Belonging to the Land: Historical Perspective

“We immigrants who call ourselves ‘natives’ after one paltry generation on the land, can scarcely fathom what it means to the Indian to walk on a land in which a hundred generations of ancestors have been buried”.

Eugene Hunn, anthropologist writing on the traditions of the mid-Columbia River peoples


“Drift people”, the indigenous peoples of southwestern Washington called the newcomers to their land.  The “moving people” those on the Oregon coast called the pioneers, since, according to Coos-Kalapuya elder Esther Stutzman, they would only “stay a little, move on, stay a little, move on”.  Pioneer Samuel James’ letter from Grand Mound, Washington in 1860 echoed that impression. He wrote, “The Americans are ever in motion. They generally calculate to build and do a little work on a piece of land, and then watch the first opportunity for selling, and the money they get is mostly spent in traveling before they settle again, and thus the great multitude of them are always on the move.”

Leroy Inman’s book of pioneer recollections on the Upper McKenzie River, near Eugene, Oregon expressed this restlessness with pride-since it was linked to Manifest Destiny. The pioneers were “restless men”, he observed.  But all this “pulling up stakes”  was done for the sake of owning land, which was all important to the pioneers– owning land “gave them power, and power governed Man’s destiny.”

Land was also all important to the Indians.  But indigenous peoples belonged to it rather than owned it. Lower Chehalis elder Henry Cultee saw this as a key difference between Indians and pioneers, expressed in the way they saw the names of the land. Indians named themselves for their land. This was a way of valuing its intrinsic worth, as modern environmental philosophers put it. By contrast, whites named the land for themselves-and thought this gave them the right to use it however they wished. After the land became their “property”, trees became lumber, rivers became shipping ports and waste removal conduits, and animals become game and skins.

Historically this process lent substantial irony to the term “settlers”.  Being in constant movement, remaking the land as you go, is hardly a settlement process.  It was the Indians that truly settled the land. The oldest human shoes found in the world are the 15,000 year old sandals in which the indigenous peoples of eastern Oregon walked the earth near Fort Rock.

Given their strong affinity for their lands, Oregon Indian Agent Anson Dart never succeeded in getting the Indians to move from the Willamette Valley and the mouth of the Columbia, the Oregon Coast and southwestern Oregon to lands east of the Cascades.  His treaty commission painstakingly recorded how each of these groups insisted they would sooner die than leave their land. Short of killing them all or removing them with military force (that policy came after Dart), the Indians could not be persuaded to leave their lands.

But the Indian refusal to leave their lands was not understood by those who were in constant motion themselves. At the Walla Walla treaty proceedings, Joel Palmer announced that if he had moved all the way from the east coast of the US to better his position, the Indians could move just a little off their traditional lands. He didn’t persuade the Indians.

Young Chief of the Cayuse expressed his sense of belonging to the land to Palmer and Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens this way: “The earth and water and grass says God has given our names and we are told those names. Neither the Indians nor the whites have a right to change those names… The same way the Earth says it was from her man was made.”

Young Chief also asked the government negotiators to ponder this question, “I wonder if this ground has anything to say. I wonder if this ground is listening… The Earth says, God has placed me here. The earth says that God tells me to take care of the Indians on this earth. God says to the fish on the Earth: feed them right. God named the roots that he should feed the Indians on. The water speaks the same way…the grass says the same thing.”

This is a powerful expression of belonging to the land.  And it is a vastly different thing from having it belong to you. If you belong to the land, it means you are responsible in your actions there.  It’s not a moneymaking but a caretaking proposition.

It also means recognizing the others that share this land.  One day some three decades back I was outside speaking to a young Chehalis mother in a soft Washington drizzle.  I asked if she minded standing in the rain to talk to me.

“We don’t mind the rain,” she responded, “It belongs here.”

The unsaid echo in her words was that her people belonged here too. Indeed, before they knew themselves as “Indians”, she told me, they knew themselves as “the people who live here.”

Belonging is tied up with recognizing the full community of life on the land-human and non-human. And in this context, according to Okanagan traditionalist Jeanette Armstrong, lack of belonging is a dangerous thing: “Okanagans say that ‘heart’ is where community and land come into our beings and become part of us because they are as essential to our survival as is our own skin.” In this context, “people without hearts” exhibit “collective disharmony and alienation from land.” These are blind to the destructive effects of their actions both on themselves and others.

There are two propositions we must grasp if we are to truly understand how to belong to the land and avoid the ethical and practical consequences of acting as people bereft of such belonging.

Firstly, we must stay with that land long enough to observe the consequences of our actions:  long enough to learn from our own mistakes-as well to learn how to listen the land.  We must, that is, reverse what Wendell Berry has called the “unsettling of America”. We must stop treating land anywhere as, in his words, a “one night stand”, in which we simply take what we want and move on.

Secondly, we must acknowledge that belonging to the land is a matter of belonging to a community of life over time. We can only belong to the land by honoring the ways in which other life and other natural processes belong here with us.  We must get our priorities straight, reversing the process by which we name the land for ourselves–and learn to know ourselves by how we belong to the land instead.


Feel free to email me for pioneer quote sources.

577 Responses

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog. It almost demands an awakening and provides you with the necessary knowledge of how we are “supposed” to live and relate to the earth. It seems nearly impossible to achieve all beings that inhabit the earth to adopt the idea of belonging to the earth. With modern conveniences and longtime habits of using the earth for it’s resources without minding the consequences, it may appear to some that th earth is doomed. The earth gives us life. It is she that provides the essentials to sustain life, breath, and sustenance. If the earth did in fact “belong” to humans we should be responsible to take care of it. But because we belong to earth, she is respectful of her duties to take care of us and provide us with the necessities of life. If only people could see that.

  2. Thanks for your comment and your care, Debbie. I have been thinking of this precious mantle of atmosphere that covers our earth which allows life to flourish here. An amazing gift we must treasure– as you indicate, for the future as well as for the sake of our own lives.
    I think the earth will survive beyond us if we do not learn how to belong here. So it serves us to be grateful for such a gift and treat it with the tenderness and care it deserves.

  3. This article definitely rings true even to this day; we have not changed since the pioneers first moved into this land. We are still a restless people, always wanting something bigger and better. Very few of us could say that we live on the same property that our ancestors lived on when they originally settled in this land. The “American dream” is to own your own home and land and then to move on to something else, we are a very fickle people. The thought does not cross our minds that we belong to the land; our thoughts say the land belongs to us. We are never named after the land like the Indians are; we always name the land after ourselves. Perhaps this is why we treat our environment with such disrespect, because we figure it is ours so why not. We were put on the earth to be stewards and caretakers of the earth, not to possess it. If we went back to our original purpose for being placed on this earth to nurture it and to take care of it, maybe we would be more responsible for what we do to it.

  4. Wow!, “valuing its intrinsic worth”. What a powerful contrast to how current society generally views land. I can look around the city and see new ‘developments” crowded into increasingly smaller sites. Ten years ago there were open fields, trees and visually pleasant sights available within city limits. These are few and far between now. The land has been taken for granted. I like the concept that we must “stay with the land long enough to observe the consequences”. Perhaps if we stayed and truly listened to the land we could begin to understand how to belong and take care of our most precious natural resource. I too believe that a “lack of belonging” is dangerous. One has only to turn on the news to find evidence of this.

    It is very interesting to have a glimpse into how another culture viewed the pioneers and the insight that their connection with the land gave them. “Moving people”, it certainly is a term that fit many of those long ago travelers. It seems that satisfaction is also a key element. Has much of society come to terms with the land? If it had I think there would be more harmony and less searching for “something unknown”. “If you belong to the land you are responsible in your actions”, If more people took this view how much faster we would be able to replenish our natural environment!

    • Thanks for your comment, Colleen. We might still search for the unknown– but it might have to do with the mystery of the larger-than-human world– and finding ways to share and honor this.
      If we experienced such a sense of belonging perhaps we would also value ourselves in the distinct irreplaceable place each of us holds in our place in life.

  5. I was particularly struck by the Chehalis mother’s response when asked if she minded standing in the rain “We don’t mind the rain it belongs here”. The rain is viewed as a part of nature coexisting with the land as do her people, not in ownership but in partnership, none more important than the other. We have always attempted to remake the world to suit us in the most convenient manner, instead of coexisting with it. The sense of belonging seems to be not just to the land but also to the community, as they are all viewed as connected. Today we measure ourselves by what belongs to us instead of what we belong to.
    Restlessness can be a good thing in many ways, giving us a drive for knowledge, curiosity, always looking to better ourselves. It’s when this is done in the typical egocentric mindset of thinking only of ourselves that it becomes dangerous. We find ourselves in constant pursuit of “More”, never satisfied with what we have or where we are. We consume an area and then move on “out of sight, out of mind”. We need to also remember “what goes around, comes around”.

    • Very thoughtful perspective, John. I like your tie ins here to consumerism and lack of reciprocity and partnership along with failed acceptance of the natural world (and perhaps not even knowing it well enough to accept it?) .Good balance in your perspective on restlessness: the restlessnness that comes from being adrift in the world is very different from the sense of initiative and self-challenge that a Chehalis grandmother (the same one featured in “caring for the commons”, indicated was an aspect of a full life. Thus those who just “sat lazy by the fire”, could expect to live a short life–and by implication a truncated one in other ways as well. A sense of adventure can come from a key place and understanding of meaning and belonging…
      Interestingly (as you may know), the “restlessness” that propels us to find our particular individual contributions to the world is a initial stage of the archetypical “hero’s journey” expressed in much world folklore and many initiation ceremonies. It is when one becomes fixated at this stage, so that restlessness itself is considered heroic that problems arise.

  6. Just because people today don’t share a deep bond with their homeland like Native Americans do, doesn’t mean that there is no bond at all. After all, when we first meet someone and we are getting to know them, a common question is “where were you born”. I had a childhood friend who was born in North Carolina but moved to San Diego when she was three months old, and she always wanted to go back some day to see the house she was born in.

    This article reminded me of the common saying, “You can take the person out of the (place), but you can’t take the (place) out of the person.”

    • Thoughtful point, Jessica. Do you feel, then, that we belong to some specific place? How does this effect us and our choices? Our treatment of the land? How do you feel about Berry’s statement that many Americans treat the land as a “one night stand”– using up its resources and moving on?
      Do you think you are likely to care more for the land in the area where you feel you are from?

      • I feel what binds most people to the land is their emotional attachment of memories and convenience, at least it was for me for sometime. The specific place where we feel we belong is a place that gives us sense of pride, the community or society that we represent. Mostly the pride is not for how we appreciate the nature for what it gives but our achievements to acquire material goods and values for status and leisure. Once we have acquired what we can, just like the pioneers, we move on for more, truly a “one night stand”.
        I don’t think we always care about lands ecology of the place we are from. However with the ongoing media awareness over global warming and environmental crisis, some sort of self realization might trigger a sense of appreciation for the land. That is if we can distinguish between what commercialisms portrays as “go green” and what really is going green.

  7. I was very enchanted by the quotation from young Chief of the Cyuse tribe; he beautifully painted a picture of the idea of belonging to the land. It is revealing to contemplate this idea of belonging to the land. I was put here just as a tree, or fish, or bear was put here; we all belong to the land. The power we have over other living things is the ability to make decisions, so we need to make wise decisions, and not just take what we need and destroy the rest. No one night stands with mother nature!

    This article surprised me in the fact that I thought alot of tribes were nomadic. I had the picture wrong, picturing the pioneers as claiming their own chunk of land, and staying put ; while the Natives were mobile and on the move. I think this came from grade school lessons on Indians where I was told that Indians lived in tepees because they could be packed up, moved and reset anywhere. I am sure alot of what I was told in grade school was a little off center…espically about “Indians”.

    • You bring up an interesting point, Kate. Peoples did move in seasonal rounds following the harvest of the land– but even those who moved the most, like the peoples of the Great Plains (those teepee dwellers) and the Great Plains moved over very specific lands that they knew intimately. Pointedly, some US government officials in the last half of the nineteenth century declared that Indians did not have any rights to the land, since they were just “nomads” who “roamed over it”. In point of fact, the peoples of Puget Sound at Point Madison had a cedar longhouse (for several families) that covered over an acre of ground.

  8. I really like Berry’s statment about treating our land as a “one night stand” I really think that it is well put and easy to understad. We are constantly using up resources and moving on, to find more and use them up. I dont think that many of us like to take resposiblities for our actions, but i realize that we do. We are distorying our land and some dont even realize what they are doing. I do belive that we need to realize that all of our actions have concequences. I also like the point of beloging to our earth is belonging to a community. It so true and i dont think that i have ever seen it that way. Everyone needs to come together and start making a difference , we can rely on just a handful of people to undo years and years of damage.

  9. The connection natives have for their land is so interesting to me, and difficult for me to quite understand. I grew up in a city and I guess I really have no connection to the land where I grew up. The land did not provide anything for me or to me. I guess maybe in western culture the growth of cities and the idea that the land takes care of us is relatively foreign. I can see how people could fell this way its just difficult for me to grasp it becsuse of a lack of familiarity with it.
    In our society today people are so far removed from nature and the land and all that it provides. Our food comes from a grocery store. Our water comes from pipes and we pay the bill to city. Our heat comes from electricity. We are so far from the source of these things that we don’t stop to think twice that our water is coming from a body of water somewhere that needs to be looked after and not polluted. Our foods come from farms and environments that must be clean so food can be produced.

    Its really hard to feel that connection to land when the only land you ever see is .25 of a nacre in your back yard fenced in a city of thousands of people and everything and everywhere is houses, concrete, and shopping malls.

    • Hi Joe, thanks for sharing your perspective here. Did you grow up in a neighborhood? Any city parks near by? It will be interesting to see what you think of urban gardens. We have an urban forestry department in Eugene to care for street trees. There can be quite a bit of “nature” in that bit of an acre…or even in a pot on your patio. But you have an important point in speaking about the bonding that happens as children. Seems that the best time to establish an intimate relationship with the natural world is before the age of about ten…not that it can’t be done later, but this sets out a challenge for parents who care about the environment, I think.

  10. What an eye opener! Many people take advantage of the earth and all it has to offer. People take and keep on taking , like it is owed to them and not honoring the earth or replacing what they took. What I find fascinating is how the indigenous people believe they belonged to the land. If people would practice this today our environment would not be in trouble.

  11. I find it interesting that the first sandals that were found 15,000 years ago were found in Fort Rock. I lived in Christmas Valley when I was in High school and camped on top of Fort Rock, this area is known for artifacts from the Indians, which attracts many people. My parents own an old farmstead in Christmas Valley and it has Indian burial grounds on it. Occasionally people trespass on our property to find it. Their intensions are not out of curiosity but to steal from the graves. If you haven’t been to Fort Rock, Christmas Valley or Silver Lake it is a must, it is wide open land that seems like it swallows you up. I find going home very comforting because out there you rarely run into people and that is only if you want to. My favorite part is the most extraordinary sunrise is to be seen happens in the summer months on top of Fort Rock. It is a view you’ll never forget!

    • Hi Dianna, thanks for your comment and your sharing the images of Fort Rock and the surrounding landscape. The record of non-Indian treatment of native graves is unfortunately not very positive. There is a continuing history of such thieving on the part of certain unscrupulous parties. I don’t know the particular history of your situation, but you likely know that a recent law in Oregon has made the disposition of all Indian remains the legal right and responsibility of their descendants. If your family notified the local peoples and entrusted the remains to them, that might well keep these interlopers away. I’m not sure if you are nearer to Warm Springs or to Paiute country (and thus the Paiute reservation in southeast Oregon, though there are some of Paiute descent on Warm Springs as well). It would take a few phone calls to see who has jurisdiction here.

  12. I really enjoyed this article! Indians feel like they belong to the land while White people feel like the land belongs to them. I think Western society can learn many great things by the Indian way of life. When they’re hungry they go catch a fish. There is much more enjoyment catching your own fresh fish than buying an old frozen one at a grocery store. You get to enjoy the land and all that it has provided by catching your own fish. People should have more interest in being good caretakers for the land, but white seem to care more about owning the land. Without this land none of us could survive. We’re all nourished by this land and need to honor it so well all can flourish.

  13. I’m becoming fascinated by the powerful relationship that the native americans have with the land. It seems so ironic that the people that have been oppressed and put down for so long, are the ones that hold the knowledge of the solutions to our most profound problems.
    I didn’t know how I would comment to this essay because the only thing that kept coming to mind is how true it is. The essay says it all, from recognizing that we all share this land, to accepting the rain because it is where it belongs. What a fabulous concept!
    I have recently studied the latin american culture, and the affect that the conquistadores had on the indigenous people. I learned about the unique cultural blend that was created through the mixture of the two cultures. I think that even in the united states, we can strive for our own cultural blend as well. That way, we can start to adopt the views of native americans (among other groups) and allow the new, diverse knowledge to enrich our lives, and solve some of our greatest problems.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment here, Katelyn. A very important point in terms of cultural mixing. I do think that the indigenous cultures that the pioneers found here has become a part of the American mix, as books like Weatherford’s Indian Giver point out. If you like check out the essay here on Native American heritage day: now all we need to do as a culture is acknowledge the importance of such roots– and justice to those who shared so much with us.

  14. I have been pretty nomadic in my life so far. The longest time I’ve lived in one place was eleven years. In total, I have lived in fourteen homes in twenty-seven years. Three years ago I made the biggest exodus from “home,” moving from the east coast to Oregon, having never been farther west than Montana. Now, I consider Corvallis my home, but I am now making plans to unsettle myself again, and move to Juneau, AK in a few years. But I definitely feel strongly that I am going to sick my feet in the dirt somewhere in the next few years and make a commitment to stay put.

    I definitely feel that there is something missing from my understanding of the world because I don’t have a rooted sense of place in a specific location that has been where my people belong for centuries. I can understand why white “settlers” are described as “people without hearts” because without knowing where you come from, it’s very very difficult to know who you are.

    I am ready to put my roots down, and I think the fact that I have narrowed down my decision to two places, Corvallis or Juneau, is pretty good considering my track record so far. Knowing the connection that I feel with my home of eleven years compared to places that I’ve lived for just a year or two, I’m looking forward to how I feel connnected to the place I live after 20, 30, and 40 years of learning how to belong to it.

  15. Dr. Holden,

    I see how the tribe wants to keep their land. I totally understand. I am a native Oregon girl and have lived here my entire life. I first started off in Coos Bay and when i was two my parents moved to Sweet Home. I don’t really remember Coos Bay. The house in Sweet Home that my parents still live in is the one that I grew up in. It has all my memories and all my thoughts. Especially since my sister grew up there and she has now passed, i find it comforting to go there because it reminds me of her and all the memories that i shared with her while she was here. I really feel that not only does a sense of roots make one feel welcome but also secure. I totally understand how the tribe felt in not wanting to give up their land. I only lived in the house for 16 years. I can’t imagine what it would feel like for a person who’s ancestors have been there for centuries to be asked or forced to leave.

    Chelsea Gagner

  16. The connection of people to nature seems to be a dwindling trend…and unfortunately it sounds like it started with our puritan founders. One would think (however misjudged) that those that had put their hands in the dirt, and worked so hard every day, that toiled in the sun and clay would be the ones to understand and know nature. But it would seem that they are also the ones put in the best position to objectify it as well.
    My mom recently related a story to me: When I was very young, we were traveling in New Mexico, and my family stopped in Chiracaua National Park (I don’t know the spelling). The park was riddled with petroglyphs and pictographs of the ancient peoples who resided there. As we were walking through the park, I holding my mom’s hand, and I asked her how the pictures got there. She told me that very old people had drawn them to tell us what their lives were like. I asked her if old people still came and drew on the rocks (I was a charming kid) and she told me that no, they were pushed out of their home. I then asked her what rocks they drew on when they left, and did we get to see those. She said that there were no more drawings from these people. I did remember that part of the story.

    • Hi Calin, thanks for your comment. Interesting point about the Puritans. I spoke with loggers (see “dead bodies all the way down” here) who were touched by the very trees they were taking down in such a way as to totally change their minds about their own actions. There are all kinds of farmers: there is that “agrarian mind” of the farmer who does belong to his/her land that Wendell Berry describes: these are farmers who see their relationship to the land in the long rather than short term. Much of the damage done to the land by pioneers was done for the sake of markets and government officials somewhere else by those who were merely passing through. On the other hand, there is that Puritan idea (expressed by writers of the day) that farming the land was a matter of subduing nature. There is certainly a profound difference between being intimate with the land in a partnership way and seeking to subdue it– two very different ways of having one’s hands on it.

  17. Things would be a lot different if America had been founded with the idea that it’s people didn’t own land, but belonged to it. This Native American worldview is a great template on how to coexist with our environment. It pertains to the idea that land should hold more value than strictly monetary. It finds that we have a responsibility to the land we use and that we cannot take it for granted. This is an increasingly important concept today. People don’t move from place to place as they did in settling America. This means the land we occupy is more affected by our presence than ever before. If we develop this understanding that we belong to the land, we can protect the environment while continuing our ways of life.

  18. Yes, this is what I was trying to say and not getting it done. The sense of community involves all of the life within it. Belonging to the land is opposite from owning it because it provides a completely different foundation for how we value it as living or something to be owned.

    But, as I see it, this is not the reality today. This is not even how the tribes operate to my knowledge. But, i think in our hearts, we belong to the land. It owns us, in reality, because it provides life for us. Two realities, I guess–completely conflicting.

    Americans (and others) are a culture of many mixed people. This is the heart of our foundation. This may be why we are disconnected with our natural resources since we have essentially lost our belonging save for the few.

    Well written and thank you.

    • It is important to assess our current stance as you indicate, Tina. And sometimes I am touched by the way that the land owns us, if you will- -how it reaches out to speak to us and touch something deep inside all humans if we are willing to hear. Last night I had a conversation with the manager of a local nature preserve for over thirty years–and he mentioned a friend of his owns 77 acres which he has restored to its native oak savanna. His point was that he knows landowners who are working to care for their land in ways that are more stringent than federal lands are cared for. I know the Nature Conservancy has for years been buying up land and using their ownership status to protect it– they have established some partnerships with landowners that are very interesting.
      Rather than being a license to exploit, ownership can have an opposite meaning– it can also mean taking responsibility. It can indicate a mutual adaptation between humans and the land in which caretaking the land becomes primary.
      One interesting thing about the Conservancy is their level of community involvement with the use of volunteers, for instance. I don’t think their stance is perfect– for instance, they refused to weigh in on an air pollution waiver that would have allowed more toxic release of air-borne flouride compounds into the wetlands they manage in West Eugene on the grounds that they never get involved in politics. But this hampered their ability to actually protect the land they managed. (Fortunately, the offending corporation has now moved out).
      You do well to point out that in a complex society in complex situations, there are many opinions and no easy answers–this goes for tribes as well of course. What I do see from the elders I have been blessed to work with is a vision that allows us to open our hearts to listening to the land and its needs as a true community of life.
      And as for history, that shows us mistakes and our possibilities.

      • Yes, I see that as well in my own elders.

        • We are so fortunate to have such elders to learn from, Tina. I know you mentioned your community has invited you back for more learning. This is an exceptional opportunity if you think the time is right for you to take advantage of it
          For myself, I feel blessed to be among those who have shared the treasure of elder wisdom on the part of my own family and others in this day and age.

  19. Travis,

    I’m joining in to your conversation and hope that is alright. You bring up very important and relevant points to the worldview discussions. If the principles of values were different 200 years ago, things would be different. Culture values clash, however, when we see things as the free rider effect as with commons. The sense of belonging would need to trump the commons so that resources would be used and appreciated responsibly with husbandry.

    Moving into the present, your post reminds me of the direct connections between the economic, spiritual and ethical values. That said, I wonder if our complex issues of today is not a direct effect of the spiritual and ethical and manifested in the economic. In fact, I’m quite sure it is. I see this in all of the empty houses with Real Estate signs. Real Estate. What an ironic term that is.

    Thank you.

    • Great points, Tina. I agree with you about economics. Since you mention the commons, there is an interesting thing about Hardin’s famous “tragedy of the commons”– in the very historical example he uses (over grazing of sheep on the commons in Britain), as long as the “commons” was truly a commons shared and managed jointly by sheep owners for a thousand years, they experienced the collective source of their livelihood and managed their own activity accordingly. There was, under those conditions, no “tragedy” of the commons, since the collective users of the commons were not so stupid as to undermine the sources of their lives (which is what the commons was and is). It was the enclosure laws that privatized sheep grazing areas for wealthier owners that led to its overgrazing.
      As you indicate in your comment, when the “commons” that sustains our lives becomes an opportunity for economic (and ultimately short term) advancement on the part of a few, we are in dangerous territory. This was the problem with pioneer resource utilization: the commons was seen as something up for grabs. We are seeing the terrible devastation that results when the common sources of our lives such as air and water are considered as up for grabs (places to dump toxic waste, for instance) or the commons become “resources” that can be overused by a few.
      In this sense, history supports your point on economics and we absolutely need to return to a worldview in which the commons is precisely that: the recognized community of life upon which we all depend.
      Perhaps the imperative of environmental needs can even teach humans allegiance to a common purpose.

      • I believe people change when prompted or when they challenge themselves. I’m kind of a fan of history, but only enough to know I have a lot to learn. Anyway, it seems to me that groups of people change when they need to due to lack of food, war a resource or a concern at the time. Perhaps these concerns we talk about today are a worldwide push to change behaviors as has been done in the past.

        • Thoughtful point, Tina. It is my hope that the environmental crises we face will teach enough of us in the global community that we are all in this together so that we finally learn how to behave as members of the same human family (with, of course, all the diversity of people and place– the distinct ground we each stand on).

  20. I feel like this essay must strike a deep chord in most who read it. I know it strike me at the core. One of the questions that plagues human existence is “who am I, and why am I here?” I think the reason this plagues us is because what we really want to know is “where do I belong?” Answering the first question can help us get to the heart of the second and ultimate one. This is especially difficult for us as Americans because we are constantly on the move. Heck, my family moved 21 times before I got into high school, then I moved here from Southern California for college, and after I graduate, my girlfriend (she will by then be my wife, knock on wood) and I are planning to spend a year backpacking around the world. This lifestyle doesn’t afford me the security of belonging anywhere physical and so I must rely on my belonging as it relates to my faith, my family, and my friends to keep me anchored. The Native Americans not only belonged in this aspect, but they also had the comfort of belonging, both physically and spiritually, to the land. There must have been great peace and joy and stability in that, until we westerners came along and screwed it up for them.

    I guess, even though I can’t say I belong to one certain piece of land, I can still acknowledge that while I’m here, I belong on this earth, and if I am to belong somewhere, I must do everything in my power to contribute positively there because going back to the idea of reciprocity, if I belong somewhere and I make efforts to have a positive affect, it will come back around, and the same would go for any harm I might do.

    • Thanks for a striking description of the dilemmas of the need for belonging in the context of all this moving around that we Westerners do. I like your statement about belonging to earth–and belonging to where you are. And as for your journey around the world– it is also interesting to note that indigenous Northwesterners were not isolated geographically: they had trade routes that extended all the way into the Southwest. The fact that they had a permanent home did not mean that some did not love to travel and visit other peoples. And among the Coast Salish, every child on the verge of adulthood took at least one journey into a vision world that gave them a sense of direction for their adulthood. Indeed, traveling as you plan to do is part of the archeypal “hero’s journey” depicted everywhere in world myth. The thing is that in this myth, the journey transforms the restlessness that initiates it into self-understanding that allows a life direction (as in the indigenous vision quest) and commitment to one’s home in a true sense of belonging. I think the problem with our culture is that we are (in archetypal terms) too often stuck at the stage of restlessness and therefore treat the world, as Berry indicates, as a “one night stand”.

  21. This post inspired me to research some of the historical settlers of my community where I grew up. Growing up in Forks, WA interesting in many ways, but one of them was the fact that it was really one of the last frontiers. I had grown up listening to stories of The Iron Man of the Hoh and other families. These people somehow survived this wet, acidic soil, thick with trees and underbrush environment. What set them apart from the “restless men” type settlers was they came to love the land and its people. They traded often with the local tribes and had a good relationship with them. Like the Native’s what these settlers came to dislike was their own government. They were at one point encouraged to stake claims of land, then because of how lines were drawn for the National Park it was taken away from them. Broken promises created a sense of suspicion towards all newcomers that is still felt if you visit Forks today. Although these settlers did commit crimes against nature like killing cougar, bear and wolves. It was an act that was done on the behalf of the US government. I don’t think they would have done so on their own accord.
    I understand how the native people saw the land as an extension of themselves. I also applaud them for not selling out to the white man and its government, but not all white men were the same. Some, just like us today have a true love for the land and all they wished for was to live in harmony with nature to the best of their ability.

    • Hi Ann, thanks for your comment. It is always great to collect the oral history you were privileged to hear before those who know that history pass on. I know that a number of pioneers had close relationships with their Indian neighbors–and were themselves disillusioned by the actions of a faraway government and economic system. Some of these pioneers pressed legal cases against their government on behalf of their local Indian neighbors.
      As to the acts that some settlers did as “crimes against nature”, I want to note that even if one does this on behalf of the government, one’s choices are still one’s own. I spoke with some loggers who helped take down the original old growth in Western Washington and had a terrible sense of guilt and grief this in their old age. Good to learn from one’s actions. Still better to act carefully so that one does less harm to those who share our world. That is what I like about the precautionary principle. Thanks for your post.

  22. When being asked about our rights and privileges, we tend to give answers that could not have been better cut right to the chase of the matter by the most established lawyer. Every letter of the law which specifies our rights is sacred to us whereas obligations and duties, which are related to those rights, are strange concepts to many. This stands in strong contrast to the worldview of the Chehalis, which is rather concerned with the obligations and duties they have to fulfill in order to bestow their respect and admiration for their land. Their beloved homeland becomes not their land by simply signing a contract of ownership and paying money in exchange of it. The fact that they were born in this land and they have a kinship with this land makes it theirs. Therefore, they treat as a member of their own family and surely, they are aware of their responsibilities for it.

    • Thanks for this comment, Nick. Good contrast between the rule of law (and contract) and the responsibilities flowing from a very different type of intimacy with the land. It does seem that there are westerners who learn toward Wendell Berry’s “agrarian mind”, which has a consciousness of responsibility toward the land deriving from long term intimacy with it rather than a use it up and leave mentality. It is interesting to ponder what it is that makes some exercise one perception (and behavior) rather than the other.

  23. I thought the two lessons at the end of this entry – that we must live on the land long enough to see the consequences of our actions and to acknowledge that land belong to the community – are poweful ones whose application would surely translate to better outcomes for our enviornment. It is disappointing to look around and see what little consideration people have for the environment. I am specifically thinking of people who mindlessly throw almost anything out of their car windows. That individual may be passing through town and will never return to see what effect that cigarrette butt or styrofoam cup will have on the environment in that specific location. Multiply this by the number of cars on the road across the entire country and you wind up with a pretty bleak outlook. It is definitely time for people to start owning up to their behavior and take responsibility for the land. Our actions have consequences, and as a community we MUST come together and take responsibility for it.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Allison. I appreciate the responsibility you outline here in caring for our shared earth. Long term residence upon and intimacy with the land is certainly a motive for caring for it (or even knowing how to care for in the first place).
      On a pet peeve of my own, I am seriously annoyed by those who think cigarette butts are not garbage so they can freely toss them– when they do so much damage to birds, for instance, who consume them. Same for fishing line left in long tangled messes on oceans and rivers that cause the death of much wildlife.

  24. I can’t help but find it amusing that in our Western worldview our children’s stories are laden with the ethical conundrum of power. Take Tolkien for example, the power hungry human kings who serve evil vs. the earth servant elves and hobbits, and a few good humans. Every story has something to do with power hungry domination and the underdog harnessing the power of good to overcome opression. The sad part is that in most cases the evildoer is striving to obtain power which is beyond his/her control and end’s up with a backfire. You would think after seeing this scenario again and again it would translate to bigger things like control over earth; I think we miss the point on an environmental scale. Talk about a backfire! I’m writing a childrens book!!

    Trying to harness Earth’s power is not working; the Earth is too powerful. It is not suprising that indigenous people were aware of that fact initially due to the awesome miracles which happen around us every day. Power hungry domination is a selfish, greedy worldview that perpetuates control of land and sea; just like the villans of fantasy. It is apparent in our media that we have not lost sight of right and wrong. Instead, it seems as though we believe ourselves to be above it in some way, like the phenomenon is fictitious. It is not fake; power hungry domination is very real – and very destructive. We need more heros than villans.

    Another thought…Do you ever feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders? Like you have so much control over everything that if you don’t see to it or if it doesn’t happen right it is your fault? Do you feel like the caretaker of a million random things that could happen and take fault if something doesn’t go right? Maybe you just get angry instead of taking it in stride. Instead, imagine you belonged. Belonged to a land, a community, a world where you had very little to control except yourself. A place where you serve a collective purpose but have no responsibility twoard the existance or nonexistance of anything. Where things would often be the will of others and things bigger than yourself. The rain belongs here, accept it, learn to live with it; don’t bother cursing it, the rain belongs here. Do you?

    • Power without any measure of service or nurturance or care for others is a dangerous thing, as you indicate, Jenna. I like your images of belonging in the last paragraph: you are getting into an area that I have thought a bit about myself: what I call the “domination paradox”, in that those who attempt to dominate others wind up expressing self-defeating behavior in the long run. That is, the attempt to assume such power ultimately leaves them powerless. I outlined this somewhere in the comments on this site– though I can’t remember where in the 1300 comments here that it is located. I did a search of the comments but couldn’t find it. Maybe someone else can remember this for me. Thanks for your comment.

  25. For years it seems that all that we care about is power, and how much i have or how much i want to have attitude. Along with the idea that the settlers would not stay in one place that much and moved on coincides with us today. People become so greedy with things that they can never get enough, they can never be happy with what they have always wanting more or something new. For example, phones, it seems that the normal thing these days is to get a new phone every year or more. What do you think these phones are going, it just piles up the trash that we send over seas.
    I think its funny that we call these people that came into oregon or washington the settlers if they seemed to be moving and never staying in the same place for long periods of time. They were power hungry and money greedy never being satisfied. As we are today, hence the perdicament we are in now with the earth.
    We can only treat the earth so badly for so long till it starts to rebel in a sense and stops giving back.

    • Thanks for the comment, Christian. The term “settlers” is certainly ironic given their actual historical disposition of failing to settle anywhere for long. It seems that two major self-destructive tendencies in any society are arrogance and greed–and a society rewards its members for these is on a self-destructive course itself. I’m glad that many are beginning to look at things differently–as you indicate you are!

  26. I’ll be that the native americans and the americans talked past each other to a pretty huge degree. I don’t expect that the white man could really grasp anything that was being said to them, and similarly, the same could probably be said of the natives! Even I didn’t understand how you could belong to the land so much that you would rather die than leave to go a few hundred miles to the east…. until I think of it this way: If I was made to chose between exile to Egypt (the desert, where I wouldn’t know the language or anybody there, or know how to make a living) or death, I think I might chose death, especially since I’d probably die out there without generations-learned survival skills.

    I think it’s sad that we simply laid claim to the land, even though it was really already taken. Like in Gaviotas, where he talks about the indigenous people who were being fenced in tighter and tighter. Where is their claim to the land, do they not count, even though they were there first??
    (The American Government has made right this displacement by now, right????)

    • Hi Josh, actually,the Grays Harbor people never got a secure place on their land under the US government, even though they made the long journey to the Upper Chehalis reservation at Oakville to petition the Indian Agent concerning this in the 1880s–since they never signed a treaty and were never compensated for their land. Some eventually went to Quinault, some Shoalwater Bay and a few to the Upper Chehalis Reservations. Others joined an informal community at Bay Center or just stayed on their land in any way they could (some bought parcels back from the pioneers who sold their claims when they could not longer stand the isolation). The Grays Harbor people were so scattered by the 1970s that Henry Cultee could say he should hang a sign that said “population one” on his fishing shack in an area that was full of Indians in his memory. So no, I don’t think you could say the US Government ever made good on this one. There were a few meager money settlements, but no bit of land on their own home territory.
      However, it isn’t true that all pioneers and natives talked past each other. As neighbors a few came to know each other quite well– in the case of the pioneers who stayed on or even those who moved around if they respected the natives as did James Swan on the Olympic Peninsula who wrote he did two things to make himself their friend (in the 1850s, this was): 1) he always came hungry and took great pleasure in sharing food with them–as it was the habit of local people to share 2) he traveled without a gun to indicate his trust of the local people on the Olympic Peninsula.

  27. First of all, not too much has changed since 1860, we’re still moving around like we don’t know where we come from. Contentment comes from understanding that we belong to the earth since we are made from the dust of the earth. Having been raised in the military, I understand the feeling of restlessness. Always thinking that it is greener on the other side is the wrong way to think. There is no contentment in not belonging to a place or a group of people. This has been a wonderful article and a wonderful life lesson.

  28. I really enjoyed reading this article. I thought it was very interesting on the description of how white setllers and the indigenous peoples looked at the land. The indigenous peoples belonged to the land, rather than owned it like the white settlers did. It seems like western society has not changed much since it first came to this land. I think it has even got worse, people even move around more in modern times.
    I am not sure if this is possible in our lifetime, but we need to change our thinking how we look and care for our land. Sometimes people just need to stay put and get the connection to the land back. We just have to find out how to keep people more stable to get the sense of belonging back in society.


    • Thanks for your comment, Troy. I certainly agree that a sense of belonging is something absolutely missing from too much of our modern world–and the only way to heal much of what is wrong is to restore that sense of belonging. Establishing a long term commitment to particular places is an essential first step.

  29. I saw a program on OPB about a man who had dedicated his life to saving a threatened species, I think it was in New Zealand. The species was a kind of frog. What struck me was how each frog was treated with such care and love and he would talk to them, just like a child, very gentle. I will never forget it. People need examples of how to talk lovingly to every little thing that grows, hops, swims, walks or flies. Every little thing is your brother or sister. People don’t do this, because they think they will look like a fool. People need to know that it is okay to talk to things as well as listen to them. I loved the article. All that is required is a shift in our thinking. In that sense, it really won’t be so hard for things to change, because as soon as people realize they belong to the land, not the other way around, then poof! things will change. Maybe if we talk to the “evil doers” like they are little lost frogs, they will wake up. That’s my dream any way 🙂

  30. Living in this time I believe most people don’t understand what it means to belong to the land. I spent three months in New York last year and while I was there everyone told me I needed to go to central park. When I finally went there to me it was just a park, a big park but still just a park. There are people that will never venture outside of that city and never know that the out door pictures of mountains and rivers do actually exist.

    • Interesting response about Central Park, Krissie. It is certainly a “formal” park in many ways: what is interesting is that a coyote took it as home and red tailed hawks nest on the surround buildings and hunt there– so they have figured out a way to relate to this habitat. There are a couple of interesting areas that nature has reclaimed in NY– one is an abandoned rail section in the Bronx which native plants have come back into and the city has declared a park. The other is an old reservoir in Queens where the surrounding land has gone wild. There is a current argument over whether it will become a paved skate park with man-made amenities (city parks department idea) or remain wild with simple paths added (which many of the local residents want).
      As many urban gardens show us, I think we can belong to the land without having wild nature around of the type we are fortunate to have in Eugene.

  31. Maybe it’s because I come from a different part of this world, but I find it strange that people (here in America) move all the time. I can relate to behavior of the indigenous people (how they stick to their lands): if I live long enough in one place, I personally find it difficult to move to a new place, where I have to “adapt” to my new environment, the new people living there, ..etc, regardless of whether the new place is “better” (in terms of resources, life quality, ..etc). Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t travel and explore other places…

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective here, Yousef. It is great to explore other places–but to constantly re-establish ourselves in such places (to the detriment of those already living there) is something else again.

  32. The concept of belonging to the land as opposed to owning it is very foreign in our society since we seem to be driven mostly by accumulation, ownership, and individualism. It is not surprising that so many people feel so disconnected to the land when you stop and consider that all of the land around us is “owned” How is it possible to feel connected to a place that is physically divided by roads and fences, but also mentally divided into ours and theirs? Also, when it is divided into ours and theirs, our individualism leads us to care more about what is ours, and at times, it comes at the detriment of what could be considered theirs. For example, most people wouldn’t dump their old refrigerator in their back yard, but don’t hesitate to dump it in the woods alongside the tvs, microwaves, and cars that can be found along most abandoned logging roads.
    These days it is hard to imagine a sense of belonging to the land so deep that you would rather die than to give it up. There are still great places in the States that people feel connected to be it as vast as the Grand Canyon or as small as the stream in your local park. However, since most of us no longer see the connection between what we use and consume, (how often do you think of the river your water came from or the tree that produced the notebook you take notes in?) our sense of belonging is much more shallow than what the indigenous people feel for the land.

    • Indeed, Bekah. Perhaps our own loneliness will lead us back to this connection. Your comment leads me to share a quote from Eugene Hunn, an anthropologist writing of the traditions of the mid-Columbia River: “We immigrants who call ourselves ‘natives’ after one paltry generation on the land, can scarcely fathom what it means to the Indian to walk on a land in which a hundred generations of ancestors have been buried”. (In fact, I am adding it to the beginning of this article you just commented on.)

  33. “Belonging to the Land” rather than land belonging to us seems to be, in more ways than one, beneficial to both the environment and human beings. As the Chehalis elder Henry Cultee so eloquently questioned, “What made a man think he could come along and put his name on the land?”… I think how this applies to Western society. Those of us who admire the Native Americans dedication and loyalty to protecting the earth, perhaps wonder and question how indigenous tribes can maintain this love and dedication. I know I do, as I read through Wisdom of the Elders and other articles that tell of Native American histories and cultural beliefs. In comparison, Native American cultures look at this modern society and ask how we cannot maintain love and loyalty for other natural beings. It is so natural for them to practice; it is engrained in their minds and hearts. The difference must lie in generational practices. The continuation of earth abusing practices throughout the past three or four generations has become engrained in our hearts to the extent that we become hardened from our own inner desires to partner with nature. Native American generations have embraced nature’s companionship so they may not understand our difficulty to bond with nature as they do. However, “Belonging to our lands” might help our difficulty to bond with non-human life. By up-keeping, fore-caring, and sustaining the countryside or terrain on which are homes rest, we might be able to understand Native American dedication to this practice and perhaps our own ability to sustain the environment around us.

  34. Settlers….just like driveway (we park cars on it)…doesn’t make sense. Anyway, I have never really gave much thought as to the meaning of the word “settlers” before. They didn’t settle anything, they just kept taking what they wanted from nature (including the Indians) and then once they depleted the resource, they would move on. Doesn’t sound like much has changed. The only difference is we now have continous improving technology to deplete resources quicker..and for more net profit.

    The “settlers” didn’t see the land as having an “intrinsic worth”, they saw monetary worth, just as modern society does. Even when the Indians were mobile, it was for a reason: For the benefit of land more than for themselves. Sure the Indians benefited, but so did the land (they took care of each other). The Indians understood the benefits of rest periods, timing, dispersal, and respect which gave and gives more value to “intrinsic worth”. It wasn’t just a matter of knowing it was there…the Indians saw it…the results of rest, proper timing, dispersal, and respect.

    • Good points about native land usage, Patrick. It is true that seasonal movement west of the Cascades where populations were very geographically stable, help take the pressure off the land in terms of overuse. There were literally dozens of back up subsistence strategies in the event of a bad salmon year. And if salmon were scare, the religious leaders who directed the take would allow much less to be taken. Also says something about our current propensity to monocrop: not a very resilient strategy for ourselves or for nature.

  35. I have always rather uncomfortable being white when I took history classes because I felt so embarrassed at the way whit people acted in the past. Why is it that whites seem to always be ignorant and taking what isn’t theirs? Although I clearly had no control over the decisions made in the past I still feel grief at what occurred. One summer I was camping down at Lake Powell formed by the Glen Canyon Dam in Southern Utah and Arizona. I woke up around dawn from the bright rising sun and looked at the ridge above our campsite. There sat a solitary native american on his horse watching the sun rise. (The Navajo and Hopi tribes both live in the area). I was fascinated by this because I felt like I had been transported back centuries. I felt the sense of sacred space this individual was creating, watching the sun rise over the land of his ancestors. I felt very blessed to have witnessed such an intimate moment but I also felt very out of place. I was a visitor to this land, I did not belong. None of us did, this was their (natives) land and I was a visitor. And then I felt a little bit of helplessness. Where is MY land? Where can I walk and feel the same rhythm in my life that has been carried on for centuries? Why do I have to be a descendent of the the drifters, the movers, the takers, the restless? How can some aggregation of countries over in Europe hold the same sacred quality for me when neither I nor anyone in my family has lived there? I have pain for the selfish actions of whites in the past, I have great respect for the Native tribes, and I have a little jealousy too.

    • Hello Anna, there is much grief in our history. I think the prime benefit of knowing the truth is being able to do better in the future– and certainly, to set the injustice of the past in a context that allows us not to repeat it. We each have to begin with where are–and in a sense, find, remember, or create our own belonging to land and community. That means, I think, respecting the communities of those who were here before us–of all species. It also means honoring our own power and ability to work toward the goal in the title of Wes Anderson’s book, Becoming Native to this Place. I also don’t know what your background is, but even in European history, there are powerful traditions of earth-honoring–even if they haven’t been exactly played up in our telling of history.

  36. What a wake up call to us as a society. It’s amazing to me the difference between our concept of the term settler and indigenous peoples concept. Our history books champion all of our efforts and how we came, we saw, and we conquered. Reading the native peoples view of our history and the land instead leaves me with a feeling of loss. 200 years later and Americans are still moving people. I have lived in 7 different states so far. Even within those 7 states, I moved numerous times. We would buy a house, fix it up, sell it for profit and move on. There was always something better on the horizon. It would make such a tremendous difference if people stayed in one place and dug roots deep within the community. Imagine how we would treat each other and the land with that perspective.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective here, Julie. I think there is a good deal of difference between those who travel for the love of the experience (as native peoples did on their trade routes) and those who always feel driven to something or somewhere else. We have indeed idealized the drift, roamer, wanderer who has no home at all in our history. At the very least, it would good if we stayed somewhere long enough to experience the consequences of our actions there.

  37. This is a great perspective. I am sure that a majority of people don’t stop to think about their homes and what having a home has displaced in nature. What do we put out of the natural cycle of things in order to live comfortably? I also think about all the pesticides and fertilizers we use to kill nature, I don’t see that as protecting the land. If each person respected the ground they used more, we would be well on our way to a more solid future. I think more organizations and media support on easy ways to help the Earth could be helpful. Good reading.

  38. In starting to read this essay, I related to the westerner. I love to travel, and I could spend my entire life without a home, just traveling all the countries of the world. This is my dream, and I would love to be able to live this life. But towards the end of the essay, the second to last paragraph resounded deeper with me. It is those indigenous people who have taken the best care of this earth, and the fact that they take such care of their land may be the key to keeping our world alive and well. If the United States considered that someday we may have to live on the lands that we destroy such as the nuclear bombins in WWII or in Iraq at present, I am sure that the land would be better taken care of. It is important to think of all land as our own land, since westerners all have some form of “ownership” in their background. This may be the best way to preserve life.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal journey through this essay, Katie. Love of travel is not the same as lack of belonging to a place and community. In fact those who so intimately belonging to a place on the land still traveled in seasonal rounds to follow the land’s harvest–and just to go visiting, to trade (some old trade routes went from the Pacific Northwest to south of current day Mexico. And there was a spiritual sense of adventure in going on vision quests. Your point at the end of your essay is insightful: if we had to live on the land we ravage, we might behave better toward it! Your idea of “ownership” as responsibility– rather than exploitation is a good one. We need to be invested in all the lands touched by our actions such that we care for them.

  39. In this essay I believe that we still have a chance to learn from our mistakes. Yes we have damaged our environment but the majority can be fixed or damage reduced. The native stating that she did not mind the rain because it “belonged” is classic. We in southern California treat rain like a pest but living in a desert we shold embrace it. The conclusion was also awesome in not to treat our land “like a one night stand”.

    • I think we always have a chance to learn from our mistakes: whether we act quickly enough in response is another issue. There are some imperatives we must face and face soon. Thoughtful point about the inconvenience of rain in the desert: you are right, we should certainly embrace it–here in the Northwest as well! Thanks for your comment, Al!

  40. If the argument is between does the land own us or do we own it, I don’t think that it should really be either way. It’s strange to hear that land can own human beings and though we hear that humans own land all the time, I don’t think that that statement is really a fair one. Ownership shouldn’t really be a factor at all. Surely the relationship should be less about who owns who and more about reciprocity. People can’t own land, they can just live on it for awhile. After all, hundreds of people probably “owned” the land before them and will “own” it after them, so was it ever really theirs in the first place? Also, because people are free to move from place to place if they choose, the land cannot physically hold them in one area. The way I see it, either ownership doesn’t exist between land and humans, or there is a mutual ownership. Ownership implies control, when the relationship between land and human should be more about respect. Rather than being like the settlers and moving from place to place and leaving destruction behind them, we should care for the land that we live on (at least as long as we stay there, and then care for another piece of land when we leave), since the land, in turn, cares for us. By taking care of the land, we are not allowing it to own us, but working with nature, as equals.

  41. What most stands out to me when I read this article is the disparity of perception between Native Americans and the Euroamerican settlers. It immediately caught my attention reading the first quote because I’ve called myself native Oregonian, and my parents came up from California! The difference pervades into the basic understanding of the natural world and, maybe more importantly, what purpose it serves. The idea that it is there for us is the Western view, instead of us being of the Earth, and taking versus asking.

    The example of Joel Palmer at the Walla Walla treaty proceedings is comical in its ignorance, and perfectly illustrates the differences through lack of understanding the other.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michael. Taking versus asking is a very important concept. In fact, I heard one native women say they never “took” anything from the land, just received what was offered them. “Asking permission” of whatever you used was a prevalent practice — so that gratefulness also prevailed when the land’s permission was granted.
      Palmer was ignorant–and desperate. He was saddled with how to deal with pioneer violence toward the natives on the land they wanted– he wrote about this over and over as Indian Agent–and couldn’t think of anything to do but get them out of the way. But here’s a strange ethical solution perpetrated by subsequent agents faced with the same problem. If someone surrounding reservation land the Indians had improved give it to them to prevent violence!

  42. We “drift people” are always looking for the next big bang. We have this resolute belief that there is something else in need of investigation. If only we could accept the unknown, maybe we’d find serenity in where we are, literally and spiritually. It might help if we catch our breath and look around before writing it off as “been there, done that, moving on.”

    The native peoples have demonstrated a group of people who have found there niche in the world, and that it is here on earth. If we weren’t so concerned with what we must do and who we must step on to make it to our divine resting place, maybe we’d have the chance to connect with what a life is made up of today.

    • Excellent reminder to honor the lives we are given, Jessica. If we spend all this time moving on, as you indicate, we may be missing the bulk of our actual lives. I think you have a good point about being addicted to a particular kind of adrenaline rush of newness. But it is not as if there isn’t plenty to see and feel where we stand!
      There is also nothing wrong with travel and trade and experiencing new things: it’s is when it becomes an occasion for exploitation, with the attitude (as you put) “been there, done that, moving on”– that our restlessness becomes a problem for the rest of the world–and for ourselves.

  43. This blog really opened my eyes a bit wider to the very large differences that Indians and whites faced. I had never thought about how the Indians name themselves after the land, while the whites name the land. That seems to be a big tell on each people and their priorities. It seems that either of them trying to understand each other was a huge feat to undertake. How do you understand an idea so foreign and new to you? I think the more exposure you get to different subjects, the better. You may never fully understand another person’s ideals, but you can still respect that and them. Isn’t that really what college is all about? You have to take so many other courses besides the ones that are in your field so that then you are well-rounded and are exposed to more ideas, beliefs, theories that you may not have come into contact with otherwise. Being exposed to them lends you an extra amount of respect for others and hopefully a smidgen of understanding to go along with it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. It seems you are taking your education for a true learning journey! Exposure to other views and developing understanding benefits us in that it allows us to broaden our sense of possibilities and choices.

  44. I have to say that I felt like this essay was talking directly to me. I have never lived in the same home for more than three years, never the same town for more than 5 and never the same state for more than 8. I have never lived anywhere long enough to see the consequences of my actions as you state in the essay. This perspective is eye opening for me. I feel like I have made positive contributions to all the places that I have lived however I can’t be absolutely sure. To give some background I have always had a side job building and remodeling houses and I like to think that I do quality work. I have moved so much that I am not sure how well all my work is holding up. I have not had to live with the work that I have done for more than a year so how am I to be sure how it is holding up to the test of time. I can’t be sure of the consequences of my actions and that in essence relieves me of some of the responsibility to be prudent in my work. I still feel the duty to act responsibly but there is nothing to make sure it happens. I hope to settle down soon and stay in the same but my life requires at least one more move. I guess I will just have to do the best that I can.

    • Hi Zane, thanks for sharing your personal perceptions here. You are certainly not alone, since our current economy encourages this kind of movement. Some modern corporations even make it a point to transfer folks every so often (as does the military) so that their first allegiance is to the corporation rather than to a place or community.
      It sounds like you are conscientious…you might enjoy looking into Jackson’s Becoming Native to this Place and following a bit of the work of the Land Institute. He talks a bit about the old house they bought to refurbish and its human history–and what that met to them.
      And remodeling houses with some history is certainly different from mowing down natural landscapes to build new developments.

  45. This article really made me stop and think about my own life that was spent on the move, and never really being “from” anywhere. I spent such a short time in most places throughout most of my life, especially as a child. I enjoyed every place we moved when I was growing up, my Dad’s job kept us moving. There was always something new to explore and encounter. Always something beautiful and special to appreciate in each area that we moved to. I do not really have a sense of place though. Not a place where I am “from.” Since becoming an adult I have only moved a couple of times. I have been living in Alaska for 13 years, the longest I have ever lived in one place and do not plan to move anytime soon. I feel at home here. I am not sure that I need to have a place where I am from. I have enjoyed experiencing new places and feel lucky that I have been able to see so many different landscapes and cultures. I hope that I have learned to appreciate and respect differences throughout my travels. I guess I will never have a lifetime of connection with the land, but as you mention in your article, it takes more than just living on the land and owning it. It means you take responsibility for your actions on the land. I think that I try to take responsibility for my actions on the lands where I live and I try to extend that out into the larger world as best I can.

    I do understand the idea that people associate themselves with place and it becomes who they are. The removal of Indigenous people from their lands was a sort of genocide. Taking people who lived in coastal ecosystems and spent many generations learning about the land and its resources, and putting them inland where they have no knowledge or experience to survive is knowingly killing them. It seems that some Native Americans have never really recovered from this horrible treatment and upheaval from their home land. The land was more than a “place.” It is who they are.

    • It sounds like you have developed a sense of place in the sense of appreciation and care, Christina–which is certainly an essential issue. And using your travels to be open to other ways is an attitude of learning that can only serve you.
      As you note, there is a different link to land that makes it a part of who one is–and allows for intricate knowing of that land attainable no other way.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  46. I come from a family that is mixed. My father, even though he is over 60, he still can’t stay in one place for long. His mother called him a gypsy. It’s unusual for him to stay in the same place for a year. My mother, on the other hand, grew up on land her family had owned and farmed for generations. Her immediate family does not own it, but one of her cousins do and they still work the land.

    I felt it wonderful that some tribes stood up to the whites. Maybe not successfully, but they still did it. It is hard to understand someone else’s views, especially if the person is not open-minded enough to even try. I deeply regret what the whites and christians did to other people, and still do. I just know I can only control myself and I’ve stopped what I can.

    • Thanks for your personal response to this history, Christy. We can only control ourselves– and thank your for stopping injustice where you see an opportunity to do it. Your father and mother must make an interesting match.

  47. While reading this essay and Christina’s response above, I find myself vacillating between values that grow out of belonging to the land by living on it, and not being “from” that place but living on the land temporarily. I, too, have moved a great deal and sometimes have longed for a place where I can touch the soil and say I belong to it and it to me … to grow plants and see the results over a long time — as food or as maturing beauty. The reality is so often that jobs whose payment sustains us also keeps us moving between landscapes. But in doing so myself, I have learned so much from the different cultures and the different ecosystems in which I have lived, and I am glad for that personal growth. Living in the same landscape has a danger of closing one’s mind, instead of opening it to intimacies with and participation in the rhythms inherent in the local habitat. Experiencing the world from multiple perspectives can be healthy. And when I do return to a place where I have had a little longer residence than others, I find my senses are much more keen, and the possibilities for participation in that landscape have been broadened. So, I think I am concluding that one does not necessarily have to live intimately with “one” landscape, but to hone one’s senses to observe, appreciate, preserve and participate with what is happening in the landscape of the moment. I don’t think our mobility is going to stop. But we can change how our minds and hearts perceive our world.

    • Thanks for your comment. Did you read my reply to Christina? I think I touched on some of these issues. Belonging to a land does not mean that you are isolated there– or never connect with or travel to anywhere else. In fact, native peoples in this area had trade routes that went all the way into what is now Mexico. I think your idea about differing perspectives is a good one: those who are firmly grounded in place have the security to reach out to the world–including the more than human one. In fact, I think that our sense of perspective in a global arena so focused on the human view may be less open to diverse perspectives than those whose vision quests taught them to speak with all aspects of life.
      A thoughtful comment!

  48. This article really made sense to me as to how white settlers thought when trying to get Native peoples to move to reservations. The settlers were so used to moving, so used to going wherever they can to gain economic wealth that they felt that it was not much to ask the Natives to move to another area. Kind of a “what’s the big deal? We are giving you land to live on, just go and move like we have been doing.” They really did not understand the sense of belonging that came from generations of people living with the land, not in pursuit of monetary wealth, but in pursuit of spiritual wealth. If the Natives had to move away from where their ancestors had lived, and where they were buried, they were leaving more than just a piece of land, they were abandoning those ancestors, and also abandoning the connection with the past and the future. Makes me think of the Cherokee, no wonder it became known as the trail of tears, they were being forced to leave their ancestors behind forever. Pretty sad.

    • Thanks for your response, Matt. It is sad indeed that those with so little connection to place so easily removed those with generations of such connections from the land of their ancestors. It it time to heal this history– and the first step to doing this seems to be to learn from that history.

  49. I really enjoyed reading this article, I think the most important part of this article for me personally was found at the end of this article. The following words really moved me, and it made me think about my own life and how it fits into/on this earth. It also made me think that one person does matter when it comes to this earth, in fact we all matter. “We can only belong to the land by honoring the ways in which other life and other natural processes belong here with us. We must get our priorities straight, reversing the process by which we name the land for ourselves–and learn to know ourselves by how we belong to the land instead.”

    I think the first part of this statement is very important, because one must honor this earth in a way that we realize that there are other life and natural processes/resources here with us. We need to realize that “we” as people are not the only ones here on this earth and we need to share the earth, and respect it. The next statement of how “we” was people need to get our priorities straight, is definitely right, because we always need to keep our priorities straight no matter what it is. I think all people need a reality check sometimes to know that we have to have priorities in check. It is very important for us to know that we do belong to the land not that the land belong to us. The land is there for us to be one with the land, not for us to do whatever we want with the land. The land needs cherished not matter what.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jose. I like your perspective on the land in terms of what rights we do and do not have with respect to the land that sustains us. And honoring more than human life is, as you indicate–an important part of living in the world we all share.

  50. This article makes sense to me. The sense of belonging was never so clear to me. I’ve lived in many places in this country, but I always end up thinking: where next? My ancestors are of the germanic, northern European type. I was fortunate to visit the Saltzkammergut region of Austria and really felt a tug to the land there, that sense of belonging. The people look like me, they like beer and skiing, and my heart felt whole gazing at the Austrian Alps in a new way from the way it normally feels gazing at the Rockies. There is something to be said for the places where your blood is from.

  51. I find it so interesting that many children in our western culture search for a sense that they belong. I remember in grade school when I used to wish to “belong” with the popular kids. But the sense of community and connection and belonging to the earth is so strong among native tribes that they don’t search for that. They peacefully coexist. There isn’t a need for them to approve of the earth or for the earth to show an approval of them. They’ve learned over generations to have a harmonious give and take in their relationship to the earth.

    • An interesting illustration of our wish to belong, Sarah. There is security, as you indicate, in this long term connection with land and community that we can hardly imagine in the present day. I would add one note to your statement about the earth’s approval: in fact, elder Henry Cultee told me that his people worked for approval before the “eyes of the world” (the larger than human eyes of life). Judging one’s actions in this way is very different from feeling judged from the outside. For, according to Cultee, earth’s eyes could see into your heart.

  52. I find the statement that man came from the Earth very interesting as it shows how inherently we belong to the land and not the other way around. How stark a contrast is the average American today in our quest for the “American Dream” of land ownership. How might our view of the land change if we were here long enough to experience the consequences of our actions. Well, we might get that chance. Unfortunately, harm is being done on such a massive level that recovery may not be a possibility.
    We come from the land and cannot change that. We must change our worldview and begin to respect not only the land but all life contained within it. We cannot truly own the land as it came before us and will be here after.
    Perhaps as we learn the lessons of what our present actions are causing we will begin to see our true and natural relationship to the land.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. I appreciate the obvious care behind it. I hope with you that we make a shift to both a more caring and more realistic view of the land that sustains us– only then will we feel any true sense of belonging, I think.

  53. It’s amazing how far we have come today to think of land as another asset not meaning that we are to care for it but just to have it. It just shows this need for things even if we can’t take care of them. I wonder why now after so much time and destruction of land has it occurred to us that maybe we should have left the land to it’s rightful inhabitants and that maybe our earth would not be in such desperate need of a facelift right now. This can relate to our readings as now we want to embrace what once was and hope we can repair the damage we have caused. It’s so sad. 😦

    • It is truly an ironic grasping for “things” that we cannot even take care of, Jazmin! There is sadness in knowing/facing our mistakes–but also hope in that in facing them, we will know how to repair them. Thanks for your comment.

  54. As a society we have obviously lost our connection to the land. As expressed in this article we take more of a stance of owning the land and the land as being a resource that we are free to exploit. I think we need to have more of a sense of feeling blessed that we have land that helps to provide us with what we need and more attention needs to be paid to not taking this for granted. I think if we had more of a realization that we belong to the land then we would hopefully take more care of it rather than exploit it.

    • I think you are right, Alana. Gratefulness to the land that sustains us–and ways to care for it in turn– is certainly an appropriate thing to focus on during this Thanksgiving time.

  55. I really like the idea of belonging to the land instead of the land belonging to us. I really want to keep the in mind from now on!

  56. Even though my family has lived in Oregon for three generations I feel connected. It obviously differs from how the Natives are connected, but I still feel it, especially to the energy of the Native peoples themselves. I believe that when one lives in an area they are susceptible to the energies of the peoples who have inhabited the land, if they want to be. Living in central Oregon I feel the energy all over the place and I give it respect, I thank it for being here and I honor it by blessing the place where I live. The mountains, the trees, the buttes, the sage all contain it, the energy of the land we live on. It is what the Natives tapped into, and it is what we can tap into, if we want.

    To understand that the land cannot be owned may take a bit to become mainstream thought, because owning a house and owning land are the first things most people think to do. Everyone just wants to own something, it is a mad dash to buy some of the Earth. I understand the stewardship that can be involved when owning land, but that is still only available to those who have money to buy it. On my drive this morning there is this road that goes along the side of a butte with the most stunning view of the mountains and the forest and the only ones who can afford such a view are those who can pay for the mansion-like houses that are built there. It may seem like a no-brainer that that view costs a little extra, but who makes the rules that only those with money should get to see the beautiful mountains upon rising in the morning. If the land belonged to no one, then that view would be left in stillness for the quiet visitor who climbs up to gaze upon it.

    • Thanks for sharing this comment, Jessica. I certainly believe that one can belong to this land in the ways you speak of. And re-reading former Supreme Court justice Felix Cohen’s “Americanizing the White Man”, I came on a pertinent thought. He observes that our system of land ownership is based on being able to make money from the land (rent or sell or “develop” it), whereas native land tenure is based on the idea of caring for the land. A strange and dangerous idea that those who care for the land don’t own it in the most fundamental way.
      And three generations is a longer rootedness in time than many of us have here.

  57. It’s amazing what a bit of perspective can do. This is the first of your writings that I’ve found to be personally distressing or depressing. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe more of that unpleasant feeling is what we need to get kick started in the right direction.

    I’ve abandoned the land I call home and moved thousands of miles across the continent. I’m the same man I was last month, but that connection isn’t there. I’m one of those “drift people”. In fact as I write this there’s a noise coming from outside that took me a moment to recognize, the cooing of a pigeon.

    It’s going to take me time to learn new birds and new land. I’d say I’m going stick it out here for the land, but I know I won’t. In a few years work will pull me somewhere else. Maybe back to Oregon, maybe somewhere new.

    I’ve always seen myself as responsible. I was a Boy Scout, I was out in the land. I’ve slept on rocks, under trees, and in the mud. Oh the stories I can tell of Oregon mud. Yet here I am, one of those people.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful personal response, Peter. Even in indigenous societies, there were folks who liked to travel (though they always had their home base). That is not the issue– the idea of using up a land to which we have no ties. A number of modern writers speak to the issue of how we might once again establish such ties to place.
      In my own experience, I found myself moving around a bit in my younger years–but now I’ve been 34 years in the same house…things can change.

  58. This essay is a beautiful representation of the beliefs of the Native American’s and their deep connection to the land. It seems like my personal spiritual beliefs seem to keep interfering with the messages of this class. I agree that we need to respect the earth and that in that respect we don’t simply kick people out of their homes, pillage the land and then move on. I do believe in the Bible though and in Genesis, as God is deciding to create the first humans, he says this: “Let us create human beings in our own image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” I understand that there is a much better way of going about these instructions than many of the white “Christians” did through out our countries history. There is no question in my mind that the way that many people have decided to “rule” the earth has turned more of a power hungry and abusive thing that what was originally intended. The truth of the matter still remains in my beliefs though, that i ultimately belong to God, the creator and that the earth belongs to us. We just need to take better care of it and we can learn a lot about that from the indigenous people of our country.

    • Hi Alyssa, thanks for sharing your thoughts and personal values here. According to some biblical accounts or interpretations, God created humans on the last (or on the seventh day) rather than first.
      Perhaps this will help bridge some ideas: native peoples felt the land belonged to them in this one way–that they must care for it. This was such a different perspective of land ownership from the standard capitalist one (as Supreme Court Justice Felix Cohen observed) that emigrants insisted Indians did not own the land at all, since they did not feel they had the right to do anything they wished with it. I appreciate your thoughts here.

  59. This article made me realize that what is happening today has been happening for centuries. The “white man” is always concerned with ownership of land and objects and seems to only care about that land and objects when he can sell it for more than he bought it for. The appreciation for the land and the life that happens on and around it really doesn’t come into play much these days, nor did it back when the settlers were trying to take over ownership of the land from the Indians. They simply treated it as a commodity and moved on when the time was right to sell. I can understand why this would upset the Indian population so much, because the white man didn’t appreciate and give thanks to the land that the Indians loved… they only took it for granted and used it until it was convenient for them to move on.

    • Hi Katy, thanks for your comment. I think this distinction and the worldview assumptions underlying it that you restate shows us that we should we-think some definitions: when, for instance is it the right time to sell the land? When we can make a profit? When we understand it can be better cared for otherwise? If this ever right if it is land upon which the ecological systems that support us dwell?

  60. What a powerful statement at the end of the essay “reversing the process by which we name the land for ourselves–and learn to know ourselves by how we belong to the land instead”. When we name something we are generally claiming ownership over it. If we name the mountain, the prairie, the river then we are claiming that as ours but if you reverse the process, if you name yourself after those same features then you are saying “I belong to….”. If your worldview is grounded in belonging to the land and not the land belonging to you then your entire relationship with the land is altered! You now become a custodian, not a landlord, you now seek to preserve and protect the land, not to profit from it’s exploitation. Given this perspective it is easy to see why it was impossible for the Indians to agree to leave their lands, it was much more a part of them than simply a place to live, hunt and explore. At the very core of their beings, it was where they belonged.

  61. I love, love, LOVED what the Chehalis mother said about the rain she was standing in: “We don’t mind the rain, it belongs here.”

    Since the beginning of this course, I have been realizing that struggling against the environment simply does not work. Being angry with the rain, the wind, or the cold does absolutely nothing but inflict more pain on our bodies. When we begin to accept and work with what is around us, instead of rejecting or trying to “settle” it, our chances of living peacefully and happily skyrocket.

    The rain is part of where we live. Being frustrated with the rain is like being angry with a rock for stubbing your toe. It’s ridiculous.

    • I appreciate your lively answer, Morgan. I too loved this woman’s response with respect to the rain. You have a great point about working with the natural world on its own terms. I also think this does a good thing for us in revising our fragile self-images based on the idea that the smallest bit of physical discomfort is a tragedy– or something we must obsess about vanquishing. If we are worried about getting wet, we will seldom get outdoors in our climate. And we will never acknowledge that we should be grateful to that rain for our lush landscape while drought grips too much of our world elsewhere.

  62. This was stated well “We immigrants who call ourselves ‘natives’ after one paltry generation on the land, can scarcely fathom what it means to the Indian to walk on a land in which a hundred generations of ancestors have been buried”. I find it very interesting how people who recently move into an area have a sense of entitlement. The paradigm of our culture is to be property owners, in fact one of the great American dreams is to own your own home (on property). In contrast, the indigenous people understood owning the land only disrespects its resources. Most Americans do move frequently. And in today’s climate with the economic strains, more people are seeking new jobs away from where they currently live. This mentality perpetuates the problem.

    When reading this, a profound thought came to mind about naming property. Looking back through history many ranches were named after the family sir name, which homesteaded the property. In contrast, the indigenous people named their families after the land. What an incredible contrast in how land is perceived.

    Living in the Northwest I do not mind natural processes like rain, the young Chehalis mother said it well, “We don’t mind the rain,” she responded, “It belongs here.” Understanding how the rain nourishes our lands, and creates not only beautiful scenery, but also sustainable natural resources, could only be appreciated by those who respect the land and all it has to offer.

    • Hello Marla, thanks for your thoughtful comments. Property owners (and being able to do whatever we want with the land) is very different from being the land’s caretakers–as native people perceived themselves. I found this contrast in naming that Henry Cultee pointed out to me profound as well.
      And true that we only find our own belonging on the land by accepting the place of parts of the ecosystem that have been here for so many years more than we have.

  63. This article showed me how differnt people view land. The settlers saw land as a commodity that could be used and exploited, where as the native people felt they belonged to the land. These ideas really explain why each group of people does what they do. Because the settlers felt that the land was a commodity they could use it to further their own goals without remorse. The natives on the other hand still used the land, but in a way that wouldn’t harm it. Their sense of belonging to the land led them to show greater respect to it than the settlers.

  64. I have never felt that I belonged to the land, and I have declared ownership of land. I have remained in the same metropolitan area all my life, but have moved within this area quite a few times. My parents are the first generation in my family to be born and raised in this metropolis, and my brother and I will be the second. I’ve seen the area change quite a bit over the years, and have usually watched this change with indifference. I do not feel a connection to the land, and thus have not taken responsibility for it.

    Unfortunately, I have no doubt that a majority of my neighbors in this transient area have similar experiences, and I’m beginning to see the dangers of our “lack of belonging.” In the spirit of “progress” we continuously build expansive residential communities, but we still have no sense of “belonging to a community of life.” We have covered the natural soil with so much unnatural stuff we can no longer hear the names that “the earth and water and grass says God has given.”

    We are the “drift people”, and we are destroying ourselves along with this land. As a health care provider I see so much illness that I believe is a direct consequence of this lack of community. We try to fill this void through accumulation and development, but in the process we destroy the only thing that has any real value. By following the example the indigenous peoples I believe we can learn how to belong to the land, and in time this sense of belonging could heal the land as well as ourselves.

    • Thanks for your passionate statement on the place to which our history has brought us, Jordan. As a health care provider, you must see a good many examples of the health issues derives from our environmental mistreatment. Healing is needed, as you indicate, along many dimensions–in the sense of the root of the word healing, “to make whole”.

  65. I like the term “belonging to the land”. The one thing I like about living in the forest is being close to nature. But it is also a community on half acre lots with rules and regulations. Not something that would come with belonging to the land. It’s more like belonging to society. Some houses here are very nice, some are not so nice but I don’t find a sense of community here. People are nice if you see them, but nobody is close. We have a neighbor who lives in Portland and comes out on weekends, and I talk with her more than any of our other neighbors. Maybe there’s just too much money here. There are a few of us here just getting by, if you have to be poor, this is a good town to be poor in, people do support the community of Sisters well, people just aren’t close in our neighborhood.

    • Thanks for your comment, Judilyn and sharing your personal situation. Do you feel that you have some special ties to the land (forest?) on which you are living? How might your local community strengthen this sense of belonging– or do folks mostly live there for their privacy?

      • I just feel a connection to the land in general, I have for a long time. I always hated the city. Once when I was a teenager, we lived in a trailer park that was on the side of the mountain. I loved that. I could go walking in the woods and I would never get lost. When I experienced the Rockies in Wyoming, I knew I had to live near the mountains one day and maybe near the ocean, I feel a connection there too. But as for my neighborhood, I think people like their privacy. Anything social or in a community way is done through church. We don’t do church. But people are still nice here, they just tend to keep to themselves.

  66. Wow, I was really touched by this article — Thank you! I had never really given much thought to the term ‘settlers.’ We like to think that our ancestors arrived and settled on the land…made it thier home. However, the reality of the situation is that early settlers were constantly in motion. They associated land with power and treated it accordingly. This lack of time spent with the land was not conducive to a feeling of connection or value. This reality is what I feel contributes to this collision of worldviews and values between western thinking and Indigenous communities.

  67. It seems that there is a strong connection between our (modern humanity’s) disconnect from belonging to the land and our inability to truly feel a sense of belonging. I’ve moved around my entire life – the longest I’ve spent in one place was 6 years in middle school. I love to move and experience different places, but I never truly feel like I belong anyplace. I envy people I meet who know their neighborhoods inside and out, have friends who they have seen on a daily basis for decades, and who would never even consider leaving their hometowns because it’s their family, regardless of how many other “intersting” places there are to live in the world. Now multiply this by generations and I can’t even fathom the sense of stability and belonging you would have. Perhaps this is why we are such an unsettled and unstable society, with so few loyalties. Maybe we would have a stronger sense of obligation to care for the environment if we weren’t such “drifters”? It makes me wonder what good I’m really doing for my children by instilling a sense of travel and moving them from place to place. Am a actually going to do more harm than good? It’s an interesting perspective that I will have to explore over the coming years.

    • Hi Maria, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a love of travel. Having no sense of belonging to –and care for– the land is something else again. Thanks for sharing your self-reflection here.

  68. The idea of constantly pulling up stakes reminds me of moving around from apartment to apartment when I moved out of my parent’s house. Because I was constantly on the move, I never really considered belonging to the places I stayed for brief periods of time. I agree with the statement that these settlers were hardly settling on the land, they were conquering and moving on. Because the white people were constantly trying to accumulate these lands for power and money, they never belonged to it; they believe it belonged to them. This quote really expresses the western dominating value seen in this and many other situations like it, “After the land became their “property”, trees became lumber, rivers became shipping ports and waste removal conduits, and animals become game and skins.” When these lands become property, the connection between nature and man is lost, and if just one connection is lost, it affects many other connections that bring man closer to nature.

  69. I see where the Native Americans feelings for the land comes from. Just as the farmers here in the Klamath Basin treasure the family farm, many of them have been here for more than three generations. They know the land and what it provides for them. They take care if it as it takes care of them. For just three generations a deep bond is made, so for a bond of all generations, the Native Americans can no more move than a 100 year old pine could pull up its roots.

  70. I enjoyed this post because in was humorous, informative, and direct. Pointing out the irony of the term “settler” for a culture who called us “drift people” was a “laugh out loud” moment. I wonder if the pioneers who made it all the way to the west coast were a self-selected subset. That is, why didn’t they stop and put down roots in any of the territories they had to cross the get here? It took a real wander-lust to get here in those days. It was also humorous to think that people are still “flipping” houses today (well, until the recession).
    I knew the concept of belonging to the land was important to the indigenous worldview, but the story of the young mother not minding the rain because it “belongs here” was insightful. It would be very hard for me to keep that in mind in February, in Eugene, Oregon.
    Finally, the article was helpful because it ends with two concrete propositions for learning to “belong to the land.”

  71. This essay is very true and it is true to this day that we are still “unsettlers”. We constantly are on the move and always want the next best thing. We live in our current occupancy because that is as much as we can afford and once we get enough money we are sure to move into a so called “better place”. We aren’t connected with the land because we don’t stay around long enough, we don’t hunt or gather our own food, build our own houses, or even make our own clothes. We work for money so we can buy those things. This is why we value money and not land. We rely on other people to provide those services so we can pay for them and the people that provide those services exploit the land so they can reap maximum benefit. As your essay states, indigenous peoples were the real “settlers” because they lived on the land and used it long enough to be called a “settler”.

    • Hi Dylan, time to stop “unsettling” our world, as you put it. And time to define terms such as “settler” and “progress” we tend to use unthinkingly in contemporary society.

  72. It is too bad that that there was not more of an exchange with the pioneers and indians. If they had been able to bridge the language gap, so much the better for the future culture of the United States. If they had been able to exchange worldviews more, perhaps the pioneers would have drawn a more ethical conclusion. when one travels constantly, it is harder to appreciate an area and one may just crave to see more palces without ever ceasing as it sounds that some pioneers did.

  73. It is truly the users of the land’s responsibility to take care of it. By connecting the self with the land and believing that one is part of the land one treats the land the same way one would want to be treated him or herself. As the golden rule states, treat others as you would want to be treated. By connecting the land you live on with the spirit of your own life there is a connection there that is bountiful to both of the parties involved.

  74. I agree that we can belong to the land when we respect every natural part in that land. I love the land where I born in and I feel like I own the world when I breathe its air, see its sun, and hold its warm sand in my hand. I believe, as you value your land, the land will hold you in its large heart and make you feel as his son. That is why I miss my land so much and I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life away from it.

  75. Interesting idea that the “drift people” just can’t settle down, are always on to the next thing before seeing and realizing the consequences of their actions. Makes me think of the ADD and ADHD epidemic that is so prevalent in the United Stated these days. It seems it’s hard for our children to even focus on one thing at a time. Perhaps this stems from this “unsettling of America” that Berry talks about? I like your suggestions of staying in one place long enough to see the consequences of our actions on that place and to shift our connection to place from one of ownership to one of belonging. It is this sens of belonging that will allow for real environmental change to take place, which is so desperately needed.

    • Some cultures believe that individual mental distress is actually always a cultural symptom–if this is so, it does indeed seem that we are a culture that expresses ADD and ADHD in our frenetic activity. Great insight! It certainly seems like this malady needs a broader treatment than the pharmaceutical approach in a culture so widely unsettled.

  76. This post made me think about the origins of the word “wild” (it meant the (scary) place (scary) beasts lived) and the way that the Euro-American worldview in regard to wilderness (basically anything that they had not dramatically changed to suit them) was based on taming, subduing and conquering something that terrified them. The contrast between ingenious peoples worldview (seeing themselves as part of the earth) which is completely the opposite is striking.

    Fear is a major motivator and it seem to me like the fear of the “wild” influenced the mindset of Euro-American invaders on a fundamental level. The notion that wilderness is “uncivilized” and therefore, worth nothing (aside from the resources that could be exploited from it) coupled with the notion of Manifest Destiny was so backwards and so destructive. Sometimes (like now) I am sort of stunned that we got it SO wrong. Hindsight is always 20/20 but come on.

    I am equally stunned at the vast knowledge which in some cases ( especially in regard to the natural world) far surpassed that of the the Euro-American’s whose own scientists are just now beginning to understand or still do not understand. The Cayuse Chief’s statement that, “the Earth says it was from her man was made” is an example because (as of a 2006 poll) only 14% of American’s believe that evolution is “definitely true”. It goes to show how much we still have to learn as a society.

    • Hi Molly, thanks for your comment. Where did you find the origin of the word “wild” as “scary”? I do think that fear is a part of this perception. But for instance, “weird”, which was related and applied (accusingly) at the witches in the Middle Ages, actually originally meant wise.
      You are right about how much we have to learn; time to begin to do it.

      • Good Morning Dr. Holden,

        I learned about the origin of the word wild in a Wilderness Management class I took last term. Les Joslin offered streaming media lectures and in Lecture 3, he talks about this topic. I found my lecture notes and here is that portion:

        “Etymology is the study of language. “The root of the English word wilderness comes from early Norse and Teutonic languages. Word wilderness came from the work willed… and meant self-willed, willful or uncontrollable. From that word came the word ‘wild’… connoted lost, unruly, disordered, confused. That term was then used for undomesticated animals ‘deor’. Then, the word wildeor became wilderness. Means the place of wild beasts.

        Primitive humans appreciated that which contributed to their survival and well being, while they feared that which they could not control or understand, so they feared this place of wild beasts, wilderness. Their success depended on rising out of the wilderness and becoming civilized by developing agriculture, clothing, using fire, and other technologies.

        The origin of the word ‘panic’ is from the god of the woods, Pan (part man, part goat). Pan and his saters would carry off the women and children to the woods. Our word panic comes from peoples perceptions of noises they heard in the woods, thought to be pan or his victims. So, when people would hear these noises, they were gripped by panic. PEOPLE FEARED WILDERNESS. Even in the Bible, wilderness was seen as a place of punishment and evil, a place to fear. Even in those times, some people viewed wilderness as a safe have from persecution, a testing ground that strengthened people and a place of freedom.

        In the new world, everything was perceived as wilderness, viewed as a physical barrier and threat. Tradition of repugnance that had to be conquered and exploited. To Puritans, wilderness presented an even more subtle terror: psychic threat of not knowing what was really out there and making up things in their minds to be scared of because it undermined their strict and harsh ways of thinking, saw wilderness as undermining their values and belief system. Feared that they would resort to savagery in the wilderness. They were at war with the wilderness.”

        • Thanks for sharing this Molly. I think the key point here is the issue of control: anything that was self-willed or uncontrollable! I would take serious issue with the statement about “primitive” peoples here. The acceptance of mystery AND feeling security in a self-willed world (if you will!) is a key part of indigenous worldviews. This idea of primitive fear of uncontrolled nature is countered in detail, for instance, in the writing of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas on the San people of South Africa, among whom she spent many years as a young girl and then woman when their traditional lifestyle was still in tact (The Old Way). In the Bible, wilderness had these connotations, but ALSO some resonance with the vision quest ideas of indigenous peoples as those gone into the wilderness (Christ for instance), were then initiated into their mission in life. I think there are some good points about our culture in these words and also some misconceptions about all humans– but of course, your teacher was not an anthropologist!

        • Yes very true! I can see why you would take serious issue with the statement about “primitive” peoples. However, I was under the impression that Professor Joslin was referring to “primitive” Europeans (Norse and Teutonic), not indigenous peoples. I think this because the context of the Lecture was in regard to Euro-American perspectives or worldviews in regard to wilderness. Excellent point that it all boils down to fear of which we can not understand or control, though!

        • Thanks, Molly. I appreciate your clarification and thoughtful dialogue here. And the early Europeans you refer to could also be called dominator societies.

  77. When the indigenous spoke about the pioneers constantly moving around, it reminds me of how my family and I would always move houses when I was younger. I never lived in a house more than five years. With that it was hard to learn about my surroundings, just like you spoke about learning from our own mistakes and listening to the land. I never created my niche within a community because we were always on the go. I find that the longer you stay in a home the more you want to respect it because you learn different things about your house and you take care of it. It is a give and take relationship, the house is providing you a place to live while you take care and give it some upkeep. With your second point about belonging to a community, the longer you stay in one place the more you create roots and develop bonds with the people and places of which you belong.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience of your mobile childhood, Angela, and the difficulty of belonging in this context. I like your sense of reciprocity with respect to relating to our houses.

  78. This article is a perfect demonstration of the differences in worldviews and the values they embrace. Short-term gain vs. long-term sustainability. It occurs to me that in our drive to use the land to make profits we have stunted our psychological, emotional and spiritual growth in really profound ways. So many of us feel disconnected from community, our families, our environments. If we keep busy and have hectic lifestyles we don’t have to stop to consider what we are giving up. I know this doesn’t describe everyone but I can’t help but think of all the people on antidepressants, anti anxiety meds, and all the other medications to help us to cope with life. Are we really profiting from our short-term gain mentality? I think we are losing far more. The linear thinking is so obvious in this article. Land in a spot, take what is available and move on before we have to experience the consequences of our actions. I think that we are out of time and space now. Where we might have been able to out run the consequences of our sick thinking and behavior before, the cummulative effect is being visited upon us now. We have to adopt circular thinking and understand that what we do will (and has) come around to visit us again. I think this article so perfectly compared the fallicy of linear, short-term thinking and the health and benefits of long-term, circular thinking.

    • I appreciate the thoughtful perspective, Sue. We do indeed need long term thinking–and full presence to ourselves and the natural world in the “now” as well. Not the shallow being that needs drugs to bolster it or stem unpleasant feelings.

  79. This quote from the article obviously shows the humility with which Native Americans viewed the land, “Indians named themselves for their land. This was a way of valuing its intrinsic worth.” Which is in stark contrast to the lack of respect that European immigrants show, “After the land became their “property”, trees became lumber, rivers became shipping ports and waste removal conduits, and animals become game and skins.” This is a really interesting study in contrasts. We view the natural world as resources. When we need a vacation we go out and enjoy the trees and forests and watch the animals, before we go back to exploiting them. If we keep this up we won’t have the option to vacation in natural areas. I love the idea of looking at it as a “one night stand, in which we simply take what we want and move on.” This is important because what one night stands lack is relationships. This is precisely what we lack with our environment; a mutual relationship.

    • Interesting point about going to the natural world for revival, Spencer. Obviously “logs and skin” would not provide this for us, so somewhere inside ourselves we know what we are missing. I agree that Wendell Berry’s notion of the “one night stand” exemplifies a non-relationship with the land–and obviously inhibits our knowing that land and thus our making responsible choices as well.

  80. Its funny that mish of the reading we have done always mentions how the ownership of the land is perceived. Most of my life, I have always seen property as just that…property. Some are better than others, but it’s all a certain area of earth that is possessed by a person who has the basic right to do with it whatever he/she wants to do with it. This concept is so engrained in our society that many references to it is mentioned in one of the most important documents created… our constitution. I believe that those words (sacred to many) give people the perception that it gives them a free right to do ANYTHING they want. I believe that our ancestors could not fathom our current ability to do damage and therefore did not use the kind of language that would be required in any of today’s legal documents.

    • Thoughtful, Zachary. The problems that flow from what our ancestors could not fathom can be remedied by those who learn from the past! There is a kind of ownership (as to “own” one’s actions) that indicates care and responsibility rather than possession and exploitation. It would be nice to make this shift with respect to land. Groups such as the Nature Conservancy who buy land in order to preserve it already are doing this.

  81. I have always looked at property the same way as the settlers. I am ashamed that I had this view. The Indians were right. They were the true settlers of the land. The pioneers were the users of the land. The sense of belonging to anything is important. We take care of what we belong to as the Indians did with the lands that they occupied. Wouldn’t it have been great if we had only shared this sense of belonging with the Indians? We would not have the ecological disaster that we have now. Intrinsic value is what is ethically right. What the pioneers and other groups did to the lands is just not ethical. What we are still doing to the land is not ethical. I am always seeing new ways in which we should listen and learn from the Indians.

    • I don’t know that there is a benefit in feeling shame for a ocmmunity past, Scott, so much as redeeming wrong actions by taking a different tact in the future.
      I agree with you about intrinsic value: it is also impossible to make something with intrinsic value (which you recognize) into an “object” to be used for your purposes.

  82. At the end of this article you focused on staying in a place long enough to see our impact as well as belonging to a community over a lifetime. These are good points. However, in our age of modern transportation, outsourcing, and technology the ability to stay in one place is becoming extremely difficult. To me the more important piece is to not make a negative impact wherever you may lay your head. In fact, I appreciate the ability to see more of the world easier than my ancestors. I think this helps give me a greater appreciation of all God’s creation, rather than just the place I was born in. If I never left California I would never have experienced the desert sunsets in Arizona, the snowy Rocky Mtns. here in Denver, or the numerous other places I’ve been. Though roots are important and pillaging the land and moving on is unacceptable, I think we’ve been given a great privilege to easily travel the globe and have a wider variety of experiences with the land. Ones even greater than the idigenous people could know by living in the same place for centuries.

    • I am not sure that putting down roots in out of the question in the modern age, Clayton. Check out Becoming Native to this Place about putting down such roots in the modern midwest. Obviously care for wherever you are is essential–and I also think developing intimacy with that “wherever” causes us to repect it. And putting down roots does not mean we cannot travel or extend ourselves to the rest of the world–even as the indigneous northwesterners were great travelers and traders. The important point is that they were FROM somewhere where their roots and community were.

  83. As I was reading this, I was close to crying. I totally empathize with what the native americans were and are trying to say. In the river empathizes with the land. The river is ever flowing, never getting the opportunity to stay in one place very long while the land is in one place forever (not counting for erosion). Each can see that they are doing what they must and accept it but they also have an affinity for each other where they join and some water gets to stay and some land gets to go. When I was growing up, we moved more often than military due to the nature of my dad’s career field then we I finally did leave home and got married I married a military man. All my life I dreamed of belonging somewhere but never have. I truly envy those that have a ‘home’ and that kinship with the land that claims them. I feel a great regret that my forefathers never settled but were settlers. My family has been in the United States since 1625 and yet in that time none has ever settled for more than one generation. Not a heritage to be proud of but it is my heritage none-the-less. My children will be different. They know this town as their home and community. Their children will too. It’s not much but it was the best I could offer them.

    • Thanks for your caring response, Cendi. Knowing what you are longing for in a sense of belonging is surely the first step in gaining it.
      Are you sure that there is nothing to be proud of in these generations of your family’s life– surely there were some negative things and these are important to know. But certainly, as wel, there were some whose hearts were good– at least in certain contexts. And in any event, this story is worth something because it is yours: it produced you.

  84. Why is it the Europeans cannot understand that we do not own the land. The land does not belong to us. We belong to the land. It will be here long after we are gone. It was here long before we arrived.

    I had lived on our family farm since I was born. It has been in our family for many generations. When I was told that I had to leave, it nearly ripped my heart out. But, the decision was made for me by my European mother whom never had any ties to the land.

    I know i always am bashing the Europeans but we are talking heritage, history and a sense of belonging. Something they do not understand.

  85. The multiple generations that feel an attachment to these lands is a testament to the strength of the Native American culture. The lands have not been pure and untouched by industrialism for almost 200 years, but the children of today are still being taught the old ways and therefore are still wanting to be caretakers of the land.

    We could all learn something from the practices and bonds that Native Americans feel with their home lands. Although I do not believe that a return to how things were in simpler times, we would be wise to at least attempt a hybrid of sustainability and capitalism. Without an attempt at fixing the damage that we have caused, links such as those that Native Americans have had with their lands may be banished to legend.

    • The continuance of their culture is testament to its resilience, indeed, Rick. I cannot imagine our own culture surviving as well under such stresses. The sustainability of community and ecological strategies are models for us to look to today. It would be sad indeed to have only “legend” left of native links to their land. But I don’t think they will let that happen!

  86. This article was definetly a worth while read. I’d just like to point out that manifest destiny is only a creation of our reality and only exists if we accept it. I personally feel like all living things and not living things are all sharing the space which is the earth. I feel like alot of people are extremely disconnected from the land because for the most part they aren’t responsible for the land. With the majority of people living in compacted cities covered in concrete, its really hard for people to get back to that primal sense of living for the land especially with the concept of land ownership. To own land you have to have buy it which usually requires a job which makes people accept corporate values which differ vastly from native ideals.

    • Interesting points about buying land and lack of connection to the natural world, Benjamin. An exception might be folks who are buying up land to conserve as in certain land trusts. And as for concrete in the city– this is one reason why I think the urban gardens movement is so important.

  87. This western way of thinking of the land as a commodity to be bought and sold, to do what one will is rooted all the way back to man’s existence on earth. I believe down deep that many people (even with the western philosophy) develop a relationship with the land when they have been a part of it for a long period of time. Conservationists have always been a part of the social conscience, look at Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, John Muir and the list goes on. Even Theodore Roosevelt designated protection of more public land than any other president in America history. Unfortunately, these individuals had little impact on the business side of environmental consciousness. Money talks and if resources come between people and their financial gain the resources often loses.

    I still feel and hope that the world is becoming more environmentally conscience as businesses are touting their “green” practices and children are being taught to reduce, reuse, and recycle. All of earth’s community must live in harmony with one another in order for the earth to maintain its ideal status, similar to the rain being needed to replenish. With increased ecological awareness, the best outcome would be that the majority of people would prefer less natural devastation. This can only come with an acknowledgement of the earth as a critical part of the earth community.

  88. The contrast in worldviews between the pioneers and Indigenous peoples is stark to say the least. I believe the differing viewpoints were best summarized by the idea that pioneers named the land after themselves, while Indigenous peoples named themselves after the land. The former viewpoint invites dominion and objectification of the land as it is necessarily subject to the pioneers because of their names. The latter however, invites a sense of harmony and reverence for that from which you derive your name. The idea is simple, the consequences are vast.

  89. (PHL 443 Student Reply) I really enjoyed this article. What caught my attention was how simply the idea of “belonging” seems to be for the Native Americans, yet something so misunderstood by the first settlers of this nation. Even today, the feeling of oneness and community with the land and its inhabitants is so rarely experienced. I think it’s important to understand and implement this belongingness to our culture today. It will better our environmental world views and spiritual well-being.

  90. I like the term “Drift people.” It gives me a sense of how these people had no real identity. They came, produced and worked hard, and then moved on. After lands became their property they used up the resources then sold it off. Then they moved elsewhere. It’s funny and ironic that they changed their environment, moved away from it and called themselves settlers. Maybe they should be called Semi-settlin Drifters. It’s magnificent what they can do with the resources and environment but constant moving doesn’t help their spirit or the environment. There’s also the loss of belonging feeling. The indigenous of Washington belonged to the land. They were attached to it, responsible for it. It’s a great spiritual feeling; we all want to belong to something in our lives. I’ll take a hunch and assume that when Drift people settled long term they had a greater sense of belonging and importance in their lives. The quote from Eugene Hunn “We immigrants who call ourselves ‘natives’ after one paltry generation on the land, can scarcely fathom what it means to the Indian to walk on a land in which a hundred generations of ancestors have been buried”, shows desire for belonging. It’s naïve for a first generation to say something like this, but it shows they want to belong…..even though they may never qualify with their sporadic drifting nature.

  91. Asking the land if it has anything to say, what a beautiful concept. I sincerely believe that we should start posing this question to ourselves in our daily lives when we make decisions affecting the environment. It should certainly become the mantra of decision makers on Capitol Hill as well. For all the talk I hear about going green, I don’t see as much progress as I would think I should. I see/hear a lot of discourse and rhetoric, but not as much is actually getting done. Meanwhile, the dangerous environmental practices that have been going on for years continue, basically unchecked. Perhaps if we adopted this mindset of consulting the land and keeping the land in mind, we would know what the right choices are without so much deliberation and controversy.
    I also agree that we could do so much better than just naming the land after ourselves and then doing whatever the hell we want with it. Don’t we want more for ourselves than to dominate the land? Don’t we want to have a reciprocal relationship with our Earth? I believe that the answer is yes, for everyone. Some people might just not know it yet! The partnership ethic that you write of and the idea of learning to belong to the land–those are the only ways that I can see us improving our current environmental state. It’s too late to reverse all of the damage done, but we could certainly start giving it a try!

  92. A sense of place in the world is a rare thing anymore. Feeling a connection and a sense of responsibility to the land is even more rare. Western society has always had the attitude that the land is to be used for production and economic development. It’s interesting to note that even with this long-standing attitude in mind, the founders of our country had the fore-sight to mention in the US Constitution that we would manage our affairs with the objective of not impeding the next seven generations and their ability to sustain themselves. I do not see our current treatment of our natural resources lasting another seven generations. We have to learn to take care of the land that we live on and make an effort to “belong” there and not simply continue to take from it.

  93. I can really relate to the concept of “drift people” or “moving people” that is described in this article even though it is used in a somewhat negative context to describe a lack of deep connection to the land and a lack of the sense of “belonging to the land.” I was in the US Coast Guard for 6 years and my husband is still in the Coast Guard. As a result we have to move at least every 4 years and even though I have truly enjoyed everyplace we have ever lived and learning about new ecosystems, it is hard establishing a sense of deep connection with the land when I know that I will be leaving in a short time. I can only imagine the sense of connection to the land the indigenous people of the Willamette Valley possessed when they refused to leave their lands. I think it is really interesting to look at different cultural conceptual frameworks pertaining to life, relationships, and nature. Additionally, I think that viewing land from the traditional indigenous perspective as belonging to the land rather then owning the land or having dominion over the land would help to address many of the environmental issues that the global community is currently facing. Human actions towards the earth would totally change if the dominant belief was that all humans belonged to the land.

  94. I would much rather belong to the land than own it. When you own the land, it is like owning a slave, its worth is in what it can do for you. You never see the land’s soul, and you never appreciate it. But when you belong to the land, it is like having a master, you walk softly, speak humbly, and live in awe.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michele. I see your point in belonging to the land– though I don’t know about the analogy of having a master as a good thing. I would express those qualities to a new baby, for instance, but not toward a master. Perhaps more like having a relationship with the skilled conductor of an orchestra or an outstanding artist?

  95. 1) Great post with a lot of great concepts and important thoughts about us belonging to the land as opposed to the land belonging to us. I especially liked the quote “It’s not a moneymaking but a caretaking proposition”. Too often we focus on what the land can do for us, how much profit we can reap from using and selling the lands resources. While doing this, we forget to take care of it to…what happened to protect your investment? I also liked the comment “we must stay with the land long enough to observe the consequences of our actions”. With the current Westerner ‘one night stand’ mentality, we are never in one place long enough to see what effect we have had on the resources there. We take, and then when that runs out, we move on to the next place where we can take some more. What is it going to take for people to realize this?

    • Perhaps the realization we need as a society might began with the ways in which we as individuals model this, Megan. Which in turn begins with consciousness such as you express here.

  96. I think it’s hard for whites to understand the native connection to the land, because they’ve never had it. As far as most Americans can remember, we’ve probably only been in this country a few generations at most. Before that, we most likely lived on rented land from land owners in Europe. The time when whites lived in harmony with the land in a relationship scenario was so long ago that it has been forgotten. Many people I know don’t even know what nationality their grandparents were specifically. The concept of remembering their native home, and even if they could remember, which one it would be? Many whites come from several vastly different European lineages. Personally I know I come from as least 4 different European countries. For people like us it’s easy to feel very little connection to the land except when we are in a park or someplace inspirational. When I was growing up my parents moved every few years, and since I grew up I’ve lived in 5 different states. I have never owned a home, and I have no place to call my hometown. I just have a series of past residences. I can’t think of anything more different than to have a native family that spans back in the same area over thousands of generations. I have a Hawaiian friend who’s family has lived on the same land since before history was recorded. He never has to worry about where his home is, or if he will sell his house someday. That idea is not an option for him. I often think about what it must be like to have that kind of connection to a place, and I envy people that have a native land they can call home.

    • Thanks for sharing a profound example of this contrast in belonging, Joshua. Learning to listen to the land and be present to it– and to belong to it are certainly part of the same learning process. It seems you are taking steps in that direction in your eloquent description of the landscape you love.

  97. When reading this article there was a part that stuck out for me, it stated that “owning land gave them power, and power governed Man’s destiny” This expression defined the exact mindset that westerners had regarding the land of the earth. It was all about power and control, just as it is today as well. Society has not embraced the land as part of what we belong to but more as what and how much we could own of it. It’s the more we have, the more we can control and the more power we posses. It is these egocentric ways that has brought our natural world to the issues it is enduring today, how we are slowly killing our mother earth because of the need for that power and that control. As the article states, belonging to the land means being responsible for your actions on that land and it is more of a caretaking proposition rather than a profitable one from having the land belong to you. It means more accountability and dependability and less about power and control.

  98. The stark contrast in the migration of whites as opposed to the longstanding presence of Natives reflects the different attitudes towards the land. This goes in hand with how White men named themselves as opposed to how the Natives named themselves. By naming themselves after the land, the Natives take ownership for their role in a reciprocal relationship with the land and acknowledge that they have a responsibility to the earth. By staying in one place instead of constantly being on the move, they show that the earth is not something to be wasted, but something to have rapport with– a part of life that is more than a “one night stand”.
    The white attitude towards land has been very nomadic and impersonal, as well as self-centered. Naming the land after people shows a belief that humans are more important than the land. The constant moving from one land to another to try and improve personal position demonstrates a willingness to exploit the land– also showing a lack of respect for the role of earth in life. It is very sad to be that the earth is so expendable in the eyes of our culture and that it is almost a nuisance in so many instances. The land is something that we should mold ourselves to, not force to be molded to us.

    • Thanks for your response to these points, Ellie. A key point about the contrast between adapting ourselves to the land and remaking it to suit our convenience. We miss out on so much when we miss out on a sense of place.

  99. Great essay. The indeginous people had many wise ideas, that we can still learn from today. They believed that we belonged to the land, not the other way around. It is something we are not familiar with today. Belonging to the land holds us accountable for our actions, why we buy and sell land with no regard for our actions. I really enjoyed the two ideas of understanding why we belong to the land. The first saying that we must stay long enough for us to fully understand our actions. I think we are slowly starting to realize what we have done to this world. It is sad, but we have taken so much from this land to finally start to realize our actions. The second proposition will take a much longer time to occur. People are too set in thier ways to realize, we belong to the land not the other eay around.

    • Thanks, Brandon. Belonging to the land does indeed hold us accountable for our actions– which is why his Chehalis elders told Henry Cultee that the “eyes of the world were looking at us”–and ascertaining the rightness of our actions.
      Being here long enough to see the consequences of our actions is essential and you are right, it will take a change of mindset to think of ourselves as belonging to the land. But I have seen a change in this direction during my years of teaching– and I am hopeful we can and will come around– though not, I am also sure, without some difficulties along the way.

    • I agree that we belong to the land, Brandon. Belonging to the land means also understanding it and trying not to alter it while we live upon it as you said. I often think this is a lesson we can only learn from staying on the land for a long time, as this article stated. But perhaps, even as short term residents, we can learn from our Native societies and take responsibility for our actions even when we move from place to place across this nation. We should be promoting natural laws instead of feeling burdened by our responsibilities to the land, no matter where we live.

  100. Unfortunately for me, I fit perfectly with the American lifestyle. Growing up, I never moved. We lived in the same house my entire life and my parents still live there today. However, within my first 6 years of marriage, we moved 7 times, most of them at least 1000 miles apart. During this time we had bought 3 homes and sold 2. We did as you said, stayed a little, then moved on. My connection with the land is minimal, but I do believe that home is where your heart is. It may not be where you currently live or have ever lived for that matter, but it’s where you find peace and harmony with the land.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal situation with us, Megan. You may yet find that place to which you are particularly attached and for now, as you say, you are connecting to the land where you are.

    • I completely agree with your comment. I moved around when i was younger. My father worked for a company that had has moving at least 1000 miles away almost exactly every six years. When people ask me where i grew up, or where my home is, i never feel like I can give them a good answer because of my many homes. However home is where your heart is, and that is definitely how you bond with the land.

  101. It’s interesting how something so seemingly simple or insignificant as the naming process can reflect the respective worldviews and mindsets of different groups. The tendency of the whites to name geographical features after themselves does appear rather egocentric, especially in comparison to the indigenous habit of adopting the name of their surroundings. It’s also reflective of the “mine” mindset, like writing one’s name inside a book or some other possession so that others know who it belongs to. Naming an area after oneself also ensures that others will be familiar with your name, should they have anything to do with that area; I suppose it’s one way of making oneself famous, in a sense. The egotistical approach of the “settlers”, particularly when contrasted with the much more humble attitude of the indigenous peoples, is clearly representative of the dualist and domination worldview, and it reminds me of just how important it is to approach even the smallest details with a sense of humility, so as not to compound larger problems (however unintentionally).

    • Hi Crystal, thanks for your comment. Great point about approaching the smallest details in one’s life with a sense of humility– so not only to avoid “compounding larger problems”, but placing oneself in the partnership of life that is all around.

  102. Having grown up in Oregon and come from a family of white settlers that has been in Oregon since the days of the first white settlers, I tend to think of myself as a proud native Oregonian. How that was put into perspective for me in the first quote by Eugene Hunn! So gaining a bit of humility in reading that, I went forward thinking less of my status as a native Oregonian, knowing I am just a rookie – a newcomer to this land.

    The first thing I have had to recognize in terms of being a part of this land is valuing the vast amounts of rain we receive here in Oregon. As a child, we often played outside in the rain, and though I like rain now, I appreciated it more when getting my feet wet in the puddles was a fun thing.

    Going back to the article and the quote from the Chehalis mother standing in the drizzle who said, “We don’t mind the rain. It belongs here,” I am again reminded of my newcomer status to this land. Even spending my whole life in Oregon, and knowing the benefits the rain brings to the land, I have had those moments (particularly in this past June) when I think “Enough with all the rain!”

    • Thanks for your comment, Odhran– and your perspective. Henry Cultee told me that after children underwent their “training” for their vision quests by diving into the rivers “when the water was alive”, they seldom subsequently felt cold or hot, their bodies just adjusted to whatever weather there was. The exception that changed everything was the coming of the smallpox and its fevers.
      Interesting to think about the rain in this context.

  103. This article was very thought- provoking. I have not been living in the pacific northwest for very long and am therefore very uneducated about the land and what value it brings to the natives and residents. I think that the rain quote is quite perfect. “We don’t mind the rain. It belongs here.” It is so true. There are so many wonderful places in the United States but Oregon is special in that we have a special appreciation for the rain and how it enriches our soils and land.

    • I don’t think it is just because you have recently moved to the pacific northwest that you feel uneducated. I feel that this class has opened my eyes to how truly uneducated, and ignorant the past few generations of modern humans have been. we blindly ignore the success the indigenous people had with their relationship with nature.

      • Thanks for sharing this perspective, Brandon. And if you are learning here, you should congratulate yourself on having an open mind. If there is anything I want for the students in this class, it is for you to think for yourself!

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessica. It sounds like you are ready to develop a sense of belonging that comes from learning about this particular land.

  104. I really like the Chehalis mothers’ comment about before they knew themselves as “Indians” they knew themselves as “the people who live here.” That is so profound. Her people belonged to the land they lived on because they had lived there for a multitude of generations, because they were apart of the land. They just were the people that lived there and had lived there for so long that it was a part of each and every one of them.

  105. I really like this blog. I like how belonging to the Land means that people need to step up and take responsibility for their actions that affect the land around them. Also how we need to realize that there are other people and other plants and animals sharing the land with us also, so we need to respect them and not take a more than is needed for ourselves.

    I agree, that humans need to stay with the Earth long enough to understand what we are doing to the Earth. But since humans seem to live in the now, they don’t seem to really care what happens to the Earth in the future. More people really need to start caring about what is going to happen to the Earth and climate change for the future generations.

    • Thanks for your kind feedback, Ayla.
      I appreciate your thoughtful response. We do indeed need to cultivate a longer sense of time and its consequences in order to both learn from the past and care for future generations.

  106. I completely agree that we in the west need to not only change our habits toward the earth but we must also change our understanding of the earth. Our actions are directly influenced by our thoughts, and vice versa. We have no long discourse with the land and see it for what it is at the moment and see any value in what can be used. Unfortunately if we keep using up the land wherever we find it, we will find ourselves with no land.

  107. The idea of rather dying instead of leaving their land I think was tied into the fact that if the tribes moved, they would still be alive in the biological sense, but their spiritual and emotional connections would have been totally stolen from them, and they would just be living their lives out without their souls in a sense. This is a powerful idea that I have no way of relating to. My dad was an engineer, and we moved about every 2 years, so I have had the benefit of living in Hong Kong, London, and multiple parts of the US. I would never trade that experience for anything, I would never want to stay in one place very long, it would get too boring, so this idea of staying with the land, I don’t know how anyone could do it. Most non-natives have no investment in the land, so why would you care? Also, the practicalities of every day life, such as your career or family, make it hard to stick to one place. Especially now with the economy being so out of wack. It just seems like an impossible goal to get people emotionally invested in the land they live around.

    • Hi Kamran, thanks for sharing your personal perspective and the idea about its being “boring” to stay in one place.
      Note that were certainly travelers among these indigenous peoples: they had trade routes that went all the way into Central America: but they also had a sense of home many of us lack. I think part of the issue is that they challenged themselves with spiritual journeys (vision quests) and other tasks that extend our human experience in other ways that moving around.

  108. It’s interesting that at the beginning of the article, both the Indians and whites note that white pioneer settlers never stay on the land they develop. While the Indians look at this (I think) as a missed opportunity to truly bond with the place that nurtures you, the whites are proud of their rootlessness. The article mentioned that this shows how Manifest Destiny has affected the cultural consciousness, but I think a lot of different concepts also play a role.
    In terms of a linear time frame, the West values “progress.” If someone simply stays where they have always been, they would be missing out on new opportunities and even falling behind as others acquire more land or money. Another powerful American myth was that of the self-made man. A man was supposed to use his own stregnth of character and work ethic to raise himself up in the world, and so external circumstances (like his spatial location) became unimportant. White settlers couldn’t really bond with the land they lived upon and be grateful for what it provided them, because they were supposed to take credit for making the land agriculturally “productive”.

    • You are right, Tivey: Manifest Destiny’s idea of progress is certainly linear (leaving behind the past for the “destiny” of progress)–and there is a competitive notion such that “staying behind” means someone else may grab an opportunity you miss. I think there is also a missing sense of personal challenge and fulfillment here– in contrast to making the land “productive’
      Very thoughtful analysis.

  109. “Firstly, we must stay with that land long enough to observe the consequences of our actions: long enough to learn from our own mistakes-as well to learn how to listen the land.”

    I also think that we need to be there long enough to form our own history. Some aspect of how we define ourselves needs to stem from these places before we can properly cultivate it and turn it into a type of sacred space. A proper history, whether it be only a few generations or a dozen, is what cases us to feel a connection with the space. Once that connection is formed, care taking will not simply be another task, it will be part of our life and collective history.

    • Great perception, David– we and the land either find or lack history together in the US experience? We need to learn from our past as well as to treasure our place–and interestingly, making a home on the land and in community seemed to motivate some pioneer family members I interviewed to keep and tell the honest stories that would help us learn from our past.

  110. I really enjoyed this article. Being an unsettled “settler” myself, I never really stop to think about what has become of what I have left behind. I think that if we did stop and stay in one place we would truely see the results of our actions which would, hopefully, changed the way we view and interact with the natural world around us. If the “settlers” stayed still long enough we would view many things differently.

    • Stopping “to think of what we leave behind” is a great way to phrase what the unsettled way of life is missing, Jessika. If, as you point out, the “settlers” had actually been settled, we might have indeed viewed many things differently. But it is not too late to treasure the land deeply enough to form an enduring bond with it.

  111. Professor Holdren,

    I think the paragraph that best describes the way in which people of the western world view their land is the one that discusses the land’s title. The natives were named for the land in which they lived on. These names gave the land a more intrinsic value and were highly sentimental. The settlers named the land after themselves, highly objectifying it, and giving them the self entitlement to do whatever they wanted with the land. Most people in the US today also feel that they may do mostly whatever they want on a piece of land without thinking of what that land might mean to another person.

  112. I had never thought about the irony of the term “settlers” before, and I am surprised I never came to this conclusion on my own. There is a myth in this country that “settling” the land means taking whatever we want from it. I think this is very well described in Wendell Berry’s words as a “one night stand.” Its definitely true that if people don’t feel a connection to a place, they are very unlikely to take care of it. And not taking care of the land is not taking care of themselves. Native people’s have lived here for thousands of years, and certainly had the time to observe the concequences of their actions. Europeans have only been here for a couple hundred years; of course they haven’t seen detrimental impacts to a huge degree yet. However, we are starting to see more and more that the actions of the previous generations are going to greatly affect our livelihoods and health in the future. Frankly, I’m very angry with the generations that came before me for being so short sighted and leaving my generation with so many problems.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Allison. Ironic points about the term “settlers” indeed– ravaging the land is hardly settling it. I like your connection between taking care of the land and of ourselves.
      I am distressed that your generation must inherit such problems–I think anger is an appropriate response, Allison– my hope is that we can all work together to create a better world for those that follow us–though it will not be easy, since we have so many changes to make.

    • I have to totally agree with you. Read this article really gave me a distinct definition to the word. Our society is so big on expansion and growing now that the business is very profitable. I believe that if we implemented some rules and guidelines to tone down then expansion, more love and time can be placed into the land in keeping it the way Native Americans kept it, and not toxic wasted land that houses are being built on.
      And I lastly have to agree with your last statement. I feel that the previous generation was not exposed to keeping the problems to a minimum because eventually their kids are the ones who are going to suffer and left to solve their problems.

      • Hi Will, in your response to Allison, you answer my question in my response to your last comment here– about how we might change our own ways. Obviously we cannot go on expanding (just as we can’t go on consuming) forever. There isn’t enough earth for this–even if we wanted to give up our need for community and belonging in constant relocation.
        Time to stop the escapism that comes with this infinite attempt at expansion assume the responsibility for our actions for the sake of future generations.

  113. Connecting to the land seems that it could take on many forms. One way is through strong ancestral ties to the land and a building of story and relations of people and land. Yet this is not always a sure thing. I think of East Asia as an example where there are very deep ancestral ties to the land, but it was not enough to overcome the cultural invasion which came in the form of industrialization from making a heavy impact on the land. On the other side there are those who have almost no connection to a place. This can give almost no support towards making a connection to the land for these are strangers in a strange land where neither side knows the other. This is more the case of our land’s recent history. Yet there are certain people, who though not tied to a particular place, may even wander aimlessly in a way, who can make an immediate connection to the land and know exactly where the land stands and what it needs. They are people who have learned from all the different things they have seen and are also able to make themselves open to the needs of the land through what they observe. From both of these sides, whether you have firm ancestral roots in a place or have never been able to call some place home, the choice ultimately resides in the individual how they are going to relate to the land. You can rebel against your roots or never open yourself up as you move. You can embrace your roots or dig yourself in deep where ever you are.

    • Globalization and poverty are indeed destroying ancient connections to the land everywhere, Andy.
      And it is also true that ancestral connections to one’s land do not necessarily mean that one cares for it an environmentally sound way. For one thing, the community as a whole must control their choices and use of resources to do this. China, however, was a stratified society in which there was some distinction between rich and poor. Very different from say, New Guinea where Jared Diamond makes a sound case for sustainable agricultural practices thousand of years old.
      Also, many Asian communities were the result of colonial processes. Though the rice farmers in Viet Nam, for instance, took their religious sense of ancestry with them from China when they colonized this area, they were newcomers relative to the indigenous Montenyard peoples who were driven off their land as a result of the Chinese immigration. In this sense, the Montenyard but not the rice farmers in Viet Nam fit the term of “indigenous” as defined in the the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights. On the other hand, one has the farmers in Bangladesh who reversed the devastation caused their land by the “green revolution” using indigenous practices.
      This does not imply that Viet Nam’s rice farmers have not learned anything important in their own tenure on the land.
      My point is that rice farmers in Asia are extremely diverse–and though planting the bones of one’s ancestors in rice fields certainly links one to those fields, so does burying children on one’s homestead (as happened in many pioneer situations in the US where child mortality was extremely high). Both of these create emotional belonging to the land, but neither is comparable to the belonging that, as anthropologist Eugene Huhn noted, goes back to the hundred generations of ancestors through which the peoples of the mid-Columbia River trace their ancestry in this area.
      You have an excellent point parallel that made by Wendell Berry in his “agrarian mind”– whether one is able to listen to and adapt to the land (rather than treating it, as Berry also says, “as a one night stand”). Persistence on the land has much to do with this difference. The contrasting sense of human privilege was used to license ravaging the land rather than caring for it for the sake of coming generations.
      See the article, “stay in one place” here for a native perspective on white rootlessness (and rebellion against history). I rather like James Hillman’s definition of adulthood: when we can tell the story of our parents with compassion and understanding, we ourselves become mature.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  114. This was a great article to read. It made a lot of sense and showed a lot of heart that many people don’t understand. The land these Indians lived on was their homes, their culture, and their life. These white settlers coming here and kicking them out was the wrong thing to do. Its like the analogy of kicking someone out of their own homes.
    That example the settler said of moving from the East coast over here and tell the Indians to move a few feet was poor judgement. We have no right to walk into someplace and tell another person that because of my hardship, you can do something little to help me.
    Lastly, this is what makes the West differ from the East in the US. We have land dedicated to the native americans and take pride and joy in honoring these people. The land that NYC and Boston sit on was land that belonged to Native Americans. They owe a big debt to these people. We all should cherish where we live, and not let others dictate where we live or let them control who we are truly are.

    • Thanks for your support of justice in this response, Will. You are of course right that this was parallel to someone’s knocking on our door (or not knocking!) and saying they like our house, so we had better leave so they can have it.
      Good point about the ways in which we should keep our promises and live together today: can you also see a lesson here about the need for roots–and the link between that and ethics in indigenous worldviews?

      • Of course. I am Asian American and in my family we still keep our heritage at the fore front. We embrace who we are and what our culture is. I see so many people now just going about their “American” ways and i sometimes ponder if they ever think where their ancestors came from and what kind of background was their family from. These backgrounds can be the basis for a great ethical check. What would my ancestors have thought or done.

        • Thanks for sharing your own care for your tradition-and its “ethics check”, Will. I cannot count the number of students who have told me over the years that they felt a great loss because a grandparent had passed before they heard their stories.

    • I too was struck by the person from the East coast telling the Indians to just move over. It is such an arrogant notion to expect others to bend in order to fit with what you want. People have been doing this for so long and it seems we refuse to learn from past mistakes.

      I was also struck by the 15,000 year old shoe found near Fort Rock. I personally have made many trips to the Fort Rock area with my family and it is amazing to think that an indigenous person was walking on that very spot so long ago. This should teach us humility in regards to caring for the land and inspire us to learn all we can from these indigenous cultures.

      • Great points, Jamie. I think that it is not only the lessons of the past we may reclaim with such an attitude, but the sense of a larger world– that stretches beyond the few years we each of us have on this earth in our single lifetimes.

  115. I love the idea of “belonging to the land” rather than owning it. When people have the idea of “owning the land” it seems like they think they own everything that comes along with it. People forget that the land we live on is home to many other things that we do not “own.” Not every piece of land is ours to build homes, factories, and highways.

    I had explained this scenario in one of our writing assignments, and would like to revisit it. One man will come across a beautiful piece of land and he will see a business opportunity and a “for sale” sign. While another man comes across the same piece of land and he will feel a great connection to the earth and just be thankful that he is able to be in that moment looking at the beautiful landscape. These two differing mindsets, I believe, have an obvious connection to those who think they “own the land” as opposed to belonging to the land.

    I love that Young Chief asked the men to think about what the ground might think. Maybe people should think more about what the ground, the grass or the plants would say before we destroy them or claim them to be “ours.”

    • I appreciate your compassionate and thoughtful response with respect to the lives with which we share our earth, Hana. Thanks for reminding us that “not every piece of land is ours to build homes, factories, and highways”– the other lives there may have developed systems for living together that took millions of years to adjust and balance. It takes some arrogance to think that we might come along and mandate what we want there–and thus change everything according to our short term profit.

    • I also connect with the idea of “belonging to the land.” It’s always been frustrating to me that so many people see undeveloped land as wasted space. I definitely have the latter of the mindsets that you mentioned; this world can be so beautiful I don’t understand how some people don’t care what happens to it. I wish everyone thought about what the ground might think about us.

  116. I sometimes feel that little has changed in regards to how we view the land today and how the settlers viewed it long ago. We still seemed to be obsessed with the idea of owning as much as we can, with the intent on making money.

    People buy up land just to subdivide it for money and people purchase large forested areas in order to sell the timber for money. We seem to forget that indigenous people loved the land for what it was, not what it could be worth.

    We need to return to those early values and protect and cherish our natural resources before they are lost forever.

    • My sense is that what is central to having made us human is the ability to pass on lessons from generation to generation as culture: it is tragedy if we are missing this part of our humanity– or passing on the lesson that we can just forget about rather than learn from the past, Jamie.
      We do indeed need to treasure the natural gifts we have been given before, as you aptly put it, “they are lost forever.”

    • Hi Jamie,

      I’m responding to your statement that “people seem to forget that indigenous people loved the land for what it was, not what it could be worth”. For me, it’s not that I forgot but that I really never knew much about their beliefs and sustainable practices. I took everything for granted before beginning my education here. Now that I know, for instance, how effective the Columbia River people were at harvesting salmon, I would certainly be interested in finding out more about how they did it and it may be that a bit of education would go a long way in opening up the pathways of communication between modern fisheries, for instance, and the indigenous people who came before them.

      • Thoughtful personal response, Barbara. I would never disagree with you concerning the importance of education. I also think that one has to be ready to learn– bringing an open mind to the table, for instance. Otherwise one has the specter of those pioneers who were looking right at Indian houses and could only see them as “huts”.
        Thanks for your comment.

  117. It is a shame how most people view the world today. They just want to make a buck and get the one and not care what happens to the land or the creatures that live in the area. Every day I see new condominiums go up in areas that are populated by trees or some other landscape that is in nature. I do not understand why people would want to take the beauty of the earth away. I hope to one day have the same kind of respect for the land as the Native Americans do. I respect them for their beliefs in the land. Personally I think it is beautiful.

    • It sounds like you have a personal start on the project of attaining such respect, Kim. Are there ways in which you are creating your own sense of belonging in your family or community?

      • A t one point I was trying to organize a way to help the animals down in the gulf, but it did not work out. One thing that I do for myself is photography. I do not like taking pictures of people as much as I like capturing the beauty of nature. I like how when you take a picture you can show the world how something looks so beautiful in your eyes.

        • Thanks for your personal reply, Kim. Its great that you express your care and belonging in this way. I very much like the idea of showing other “how something looks beautiful” to you!
          I wasn’t so much prompting for action as for ways you relate the perspective here to your personal response– though this is great.

    • Hi Kim,

      Yes, it is a shame, however this “get rich quick” scheme is nothing new. As a matter of fact people have lusted over wealth and power since the dawn of human civilization. The problem is that we have the capacity now to cause more harm to the environment than we did a few thousand years ago, even a hundred years ago. Simultaneously, greed has become a much more prevailing mindset. With these two factors working in such strong unison we have a lot more to worry about today than we did in the not so distant past.

  118. I’ve moved around a lot in my life. My first husband was in the Air Force (I was in the Air National Guard when we first met) and while we were in the military, we found ourselves living in Texas (twice), Mississippi, Germany (twice), and Florida. The ease with which we, as a society, can move into new areas makes it harder for us to “stay with that land long enough to observe the consequences of our actions”. If the indigenous peoples thought that the pioneers were “moving people” I wonder what they think of us now? Probably that we haven’t learned a thing in over 200 years.

    I found that I enjoyed moving around during my years with the military. I got to experience different cultures, locations, sights and sounds. After I read this essay, however, I realized that it is next to impossible to “put down roots” when you’re constantly in motion, and what staying in one place could mean to my ideas about that place, my connection to it, and my ultimate responsibility for preserving it.

    • Thoughtful personal reflection, Barbara. It might be good to note that indigenous peoples traveled on trade routes (at least some of them did) from Central America to the Pacific Northwest–and the winter was a time of visiting, when many folks traveled to other villages, where they shared feasts and celebrations. It is isn’t that they stayed home always but they had the kind of roots you mention in terms of belonging to both land and community.
      Thanks for your comment.

  119. Its funny how I want to say “those people” while referring to the non-indigenous “settlers”. Of course this essay explains how the whole “settler” title is really an ironic statement and now that’s much clearer to me than I’d ever thought about previously. It’s disturbing when you think about the many links between destructive behavior and how it’s affiliated to “your” group? I understand that the essay is illustrating the ludicrous behavior of these people that have believed they could put a price on everything but I have found that the message doesn’t just involve the expansion of white “settler” and there claim on the environment. This essays message also tells me that we, who use any material means to express who we are as a person are then in a state without meaning because we haven’t found belonging. I’m referring to those of us that rely on expression through the perceived importance society puts on various goods we purchase rather than a deeper context of what you think (i.e. vehicle, house, clothes, etc.). Therefore, we continue to look for other ways to make ourselves feel a sense of significance and in doing so we tend to seek power over that, which isn’t ours in the first place. Again, I feel like Mrs. Armstrong’s expression describes this much better than I: “Okanagans say that ‘heart’ is where community and land come into our beings and become part of us because they are as essential to our survival as is our own skin.” and “people without hearts” exhibit “collective disharmony and alienation from land”. The one constant in all these messages is the relationship between respect for all natural processes and a sense of understanding who you are. The link between a symbiotic relationship with your surroundings, or at least adhering to the “precautionary principle”, and self-fulfillment is constantly illustrated as the value of life sought by those indigenous folks. Its this ideology that I can only hope will become infectious so that we all understand that piece of mind and heart will follow once we stop looking to control and start seeking unity.

    • Thanks for your comment: you have Jeannette Armstrong’s words right here. Good point about the connection between “knowing who you are” and intimacy with the land, Ryan.
      I like the vision in your hopeful point that we will someday know a “self-fulfillment” that is also linked to belonging-and the ethical behavior that goes with this.

  120. In this essay you suggest that that “we must acknowledge that belonging to the land is a matter of belonging to a community of life over time.” Additionally, it appears that you favor the adoption of the philosophy that we belong to the land rather than the land belonging to us.

    Don’t these ideas fly in the face of everything that our modern society values? After all isn’t it the “American Dream” to own property and to do with it whatever we desire, regardless of the consequences. And to “belong” to something as inanimate as the land; are we not a “free people?” How can we possibly belong to anyone or anything?

    I have to say that I agree with you. However I think that we will have some difficulty convincing the land developers and the rest of corporate America that this is the way to go.

    I live in an area that was settled for agriculture. In this area, many of the early settlers established large family farms which stayed in the family for generations. It was not uncommon for two or three generations of the same farming family to be living in the same large farm house and working the same land as did their ancestors. Now I see these family farms being sold off and divided up and made into housing developments. I see large tracts of prime farm land, wooded lots and wetland being plowed under, rearranged, and removed for the purpose of development.

    Last weekend I visited a place that I had not seen in at least eight years. I drove by a farm where, as a boy, I often visited. There I would camp in the woodland areas and fish in the clear cold trout stream. This farm was in a somewhat remote area of Adams County in Pennsylvania. Much to my dismay, as I drove up what used to be a dirt lane (now neatly paved) was a landscape barren of trees. Where once there stood an old growth wood, was now a pile of neatly stacked condominiums. The stream that I once fished was made into a pond by manmade impoundments. And they called the place “Lakeside Villas.”

    The land that I write of was one of those family farms. It belonged to my great uncle. He and many of his family lived on that land for as far back as anyone in the family could remember. The woods and stream bore their name. I spent many a summer there growing, learning, exploring… But now it is gone. In many respects, my love for nature and my “connectedness” to this earth are a result of the time that I spent there and to my uncle’s teachings

    I can empathize with the indigenous people who you describe in your writings. Although my connection to the land may not be quite as deep, as my family only belonged to the land for a mere 300 years whereas there connection goes back for a thousand generations. None the less, the connection was very real and the sorrow that I feel at seeing such destruction of nature in the name of development is no less real… I can only imagine that their pain must be mine magnified a thousand times.

    You suggested that one way we can come to understand how to belong to the land is to “long enough to learn from our own mistakes-as well to learn how to listen the land.”
    To some extent there are laws that require the developers and owners of certain types of industry to be responsible for their actions upon the land for the long term. These laws are usually involving pollution and contamination issues. Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow hold responsible the developers of residential and commercial projects for the long term damage that they cause, regardless of how many times the property changes hands.

    • Thanks for sharing your particular experience and personal stance here, Ron. It is sad to witness– as many of us do today– the shift from land treated according to Wendel Berry’s “agrarian mind” , which respects the land for what it gives us, to the development for quick profit mentality.
      I agree with you about developer constraints: one idea proposed in these comments is long term insurance against things like stormwater problems or landslides caused by development engineering of the wrong kind. There is also the fact that many developers are getting a free ride on a number of public services–and don’t pay the true cost of things like schools, roads, and other services necessary to their developments. I for one would like to see developers taxed for all of these.
      The good news is that some things are going in the other direction: inner city Detroit, for instance, is being turned by to farmland in the wake of the auto industry shut down. Urban gardens and “forests” or tree planting initiatives are very important. Most of us live in urban areas these days– and if we lived as New Yorkers do (in density and public transport) our carbon footprint would be vastly lower. It seems what we need is preserved commons and habitat with carefully built and much smaller human housing (houses have almost doubled in average square footage since the 1950s).

    • Your story is very sad and I feel terrible when I think of what is happening to these family farms. Government subsidies to large commercial farming has made it impossible for traditional farms to do business, and the American people are sicker because of it (GMO’s pesticides, hormones.) The fact that your uncle’s beautiful property was divided up and developed is one horrible tragedy, another tragedy is that we lost another source of clean, whole foods… supposing your uncle was still farming. If we don’t start protecting the land, and the diversity of those who fill our food supply, the American people will soon regret it.

      • Thanks for your compassionate response, Michele. It is tragic that we (after all, we supposed to be the government in a democracy) are providing subsidies to create the wrong direction in terms of caring for our shared earth–and in caring for the people who care for it.

  121. Changing the way people think about this issue; belonging to land rather than owning it, is no small task. Land ownership, in this country, comes with more rights that just about anything else. It was the foundation of the thinking of those who wrote the Declaration of Independence. They derived it from Locke, who wrote about the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of property, although they changed property to happiness.

    The hope is in that they did change “pursuit of property” into pursuit of happiness. Even to them, “pursuit of property” sounded kind of selfish and maybe even trite. Still, many today believe that land ownership is just part of being human; that “working” the land, bending it rather, is what humans do and should do. The conversations I’ve had with some of those who think this way have led me to believe that some people just do not see. They don’t have the moral imagination developed that can help them see from a different angle.

    • Good perspective, Michele–and I seem to remember is it pursuit of life and liberty as well as happiness. Implies something about caring for the commons that sustains us. You might surprised at the changes some folks make in the way they see things– I have seen a number of them in my lifetime. I just hope they continue and happen soon enough.

    • Hi Michele,
      I think you have brought up some very good points. It is very true that it will not be an easy task to change people’s perception of we own the land. Sometimes it could even feel like an impossible task, however I think we need to keep trying.

  122. The concept of staying stationary is something really foreign to me as an adult. Since I got married very young, my husband and I have moved all over God’s green earth after relatively short periods of time. I aspire to settle down someday, but it’s been out of my control for so long.

    Fortunately, we usually end up living in an apartment of some variation with our pets and we have always tried to keep our “impact” as low as possible. However, this is a frequent concept for western society in general. Move in, develop, sprawl, move away. That is what happened in La Grande, Oregon, so it seems. Big businesses have come in, brought people in, then gone under or closed down to consolidate and left the community in shambles, with the highest unemployment rate in Oregon. We have a lot of family over there that have been impacted by this.

    That said, losing one’s home and everything that have grown to love, believing their ancestors are in the land, because of intruders is abhorrent to me. The older I get, the more I learn about what happened during America’s colonization and it breaks my heart. I know we can’t change things now, but practicing the precautionary principle is a necessity.

    • Thanks for your compassionate response, Crystal. No, we can’t change the past–but we can learn from it and practice the kinds of actions that cause healing for ourselves and those who share our earth.
      Keeping your impact low is a great thing: I just responded to another comment here where I noted that the carbon footprint of New Yorkers is much lower than the US population as a whole.
      It does not seem that you are practicing the use it up and leave it behind philosophy.

  123. The indigenous description of Western land ownership in this essay also made me realize that our culture treats the land we own like it is a slave. We beat and manipulate the land into submission and when we no longer have a use for it, or get the same benefits from it, we sell it to someone else who just repeats the process. I think there is almost a sense in our culture that the land we own owes us, and when we can’t get what we want from it, or it displeases us, then we have a right to punish it. For example, during the dust bowl in the 30s farmers got angry at their land for their failed crops, instead of realizing that their poor management of the land was partially to blame.

    This enslaving of the land has so caused many of the environmental problems we have today. I think that if we can form a bond with the land that is more similar to a partnership, our treatment of the land around us would be much different.

  124. I find it an intriguing thought that the “key difference between Indians and Pioneers” can be as simply put as the indigenous people belonging to the land rather than owning it. They belonged to the land and made it what it is today. The Indians did indeed spend enough time in one place to learn exactly how their interactions with the land affected it. This brings to mind the ancient prescribed burns the Indians used to do to maintain healthy forests. They cherished the land, and knew that if done correctly, fire could clear the way and refresh certain forests.
    I also liked the idea that the sandals found near Fort Rock are the oldest in the world and how it connects to the indigenous people truly settling the land through evidence of mobility and exploration.
    I feel that today many people take for granted the ability to move from house to house and city to city on a nothing more than a whim…

  125. Having grown up in a western culture the idea of belonging to the land instead of owning the land was at first a difficult concept to understand. After all, on paper I own a house and a small lot of land, and I’ve always considered this house and lot mine to do whatever I wish. However, when I truly contemplated this I realized I really don’t own this land. The land was here long before I was and will be here long after I’m gone. When I die it won’t be me claiming the land, but the land claiming me as my body goes back to the earth. It’s unimaginable for me to understand what strong ties the Native Americans must have had to a land that claimed their ancestors for thousands of years. It makes me sad to think of their pain and anguish as they were driven from land they felt such a connection to and truly loved.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful critical assessment here– as well as your compassion. It takes open-mindedness and a true learning stance to step out our worldview and into that of another people.

  126. Belonging to the land instead of the land belonging to us makes all the sense in the world. I feel that the land was here before we were and it welcomed our arrival. However we have not the same attitude nor respect towards the land. I think that with industrialization and the boom of technological advances, we have really forgot all about our natural role, which is as a guest to the land. I just hope that our society can come to this realization before we completely wear out our welcome.

    • Great point about our being guests of the land–and changing our actions to fit that before we “wear out our welcome”. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    • Hi Steve,

      Yes I agree, and I believe this is why many envirocentric cultures referred to the earth as their “mother”. The earth gave life and GIVES life to us all. It was here before us and will continue to be here once we are gone. Therefore we cannot possibly “own” something which needs us less than we need it.

      • “Envirocentric”–an interesting term, Mac! Might awaken us to consciousness of the inescapable “earth-centered” quality of our lives. Thoughtful point about perspective in time and whether the earth “needs” a human species around.

  127. That was my favorite essay in a series of well written and eye opening articles, so bravo Madronna! 🙂

    In this essay you point out the main, crucial differences between “owning” the land and “belonging” to the land. We Westerners for far too long have felt that nature was something to be harnessed and tamed for our profit and for our well being. The American Indians on the other hand know that one cannot own nature without suffering the consequences of a relationship based on domination. And their wisdom is coming back to haunt us as we rush to fix any number of problems created by or fueled by our “ownership” mentality to include global warming and loss of and destruction of the ecosystem.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Mac! As you point, an entire spectrum of human behavior is expressed in the difference between belonging to a land and “owning” it. And this is coming back to haunt us in more ways than one– certainly our lack of an authentic sense of belonging leaves all of us “hungry” –and manipulable.

  128. This article gives us some great insight into the way that different world views – and the use of language that stems from said views – shapes how various cultures live as communities or as individuals and as people who either have respect for the world around them or do not.

    It’s definitely easy to see how the constant movement of “settlers,” or folks living today as a part of the dominant society, creates a disconnect between self and land, deprives one of the opportunity to get to know the land and its inhabitants, its ways of being , surviving, and functioning healthily, and inhibits the ability to feel kinship or partnership with said land. It’s easy to ignore the needs and signals coming from an area of the earth when a person has no desire for a long-term investment in that one particular place – such people do not need to respect something that they plan to sell for a profit, do not need to worry about the direct or long-term consequences of land abuse if if they will not truly live on said land, and worst of all, can completely ignore the inter-generational benefits or trauma caused to all living things (the settler’s own children, other human and non-human inhabitants of said space, and the land itself) based on their practices while they live in that area, no matter how short their stay.

    It’s also interesting to note that indigenous populations naming themselves after the landscapes they live in is about being a part of the land and its inherent worth and importance in the tribe’s existence, while white’s naming land after themselves is about amassing private property for the individual and ignoring communal ties. While these practices show preexisting worldviews, they also foster them in future generations. What happens to children who learn only to focus on the individual – the individual’s power over land and its value not as inherent, but as economic? What does this do to their sense of community and their ability to even respect other humans, much less the land they ‘own?’

    Lastly, I found this quote to highlight a very important concern: “We must stay with that land long enough to observe the consequences of our actions: long enough to learn from our own mistakes.“ Imagine how many mistakes that we are just realizing we’ve made, as a dominant society, that we could have avoided or put an end to – and therefore have prevented many decades if not centuries of damage to ourselves and all other members of the living community – had we stayed with the land.

    • Thanks for a very thoughtful response, Lauren. Very good points about “staying with the land”–and the mistakes we might therefore avoid. What happens to our children as a result of our worldview and the actions that flow from it is a question we might ask many times over with respect to different things today.

  129. The earth feeds us and in turn, we feed the land brings everything in perspective. The Bible says that man was made from the dust of the earth and to it, will he/she return (Gen 3:19). Man does not own a thing on the earth and in the end, it owns us. Historically, nothing has changed, I just think humanity has. I think at least from my own perspective,it is time to rejoin the planet earth and be thankful for all it has given.

  130. Manifest destiny is such an illogical thought process; it is hard to believe that it happened so recently. Actually, most of these articles about native cultures being pushed out by colonization seem like they happened ages ago-but that is not so.

    Evolution of the species as well as the land took thousands of years, and in just two centuries we have changed the North American continent quite drastically by over consumption and disregard for the land. Building, extracting, hunting, and moving on after all of the valuable resources are gone is how we have been doing things, but I think the party is just about over for that way of running business

    • Thanks for the reminder of how recent colonial history in the Pacific Northwest, Tiffany–and the colonial legacy is too often continued in exploitative and misguided globalization today, in what Vandana Shiva calls “mal-development”.
      We are running out of places in which we can continue the “extract and leave” dynamic. Time for us all to stay with the land long enough to note the consequences of our actions there–and act responsibly as a result .

    • Is it? At one time I saw Bonneville Power Administration pay in restitution to a tribe money to buy land, which they did. After that I have seen the state game department getting money to do the same in an area of influence of another tribe. Why didn’t that second tribe get the money buy land like the first? May be it was an agreement. Or maybe someone didn’t want to give land up to a tribe but they would give it up to the state.

    • I like your point Tiffany. It should be alarming to everyone how fast we have changed the face of the earth in a span of a few generations. It is apparent in communities such as the Cayuse as well as the earth itself. In the Antarctica you can see the industrial revolution by looking at the ice that was made during its timeframe. The amount of carbon that was created is actually visible to the naked eye by looking at the ice. I wouldn’t appear that we can not keep this up for very more generations before something major wakes us up.

  131. This was a very insightful article. I like the term they used “Drift people” and believe that it embodies a good part of Western thinking. I have never met anyone who had a sense of belonging to the land as mentioned in this article. Instead we move for convenience, we move for opportunity, and we move just to get away. The land in my experience has never been a factor in making these decisions. This belief of belonging to the land is a beneficial quality that will not be easy to recover if it is in fact recoverable at all. In an age of sub-divisions, condos, and apartment complexes I am sorry to say that I wouldn’t even know were to start to rekindle this rich perspective of the Cayuse.

    • One place to start is to honor the cultures of those who hold in their traditions these ancient stories of the land. And another is to begin to learn something of the land around us. I read recently that most US citizens can recognize dozens of name brands but not ten plants that are native to their locale. We could easily change that.

    • Good point, Phillip, on not knowing where to start to bring back the sense of place known to the Cayuse people.. I myself had to “drift” away from Florida to find the land that I feel I belong to. Many people don’t have the opportunity to do this. So, to begin, one can just get outside more. Walk, preferably barefoot, get to know the land personally. Get to know the wind like Henry Cultee did, by running against it, arms outstretched. Get to know your neighborhood, then your city, then the country around you. If more of us did this, I think more people would develop the sense of place that must reside somewhere in all of us.

    • I agree with you. Western frame of mind is always chasing something bigger and better. Just as soon as you think you have it, the grass is greener on the other side, so you chase after that other bigger and better thing. Only these natives seem to embody they already have everything they need and they appreciate and honor what they already have. Very insightful!

    • The closest thing I could come up with for a sense of belonging to the land is the idea of inheriting land from your parents, grandparents, and so on…but this is really not the same because undoubtedly, the land rarely makes it more than a couple of generations. Plus, we still look at the inherited land as possessions like you mention with “condos, complexes, and sub-divisions”. I think rekindling the perspective of the Cayuse would need to start by raising children differently and instilling belonging to the land at an early age.

      • Thoughtful point, Brad. I think we limit the perspective of our children by giving them an isolated worldview rather than a sense of how large the natural world is that they might belong to.
        Another way is to teach/learn the natural processes where we live. In another reply, I quoted a recent study that we tend to know brand names by the dozens, but cannot name ten plants native to our residence area. We can change that lack of knowledge.

      • I’ve been wondering the same and the closest non-natives I have experienced who seemed very comfortable and connected with the land were “fourth generation Montanans.” I imagine there are others out there of more generations from other states, but I think inheritance is a dying form of human-land connection and stewardship in rural America.

        • This is especially problematic as more and more small and family farms get pushed into ownership by larger “factory farms”. That is why I like some of the work done by the Nature Conservancy to keep such ranching land in the hands of its families in order to conserve it. And I know of at least one member of a long time Montana ranching family that is giving her portion of the land back to local indigenous peoples– though the rest of her family happens to be racist and ready to disown her for doing it.
          On the other hand, some of the strongest supporters of initiatives to work our grizzly bear habitat in the midst of Montana ranching communities are certain ranchers who feel the grizzly has just as much of a right there as they themselves.
          These are complex issues, but I have also seen changes in attitude for the best with education about wolf habits, for instance. Thanks for your comment.

  132. While reading this article I understood for the first time the deep connection natives have to their land. It is rains a lot in Oregon, and especially around this time of year I begin to crave summer. I really admire the sentiments of the young Chehalis mother who said she “didn’t mind the rain because it belongs here.” Her comments humbled me in a silent way that all of the reasons I love Oregon is because it rains so much. I love Oregon’s green and vibrant colors and vegetation we enjoy year round. Without the abundant amount of rainfall we would not have a green Oregon. I may have always known Oregon is lush and green because of the rainfall but I never framed it as “it belongs here.” The rain is just as much as a part of Oregon as the lush green flora I enjoy. I also appreciate the sentiments of staying long enough to understand what does and does not work. Capitalism seems to be based on a cram and flush model. Get as much out of it as you can as fast as you can then flush it. They even have an accepted term for it and a four-quadrant grid with everyone always hoping to have at least one or two “cash cows” and getting out before you have a dog. That makes it difficult to have a sense of community when you want out and dump the dog onto someone else in your community. Native philosophies are very heart centered and consider all live a part of their community.

    • I agree with your love of Oregon’s plush Greenery! I too love the rain. I am a native from Florida (where incidentally it rains a lot also) but since I have come to Oregon, I have fallen deeply in love with its environmental beauty. I also agree that the sentiment that “rain belongs”. It is statements like this that exemplify the definition of what it means to see life’s interconnectedness. Every being in the Web of Life has a niche, and each role is unique and responsible to the whole. To wish to get rid of the rain, is to wish to destroy the intricacies that the web of life resembles. Ultimately its similar to the taoist and buddhist beliefs that everything in the cosmos is fulfilling the same cycle of life and death, and has equal hegemony as any other. I agree with this sentiment tremendously, and I was glad to see that you found this comment striking. Thanks for your insight! 🙂

      • Great points, Shana. We have had an exceedingly dry winter this year and last in the Willamette Valley– and without the snowpack this usually creates we will be in trouble in terms of electricity as well as irrigation and general summer water supplies. I have been really missing rain, such that I felt a sense of celebration when it finally rained a bit last night. It does belong here–and hopefully, our release of carbon into the atmosphere has not tinkered with the climate of the Northwestern landscape in some irreparable fashion.

      • My Walla Walla friend Pat always says “When you feel the wind or rain, give thanks for the medicine”

    • Following a discussion of this reading with my partner, I found a great number of things interesting about this analysis. One of these items began at the beginning of the essay, and it discussed the humor involved in calling the White Immigrants, “settlers”. Funny because the original pioneers were known for, “staying a while, and then leaving”, “staying a while and then leaving”. It is very silly to think that of all the names we could attribute to this nomadic race was, “settlers”, I found this very ironic indeed. Another point that shed some profound insight was the rationale that individual peoples use for naming their regional places. In other words, Henry Cultee, a lower Chehalis leader, identified the main differences between Indians and Pioneers, through the ways that they named their land. This distinction was so apparent because Indians would name themselves after their land, as opposed to the White People that would name the land after themselves. The latter, or Indian way of naming land intrinsically shows gratitude and respect for the Earth and her gifts. The other, shows the exact opposite. In fact in could even be argued that naming the Land after yourself is an extreme act of arrogance, and by no means accounts for the mystery involved in the Earth’s creations. This brings me to my third point that I found valuable, which is… The harms involved with failing to realize the magnitude of Earth’s creations, and also the arrogance involved in “owning” the land, and naming the land after yourself. Both of these two things demonstrate risky business in terms showing respect and gratitude for the creator. In terms of Christianity, I believe that this error would be similar to calling oneself as powerful as god himself. Which as most westerners or Christians know, would be a huge NO NO:( Even Jesus himself makes sure that people understand the danger in failing to recognize God’s awesomeness. These three things stood out for me during the reading, and I think that they convey the reasonable doubt that should be associated with the feelings of extreme power that come out of owning a “natural resource”. To me…This is something that just doesn’t seem logical. Can you own the sunshine? Can you buy a river?? I think not, but apparently the western paradigm argues different. In the future I think that I will provide others with the solutions that you have offered for individuals to “belong” to the land, instead of the land “belonging” to them.

      • Thank you for sharing your deep thinking on this issue, Shana. We obviously have much to learn in terms of gratitude and humility–not to mention, ecological responsibility– from those who survived so long and well on this land.
        As your words point out, there are things we take for granted in our worldview (like owning the land and its resources, like clean water and breathable air) that seem arrogant and unfounded once we step back and view them from another perspective.
        I like it that you and your partner are discussing these issues together!

    • I love Central Oregon because it doesn’t rain as much. I do like how so involved in the land that Natives are though. It really got me thinking because I don’t think of land in this way. I think of it in a way to utilize all sources necessary to survive. We do need to think differently though.

  133. This article is a stark reminder to me that our ‘modern’ culture may never really understand the views of indigenous people. We are taught at a very early age to attempt to succeed in life, buy a home, and even to protect our rights and our lands. This viewpoint is exactly opposite to the article’s point! The part which hit me was “that belonging to the land is a matter of belonging to a community of life over time.” We never really grow up belonging to the land, and for many of us, we may not even be part of a community. This article makes me think about my ancestors who were in Europe only 4 generations ago, and the fact that since I have been alive, I have lived in 3 states already!! (33 yrs). The fact that indigenous people believe in belonging to the land instead of owning it makes me think about how selfish we all are, and how misguided our views of life can be!

  134. Our modern culture never really will understand the views of people that preserve and respect their land. We need to see and live where these people have to really get the hang of how they feel about it. When I think of water, I think of something do drink or keep something alive. Water is pure just like indigenous people are.

  135. I own a home a piece of property, yet I still feel a duty to do what’s right for the natural character of the place. I do belong to my home in the sense that my mortgage keeps me from doing as many things that cost money. It seems like the concepts of ownership of land and belonging to it, must have common ground between. Inevitably, in my logical process, I end up at the point where it is clear that we don’t know how to exist without our natural environment, and in that sense, we truly are owned by it.

    • Thoughtful considerations, Amanda. I like the idea certain elders have shared with me that we are guests of the land. And your ideas bring us another that some in these comments are wrestling with: there are different ideas of ownership. There is the ownership that is license to ravage whatever we “own”– but then we also sometimes use the word “ownership” to indicate that we have made a personal investment in some that entails responsibility–as in taking ownership of a process or a vision. This seems to me to be close to your idea that the land owns us: in the end, we are indeed its creatures, no matter how we might embalm our bodies in leaden caskets.

  136. I completely agree that the native american worldview of belonging to the land rather than owning the land produces much better ecological results. However, being a kind of nomad, myself, I do not feel that one has to “stay put” in order to respect the land. I attempt to tread lightly on the earth as much as possible, but cannot imagine staying still long enough to feel that I belong to any particular land. On the other hand, I do not feel that anyone can truly own land, either. And I certainly do not believe that any land is availble to be used and abused by the highest bidder with no thought to the consequences of said abuse. Instead, I believe that we should treat the land, and all of our natural resources, as an amazing gift to be revered and respected.

    • Hi Nicole, thanks for sharing your nomad ethics. You might be interested to now that there was a good deal of traveling and visiting among native northwesterners– it was just that there was a home base to take off from. And there were those did some trading who had a greater propensity for such movement than others. But they didn’t take over other lands– they were guests there and had something to offer of their own ways in their visits.

  137. We are talking about Native Americans again and this is one of my favorite topics. The way I was introduced to the Indians was that they were not settler people; they were nomadic and buffalo killers. I kept that perspective about them until I took English 220 which taught me about the literature of American minorities such as Latinos, African-Americans and the most important group is Native Americans. This course has completely changed my perspective about Indians people. Without being one of them, a person would never ever truly understand the implied meaning of the “lands, water, earth, sky, grass, and animal” on Native Americans. I have learned that they extremely respect their land as much as their ancestors. It reminds them the place they were born; where they grew up; they land that has nurtured them and when they die, they will come back to the mother earth. There is an “invisible string” that attaches the Native Americans to their land which is part of their culture, their tradition and their history. Whenever you hear an Indian speaks about their culture, they will include the “land” as one of the most important parts. It is the land which they have belonged to. They believe that what you do to the land today will come back to you later, this is one of my conclusion after all of the readings that I have read of Leslie Marmon Silko or N.Scott Mommadays. With Lullaby by Leslie, the poor mother ran up to the top of the hill, looked at the sky and cried with the ground, mother earth when the white people came and took her kids away (to the reservations). This part is an example of what I have mentioned earlier about how the “lands, water, earth, sky, grass, and animal” nurtured Native Americans. These are their friends, their mothers and teachers. I think some of us, people of the modern decades should start to recognize and think about the land, the earth, the water and the animal in a different way because the way that most of us perceive about nature right now is destroying it.

    • Thank you for your compassionate and thoughtful response, Vu. I think you have a most important conclusion to your discussion: it is time to re-establish intimacy with and respect for the natural world exemplified by cultures with long-term survival records, since as you note, the way that most of us perceive nature right now is leading us to destroy it.
      I take heart from the many like yourself who would see and treat the land as a family of life that sustains us.
      And I find Momaday and Silko quite wonderful writers as well.

  138. The tragic assault on the peoples and resources of what we today call America by those who came to ‘settle’ these lands did little more than establish a philosophy of human-centered values into our modern culture. While the colonization of the indigenous peoples and land of the Americas began long before the country was nationalized, the idea that this land belongs to us rather than we to the land has deep foundations in our current Western worldview. Certainly the individuals who came to colonize did not have the foresight to realize their potential to wipe out people, their cultures, and their sense of humans’ place in the world while capitalizing on what seemed to be the vast resources that the continent still possessed. Nor did they, however, pause to assess the way in which those indigenous peoples oriented themselves as a part of the natural world around them and as the essay notes “named themselves for the land” rather than naming the land for them. What a different place this country would be today if those people who came to this land from Europe instead preferred to adopt the ways of the indigenous peoples and learned the intrinsic value of the land to which they belong!

    • Hi Kirsten. Thanks for your comment: very true about history, which of course we cannot change. And there is great tragedy in the losses here– however, we can change our future and that is where I am hopeful that those with values like yourself will come in.

  139. “Bereft of such belonging” the emptiness from the loss of being part of more than yourself. It is unimaginable for so many that there can be such connections to a place, soil, rocks, and community beyond people and their stuff. I continually ask myself where the cross over began from selfless to selfish. Where seeing what the creator gives us as a way to share, rather than a God given right to take. Those who take become a cancer that eventually kills its host, then itself just like those who plunder, moving from settlement to settlement leaving in their wake deforestation, pollution, and now climate change. This is why we need our elders and their wisdom for guidance

    • There is much wisdom here, Val. I love your statement that we should understand that the Creator gives us a way to share rather than a “God-given right to take”.
      I agree with you on the point about needing our elders– and the lesson from our history they can impart. Those are lessons we sorely need today.

  140. It is a fact that people take care of their own belongings. People respect what is theirs or what is a part of them. Just like with our parents for example. As a child or at any age, if someone says something mean about your parents it hurts you, you get a flip flop in your stomach. It is okay for you to say it because they are your parents, but when something is important to us and someone else disrespects it, it hurts. This is probably how the native people are feeling with the way the western culture is treating the land. Driving around nice neighborhoods your see beautiful gardens, or extraordinary landscapes in front of houses and so on. That is because it is theirs, but what about the rest of the earth. We need to look at every piece of the environment as our own so we feel the obligation and necessity to take care of it like it is our own front yard.

    • Hi Courtney, thanks for your comment. I’m not quite sure what your stance is here. Are you saying that we should not belong to a particular place or be intimate with this because that will cause us to neglect the rest of the world? Or are you saying that ownership (as property) is what stops us from considering others?
      My own sense –and the sense of many elders with whom I have worked, is that without a sense of belonging, there is no sense of the attachment that creates responsibility.

      • No my stance was neither of those. I was saying that when you feel a sense of ownership or belonging (saying that they go hand in hand) you tend to take better care of your property, like a pride thing. So I was trying to say that naturally we take better care or respect things that are ours and if we can comprehend a sense of belonging or responsibility, for the earth and take pride in it’s appearance and well being we will ultimately be treating it better, like we do our own front yard.

    • That is well put, but people who do take care of their yard usually do care about the environment more then those who just let things go and have trash all around their place. I should know I am in the business of making landscapes look great and the ones who care about their own want everyone else to do their part and make their yards beautiful as well.

      • Of course, there is also the question of WHAT makes a yard “look great”– for some the brown burn ed spots caused by killing off dandelions with herbicides make the yard look “neat’ and therefore attractive. For others, a “wild” yard with many native plants and no lawn looks “beautiful”. Thanks for not using chemicals in your own business!

  141. I laughed out loud while reading this a minute ago, causing a few warranted stares from my officemates. How simple a concept it is that those who belong to the land are named after it, and those who use it name it after themselves. No truer statement has been made.

    Being in the military, I haven’t lived anywhere for a significant amount of time in over 14 years. thinking about all of the places I have lived, the only one I really “identify with” is the small town in California in which I grew up. I was there long enough to learn the land; I explored it at a very young age and learned quickly how I identified myself with them. They are very fond memories.

    I look ahead to the future when I can settle and not have to move around–when I can identify with a sense of place again. It’s not quite the same as having hundreds of generations-worth of history, but it is as close as I can get in this lifetime. Yes, I hope to someday “own some land”, but not to use or profit from. I just want to be able to tell people where I am from, and allow my children to also explore that place.

    In the military, one tends to meet many people only for a short time. Some of them become lifelong friends whom one might run into multiple times throughout a career. Others are more so just names or acquaintances. There can be many a “Joe from Virginia”, “John from San Diego” or “Jennifer from DC”. There really isn’t a “Joe from the land of tall trees” or “Jennifer from the windy plains”. It sure would be easier to remember who is who if they were named after where they came from.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal story here, Gabe. It is not just the military who move around like this, but many US workers: corporate policy often entailed regularly moving middle management and up so that they would have more affiliation with the corporation than outside community.
      It is not a bad thing to develop a connection with those in so many disparate places– certain of the Chehalis traveled all the way to what is now Mexico to trade– though they always had roots to come back to.
      It’s great that you are looking forward to choosing a place to put down roots (and now you have much information regarding that choice).
      Nice thought about “Joe from the land of tall trees” — it would be interesting if we knew our friends that way!

    • That is well put and I laughed to because that statement was great. We all need to believe in our world a little more. Also thank you for your service.

    • Yeah, Gabriel, I too have moved around while growing up throughout my young adulthood and would like to someday be able to “put down roots” and establish a kinship with a place and the people in it. I think this is something sorely lacking not just for myself but for many Americans as well. This intimate relationship with the living community is hindered further by the permeation of replicable suburban sprawl.

      • You are obviously not alone in this, Josh– and you are also among those who have a chance to change this in your own life and for the sake of future generations.

  142. It’s interesting to think about land being our property. Once I started thinking about it, I realized when you “own” something you have a sense of entitlement for that piece of land, or that object. I own my car, therefore I can get it messy and not be very worried about it. I think we think of the land like we think of our cars. We own the land, therefor we can trash it or treat it disrespectfully and not feel any remorse when doing so. If we had the worldview that many indigenous peoples have, we would feel like we belonged to the land. Belonging or owning something can create your behavior toward something. When you belong to something you feel a sense of love and appreciation. You respect things that you belong to, and are comforted simply by that sense of belonging. If we all shared this sense of belonging to the land, the earth would be in a much more sustainable state than it is today.
    As much as I wish the majority of people had this worldview toward the land, I know that people do not. Human beings love to own things, and to have a piece of land your proud of and you can call your own. I want to be able to say people can change, and people will eventually see the land as a gift. Yet, sometimes it’s hard to see the light through the fog…

    • Thanks for your comment, Melinda. You have an apt point about ownership and entitlement, as opposed to belonging,which yields appreciation and responsibility.
      I agree that we a ways to go in terms of changing our attitude toward the land from entitlement to respect. Seeing through the fog is a great Oregon exercise (we get plenty of practice).

    • Melinda,

      What a great analogy; you have now made me feel guilty–I need to go clean out my car! I think I will use that analogy if ever I am confronted with someone who might stray away from good stewardship practices. It’s a simple yet effective concept. You are right; owning and belonging are two very different things that shape the way we treat the earth and each other.

    • Hi Melinda, I like your analogy about a messy car and relating that to “a piece of land to call your own”. It is so true! I also understand and feel the same way you do about seeing the light through the fog. At times I consider myself a pessimistic optimist. I too believe that, sadly, the dominant worldview does not give a second thought to throwing garbage out the car window, using water conservatively, and thinks herbicides are the only way to produce crops in large quantities. Yet I just want to remain faithful that people that do care will be a stronger influence and eventually prevail – for the sake of all.

      • Thanks for continuing to care in the face of the grief often involved in this, Carol. As our sidebar quote of the week indicates, if we do not act in the way that brings in the future we hope for, how can we expect anyone else to act in that way?

  143. This is an interesting essay because of the point about not living somewhere for generations, therefore not having the view of belonging to the land. What is interesting about it is that it got me thinking about how people view the place they live and how that reflects their behavior in how they treat the land. I grew up in Olympia and so did my dad, and his dad, and his dad…I’m not sure how far back it goes, I only know the family business has been going in Olympia for that long. Anyway, I’m an old school Oly! My dad told me stories about how when he was little his dad would take him out to Steamboat Island to trade with what I assume was the Squaxin Island Tribe. Anyway, the point is that I grew up with a sense of history and belonging to the land and I can’t help but wonder if that made me a bit more aware of how I live, no matter what state I moved to as an adult. But, how long does it take to develop a sense of belonging to the land? I think responding with an oral history of the land like my dad did helps generations feel connected to the land and the community they live in.

    • Hi Stephanie, I think you are very fortunate to have a tradition of family stories to share–and your dad is fortunate to have a daughter who values these!

    • Stephanie-
      I enjoyed your response. I think you bring up a very interesting question: “How long does it take to develop a sense of belonging to the land”? Although there are so many factors that contribute to this questions, I think much of it comes down to how we view the land. Within the worldviews that we hold, comes respect or abuse for the land (or anything in between). I feel that we as westerns do not have the appreciation that the indigenous people hold, or as your example generations have been living in Olympia. It would be interesting to do a survey to really track the people’s opinions over the years.

      • I think that if we have a core sense of belonging to somewhere (or something, like our families) we can extend it to other areas and other humans. We can’t, of course, know other lands and peoples with the same intimacy that some know there homeland for a thousand generations– but we can express the same model of listening, care and respect.

  144. I very much appreciated the history represented in this essay. I feel that I now have a better understand of the roots of these views. I really enjoyed the portion about names and land. “Land was also all important to the Indians. But indigenous peoples belonged to it rather than owned it.” I feel like this is such a crucial base of the indigenous viewpoint, representing their respect for the land. It makes sense that once the settlers named it, they were able to use and abuse it. There was no connection there, no sense of honor only control over the value that it could create for them. I think the best quote to illustrate this was when Berry described it as a one night stand. It really represents how we do not limit our resources and are not living a sustainable life. We live as if there is no tomorrow. What does this really mean for our future generations?

    • What does this mean for future generations, indeed, Ellie…if we think we “own” and can use up the land, then there is nothing left for others to survive on– or for ourselves to survive on in the land term, for that matter.
      Thanks for your comment. I think Berry is right on with his idea of a “one night stand’ as well.

    • Ellie, I agree with you the naming of the land. Isn’t that the first thing that is usually faught over during new discoveries? A name says a lot about place and its inhabitants and westerns fail to see the need to preserve and help sustain the land they they so quickly and selfishly named. Great points.

      • Even today folks want things like freeways named after themselves or their friends (I am thinking of a current expressway in Eugene where this was a recent push). Wouldn’t be my first choice for something to wear my name–and as a matter of fact, it seems bizarre to think of my name as standing in for any bit of land, including my own yard.

  145. What stood out the most to me in this essay was the idea that once the dominant worldview, in regard to land, is changed from “ownership” to “belonging” we will have a greater sense of responsibility to it rather than always taking from it.

    With respect to “settlers” naming the land for themselves, I am reminded of a lot of the names we see around the “San Juan” Islands: Lopez, Juan de Fuca, etc. These are names that came from the Spanish conquistadors. According to my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, of Haida decent, the San Juan Islands were known as the “Isle of Trees”. Although they were not “local” indigenous people, they came here on occasion for resources.

    It would be interesting to know what the given names of these islands were before the arrival of the Spanish and then the English. There was a book about San Juan Island published recently, a tribute to the “centennial” celebration. I must admit I just laughed at the massive effort to acknowledge the centennial celebration of the said “settlers”, as mentioned in this essay, because I have yet to find any information of the rich indigenous history that long preceded their arrival 100 years ago.

    • Exploiting something and belonging to it do indeed seem removed from one another, Carol. Richard White has an interesting book on the ecological history in which you might be interested (in which he details some indigenous practices–and changes wrought by pioneers): Land use, environment, and social change: the shaping of Island County.

  146. I don’t think people who move all the time and have no sence of time can fathom staying in one place and that people who are rooted can’t imagine moving. They truly don’t understand why the other does what they do.
    People who move certainly don’t see the effect of the land but I think sometimes they move simply to see something new, not just because they have desimated the resources.
    Belief systems seem to have a huge role in the views mentioned in this essay as well. Christians believe in one God and one Holy Spirit while Native Americans speak of all the spirits, even the spirits of things that most Christians don’t see as alive.

    • Seeing something new is what native traders might do– even though they were so deeply based in one place, they would still travel about. Seems many of us like to do that: that contrasts with those who have no sense of belonging and do devastate the lands where they temporarily live. I have heard many native peoples spirit of the Creator– as well as the spirits that enliven many creatures. How do you see this as linked to belonging to the land? Check out the sidebar quote of Nina Baumgartner (“if the people forget to praise God…”) She felt she was both a Christian and native traditionalist– and I certainly would not have disagreed with her.

  147. This paper makes me think of how often you hear about how “this place isn’t what it used to be” and so on. It seems we have become professionals at changing our landscape as quickly as possible, but then we always wish for what it was before.

    • Interesting point: Barbara Kingslover notes that we often name new developments for what we have destroyed to build them: Thousand Oaks might supplant an oak savanna, for instance.

    • John, you make a really interesting point about us being “professionals at changing our landscape.” This is sad, but true. I think it is interesting how we appreciate the beauty in our world, but we don’t always appreciate it enough to take care of it or even save it.

  148. I loved the line ” but indigenous peoples belonged to it rather than owned it.” I can certainly relate to the American dream of wanting to “own” your own land and have something that is mine, but this class has taught me that no amount of money allows us to own this land. We are lucky to inhabit it! Prior to this class, I felt the need to care for the world because I have a niece and nephew, but now, I want to care for the land I live on because this land deserves it.

  149. The world is getting smaller everyday because technology has given us the ability to see more of it at a faster rate. With the click of a mouse we can see pictures of almost any place in the world and you can be anywhere in the world in only days. The more we know it seems like the more we should care because all over the world it is beautiful what mother nature has created and we should not take that away from our future. Also because the world is getting so small it is hard to say that you belong to just one land more so we just belong with the world.

    • How do you think the current globalization relates to the sense of very specific and long term relationship to place expressed by the traditional peoples in this essay?

  150. This article was very interesting to since i am also in a Native American Lit. course at the moment and am learning much about their traditions. Almost all of their beliefs, actions, and traditions have to do with their “belonging” to the land. Unlike western thinking or owning the land, Native Americans see their role as caretaker and cherish the opportunity to become a part the life’s cycle.

    • It certainly would not hurt mainstream society to take on more of this caretaker tole and “cherish the opportunity to become a part of life’s cycle”, Josh. Well said.

  151. Reading this article made me really homesick. It has been seven long months since I have been back home to Montana and I have noticed myself becoming more somber about it as each day passes. This article helped me understand why I have such a disarray of emotions about not being at home. I am so upset because I don’t feel like I belong here. I have lived in OR for three years now but I still claim Montana as my home. It is strange to feel like I shouldn’t be here because of how much time I’ve been here and all of the friendships I’ve made. But, I know that deep down I belong with my land back home. I miss the mountains there just as much as I miss my family. ☺

    • And maybe your experiences with the mountains are interwoven with those of your family, Sage? Thanks for your response: belonging to the land is a powerful thing, as you express here!

    • Sage – I feel the same way towards my mountains in Georgia. I was not born here, but I spent my childhood summers in the lower Appalachians, and this area has always ‘spoken’ to me since. I have noticed that when I go to other mountainous areas, even just 30 minutes north of here, when I see my ridge line, I know that I am ‘home’. In 2009, my home up here had to go into foreclosure…I didn’t care about the house. What I cared about was the fact that I would have to leave these mountains while my life got back together. When I moved back up here a year ago, that was what I was looking forward to the most: my mountains and their lovely ridge line.

    • Sage, I do not think you need to feel sad or that you do not belong here. Instead, I would encourage you to see these feelings of homesick and displacement as gifts – gifts of belonging. You have the amazing connection to home that a lot of people do not possess, and I encourage you to share those feelings rather than be ashamed of them. We can all learn from you and your deep connection to your roots, but only if you tell us about them. Be like the elders we are reading about and help others to try and understand a differing perspective and worldview. I always find that if I am feeling down and homesick, sharing those happy memories – the ones that reveal my deep connection to and respect for my small rural hometown – give me energy to keep going. Be proud because you are living proof that the two propositions in this essay are actually beneficial in establishing identity. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you know that even if you do not identify with being an Oregonian, you bring a unique and wonderful perspective to our state!

    • Sage- I have similar feelings all the time. I went to High School in Northern Idaho and I miss the wilderness out there. We had a house near tons of wildlife, and would go fishing and hunting. There is nothing better than getting away from big cities.

  152. I felt very moved by this essay because I can identify with both sides of the argument. First, I understand what it is like to feel at home and settled in a certain place, as my family currently has four generations living within the same small rural town. It is here that I identify with feeling at home among nature and family, and the fact that my ancestors – my great grandmother and great grandfather’s grandparents – also lived within this small community and began from scratch on a small plot of land that we still use to sustain ourselves helps me empathize with the angst that the Chehalis elders feel with regards to white “settlers”. On the other hand, I am a product of my culture, and I also feel the itching in my soul to travel and explore the vast world regardless of my ties to my hometown. I think there is a balance that must be reached, and the two propositions though noble may not be relevant to our modern, fast-paced world. Unfortunately, identifying on both sides of the fence helps me to see that some people have the capacity to recognize and adhere to both of these propositions, but some do not. I am one of those individuals that despite my reverence for the land that gave me life by sustaining my family for many generations, I want to move on and see something different. I think it is hard because we want to embrace diversity and simultaneously stay true to our roots, and I don’t think a sedentary life allows for that to take place. If I am to learn about other cultures and ways of life, I must not simply do so by reading books. I need to talk to and interact with people and be forced outside of my comfort zone. I must live the experience if I am to truly learn. The catch is that I believe there is a way to do that while still recognizing nature as sacred and feeling a belonging to the land. When I lived in Costa Rica for a summer, it became a part of my identity. I learned from people who were settled in the community the impacts of human action on the land, and when I left, I took a piece of Costa Rica with me and left part of me behind. Living with respect for all will allow us to recognize our belonging to the land. Our world has vastly changed from what it once was, and that fact does not necessarily have to be a negative quality as long as we recognize the implications of said change and our responsibility in preserving the world.

    • Amber, the roots in a particular place don’t mean you can’t travel elsewhere. In fact, native peoples in the Pacific Northwest had trade routes that went to what is now Mexico. You don’t have to justify your love of exploration: the restlessness that is problematic here is that which treats the land like “one night stand”– use it up and move on. That is the colonial approach–and that of certain development forces today– but it doesn’t seem to be yours.

  153. In some ways, moving through different places in the world can offer someone a broader perspective — more opportunities for exploration and for experiencing a previously unknown culture, nature, and society. But the benefits of moving depend much on how we interact with, respect, and appreciate these new surroundings. As earth-conscious people, when moving from place to place, our goal should be to try our best to leave a place better than when we came there. Likewise, staying rooted in one place can give someone an intimate knowledge of its history, language, and tradition that should be passed down to the next generations. It may limit the worldview of that person, but it can also benefit in this way.

    • Nice balance in your pointing out the importance of the way we move through different landscapes, Marissa. See my response to Amber on a related point.
      And it is interesting that we think of being so rooted to a particular place as constraining. Seems to me moving around a global community which is increasingly homogenized (where can we NOT find a McDonald’s?) may be more limited in worldview than living in place and practicing the discipline of seeing the world in the ways a hundred other species–and other generations– see it.

      • I enjoy the gifts that traveling can bring but recognize the importance of creating roots somewhere and learn from the terrain and history embedded in an area. Travel and exploration are tools of growth and development and are socially accepted to create a more well rounded personal perspective. However, in our generation due to economic times/ land rights, the access to land and the luxury of not creating a good from it is becoming more and more limited. It will be interesting to see how communities can live sustainably and still have their needs of financial security and quality of life intact.

        • Indeed, if we don’t start taking care of the commons that sustains us, we will be in serious trouble. I think we need to radically redefine “quality of life”. It would take several planets for all of us to live as current US citizens are living today. It simply is not fair to continue this draw on the world’s resources– to other societies or to the future generations.

  154. What I found interesting in this article was how the Indigenous people and pioneers had land but both of them saw it differently. The pioneers named the land for themselves and used what was “rightfully theirs” how ever they pleased. Where as the Indigenous people named themselves after the land and were one with it instead of taking advantage of it. I don’t see anything wrong with what the pioneers did having land, but what I think they should have done is not be so wasteful to what the land has offered them to survive.

    • There is no excuse for waste-and also, no excuse for forcing others from their land in order to take it over. Thanks for your comment, Desiree. And yes, there is nothing wrong with having land, I think, if one cares for it properly and does not take over any part of the commons that is necessary for the survival of all (as in trading good air for bad in a coal burning plant like the one in our “quote of the week”).

  155. I like the way the indigenous people described the newcomers to their land. I find the description true because we it seems that today we still are restless people. We are constantly working hard to achieve something bigger and better, whereas the indigenous people are content with staying in one spot and living their lives. I like how those people respect the land and live on it, and its unfortunate that we think we own it.

    • Thoughtful point. I found it interesting that pioneers often described themselves this same way– as when a woman whose aunt was abandoned regularly to take care of children on a three sided dock so that her father could go off on one “scheme” after another, signed, “We are a restless race.”

  156. Exploration was used as a tool of education and observation of ways other civilizations adapted to conditions of their surroundings and then incorporate that knowledge into a neighboring area. Travel was meant to be temporary, as the explorer would return to his/her own village with new stories, goods, medicines and knowledge from distant areas to further expand the awareness and increase access for his/her people. However, now we are allowed to move on from our birthright because of the lack of indigenous root or deep cultural ties to that land, and therefore become like the “settlers” where new land become sets of property, with resources at the disposal to the owner. To regain respect and to understand the land can take lifetimes and generations however if one can view the land from an explorer’s perspective of education and observation, our effects would be not as permanent nor destructive. Migration can create a stronger universal consciousness in which people can travel without leaving degraded land behind.

    • Thoughtful re-definition of legitimate travel, Priti. Too often the “exploration” was colonialism instead. There was little mutual learning between emigrants taking over the lands of other and the indigenous peoples there.

  157. It’s funny how a such a little difference of living with the land and owning land can actually be. It’s amazing that those small differences make such a huge difference in how the land is treated. You would think so, ‘owning’ land in my eyes should mean that you have spend hard earned money (for some) and that you should take care of your property. I know that when I purchase something I try and take the best care of it that I can, I am also not a landowner but to me that would be something I would try and protect even more. Unfortunately this is not the case, because as you have stated you do not have a connection with the land as people who have lived with the land for generations.

    I enjoyed the quote from the Okanagan traditionalist Jeanette Armstrong, “heart is where community and land come into our beings and become a part of us because they are essential to our survival as our own skin.” I think that if we were to live by this philosophy many more people would take on the responsibility of caring and protecting the land. I think that modern society has done a wonderful job hiding the truth from us. In today’s time most of us no longer have to really work for anything we receive; food, clothing, entertainment, etc. This has caused us to be even more disconnected with the land and ‘unaware’ of where it comes from. Not saying that people don’t understand where things come from, but we no longer see what our actions are doing to the environment. Instead we just say things like “I want that new t-shirt” or “Wow, that new computer looks awesome,” and we never see the materials or labor that it takes to create these products. Most don’t realize that thousands of acres of land are destroyed daily to find rare earth minerals to use for electronics, because they don’t have to make it. But if we were to live like the land was part of our survival, which it is, then we might have more consideration for the products we buy and use.

    • It takes 100 to 500 years to make one inch of topsoil, dependent on climate (there is a statement on this for the Northeast in Mannahatta) and other local variables. We certainly need NOT to be destroying our precious topsoil at the rate that industrial agriculture does.

      • I know, it amazing how the earth works and how so many indigenous societies lasted thousands of years using this precious topsoil. Then you see how we come in and shortly after getting to this “new” land we have the Dust Bowl. This is why I really appreciated what Jeanette Armstrong said about us, the land, and the community. We really will only survive if we start treating the land as if it were ourselves.

    • I agree, many people do not understand what it takes to create our belongings. We are so disconnected from the land that I wonder sometimes at what would happen if we somehow had to go without power for one week, simply having to do without our modern convieniences would make people open their eyes .

      • When I was a kid (not that long ago) we had power outages every winter for at least a week. It was wonderful! We’d boil snow for drinking water and play board games and read. I miss it.

    • I do want to acknowledge that “ownership” (as responsibility and commitment) and “investment” (of time, care, heritage) in the land can be very different from the buy-it-up, use–it-up and sell-it-off approach.
      Interesting thing about “hard earned money”– I do think that there are those who take pride in something for that reason, but whether or not they therefore become responsible to it is something else again.
      Your note about survival follows the analysis of Val Plumwood, who writes that when we create a dominating hierarchy, we often wind up devaluing that which is at the “bottom”- -even if it is what we need for survival. A particularly hazardous approach as we are are dealing with the natural world that sustains our own lives. Making that apparent (one would hope) as you point out ought to change our choices.

  158. “Lack of belonging is a dangerous thing.” If you belong to something you have invested interest, your instinct begins to subconsciously protect it, and you begin to incorporate your existence around it. Involvement encourages us to love something, through the good times and bad, to enjoy the sunshine and the rain (or draught). The comparison to modern thinking as “a one night stand” does reflect much of American thinking. Commitment to relatrionships needs to present for success in every aspect of life.

    • You bring up an interesting point for consideration, Michael. As Armstrong’s words imply, lack of belonging and commitment to land, family and society in general are linked in the sense that if we do not have one, we do not seem to have the others either.

      • Another thing that I liked from this reading was about the Chehalis mother referring to the rain. She embraced and appreciated what rain meant. Rain is sustainment and necessary to their existence, not many people veiw things like that anymore.
        On a side note,
        I really enjoy your essays, they have helped me have a deeper understanding of our history.

        • I was very fortunate to be the recipient of such stories, Michael. I very much like what some pioneer families pointed out about the importance of understanding our history from the perspective of “those who lived it”.
          I was touched by this new mother’s statement about the rain as well!

  159. I just had a meal of fresh vegetables from my garden here in McKenzie Bridge, noticing once again how good the food grown from the local soil, water and air tastes. While eating, I was contemplating whether or not to apply for a grant from the Humanities Commission for a project I’m working on. Now I’m convinced I will. Here’s why.

    About 6 months ago I realized that it was in 1812 Donald Mackenzie came to the south Willamette Valley, and in doing so was the first known European (Scot) to do so. About 10 years later, a map was made showing the name “Mackenzie’s Branch” – on the river we know as the McKenzie River. Do we know why? Most other tributaries to the Willamette retained native names.

    Because he was the first European who came into the south Willamette Valley (hunting for food and exploring), right there, in the stories of his fur trade travels, is the point in time where words were given to the interface of the cultures here in our back yards. And though we might view the fur trade as demonic in its intensive resource exploitation, the specific decisions of Mackenzie and others made set into motion the direction of cultural relationships with the people and land around them. Here, some of Scots/fur traders chose to integrate with the native residents way-of-life while others chose to anglicize this place. Also interesting are the related stories of the political and commercial situations the immigrants were born into; e.g. a shift to intensive agriculture in Scotland in the late 1700’s forced thousands of people off the land where they “belonged” (were indigenous) so they came to North America.

    For some reason, the history of Oregon between 1810 and 1840’s is not frequently talked about, published etc. The wagon-train immigrations beginning in the 1840’s were of the scale to overwhelm what gradual integration what occurring in the 1820 and 1830s.

    So I’m working (voluntarily) on some McKenzie Bicentennial activities to focus light on the era. (I’ve contacted the local museums and Historical Societies, and they are supportive of, but not initiating, activities.) These are “recognition” events for people to learn and reflect on what changes occurred beginning in 1812 here in the south Willamette and McKenzie Valleys. The activities are not to “celebrate” the establishment of the European-based culture.

    I have this idea that some very interesting discussions and learning would occur if knowledgeable people were convened to talk about “the 1812 interface.” I’ll probably try to schedule it about a year from now, in McKenzie Bridge of course. What do you think? Tell me at Thanks

    • How satisfying indeed your meal must have been, Margaret. Best wishes for success in your local history project. I think we can never have too much awareness of our local roots. There are a number of reasons why pre-1840 Oregon is historically “blank” in terms of written history. For one things, non-natives were scattered and often transitory settlers. There were many, many more native peoples than non-natives in the Willamette Valley even after the first wave of wagon pioneers settled here. And early on, many of European as opposed to US origin were split off from the early statehood population, when Oregon Territory was split between British (including the Hudson’s Bay Company) and US pioneers. Indeed, there was a good deal of ethnic conflict between European and US pioneers at different points in this early history. Just off the top of my head. If you do not already know it, might I suggest Carey’s History of Oregon:
      for some pre-1840 perspective. Also, there is much non-published material in local historical archives everywhere.

      • I’m not sure what you mean when you say “There were many, many more native peoples than non-natives in the Willamette Valley even after the first wave of wagon pioneers settled here.”

        – I’ve read elsewhere that the malaria epidemic of the early 1830s resulted in the death of 90 percent of the native population, … from 50,000 to 10,000 (Carey p 47-50)

        “Late in the eighteenth century, the native populations in the Willamette Valley, and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, were reduced by an epidemic of smallpox that was initially spread by Europeans involved in the maritime fur trade. Indian populations were further decimated in the 1830’s by a malaria epidemic that raged through the area. The greatly reduced population, some estimates indicate a population loss as high as 90%, resulted in the decimation of the Kalapuyan culture. “

        Wagon trains…”The prime years of the trail itself were probably 1841 to 1860 … and during that time period there were probably 100,000 who went to Oregon.

        “By 1845 the 2000 settlers in the Willamette Valley outnumbered the natives, whose numbers were rapidly dwindling due to illnesses introduced by the immigrants.

        And yes, I’d like to get more details on the non-published material in local historical archives. Thanks

        • I am glad you brought this up.
          The Kalapuya were certainly tragically hit by disease in 1830 (malaria), exaggerated by starvation since the fencing off of Donation Claims (given to pioneers before any treaties were made with local peoples) stopped them from harvesting traditional foods. This is the basis on which Joel Palmer argued that the local native people should be removed to reservations out of the way of pioneers in spite of their refusal to leave their lands in the rounds of 1846 treaty making with Anson Dart as Congressional representative. Indeed, the Indians were predominant enough in the area to feed the wagoneers from their ample larders: see
          10,000 Kalapuya were indeed a good deal more than the pioneers at that point (and it is unlikely that that is a full count– since at least some Kalapuya were in hiding to prevent relocation).
          Does the 100,000 wagon train figure include migration to California during the Gold Rush? I have never seen such a figure.
          Here are some of the statistics I have:
          It is true that the Kalapuya in the Willamette Valley had been hit by a round of tragic epidemics so that in 1838, the original Kalapuya population was tragically reduced. But it was also true that in all of Oregon territory in 1839, contemporary missionary Jason Lee estimated there were only slightly more than 100 pioneers (cited in Carey). In the 1840’s the overland wagon migrations of emigrants began in earnest. But by 1850, the 2,000 pioneers that came across the Oregon Trail that year brought the pioneer population of Oregon Territory to 13,294 by one count and 11,873 by another. (This was the original Oregon Territory that included what is now Washington and part of Idaho). Either figure was still far less than the current Native population of the Territory. Further, Herbert Taylor’s research indicates that when the first emigrants arrived overland, Native Northwestern populations were in the process of rebuilding themselves after the round of epidemics they had suffered.
          The majority of emigrants were concentrated in Western Oregon, where the proportion of the Territory’s Indian population was comparatively low. Still, in the most dense areas of white settlement, there were not only the remaining Kalapuya, there were the Molala tribes in the Cascade foothills, the Chinookan peoples (including the Kathlamet and Clatsop) on the Columbia River; the Tillamook, Alsea, Yachats, Siuslaw, Umpqua, Coos, Coquille, and Chetco on the Coast, and the Rogue River and Shasta peoples in inland Western Oregon. Altogether, in 1851, there were still at least 5,000 Indians living in Western Oregon. Half a dozen years later, after removal to reservations had decimated southwestern Oregon Indian populations, the Native population still totaled 33,512 in Washington and Oregon Territories, about triple the emigrant population that same year.

          Thanks so much for your follow up comment. It is very important to get this right!

  160. As I was reading this essay, I got to thinking about NASA’s goals for colonization of and settlements on the moon and Mars. How ironic that when we have run out of room on the Earth to bolster profits that we turn our gaze to the heavens to perpetuate the Western worldview of “owning the land.”

    Today I watched The River Has Many Voices in which there is a collective response, interpretation and communication of the relationship between the indigenous people of the land and the land itself. The rivers, mountains, animals and plants have shaped the destiny of the Indians for thousands of years. Unfortunately, Western cultures have barely scratched the surface of that time period (at least in the Americas), and haven’t even allowed for the possibility of an oral tradition with the advent of industrialization. I am speaking in general terms. I realize that there are pockets within Western culture that are revitalizing oral tradition or never allowed it to lose a foothold to industrialization.

    The collective reasoning that is shared through oral tradition by the indigenous is a solid example of how we should be educating our people (“our people” meaning of Western cultures). I recently found out that there are programs in the Oregonian school system that allows youth to attend “nature” camps. I am not sure what they learn at the camps, but it sounds like a positive step in the right direction.

    • Thanks for sharing these thoughts here, Dwayne. Under very different circumstances, space exploration could be an expansion of our understanding of our place in the cosmos– instead, NASA’s plans for colonization seem to exhibit an underlying logic that if we run out of room on earth, we can always take over space, not to mention, there are precious minerals to exploit there. (I have heard others say this even if NASA does not– following along with the logic of colonization that has devastated our world so far).
      Until we become truly settled on limited and precious particular lands in the way that you describe with respect to indigenous people, I think we will never be at home anywhere on earth, including in our own bodies– much less in the vaster universe.

  161. I found it humorous that Joel Palmer thought that he could convince the native people to move with the idea that somehow his move from the east coast was the same as them leaving their native land.

    I agree that we need to learn to stay with that land long enough to observe the consequences of our actions: long enough to learn from our own mistakes and learn how to listen to the land. It is important for us to understand the crucial differences between “owning” the land and “belonging” to the land.

  162. While I agree implicitly with the notion that in order to learn to respect the land and live as one with it we must settle down for many generations, I wonder how we are to accomplish this. Our economy is set up for ownership as the only way to gain some kind of permanence, but for most of us ownership of any piece of land is a dream. The idea of settling into one area for several generations seems completely out of reach. Many of us ache to put down roots, and we cling to any roots from our familial past we can find. But life keeps insisting that we move again and again.
    So many families who did settle down and built family farms that they expected would be handed down through the generations have had to sell into corporate farm conglomerates in order to feed their families we are quickly losing any sense of permanency we may have been striving for.
    Which came first, the constant feeling that one must be on the move or the movement itself?

    • It seems you are offering more support for the idea that this is a change we need, since movement is so ingrained (and there is so much pressure in that direction in our culture). I don’t think the “what comes first” question is the prior one here– rather the worldview and social structure that underlays all of this movement. If we truly valued place would we structure our society in this way– the quote of the week comes from an autobiography of an “urban farm” resisting development pressure, and reading this, we might ask, what values do we have that values profit over good land for agriculture, such that communities too often don’t seem to mind ruining it for agricultural purposes forever?
      Thanks for your comment.

      • Hmmm, I didn’t mean to imply that moving is something positive. I simply see it as something that has been happening in the American culture since the first colonists landed here. It seems that tearing up those roots some 500 years ago started us on a journey that we seem compelled to continue even today. I don’t think it does positive things for anyone for so many people to be constantly moving. Without a sense of belonging, how can we have a real sense of responsibility? Part of our short-sightedness, which the push for profit over the good of the land you mention is a symptom of, comes from this lack of sense of place.

        • Thanks for the thoughtful follow up comment, Neyssa. I didn’t mean to imply you saw all this restlessness as positive.

        • Perhaps the “new start” can include the understanding that all populations have migrated at some time in history, (except perhaps for those where homo sapiens first evolved.) The reasons and the methods for migrating may change over the centuries, but history does repeat itself. Everyone was indigenous somewhere, sometime,and we needn’t “feel bad” that our ancestors were immigrants.

          The reasons that many Scot/Irish immigrants left what had been “commonly held” land was because in the 1700s the kings and parliaments hoped to increase production from these lands so it was given to the “Nobles” who then started growing sheep and crops. The peasants who had lived on the land (i.e. natives) began to have to “pay rent” to live there. As sheep and crops could be sold for more in the “market”, the amount of rent the tenants needed to pay also increased. (Does this sound familiar? When tenants could not pay rent (on the land that had been theirs) they were evicted with no-where to go but across the sea to America. Here, some of the immigrants (of all backgrounds) integrated into the native populations adapting their lifestyle, although this was mostly in Canada. Others chose to keep their European way of life separate, similar to the choice that faces people now when they/we move to another country; i.e. retirement in Mexico, military and construction jobs overseas.

          The reason that the American wagon train people left good farms in the east is because “marketers” promised them something better… in some ways they were pawns used to pressure Congress into drawing the US/Canada border north of the Columbia, at the 49th parallel. “Pioneers” from Canada also came to the Oregon sent by those who wanted to see the border established south of Oregon.

          How people have migrated has changed over the centuries, depending on the “technology” available. After the Spaniards introduced horses to north America, the tribes with horses hunted much farther than before, forcing other tribes to hunt in smaller areas. Now we have the petroleum based technology which enables us to “move” far, fast, and frequently – when things seem a little difficult here we can “act” on our assumption that life is better somewhere else. During most of history, technology did not exist to allow people to move so far.

          Rather than assuming that 1840-1860 immigrants to the West were uniquely greedy, we can understand that they were just another generation in the human quest for a less difficult life.The information they made decisions based on is not always “neutral” or complete. What may (or may not) have been unique about the mid-1800s European migration west was the use of military campaigns to remove native populations.

          Each generation has a choice of how to connect with the land, For us, now, our decision on how to connect with the land has less to do with how long we stay somewhere than whether we choose to grow our own food, know our soil, water, wind, and fire in our back yards. Some people who stay in place for decades still aren’t aware of the natural world around them.

          Did anyone see the Oregon Field Guide show on restoring Wapato – a wetland plant that was a major food source in the wetlands of the Willamette Valley?

        • Thanks for sharing these thoughts and this link with us, Margaret. I know wapato was a very important indigenous food source– one of the few starches, along with camas and other root vegetables, in the native diet. The other thing about wapato is that it a wetland plant, so one would hope establishing it would motivate protection of wetlands as well.
          Oregon Field Guide is a program favorite that (almost) would motivate me to turn on my TV (which I haven’t had time to do for perhaps two years now!)

    • I think that our need to move around is based on the structure of our society, as Dr. Holden said. Society hasn’t made it easy to live on the land that has been in our families for generations. We have been taugh bigger and newer are better. We constantly strive for those things until we think we have found it and only then will we be happy. I wish I had a place that has been in our family for generations, most of my family moved to the U.S from Mexico and the family left in Mexico I have never met and probably never will.

    • The belief that we can own the land in the U.S. is really not true. I remember when I was around 13 years old the Utah government wanted the land on the out skirts of Salt Lake City. The houses on the wanted land were “owned” by older people. When the house owners refused to accept the governments price for their houses, the Utah government claimed a 2 block radius of houses were condemned. The Government took the land away from the original house owners and those house owners did not receive one penny for their land. And then there is the inheritance tax which most people can not afford to pay the tax unless they sell the land. I’m sure that these factor into why people do not settle in the same area for generations.

  163. The simple statement that the indigenous people named themselves after the land and that we name the land, places, streets after ourselves is so telling. I had never really considered land ownership from this perspective before, it is eye-opening. I have felt that it was unjust that there could be private beaches, or lakes as if that stretch of sand was made for specific people.

    • Thanks for the comment, Erin. I appreciate Henry Cultee for sharing this truly eye opening perspective. Sometimes, I think, we need to stand outside our cultural habits of thinking in order to get a serious perspective on those habits.

    • Working for Metro as a park ranger gave me an interesting perspective on public lands as well. Almost as quickly as Metro purchases “greenspaces” for public use, the neighbors in the surrounding areas have put up “no parking” signs along the streets that lead to the public lands, effectively creating private parks for the surrounding neighborhoods and no one else.
      I’m throwing this thought out there just to be cantankerous, I guess, but your comment about ownership of private beaches and lakes is interesting in that I think most of us would think the same way about them. But, why stop with beaches and lakes? What is it in our psyche that makes us consider ownership of a “stretch of sand” unjust, as you put it, while private ownership of any other strip of land is justifiable? I’m not in any way refuting your statement, merely thinking “out loud,” so to speak.

      • I would never stop your “thinking out loud”, Neyssa, since I am happy to turn over ideas in this forum– or when you folks do. I think your comment comes down to the idea of the “commons” that we are often missing in industrial society. It is also interesting that many community gardens seem to support this idea in sharing food, labor and information. The idea that wilderness or natural areas (wherever they are) are only for solitary consumption by certain individuals is something else again. That does not mean that we do not need a chance to be alone with the natural world– but the idea that certain people more than others have a right to this is problematic as in the example you indicate.

  164. The belief that we need to honor the ways in which life and other natural processes belong here with us is so true. I find it strange that people think that they have little to no affect on the planet. You would think that with all the man caused extinctions and the devastation which introduced species cause that that would be enough evidence that people can have a major impact on the world.

    • I worked on the same floor in an office building with a late-middle aged woman who was always complaining about the weather (and anything else she could think of). One spring day she was complaining about the rain and I said something to the effect that at least we wouldn’t have to worry about drought. She said she didn’t believe in “all that global warming s%^*” and that even if it was true, what did she care? She was going to be dead long before anything bad happened. I was floored. I couldn’t believe that anyone actually believed that way!

      • At some point, we may encourage more people to understand that we are all interconnected– obviously, this is not a woman to whom it is useful for you to have a conversation– though I have seen this kinds of responses from folks who are feeling overwhelmed and powerless– discouraged in general. We also need a community that encourages each of us to understand how important our actions and choices are.

  165. I’ve never really felt a sense of belonging to a place. I’ve always subscribed more to the “Home is where the heart is” and for me, that home is constantly moving. My dad comes from a large family (he is the youngest of 10) and once a year we get together for a family reunion. The location can change yearly, but it is the people that come that make me feel at home. I feel the same sense of belonging around my friends. I know I’m at a transition point of my life. I spent the first part of my life in Eugene, the last 3 years in Corvallis, and at the end of the year I plan on moving somewhere else, so feeling I belong to a specific land is something I cannot comprehend. I still understand that there is a need to be more careful about actions towards the environment, but this feeling for me is independent of the location or my familiarity with it.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Aaron. Though few of us have such connections to such a large family, your experience of finding a sense of belonging independent of place is one many US citizens share– with more or less success.

    • This sense of “home” certainly seems to be more of the norm in our modern society. I am unsure if this is a positive or negative thing, but I experienced quite the opposite. I was born one place, lived there until I was three, then moved 15 minutes away and have resided there ever since. So, although I now live in an apartment separate from my family, that house is still what I consider “home” because I belonged there for over 20 years.

  166. This piece surprised me- I didn’t realize that it was so common for people to set down and pick back up when “settling” the western portion of the country. I always envisioned a family getting “out west” and settling onto a homestead for generations.

    None of my family came west in the earlier years; my grandmother was a very young girl when her family loaded everything into a truck and moved from Iowa to Oregon. All of my family lives in Oregon now with the exception of two families in Washington, although they have spread out over the state quite a bit. Even though I’ve been in North Carolina for nearly a year, I am still an “Oregonian” to anyone who asks, and my goal is to get back to the desert where I was born.

    I am definitely a person affected by ‘wanderlust’, but I travel rather than move (usually). Oregon is “home” for me, and fortunately my fiancé has no particular attachment to North Carolina. He tells me that I am “more affected by places” than he is, so perhaps it’s something innate that causes some people to remain in one place for a long time rather than move around. It could be learned, too, I suppose. He was in the Navy and became good at coming and going and moving around due to a very high deployment percentage. Regardless of how we get there, we are who we are, and I’m just thankful that I’ll get to be back home soon.

    • I was also very surprised to learn that people continued to move after they arrived in the west. I knew some people did, like the people who started Portland, but I thought that was rare. Part of my family came west with many of the other pioneers and were granted the 300 plus acres, but a couple of generations later they lost that land.
      I hope you’ll bet back to the desert; it has an amazing attraction and ability to humble a person, much like the ocean.

  167. I really liked this article and the focus on belonging to the land rather than it belonging to you. There truly is a magnificent difference between the two and it is often hard for some to grasp. I think the “drift people” reserve the right to refuse to move just because it was the common thing for pioneers of the time to do. To not be able to accept this, is just ignorant and unfair. The “drift people” are trying to do well by respecting their land, so maybe, the “moving people” and anyone else who disagrees with their views needs to change, not the “drift people”.

  168. I like the idea of belonging to the land instead of owning it. The Young Chief of the Cayuse expressing how humans are part of the whole processes instead of its lord is comforting. We are here to build on the process not control it. The misuse of the lands would be equivalent to having no heart. I really do think this mistreatment and using the land as a “one night stand” essentially came when imperialism was at its peak. The selfish thoughts of the American pioneers that came west thinking that this was “Their” destiny to have these lands.
    The lack of separation from the lands shows the holistic and cyclic views the indigenous peoples of the West Coast held. They are just part of these lands they both give and take and well one day return. Its very simplistic and comforting.

    • I like your idea that the sense of belonging to the land is “comforting”– it entails a sense of security and personal presence which I think all the “things” we own cannot bring us, I think. This is not only a model for us to live up to– but a way we might gain some personal satisfaction in a world in which many of us feel too little of this. I am heartened by all the community gardens in urban areas which allow residents this sense of belonging and community as well.

  169. I feel that modern society has not only amplified its restless, but has now mixed in a huge dose of anxiety as well. A current business trend becoming more and more common (my siblings and a few friends included) is to actually FLY to work each week, detaching from communities while taking temporary residence in some crossroads hotel, somewhere else on the planet, returning home (or what they think is home) on the weekends. I see far too many problems arising from this lifestyle on many levels. How are people supposed to make a lasting connection with the land when our society rewards such behavior? From a purely environmental position, the excessive waste of resources that support this type of business practice should make it illegal. Bringing jobs and purpose back into the local communities, perhaps even “unflattening” the world a bit if I may, could entice people to stick around their communities longer, perhaps raising successive generations which would in turn see the effects of their parents and grandparents involvement and commitment, thus fostering a richer personal understanding of what makes a healthy community.

    • Americans on average are indoors 90% of their day. We have already lost our connection to the Earth. A friend of mine believes in what he calls grounding. He walks around barefoot outside and feels a renewed energy and thinks he feels a electric current from the ground that makes him more connected with the Earth. I have always worn shoes so I never truly connected with the nature. I have tried to be more “grounded” and find that it is important and refreshing. I wish things were different with less technology but we have adapted to being disconnected from our own planet.

      • I think your friend has a great idea making an effort to “put his bare feet on the ground”. As a child, I always ran around barefoot (getting stung by bees too!) and felt great. Today I spend way too much time in shoes but do enjoy turning my garden beds barefoot. I hear you about our modern technologies and getting disconnected from the planet. One great technological advancement (IMHO) is what we are doing right now; sharing ideas and learning via the Internet.

        • I cannot disagree with you about the positive potential for sharing on the internet. How else would folks from Ohio and Oregon get to converse on this forum?

      • I completely agree with the loss of connection in our society. Our children are growing up without a reverence for the land, simply because their time is spent indoors with TV and video games, often which portray violence and destruction. In my foster children I tried to instill a love of nature and always encouraged them to be outside exploring. Personally, I am never as grounded and centered as when I am sitting on a beach watching waves or sitting on a log watching the river flow by. I make a point of involving all senses. This would include seeing the movement, colors, and surroundings both individually and in harmony with each other. I can hear the water rush by, the grass rustling in the breeze, and the birds chirping. I make a point of smelling the sweet smell of flowers and grasses. I close my eyes and feel the breeze on my skin and taste the salty ocean air and really experience those sensations, then open my eyes and once again put everything into perspective.

        To say “we have adapted” is a generalization that I would agree with, however, personally, I have not adapted well and everyday, regardless of circumstances I must experience the outdoors in one way or another.

        • Thoughtful points to consider here, Kristy. Though our contemporary habits do take us indoors too often, you have a point in our failure to actually adapt– or the failure of some of us to do so.
          Perhaps the greatest sign of our failure in this regard (which I see as a hopeful sign) is the dissatisfaction so many seem to feel with their lives.
          Good for you in being conscious of what you need and getting that touch of the outdoor for yourself.

    • Inducing anxiety is in fact a current sales strategy on the part of large ad companies, Scott. Seems anxious consumers buy more.
      I have pondered our disconnection to the land we buzz through on cars– and certainly, as you indicate, on airplanes (which, incidentally, are exceedingly bad in terms of carbon emissions).
      At some point will we have such a focus on efficiency and speed that we experience our whole lives second hand as a video game or tv show and eat such fast foods they might as well be given by injection? Hey, wait! Are we there already? We can’t wait to have the experience we aren’t really having. What’s wrong with this picture?
      One thing right is the dissatisfaction involved sells much to consumers trying to plug the holes in their lives.
      Re-centering ourselves in place and human community seems the only way to heal this, as you indicate.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • The world is more international now this is not going to change overnight. But air travel is not very environmentally friendly and I personally think not so socially friendly. Not only does this make us loose our connection to the early in a literal sense but also with its forward facing seats and dark settings little connections other then the with the person next to you can be made. Everyone is trying so hard not to be rude on a plane because you are in tight quarts for long periods of time nothing ends up happening. For me I personally like train travel. There is something about it that helps to build better social bonds. I think its more freedom of movement but your still there with others. Also I think if people where able to have cheaper travel they would be able to connect better socially and with the country they are in. This was true for me when I traveled to China. As trains were cheap I went everywhere on them and I met lots of interesting people on them as well. It helped me build a better connection with the country I was visiting and I felt a great connection with china that I don’t feel very much here. As a college student I don’t have the means to do any traveling so I can’t go more then 10 miles from where I live. Expanding upon your knowledge and social ability is not a bad thing. Its the staying indoors thats whats destroying us really.

      • I do think we need to differentiate between travel (which all peoples all over the world at all times did, as far as I know) and colonialism, in which a conquering people pull up their roots in order to forcibly take over the land of another.
        In fact, travel was delighted in for trade in the Northwest, and seasonably for sharing harvesting areas and songs, feasts, etc. at the same time.
        That does not conflict with the idea of having a long term home base.

    • I can’t even imagine flying into work every week. I like having the connection to the property I own. I don’t even like the thought of commuting to work that takes more than 20 minutes. You raise a very important idea with restlessness being amplified in this modern age. Before cars people worked locally, now we can travel further and feel less connection to the land. It fosters NIMBY, why care about the environment when you’re not around to see the effects.

    • Your terminology, “perhaps even “unflattening” the world,” does seem most appropriate. The majority of today’s lifestyles are very disassociated, highly technological, desensitized, and materialistic. Far too many communities are lacking moral fiber and intellectual content. Also, it seems as though there is very little incentive to change our
      individual thinking, because we tend to be rewarded for the wrong reasons. People become “famous” for criminal acts, such as murder. Corporations degrade and pollute much of our environment, and get rewarded with money. None of this really makes much sense, no wonder the majority of people would rather just tune out reality with superficial fancies. Is there hope?

    • Harold Bauer;
      Nice thought and a reason to buy locally huh? I’m not against people moving to a different area and making it their home as long as the person is treating it as if they belong to that land by honoring the ways in which other life and other natural processes belong to that land.
      Yes we should make closer knit communities as to love it more dearly but also to stop polluting as I feel you were trying to convey.

      • Good perspective. Perhaps we might hope that in our contemporary mobile society we replace an expanded sense of belonging linked to all the places we touch base as opposed to the use it up and move on attitude.

  170. The native people basically believe in everything happens for a reason. Although they believe humans should respect the Earth, they also think everything has its place on Earth. They migrated from place to place so they could help balance their impact on the environment. They understood that if they stayed in one place for too long, they would have a negative impact on the environment. Every place has a name in nature because it belongs. Some humanly activity does not belong.

    • Thoughtful responses in terms of belonging, Andrew.
      Can you expand your thinking in terms of the “they” you are referring to as indigenous peoples, avoiding generalizations.
      And I don;t know where you got the idea of migrations as part of ALL indigenous groups. As this essay indicates, those in the coastal areas of what is now Washington and Oregon lived in permanent villages that lasted hundred if not thousands of years.
      It is a stereotype that humans much totally leave a place in order for it to recover from human influence– since that influence can be so varied depending on the choices made by those humans.

      • By they I meant the indigenous people. I shouldn’t have used the word migrated but the story said these native people moved around a lot within the same area. You are correct but with current technology specifically running water, it allows for a large population to live in small areas. Population density is likely a problem in the immediate area. More and more humans is a problem that can span for away from that area with economic trading.

    • There are many Native Americans on the east and west coast that did not migrate. Also i believe that the Pueblo and Navajo stayed in one location. The plains Indians followed the game, such as the buffalo. They all just used the resources that they need to survive instead of over harvesting and trading.

  171. You are right today’s mind set of most people is how we can make money off of the land and the worlds resources. We need to change that mindset to caretaking the land like the indigenous people do so that the world will last for many more generations. I agree we need to learn from our mistakes and listen to the land. Not just take what we want and move on this is a selfish idea. Today we are so selfish, as a people we are in need of a change in thinking.

    • Thoughtful points, Christi. From my perspective, something that will last for generations (or whose living character might be gone in a heartbeat– or the roar of a bulldozer) is an irreplaceable source of wealth. Those who run roughshod over such treasures seem to forget the gratefulness with which the descendents of those who set aside earlier natural lands to protect them feel toward the ancestors who acted with such foresight.

  172. (new)

    I really love what Jeanette Armstrong said regarding community and heart and it’s essential role in our lives. I think with today’s drive for economic control, be it personal desires or a business, the idea of community has pretty much disappeared. The American Life screams for us to move around with the ebe and flow of the economic markets. This drive has removed the concept of community and crushed the heart of being a part of something, belonging to something. I think that those who do stick around are those who are at the community meetings pushing for policies that improve the lands in their cities.
    I think if we could get past this and do as the article says, stay to see the reactions to our actions we will achieve the second point “acknowledge that belonging to the land is a matter of belonging to a community of LIFE over time”. We would realize that we are not the only thing that matters on this earth and it is not all about us all the time. There are others out that that matter.

    • Much to ponder in your comment, Brandie. Ironic that understanding that WE are not “all that matters on earth” has the potential to make our lives so much larger and fuller through belonging. Thanks for this.

  173. I have never consider the idea of belonging and owning land. I think every American has a desire to own a house or land and do with it as they see fit. I know i want to own my house and the land that it is on. I think that it is a good point that we should stay there long enough to observe and consequences such as plant the nice invasive plants some like.

  174. I would like to feel the comfort of belonging somewhere and the knowledge of place that comes with that belonging. The six years I have spent in my current home is the longest I have ever stayed in one location since I was born. Every once in a while I notice how much I’ve learned about this area – my property, my neighbors, the local watershed…and realize that it is still only the smallest of connections. This attachment grows each year though and it is harder to consider the idea of moving again after only six years…never mind six, sixty or six hundred generations.

    I try to improve the health and wildlife value of my land every year, but I know I don’t belong to the land and that eventually I will be leaving it. I understand how the ability to walk away from our messes can make it harder to care about what we are doing to the land, but only if we are blind to the future or unaware of the connected systems that support us. Unfortunately, from personal experience, I fear that there are quite a few people who don’t know that what goes into the sewers will eventually be coming out of our taps.

    A simple cure for alienation from the environment is getting to know it – learning natural landmarks, figuring out where the river comes from and where it goes, learning the names of the birds and plants in the local park. But as several commenters have mentioned, just getting outside can be a problem.

    • Some excellent considerations here. Thanks for your personal assessment in terms of intimacy with the place you live.
      It is important, as you note, to observe that what “goes into our sewers will eventually be coming out of our taps–and we may need to reside somewhere (and listen to the land) to get that message.
      Such a simple and profound “cure for alienation from the land” in getting to know it, as you suggest. Certainly, that is a powerful reason why we should get out the door! (And provide an opportunity to allow our children to do that, as well).

  175. I wonder what it would be like to live on a piece of land for generations. In my particular family, the longest anyone has owned land is since the 1980’s. I can definitely understand the native point of view, at least partially. My grandparents purchased a section of land (and house) and I was raised there. Now, my husband and I just finished getting through paperwork to own that same property. Even though it is small and not the same as native land, I feel deeply connected to it. I grew up on it and my mother spent many years there as well.

    This essay brings up a good point on the idea of settlers. We tend to keep moving on. Buy property, improve it, sell it, move on to repeat the process. I like the belief that we belong to the land and not the other way around. After all, we didn’t create the Earth, but it created us.

    • How wonderful that you are able to live and care for land that has so much personal and family meaning for you, Holly!
      It is indeed time to get our priorities straight as we learn to adapt to the natural systems that sustain us!

  176. The idea of belonging to the land is beautiful. From the times of the pioneers until now the land has certainly been treated like a “one night stand”. People reside in a place for a while, do whatever they want to the land and the creatures on it. Often, trees become lumber, streams become a place to dump waste and animals become game for hunting. After the damage had been done people move on to a new piece of land.
    If people began to change their worldview to the belief that they belong to the land the environment would hugely benefit. Instead of dominating the land people would learn to live in harmony with the land. They would take a greater responsibility for the ways in which they manipulated the natural world. By learning to belong to the land this country and the environment would greatly benefit.

  177. Belonging to the land is all about the interdependence that you might find between individuals and the earth. It is the very thing the indigenous people understood and white “settlers” misunderstood. I can safely say that even I am constantly on the move, I enjoy seeing every part of the world and do not like being “settled.” It might be a part of me that I can’t fully ignore but I would hardly call myself a settler.

    The word settler contains irony, for as noted in the article, the white settlers were never really settled. They always moved about but didn’t stay in one spot. As the faults of my ancestors, I too, have loved the idea of discovering new places. However, in light of this blog the idea of belonging to the land, I think it is important for me to think of myself as if I belonged to the land and not made note of where I live. In other words, by saying I live at such and such place. Wouldn’t it be more proper to say that I am in debt to the such and such place….?

    • Thoughtful personal assessment, Colette. I don’t wish to demean explorers or adventurers–and how might those who have the wanderlust you have develop a sense of belonging to the land? (or indebtedness to it?)

      • I really liked your question “how might those who have the wanderlust…develop a sense of belonging to the land? (or indebtedness to it?)”. I actually wrote about this in my lesson 4 assignment and have been thinking about it the past few days “how do I feel at home in the places I go to”. I, like Colette, am transient. I don’t have a house and the 20 boxes that I have filled with things live in a storage container in CA. 7-8 months out of the year I live in Alaska, 1 month in California, 1-2 months traveling to other countries and for the next 6 weeks I have rented a house in Ashland and yet, I have had the feeling of home and have felt as if I have belonged someplace. I definitely know the places I do not belong and can feel those right away! 🙂 But for me, there seems to be a moment when my breath gets taken away and for a time I am at peace with my inner self and I feel a rootedness to where I am. For me it is developed by my returning to a land I have connected with previously, by speaking to and experiencing it. But there is also something else, again for me, it is knowing that no matter how many times I leave or change or travel, this particular space/land will never change, it will never alter and it will never leave.

        I guess to specifically answer your question a person who is filled with wanderlust can cultivate a sense of belonging or indebtedness to the land by getting into the land and experiencing all it has to offer, talking to her people, sleeping under her stars, hiking her trails and having her teach you about your own emotional boundaries while hers are limitless. When we experience land, I believe, on an emotional level and see how she can help/protect/offer lessons, then we become indebted to her kindness and her teaching us our own limitations can be transgressed.

        • Thanks for your thoughtful personal assessment here, Michelle.
          On knowing that place will be there for you when you return– that is substantial reason to protect particular places, since so many former homes have been destroyed by development– as many of those here relate.
          On the difference between the tourist (who may well experience the land) and the one who belongs to it, where is the line when one begins to be responsible to the land (for instance, to protect it in the case above) as opposed to just touching base there– even for a moment and even if fulling appreciating it?
          And one more question, how do you evaluate your effects on the land if you have no or little history on which to judge the consequences of those effects?
          It is my sense that we can apply the intimacy we feel for one place or community or family outwards to others of these, but it seems to me a condition of this extension that we have this primary intimacy or initial home ground to work from.

  178. I would love to live on land that had been lived on for generations by my ancestors, and in a sense I do, because the entire human race is related.

    However, I don’t think I can sincerely feel a sense of belonging to the land in America, at this time. In Africa, South America, or the South Pacific, yes, I could indeed feel as though I truly belonged to the land. I think I feel this way about America, because of its perverse, desensitized, commercialized, and materialistic ideals that govern our government and intrude our lives via laws and regulations.

    In fact, my dream is to live in the South Pacific and to live a sustainable life by being as self-sufficient as possible. Also, I would like to teach my children as much as possible about nature, spirituality, agriculture, fishing, the arts, etc…

    • Thoughtful personal perspective, Rose. And I am assuming that you will have a different attitude and relationship to local peoples than those pioneers who felt they were leaving a country they did not like to take up residence in a country that belonged to someone else?
      Do you have particular personal roots in this area that you can pass on to your children? And we might also note that island nations in this area are at present not only suffering from rising seas because of global warming but many are in a nuclear test zone area (tests undertaken by the US)–and their nuclear pollution does not make them all that idyllic. Perhaps you would be working in solidarity with these people to get reparations for their multiple losses at the hands of the US and other industrialized nations?

  179. I really feel a visceral response to the quote. For me this was a very powerful statement. I’ve always considered myself a “native” Oregonian, but now I realize that’s not true. I really do understand the feeling of being a “native American” because my ancestors are from here, but not one particular geographic place. If we bury our dead to be reclaimed by the land, then the ancestors are part of the land. Further, we are what we eat, and since the food comes from the land, then I truly understand how important it is to live on the land once walked by ancestors.

    As a modern American I truly respect the land on which I stand. This goes for where I live, and where I travel to. I grew up with knowing that I was responsible for “leaving my space better than I found it,” regardless if this was a camp spot, hiking trail, or time along the riverbank. I’ve spent long periods on my own land, seeing the changes over time but I think that most people will never have a connection to the earth and with our modern cities I feel that the proposition of staying on the same piece of land is not possible. Perhaps metaphorically speaking it is, but I think the rural people and farmers are the only ones who will truly have this type of tie to the land itself. Secondly, to acknowledge that these ties must evolve is not possible for the majority of us either. However, people can and do hold the power to steward the land through contributions to land projects. Regardless of where they live and work, people can make positive change, even if that change is not putting their hands into the warm spring earth.

    • Hi Kristy, I am not sure what quote from this essay gave you a visceral response.
      And we can each nurture both our own yards (even renters: I have a friend who leaves behind a gorgeous food garden in every house she rents when she moves) and the natural commons (which leads to our sharing the protection of larger plots of land– along watercourses, for instance, or the forests that create our breatheable air).

  180. I really enjoyed this article about the perspectives of what it means to belong to the land. I like the Indigenous’ way of looking at the land – where to belong literally means to come from, to reside on something that your entire family has been born from. Versus the white settlers understanding of to belong means that you belong to the land because you work it and cultivate it and own it for the time being, so it belongs to you. It’s fascinating that one word can have so many definitions and can take such different shapes. What I like about the Indigenous viewpoint is that to belong to the land feels as if you belong to something greater than the self, you belong to something that holds history and community and bones of your ancestors – it is more than belonging it is physical, spiritual and mental connectedness to the land itself. I really like this idea.

    Often times I have this funny desire to own land, get out of cities and go buy land somewhere. I believe it can provide the peace and freedom that gets lost within cities. Someday I would like to see what it feels like to be wrapped in lands blanket and belong to something more.

    • Very nice statements about being “wrapped in the land’s blanket”– many cultures have felt that the land nurtures them in this kind of emotional way– with all the dimensions of belonging you mention in being connected to something so much larger than oneself.

    • Michelle,

      Excellent contrast! I like how you show the difference in the way each group of people saw the word ‘belong.’ I agree that the indigenous people have a spiritual way of belonging to the earth, a form of belonging that our society doesn’t seem to share. I also like the part in the essay about the natives being named after the land, while the settlers tried to name the land after them. Again, we shamefully see the dominating worldview trying to conquer everything in sight.

      • I think you are right about the spirituality intertwined in the indigenous view: when I was working with the Chehalis, it seemed that their traditional world was what I might term an “eco-spiritual” one.

  181. Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, or Thunder rolling Down the Mountain, when I was ten years old, I read the book “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” and was amazed at the courage of Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt or his Christian name Chief Joseph. I feel the pain that he went through when American government wanted the Wallowa Valley and work to push Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt and all his life for hundreds of years on to a small reservation in Idaho. When a man of such intelligence and love for all could not fight the progression of modernism than who can? In my hero’s honor and with the idea presented in this web essay that we belong to the land, I would like to also be courageous and help to convey to the people we need to pass this on. “I hope no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above, and that all people may be one people” words from a great man.

    • Thanks for your personal response here, Colinda. Chief Joseph lived in a different era– and descendents of his peoples have expressed leadership roles in contemporary society.
      Might we not say that passing on a legacy against all odds is a profound way of succeeding in one’s life.
      And also, perhaps you know that he and his people were first taken to Oklahoma and finally allowed to come back to an area near (though not on) their traditional territory on the Nez Perce Idaho reservation.

  182. The irony of the term ‘settlers’ continues to this day. We are not settled as we drive, fly, and boat around the world. Like busy little bees we rush around always on the go and wishing we could go faster and faster still. We constantly complain there’s not enough time, yet we don’t appreciate the time we have. The difference between bees and us is that bees are purposeful while we kid ourselves into thinking what we do every day is, when in actuality it’s wasteful and only gives us something to do to fight off boredom.

    I think we rush around so much because we constantly consider our mortality and thus don’t want to waste a second of life or miss out on anything. We try so hard to experience new things and we don’t fully appreciate that which we are doing or experiencing at any given moment. I have been guilty of this in the past and from time to time I slip back into this mindset. What pulls me back is thinking about my children and the connection I have to them. It helps me to think about what they’re experiencing, considering it through their eyes. With that I am able to fully appreciate the complete interconnectedness of the planet, how each of us is connected to each other and further, how we are connected to nature. If everyone were to slow down and literally settle instead of constantly moving we would consider more thoughtfully this connection and belonging to the land. Much as the indigenous did, we would indeed be more responsible for our actions on it. We would seek to preserve it, protect it, and see it thrive for future generations.

    • Pointed contrast between ourselves and the bees in terms of purpose, Trent. How different this portrait of rushing about is to the image of sitting streamside– just sitting– that Summer describes in a recent comment.
      And in the perspective you present here, the term “settler” is not only ironic, but so is all this rushing around, for it means that we spend so much time attempting to outrun that we never truly settle into the life we are given- instead it rushes by us as well.

    • Trent, I think we (Americans) also rush around due to how much stuff we have or how much stuff we want. We work more hours to buy more stuff and soon get bored with and need to buy more. If we would just live a simpler life not thinking we have to have everything, then maybe Americans would have more time to enjoy their surroundings.

      • You have a good insight on this, Debbie. There is a recent YES magazine issue that features families that cut way back on work by cutting way back on the “stuff” they felt they needed.

      • That is true Debbie. I blame consumerism mainly on marketers of companies and the media for projecting their advertisements. It is an evil partnership that preys upon our psyche. Media needs to make a profit so they’re forced to have advertisements and companies need to make a profit so they make us feel unimportant without all the “stuff”. We don’t NEED a large percentage of the things we own, rather we get them to make ourselves feel good which doesn’t last and we continue to buy more. The government is happy to let things go this way because it is seemingly single-minded towards economic growth and thus the ludicrous cycle perpetuates. I recommend checking out that Dr. Holden has on her links page if anyone has not already.

  183. There is an extreme sense of belonging in this essay, one that most of us probably aren’t too familiar with. The Natives have this incredible sense of belonging because they see themselves as being equal with the rivers, the grass, the animals. They belong to this earth, just as their brothers, or kin, do as well.

    How accurate they are in calling us the moving people. I have lived in 4 different states and have yet to feel that sense of belonging to a place. This must come from the reciprocity they show to the earth. They have a give and take relationship with the earth itself, but every living creature as well. Our society does not share this worldview, creating a separation between us and everything else on the earth. How could we possibly feel that we belong to a place when we do not honor our surroundings? I am thankful that the Natives put up a fight for their land. They were correct in that the settlers or pioneers would not honor it as they did.

    • Good question, Jamie, how could we indeed ever feel this kind of sense of belonging when we do not honor our surroundings, as you say. It is a great loss to our sense of presence in this world– and our motivation to act responsibly– to be lacking such belonging.

  184. Pioneers drifted to own land as a way for independence and a sense of belonging, as with the settlers who came to America, or those who followed the building of the railroad out west. I think indigenous people in America have been here so much longer than us, that they can stay in one area because they know how to work the land and care for it as the land gives back to them. The whole ways of caring for the land has been handed down from generation to generation for the indigenous people. Pioneers had to learn as they went, what worked and what didn’t.
    I have to think if being a caretaker for the land is even in our nature. I don’t know too many people that have gardens anymore or could even do homemade canning of vegetables or make homemade jelly. Americans have strayed too far away from the natural world that the two propositions mentioned in the essay, I don’t think can happen.

    • Do you see any problem with the idea of creating “belonging” through “drifting”. Is there not a contradiction in terms here?
      What two propositions are you saying cannot happen (because we have drifted so far from our “nature”?)

  185. I found this article interesting as I reflected on my own personal experience as a teenager who wanted nothing more than to move from my parents house because it was out in the “country” and I wanted to be in the city. After several years in the city I am longing for what I had and many days wonder what was I thinking. This article was very eye opening to me to see that these indigenous people were just the opposite and were doing so many things to stay on the land even in the face of much adversity.

    • Thoughtful personal perspective, Kim. These same peoples had wilderness areas to which coming adolescents went to find personal visions and their independent paths. I sometimes wonder what initiation ceremonies our young people have if they do not have a natural refuge to allow them to get in touch with their unique spirits.

    • It is very inspiring to see that these indigenous people were fighting for their land and refused to move locations. After reading this article, it is easier for me to relate to why these people did not want to leave their land. I also have a house out in the country and over time have began to really appreciate it and the nature that exists right in my backyard. We are really lucky to be able to have these sacred homes in the “country” and I can definitely relate to some of these indigenous people and how they respect the land so very much!

  186. I really enjoyed this article. Owning land as a form of power is not something that is a new phenomenon. The pioneers only saw land as a piece of property to profit from. It makes me happy to learn that the indigenous people looked at the land as belonging to it, rather than owning it or being in power of it. These are two extremely different ways of treating the Earth and they have been in conflict with one another for a very long time. We should be taking after these indigenous people who practice intrinsic value rather than acting like we have rights to owning the land and destroying it. Part of the problem, as touched on in this essay, is the fact that we are not looking at the issue from these indigenous people’s view and trying to understand their feelings towards the land. We, as a society, need to start “belonging” to the land instead of trying to take it over. We are responsible for how we treat our land and trying to control it and seize power over it will only end up destroying it.

    • We are indeed responsible for how we treat the land, Shaylene. And as surely as the results of attempting to assert power over the land are its destruction– those results entail our destruction as well.

  187. It is a beautiful thought that you can belong so completely to the land and those that share it that it becomes a sense of community. It seems a long time since I have felt that feeling, if at all. I suppose that puts me in with the ‘drift people’ who come and go and wander…

    When I think about the comment that the Chahalis mother said regarding the rain that seemed like ‘it belonged there’ in Eastern Washington, I see reflected in that story layers of acceptance, belonging, and community that Young Chief of the Cayuse talked about. I think that it takes a completely different paradigm to live generation after generation in the same place, with your family- it is a thought that seems deeper than I know what to do with.

    I think it is that ignorance that native peoples didn’t understand about white pioneers and vice versa. But if you don’t know- how can you know?

    • Just a point of detail, Justin- the rain “belonged” to Western Washington in this story, not Eastern Washington– in which there is comparatively little rain. Young Chief was from a different culture– and his people did traditionally dwell east of the mountains.
      In acknowledging the belonging to the land that so so well point out, it is also important to understand the diversity of cultures that belonged to this land.
      Thoughtful point about never having experienced such a sense of belonging and thus being ignorant of it– but I think the indigenous understanding went deeper than this in many cases– it was not only an ignorance that “drift people” suffered, but a loss, a loss we felt because something so fundamental to human community was missing from our culture. And that loss might point the way to a change of direction in worldview and actions so as to fulfill what we otherwise lost.

  188. We all could benefit from a piece of land to belong to, to care for, and learn how to live from it. If we don’t learn what the land has to teach we could stay there all our lives and still not get that feeling of belonging

    • Thoughtful response, William–and perhaps the land continues to have much to teach us even if we do listen carefully to it and belong to it.

    • Certainly we could all benefit from a different perspective of the land we live upon. Belonging to a piece of land and not owning a piece would certainly be a shift in thinking for westerners. It would seem to me that we need to develop patience if we are to understand and truly belong to the land. This is something that we struggle with in a world of instant gratification.

      • A worldview of “instant gratification”, as you rightly point out, does ran at cross purposes with caring for one’s land in the long term.
        Good point about the necessity of patience in developing a sense of belonging to the land–and to human community as well, for that matter.

  189. This essay reminds me of an excerpt from Emerson’s Nature, “Miller owns this field. Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them own the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts…..This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.” Owning a piece of land, is really a false sense of ownership. I think people would change this ownership worldview if they could stay in one spot long enough to truly belong and really open their eyes and ears to see the beauty and hear what nature is telling us.

    Thank you for sharing this enlightening essay.

    • Thank you in turn for sharing this idea from Emerson. I love the idea that though we put up our fences and assert our title, no one really owns the landscape– or has the one eye that can “integrate all [its] parts”.
      How much more alive we are in our world when we see the beauty of our world and listening to what nature says to us.

  190. As an environmental educator I struggled with getting this idea of belonging across to far too many students and adults. It seems that those in our society with the “settler” mindset feel that the aspects of nature which they find irritating or obtrusive or inconvenient, have no right to exist on the land on which the human is currently standing. We spend great amounts of money and devote much energy to the eradication of “pests” which have for thousands of generations lived in the area. Legal ownership of land is simply that, legal, it has no meaning in the reality of biologic time and stewardship of the land we own is a temporary gift, a wonderful but ultimately borrowed gift.

    • Thoughtful points, Paul. Have you had any success in creating a sense of belonging to the land? I have seen this happen once one develops intimacy with that land– which is often facilitated by the beauty of the land and our innate joy in this. The first thing we need is this contact.
      Those who respect the land and work closely with it– as do some ranchers in Wyoming. Those this does not always happen, these ranchers have made a place for grizzlies to travel through their lands in spite of their potential danger to their livestock.
      Others are working just passing on the facts- for instance, about the facts that wolf predation does not generally focus on livestock and helps the vitality of the land– in Idaho and Eastern Oregon. But sometimes it does take a difference worldview. Thus while there was the battle against wolf re-introduction on the part of some ranchers in Eastern Oregon, the Nez Perce simply welcomed them back onto their land.

    • Hey Paul, I like the point you bring up about how people that over manipulate their land have no right to be there. These people were obviously not “chosen” by the land to be it’s inhabitants. I wish people payed attention to this idea a little bit more, it seems too often that someone moves somewhere because they get a good job, but they hate the area they move to. This ultimately makes a person change their natural environment even more so that it suits their wants.

      • A telling point you have here, Aaron. Violating a contract of mutuality with the land is no way to establish belonging there– as you point out, no people who ravage the land were chosen by the land to do this.
        This might lead us to reflect differently on the idea of “manifest destiny”– it goes against the argument that we have been chosen by fate or God or the land itself to live on any land if the way we live there destroys its living systems.
        An excellent point!

  191. The idea of the land belonging to us is problematic because of the abuse that it then faces as we strive to quelch our unending thirst to exploit all of its lucrative resources. I believe it is important to change this worldview for future generations by providing ongoing exposure of the natural world to children, starting at an early age. It’s scary how much time kids spend indoors, mostly distracted by some form of technology, rather than the outdoor and/or imaginative play that most of us who are adults were *forced to partake in as children. As I’ve watched this exposure to nature dwindle over the years, I have noticed the correlation in values that one has.

    • This is the basis of the idea that many of our children today are suffering “nature deficit disorder” as discussed in Last Child in the Woods.
      I would hope that we would be less likely to exploit that with which we have an intimate relationship.

    • You are right, Latifa, this is a problem these days. Children learn so much from just sitting calmly in a meadow and observing every little fantastic detail and creature. I remember the days when all we had to play with was simple toys created from sticks, vines, and such; imaginative play like you said. These experiences do change our values and how we perceive our world around us. If the kids don’t go out and see and feel whats out there, then it doesn’t exist!

      • Good point: of all the “educational” toys designed to stimulate children in various ways, but I can’t imagine any more complex in their stimulation than a meadow or woods or garden. The good news is that school gardens are taking off–at least locally. Yesterday I spoke to a woman on the board of the Lane County School Gardens Project–and they now have 59 school gardens locally.

  192. The term “moving people” suggested that early pioneers did not engage with the environment for very long. Early Americans seemed to view land as a monetary investment selling it to get personal gain. Perhaps the biggest distinction between how indigenous peoples approached the land verses pioneers was the way the viewed it. The Western worldview is very present in the pioneer way of thinking. Subduing the land for personal gain was a way of life for those who crossed the plains. The land was harsh and ready to be conquered. The Chehalis peoples were part of the land working with it, not oppressing it. Given the period of time the Chehalis lived upon the land, I wonder if some pre-industrialized Europeans enjoyed a similar experience in their native lands? Does it take time to become attached to the land in a way that we feel as connected as the Chehalis do? Indigenous peoples understand the significance of the land they rely upon. They do not own the earth but are allowed to enjoy her bounty as a gift. I think this lesson is just as applicable today as it was during pioneer times. How far have we really come since then?

    • Ironic that the land that was thought to be the basis of the vision for a new, free, and secure life would at the same time be thought to be “harsh” and in need of conquest by humans, is it not?
      I think it does take time and attention to become attached to one’s land in the best sense–and to behave consciously and ethically towards it as a result.
      Your last statement raises the issue that we need to define “how far we have come” with specifics rather than stereotypes and justifications for whatever behavior we wish to express.

    • It is very interesting that European settlers continued down the path of their forefathers. As many Europeans were tied to the land by serfdom only several generations prior to their move West to the New World. It is somewhat curious that Europeans didn’t develop a slightly different land ethic than what they carried with them as they took over the continent. Maybe more of us now will look back at the error of our ways and begin to develop a slightly different attitude about what land ownership and land relationship really means.

  193. I look at the vast divide in which indigenous peoples viewed their relationship to the land and the way that European settlers viewed it, and I see that for the most part, little has changed since the westward expansion. Too many people still do not belong, seek only ownership, are only limitedlyconnected to their community, and have a disconnected worldview from the land. A growing problem today is that even less people are living in rural areas. A mass exodus of rural people are moving to the cities. The people who had a connection to the land, even though small, is now ageing, and beginning to slowly disappear. What I anticipated is that more ecological disharmony and unsettling ethical practices will continue to haunt the the land as more ownership decisions are allowed and land contiues to become property.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Travis. I do see hope for changing/remaking connection to local lands in the burgeoning urban garden movement.
      As for the rest, I understand that many contemporary global corporations consistently move middle management and above around, since they want them to be loyal to their work as opposed to their community– this has been going on for several decades now.

  194. I enjoy the idea of the land picking the people and not the other way around. I also have a better idea for why native people were so reluctant to leave there lands. It’s not as though an area of land goes and chooses it’s inhabitants everyday, while you may be able to find land that is accepting of you, that is really not the same as the feeling that the land specifically chose you. The dichotomy of the land owning you or you owning the land is the basis for how we treat our environment, the land “owner” will forever be trying to take as much from the land as possible, while the land “belonger” will forever act as a guest and have a sense of companionship with their surroundings. After reading this article I think I got a better understanding for the community that Aldo Leopold spoke of in A Sand County Almanac, people who belong to the land don’t think of a civilization as their community, it encompasses every living and non-living entity in their environment.

    • Thoughtful perspective with respect to being chosen by the land to live there–and a follow up to this is that particular landscapes miss their peoples when they are absent and welcome them back when they return. I have always thought of this an a key part of the definition– that place into which you are always welcomed back, since your place is always kept for you there.
      Nice tie in with Leopold and belonging to a civilization much more encompassing than the human one.

  195. Thank you for this illuminating article. I like very much the idea of belonging to the land and in turn naming oneself after the land. There seems to be much reverence for the natural world embedded in that wisdom.The “settlers” tendency of naming things after themselves certainly symbolizes the opposing tendency of hubris and domination well.

    I appreciated your final thoughts and affirmations as well. I agree that acknowledgement of the community of life can help with understanding the intimacy that we might share with the natural world.

  196. I liked the two points that were made at the end of this article: we should not treat the land that we use as a “one night stand” and we should acknowledge that earth is providing for a community rather than just one person. Other people will not be able to enjoy the land as we did unless we make sure that we maintain it and respect that the land does not belong to us but instead we should appreciate its gifts while we remain at a particular area. The natives that were addressed in this article mention that the settlers treat the land as a piece of property and do not care for it up until the point that they sell it. If we do nothing but take from the land there will be nothing left to admire for others.

    • Peter, I agree with you, land should not be treated in a manner that we use and abuse, but rather in a way that can benefit both us and itself. We still treat our own lands as properties but i hope one day we can treat the lands as our land. Thanks for the insightful view.

    • Good reminder about the necessity of providing for more than a single person– or species, Peter.
      And I very much like Berry’s statement about NOT treating the land as a “one night stand.”

  197. Dr. Holden,

    How have we lost the focus as to what land really represents? Land is nothing we own and feel connected to, but a place that we connect ourselves to and allow it to make us part of it by understanding how to care for it and making your responsible for your own actions. If we all had this view we could help our environment replenish and see the changes in our natural environment. Yet we are people who are restless and continuously want more and more, this is under minding the purpose of our existence as stewards to this land and its environment. I was taken by the response you received by the Chehalis woman when you asked her if she minded standing in the rain to talk to you, and her response to you was, “We don’t mind the rain, it belongs here” which she followed by saying that before she know themselves as “Indians” the know themselves as “the people who live here” and this is true, we named them Indians when in reality they had no name, and we also see how connected they are to the land. I hope that one day our society can feel the same connection to the land as the natives do, and respect it like wise. Yet, another interesting story to read and understand the purpose of belonging to the land. Thanks

    • You are quite welcome. It is to me a hopeful vision that we may one day see our own identity as the “people who live here” (who not only belong to a particular landscape and community, but live fully present and caring lives there).
      Your comment brought to mind the idea that our “restlessness” is not just about physical movement, but about moving “ahead” and fleeing the past, as well as being pushed on by the restlessness that seems to dwell inside of us.

  198. I have been reading Richard Louv’s book, “The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the end of Nature- Deficit Disorder” this week. In it, there is a section called, “Near is the new far- knowing who you are by knowing where you are” that really resonates with this essay for me! He even talked about when people start paying attention to their surroundings they will be aware of the plants and animals in their community. Your comment that “belonging to the land is a matter of belonging to a community of life” sums up his whole chapter! It is an interesting synchronicity to read both of these this week- wonder if the universe is telling me to pay more attention to my place…

    • Thanks for sharing this connections, Jen! I find it heartening that there is a growing awareness of the need to “pay more attention to place” on all our parts!

  199. This was a really interesting post. I especially liked the point about pioneers naming the land after themselves, in contrast to the Native Americans who name themselves after the land. I had never really thought about that before, but now I can see examples of self naming all over!
    It’s interesting to think of the pioneers/european immigrants as wanderers and “drift people.” Personally I have felt like a “drifter” or a “wanderer” in the past when I was unsure of myself, and looking for something more. It was not till I found those things that “grounded” me (my love of animals, family, nature) that those wandering feelings went away. I wonder if the Native Americans strong connection to the earth was part of the reason that kept them from moving; and perhaps the pioneers kept looking for something better because they were unsure of who they were, and what they wanted from life?

    • Hi Maddy, thanks for your comment and sharing your personal experience here. I think you have a good perspective on the reason that place-based cultures stayed on their ancestral lands for generations, whereas pioneers kept relocating.

    • Maddy, perhaps Native Americans had a strong connection to the earth that was the result of them staying in one place. The way we have read about individuals being and staying connected and one with the earth would demonstrate why people stay. Also, perhaps the pioneers were always looking for something better? More resourceful and sustainable? By reading some memoirs from our grandmothers, we can get an insight as to why they have lived the way they did.

      • Thanks for your reply here, Kayla. You are right about connections to a particular land developed over time. There is a reason why many indigenous cultures are referred to as “place-based” cultures.

    • I agree with you, Maddy, that the point about how pioneers were considered “drift people” was interesting. Growing up as a child, my family moved around plenty of times. Usually it was for a better opportunity, or better position, etc. One reason I think that Native Americans stay in the same area is because they want to use the resources and land they were provided with it to the best of their abilities.

      • You have an excellent point connecting the responsibility of human populations with respect to the environment with their long term residence there– thus Wendell Berry characterizes the “industrial eater (consumer)” as one who relates to the land as a “one night stand”. One with such a relationship to the land is completely unconscious of the results of his own actions.

  200. I really enjoyed reading this essay because it highlights how we are to live on the earth now and in the future. Also, this essay highlights the values behind becoming one with the land and accepting all living and non-living things. For example, I liked how the grandmother said that the rain belong here, rather than creating a negative tone towards the rain.

    • yes, I agree the native american idea of accepting all living and non living things seems to follow ecofeminism ideals, it also starkly contrasts the western concept of changing anything that doesn’t suit our particular needs often without considering the impacts to other living and nonliving members of the community.

    • Interestingly, Kayla, it was not a grandmother, but a young mother who spoke of accepting the rain. Certainly, those of us who make our home in the Pacific Northwest have a chance to understand the power and beauty (as well as the persistence) of rain– we are fortunate indeed to have such plentiful water in our landscape, given the current global droughts.

  201. This was a really interesting essay and really opened up my mind to some new ideas that were fascinating to read about. The difference that Native Americans and Westerners had on the way they saw and treated land is very different. Native Americans believed they were a part of the land and that they should care for it and respect it and even named themselves after the land. However, Westerners believe that the land is under their control and it is something that they can conquer. They name the land after themselves and other people. And use the land for their own gain and wealth. This was an interesting article that really connected some key points of the ecofeminism theory.

    • Thanks for outlining the key contrasts between belonging to the land and thinking the land belongs to us to do with what we will, Sandeep. We have seen the results of these differing views in the landscapes of the human actions they motivate.

  202. The concept of indigenous people belonging to the land instead of owning it was interesting and an important idea. This simple difference in the way the Native Americans perceive their connection with the land makes them feel accountable for their actions as they share a deeper connection than the purely monetary one that the pioneers had. If we teach this way of thinking in grade school the younger generation may have a connection to the land that is lacking in many westerners today.

  203. Berry’s comment, regarding “treating the land like a one-night-stand”, really struck a cord with me. For that is precisely what many Americans tend to do. We get what we want/need from the land and then do not stick around to give back in return. Mining pits are a good example of this. Once the mineral resources are tapped out, the land is left as is (desecrated) and the mineral extraction moves elsewhere. Additionally, I also found the comment of “belonging to the land is a matter of belonging to a community” to be thought-provoking. If Americans had this notion of belonging to the land and sense of community with it, then perhaps mining pits or the amount of destruction they cause would be a thing of the past.

    • Thoughtful use of the example on mining pits, Leah. A good deal would change in a number of arenas were we to develop a sense of belonging–and the responsibility that goes with it.

    • Leah, that one statement really struck a chord with me as well and your use of the mining pits is perfect. Mountain top removal, fracking, all those horrible acts against the earth. It really is worse than a one night stand. It leaves utter destruction behind. I find it isn’t really just Americans sharing this viewpoint anymore. The world is very small today and within this world there are just a few differences amongst those that are similar. Just as indigenous cultures share many of their traits worldwide so do the modernized, industrialized cultures.

      • Our experience of the world lets us know that we are all part of an interdependent whole– this does make the world “smaller”– and yet small differences can be very important. Taking diversity of seedstock, for instance– having multiple varieties available can make the difference between starvation and thriving in the face of environmental stress or disease.
        Nature seems to like a diverse palette from which to draw– we are not following this pattern by homogenizing cultures and technologies throughout the world. A place-based approach would honor the particularities of each culture/place.

    • What I find interesting with you mine example is what else are you suppose to do with an empty mind? I get the one night stand reference and many of us today do this with in the environment sometimes when camping and not cleaning up after ourselves. We take a beautiful camp site, ruin it, and then leave it for someone else to deal with. We have to look at the fact that many things have changed from then to now and that Americans have slowly learned that Greed can conquer the better of us unlike of pioneer counterparts.

    • I think the mining its is a good example of this mistreatment. The only good thing that we really do is when clear cutting they replace some of the trees but even that isn’t enough to give back to the earth. I think we need cleaner more environmentally friendly practices and really need to stop abuse the planets natural resources before they are completely depleted.

      • Thoughtful points, Molly. There are several deficits in clear cutting re-planting. One is the amount of time it takes to replace older forests, but perhaps the most serious is the replacement of diverse forests with “monocultures” of trees useful to ourselves– and using herbicides to keep to those single trees.

  204. When reading statements such as Joel Palmer’s that the native people of the land he wished to acquire could surely move since he moved all that way for a better life, I almost feel utterly embarrassed. Such behavior still continues today. It just sound ludicrous that he felt someone should just step aside from their beloved home space so that he could have it, because he traveled for so long. His obtaining a better life was at the loss of a good life for others.It is also strange to see in print a comment from over 100 years ago regarding the unsettled behavior of the Americans/settlers/pioneers and the turnover of land for profit to just move somewhere else could have been written today, with all of the ‘resale value’ terms that are prevalent in today’s real estate market. People only buy to sell anymore, but perhaps that is the way it has been for a long time. It is also sad to realize that this unsettled feeling seems to be something of an inborn nature, where does it come from? It seems that it may be a daunting task to change this behavior of always needing to move on to the next ‘big thing’. It is a trait that has been bred right into us. I suffer from serious wanderlust myself and just reading this article has made me think about it in an entirely new light.

    • Thoughtful perspective regarding this one-sided view, Renee. Buying to sell is an inappropriate4 response to the land that sustains us. It is daunting to change this-and the worldview that underscores it, but I am heartened by the many groups on our links page (and they are only small sampling) as well as students and all those like yourself who feel differently about the land. There are those in my own neighborhood in Eugene who are fighting development on land they love.
      Things can– indeed, they must– change.

    • I totally agree with this. Recently, I heard about someone who bought a house less than a year ago. Today, they are selling it for $250,000 above the price that they bought it for! People are so absorbed in making money that they don’t think about how they can make the world a better place to live in.

  205. While reading this essay, I thought about my own life. Growing up, I never lived in one place for more than 4 years (such as Scotland, England, Nigeria, Vietnam, Thailand, China). I moved from place to place, country to country, involving myself in the different cultures and languages along the way. Even though I had to start a new life in each place, I felt that I had become a part of the community after the 4 years I had lived there. Each country I lived in, I tried to give a little back to the communities that I had grown up in. I did a lot of volunteering in orphanages, planted new trees in my neighborhood, and helped pick up trash along the rivers and streams. I have grown up restless, needing to explore new places, and meet new people but I have always felt an obligation to help the world be as green and clean as it was before.

    • This essay is not so much about never traveling/exploring the world– but about lack of belonging to community and having no real sense of home. Can you see the difference? Caring about wherever you go is an important point. What about seeing the effects of your actions on the land?
      Whereas there were trade routes followed by a few indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest that went all the way into Central Mexico, these people still had a profound sense of home.

      • What I mean is that even though I have travelled many places, I still have a sense of home. I may not have been part of a single community for years like many that live in the US, but everyone that I meet has an impact on me, and becomes part of my own community, a group of people who travel like me, and volunteer to make the world a better place for future generations to live in.

    • That sounds like you’ve been to a lot of places, but what makes you stand out from the rest is that you were in hopes of making the communities a better place for the people currently living there and the settlers only wanted to claim land for there own and then turn around only to make a profit. They didn’t cherish the land like the Indians did. They saw it as a profit market and not a place where they could learn from what nature had to offer but instead what it would give.

  206. To me I feel this article gives a sense of how our greed started with in the states. Back when the settlers first came they would as mentioned above, build and then move on and yet I find it difficult to believe that the Indians were the one’s forced to leave when the settlers wanted their land. First off no one owns nature simply because it has been here long before anyone so no one can truly claim it for their own and second the Indians worked with the land to help them survive while also allowing the land to remain free and unclaimed. Settlers then traveled across this land to simply claim it for the benifit their own well being and destroyed all in there path. The Indians had the right to remain and good for them for staying along the Columbia and not moving.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful post, Jason. Greed is a problem wherever it arises- perhaps we can learn enough from our history so that we as a society no longer reward it (as in current corporate greed).

  207. This article reminds me a lot topics we have discussed in my history and ethics classes. I am specifically reminded of the Trail of Tears. When Andrew Jackson came into presidency, he enforced a lot of not so good things to happen. Slowly the English settlers were spreading across the land that would soon become the U.S. As they moved westward, they pushed the Native Americans further and further away. In my ethics class, it was discussed that Andrew Jackson was doing this for the “good” of Native Americans. He basically said that with all the industrialization that was happening, the conditions wouldn’t be ideal for Native Americans, like it would be too much for them and conflict too much with what they practiced and how they lived. So for the “greater good” he pushed them further and further out west, brutally. This “settlement” did not happen in a good one. The Indians were accepting the fact that new people were coming here to live, they would’ve found a way to live in harmony with these settlers, they even tried to help them when they were starving upon their arrival. It’s okay to explore, try new things and make a life for yourself, but it is not okay to do so at the expense of others, animals and the land itself. As you mentioned, what goes around, comes around, everything we do has an effect, and sometimes a chain reaction. We need to be aware of what we are doing and do things in a careful and positive manner.

    • And “public good” needs to be redefined so as to include humans of all races–and more than human lives as well.
      There would be much to care for properly if we did this.
      Thanks for your comment.

  208. In this essay they talk about Joel Palmer, is he the one that settled in Oregon? I was wondering because I saw a sign for a historical house near McMinnville and Dayton and the owner’s name was Joel.

    I find the irony of the word “settler” very interesting that it was used for the first generation of Americans that came over. I never really thought about the fact that the “settlers” never actually settled. I also found Joel’s argument to the indians to be quite unsettling as well. I think the mind set that the people came over here with was something that could not have been avoided, but to basically tell the indians that they (who have been there for years before), should move for his sake because he moved all the way from the east coast. This statement is just embarrassing for me so see and the thought that this was a person that helped build society into what it is today.

    • Joel Palmer did indeed settle in Oregon. He was an early Indian Agent here. I think there is a Palmer house historical site near Dayton–and yes, that is his family’s early home.
      The term “settler” as well as the removal of native peoples from their lands to accommodate these “settlers” gives us much to ponder– and change for the future.
      Thanks for your comment, Molly.

  209. This essay reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother about spiders. He had told me that he wanted to kill them all and that they were invading his room. I told him to think about what he is saying our home was built upon the land that these spiders have lived on for generations how can we consider this an invasion when we are the ones who put our home on their home. I advises home to just take them outside and let them go on a bush or tree, but not to kill the spider.
    The first sentence in this essay really made me think, “We immigrants who call ourselves ‘natives’ after one paltry generation on the land, can scarcely fathom what it means to the Indian to walk on a land in which a hundred generations of ancestors have been buried”. How can we ask someone to leave all their ancestors and move to a place that they have no connection to. Why can we not understand that the connection they have is the connection we hunger for. Why are we constantly trying to uproot the natives from their land?

    • I for one always try first to put the spider outside. No matter how hard it gets with my phobia I still do my best. I had this revelation when I was about 5 or 6 years old that we were really encroaching on other animals space and giving no consideration (my knowledge wasn’t to that extent I was 5/6 after all but that was the just). I remember waking up in the middle of the night because I tended to do that sometimes and I found myself with a gigantic spider dangling down on some web from the top of my beds canopy directly over my wide open mid-snore mouth. Scariest moment of my life at that time, and I have been scarred ever since but still somehow even with that traumatic experience I learned that we took homes from these creatures, we can’t get mad that they are finding their way into our dwellings when it was theirs in the first place.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Laura. The industrial worldview does not value roots in its push toward progress, the past is simply in the way, something to be left behind.
      As you observe, even though we might build our houses with sturdy walls, we are part of the ecosystems that many other creatures inhabit.
      And as a bit of info on spiders, many indigenous cultures from Africa and the Americas value them highly and take care not to harm them. Partly this is from admiration of the webs they weave- but also, there is practical wisdom here, since those webs trap so many other insects.

    • Laura,
      I agree. We must remember that even the tiniest creatures are important. They were all here first. Even the spiders, as scary as I might find them. As a kid I grew up in a small Oklahoma town and we had some gnarly spiders. They were big! My brother and I spent most of our childhood fending them off. Now, I realize that there were just attempting to reclaim the land we built our house on.

  210. I am thankful for this article. Every time I hear someone talk about how we came to this land and “founded” this place it makes me angry. We were intruders that came to this land, home to so many kind, smart and spiritual individuals, chased them from their homes and declared their land as ours. We were not born her, we came here and conquered what we decided we had to have. Even today there is a stigma amongst many Americans that Indians, or to call them by their proper title, Native Americans (which really still isn’t even their proper name because we created America) don’t belong in this country yet they were here long before we were and their spirits will live on here long after we and they are gone because of their connection to the land and its creatures.

    • Thank you for the caring and compassionate response, Kelsey. Obviously we newcomers have much to learn–and much to heal– with respect to our own belonging to land and community– and we owe much respect to those who truly belonged to this land before us.

    • One of the things that is great about America is that it is the land of opportunity. We are told that if we want something, we can have it, to go get it, and let nothing stand in our way. Do you suppose this way of thinking, although beneficial to the vast success of many Americans, is rooted in this unnatural and often violent history of removing people from land to get what we want?

      • I would say that this is too often true, Aften. We need ways of creating opportunities for our citizens that does not entail using more than our share of the world’s resources–since we are 5 per cent of the world’s population and live on a quarter of its resources.
        I would also the “land of opportunity” is a disproportionately open to differing classes, colors, and genders in our society.

    • It makes me very angry as well when people talk about how we “found” this land. Heck no we did not find it! We just killed all the people that previously lived there and called it our own. It is an awful history and I do not think it should be taken so lightly. I wish in schools children learned more about this history then the skewed tale you read about it school books.

      • I think there is an instructive analogy in the joke that comedian Dick Gregory used to make, “How about I go out and ‘discover’ your car?”
        Thanks for a compassionate response.

    • I have a similar discussion with people when they coomplain about illegal immigrants coming from Mexico and stealing “our” jobs and “our” land. Bringing up that technically we are also illegal immigrants confuses them to no end but makes a fairly solid point. I grew up close enough to a reservation to hear the older members of the town complaining about how the Native Americans didn’t deserve to have the land because it wasn’t theirs. You seem similiarly infuriated at the ignorance of people and how selfish we can be as a species.

      • Thanks for sharing these thoughtful perspectives about “immigrants” and rights to the land, Rachel. I am glad you are sharing it with those beyond this class as well.

    • I like the way you think, Kelsey. I wish I could force people to gain some perspective! It’s not anyone’s land, it’s just land that we live on. Great insight, and I like what you say about the Native American name being still incorrect since we created ‘America’. That’s something I had not considered until now.

      • Thoughtful responses, Kristin. I also know that some Canadians and Latin Americans don’t like the US use of “Americans” as if we are the whole continent.

  211. This essay ties into the subject matter from another class ( I love when that happens). I am learning that even though we inhabit the land we do not own the land. We are but temporary inhabitants to a long standing mother earth. Therefore, we have no true claim to destroy or intrude. We have what we “think” is a claim to the land but really, it is just pride. Indigenous people held pride in their land and their people. They were ever thankful for the land provisions. Many times they thanked the river for the fish and the trees for bark etc. We lack appreciation and humbleness.

    • Thank you for your comment– I also like it when ideas in different classes connect– I also like it when ideas in classes prove useful beyond the classroom, as I think if true with your comment contrasting of gratefulness to the land with ownership of it.

  212. This essay reminds me of Pear S. Buck’s “The Good Earth,” At the end of the book she illustrates the generational differences between the father, who is the main character in the book, who tells his sons they must never sell the land which he has tended and cared for and built a life of wealth from, and the sons who clearly intend to sell it for a fast profit after he dies.
    The father in the book could just as easily be like the American settlers. Both came across some land, tended it, and made it profitable. So what’s the difference that one wants to keep the land in the family forever, and the other wants to sell it as soon as he is done?
    My best guess is a cultural difference. We are looking at the eastern, Chinese culture in “The Good Earth,” and the burgeoning western culture of the settlers, which probably effected the fictional sons in the book.
    The point is, culture is what humans need to survive, but this essay shows how some cultures can simultaneously cause the death of other things like nature and heritage.

    • I think you have a solid point in the way that cultural dispositions influence our differing relationship to land, Aften. But there are also many who seem to respond to the land in a way that transcends their cultural upbringing- such as some modern ecologists. In that case, they may be responding to something inside all of us that derives from our “growing up” as human in natural systems.

  213. This essay relates so much to a movie I was watching today, Pocahontas. I have not watched that movie since I was a child and watching it with the knowledge I have on the world now completely changes my perspective of the disney film. John Smith and the other white men only wanted the land for gold, he did not care about abusing the earth. Their philosophy was to take as much as they could and move on. But just like everyone knows the story goes, she shows him the importance of caring for naturing and how we are all inhabitants of the land, we do not own in. The Indians loved their land and fought to protect it, while the white man only wanted to protect himself. This is exactly what the essay explains in relation to the indigenous people not wanting to move from their land. No one can claim the land because it is not something to be claimed, it is to be cherished.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sara. A number of people commenting here have brought up that movie-and though it is certainly subject to Hollywood romanticism, the ideas it depicts that you bring up seem to have resonated with many of its audiences.
      So modern media can be good for something?

  214. I was the third generation of my family to grow up in my home town in Oregon. Even I notice changes to the landscape when I go home. To hear my dad and my grandma talk about the farm land around the town is even more extreme. I think it’s ironic that the people my grandma’s age complain about all the newcomers making changes to the town, when we built the town less than 200 years ago and changed tens of thousands of years of tradition and landscapes. At least though the town is beginning to realize that it doesn’t want any buildings over three stories tall (it was a major fight to extend it up to three stories) so that everyone still gets a view of the mountains. There are also more parks now and what used to be solid cement dividers in the streets have become flower beds. I think the world is beginning to understand that nature is truly our friend, though I wonder if we are changing our ways soon enough.

    • Interesting point about the complaint about “newcomers”, Rachel. Our perception of the depth of our roots–and our connection to the past– is obviously linked to our worldview as well as our personal experience.
      A very hopeful point indeed that more humans might be beginning to understand that “nature is truly out friend”– and act as if we believe it.

  215. This makes me think of something that my mother told me when we were both working in the mortgage industry a few years ago. On average, people