Caring for and Healing the Earth

What is Caretaking?

Excerpt from the book Grandfather

by Tom Brown Jr.

The Bow Stave

Grandfather told me that there were two types of survival; that of the white man and that of the Native American. He said that the white man's survival hurt the earth, but the Native American survival helped the earth. He then told me the story of the two men collecting bow staves, to illustrate how different these types of survival were.

He said that when a white man needed a bow stave, he would just go out onto the land and take the finest and straightest sapling he could find. He cared little about what impact it would have on the land, nor did he care what he would leave for the future. As far as the white man was concerned, nature was put there for his use and his abuse. Land, water, animals, or plants did not matter. He fulfilled only his own needs with no thought to future generations or nature in general. Survival to the white man was a struggle between himself and nature. He felt that he was above the laws of creation and had dominion over the land. This survival destroyed the earth then and continues into the future. The white man's legacy has been adopted now by the global society, a society of people that kills its grandchildren to feed its children.

Grandfather said that when the Native American went out to collect a bow stave it was far different from the consciousness of the white man. First, the Native American had to have an extreme need for the bow stave. Then the collecting trip would be proceeded by periods of fasting and praying. After all it was not as simple as just cutting down a tree, for he would be taking the life of his brother. He would then go out onto the land and begin his search. He was not looking for the solitary saplings that grew straight and tall. Instead, he would search the groves of saplings that were in competition with each other. He knew that in their struggle for soil and sunlight many would die and others would be badly bruised and injured as the years passed. If left alone the forest would not be strong and healthy. When such a grove was found he would search it thoroughly, looking for the ideal sapling. It would not be the straightest and tallest. Instead, it would be one that was dying or would eventually be crowded out by the other saplings. He would then ask himself if the land would be left better by removing the sapling. If so, then he would ask what kind of legacy would he leave for his children and grandchildren. Would it be a strong and healthy forest? Only when those questions were answered in a positive way would he eventually cut the sapling. Even then there must be the prayers of thanksgiving. His was the attitude of the caretaker, helping nature to grow better, stronger, and faster. He could do in a short period of time what would take nature years to accomplish. That was his purpose: to help and nurture creation, not to destroy it.

"It is not enough to just take that sapling. Your vision is in a tunnel. You must look beyond the sapling and see what else should be done in the area to make the forest healthy. By taking care of a small part and not the whole, you are not doing enough. Your work as a caretaker has not been completed. It is also not enough to be the caretaker only when you are collecting something for survival. You must be the caretaker all of the time, whether collecting or not."

"But isn't that like playing God?" I asked Grandfather. He said, "In a way it is, but we are only following the instructions of the Creator. After all, that is why we are here on the earth, to care for nature, not destroy it. You must take things from nature to live, that is a given fact, but it is the way that we take those things and the end results, both immediate and in the future, that make us caretakers."


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