No matter what continent your grandparents came from, if you are American, you are Indian in your roots. As D. H. Lawrence said, “The American Indian will never again control the continent, but he will forever haunt it.”[ref]http://www.jrcls.org/publications/clark_memo/issues/cmS93.pdf.[/ref]
So begins Larry Echo Hawk an important and timely lesson to be learned from the American Indian. Briefly rehearsing the dark period of American history when the government sought to take away their lands from the Indian tribes, Echo Hawk emphasizes the crucial nature of their link to the land—a sacred bond: For Native Americans, “Creation is not what happened thousands or millions of years ago; it is what is happening right here and now in this holy place. . . . The body simply returned to the earth, contributing to the rebirth of the land and the continuation of life.” Echo Hawk gives new meaning to “The Trail of Tears”: “The tears shed on [the trail] were for a loss of homeland, loss of the Great Herd (slaughtered for their tongues and hides), loss of a way of life lived in harmony with the land.”
In contrast, Echo Hawk defines the contemporary white American attitude toward the land in terms of “Manifest Destiny”: “to tame the wild lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. To the Indians, those lands weren’t “wild” but bountiful. To illustrate this point, Echo Hawk quotes Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Sioux, “Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. when the very animals of the forest and fields began fleeing from the approach of the settlers, then it was that for us that the ‘Wild West’ began.” A Wild West that Echo Hawk warns “is in danger of becoming an amusement park replica of itself.”
Labeling the American Indian as the first endangered species, Echo Hawk tracks the decline in numbers of the Pawnee nation who went from 11,000 to 700 during the height of the colonization period. The “destruction of life-sustaining habitat” was the direct cause of this in Echo Hawk’s opinion. Wanton destruction led to the almost extinction of the buffalo. Echo Hawk contrasts this slaughter with the use the American Indian put to a buffalo once killed, prefacing the long list with the pithy comment, “the American Indian knew that there was no “away” to which things could be thrown.”
Buffalo meat sustained life, the hide served as covering for the lodge, sacks for storage and carrying, bed coverings, clothing, saddles, lariats, and halters; the sinews made strings for bows, twine, and thread; the hooves were used for mallets; bones as scrapers and chisels; ribs as the warriors’ bows. Even the animals’ bladders became water bags on the annual treks, and their fat a base for mixing paint.
Echo Hawk believes that if we are to learn a lesson from history, we should realize (quoting Stewart Udall) that “earlier civilizations have declined because they did not learn to live in harmony with the land.” It is important to accept that the bounties of nature enrich our lives simply because they are there. “A hawk riding thermals . . . jagged peaks reaching for the sky, a river rushing to the sea a thousand miles away—are tribute to the power and beauty of nature and the blessings its creatures enjoy.”
In conclusion, Echo Hawk urges us to remember the hawk, the peaks, and the river and begs, “let us be wise stewards of this consecrated land.”