisfaction which helps our children learn empathy. It is important to understand that we must learn this way of thinking so that we can protect our world and everything in it for the future.

    • This projection of alienation on things unlike ourselves also extends to plants and care for them, according to a fascinating book by botanist Matthew Hall, Plants as People, in which he uses the word “zoocentric” to indicate our preference not only for those species that look like ourselves, but for animals over plants.
      Hall goes through a number of traits we attach to persons and indicates how scientific information indicates that that these attach to plants as well.
      Hall also connects new scientific knowledge in this regard with indigenous beliefs that personalize plants in the way of the tree in the book you mention–and this motivates the ethical care for their environment.

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