I remember feeling deeply moved the first time I heard Oren Lyons speak at a climate change conference in Washington, DC, the summer of 2008. I found him to be a very eloquent and poetic speaker and his words resonated with me, so much so that I can recall them three years later. What I liked most about him was that he approached climate change in a holistic manner. As opposed to focusing solely on the scientific facts or the specific effects it will have on one part of the world’s population, he instead emphasized the entire human race’s reliance on the health of the earth. As he said “all life comes from the Earth; everything comes from the Earth. We produce nothing.” “The Earth doesn’t care what happens to us- there’s no mercy in nature-none.” We are vulnerable, despite what our egos propel us to believe otherwise. And as a result, “our tenure is in question.” It is thus our own responsibility to ensure our continuation, and to do that, we must confront and lessen the impacts of climate change.
He tells of an Onondaga Nation story of a Peace Maker that visited the people and told them: “You who see far into the future, that is your responsibility to look out for those generations that are helpless, that are completely at our mercy. We must protect them.” When I typically think of climate change, I have a hard time imagining seven generations down the line. I usually just think instead of the changes I’ll see in my own life. But when I consider Oren’s words, I feel that sense of responsibility he speaks of and it moves me. I feel privileged to be living at a moment when the planet is not-quite-yet wholly screwed up. But other generations may not be so lucky. And to avoid spiraling into the self-defeatist thinking that “I, as an individual, cannot possibly counter all of the destructive acts otherwise occurring”, I find truth in his words that: “as long as there is one to speak to and one to listen, one to sing and one to dance, the fight is on. So that is hope. To not give up. To try, and to use reason.” Despite all the frustrations of political inaction, as Oren says, “Leadership was never meant to take care of anybody. Leadership was meant to guide people; they take care of themselves.” And this is why I admire him. At 80 years old, he is still pushing people to believe that they possess the power to improve their environment and the future of populations to come. So as long as you, reader, are thinking about the people I’m focusing on, maybe telling someone about them, or at least eventually hopefully realizing that individuals can make a difference, then we are being responsible in our own way. It’s only a start, but it’s a good start. So thank you for reading again 🙂 .
About Oren: Born in 1930, Oren Lyons is an artist, professor of American Studies at SUNY Buffalo, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, and important activist for indigenous people’s rights. He helped spearhead the creation of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in the United Nations in 1982 and has continued to fight for indigenous people’s rights and for greater environmental stewardship. When given a chance to speak to the United Nations on behalf of the Six Nations, he sacrificed all other interests to “speak on behalf of Mother Earth,…because we are so dependent,… everybody’s well-being, that we should speak to the fundamental issue: of the health of the Earth.”