Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

November 18, 1994

What follows is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my book, WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXIST, A Translation of Aboriginal Thought, The first book ever published from an Ah­nish­i­nah­bæót­jib­way Perspective, which according to the publisher, Black Thistle Press, went to the printer on October 4, and should be out in just a few more weeks.:

In my great-grandfather’s time, old-growth forests covered more than half of this Continent, from the Atlantic Ocean to the tallgrass prairies west of the Mississippi.  The trees rose to meet the skies, and the sentience of these ancient living beings was a part of our Ahnishinahbæótjibway community, part of the seamless continuity of time.  They were more magnificent than the finest of the Europeans’ cathedrals, but they were not oppressively cold, psychologically manipulative man-made canyons of stone; nor flying-buttressed edifices like hordes of giant locusts crouched in waiting to devour the land and suck the life out of Grandmother Earth.  Our forests were comfortable and nurturing, like the haven of baby chicks under their mother hen’s wings.  The forests were home, serene and secure, gentle and wise.  Theirs was a concert of voices: the sharp snapping of trees in the cold winter nights, the wind in the pines, the low calls of mother foxes to their young, the soft conversation of our Dodemian and the crackling of the fires in the sugarbushes, the spring symphony of birds, the drumsongs drifting across the water in summer, and the whooshing beat of the air as millions of birds flew south in the fall.  When I was young, I walked through these forests.  The earth was soft underfoot, like walking on a plush carpet.  The undisturbed primeval forests had very little underbrush, and a person could see a great distance.

When we were young boys playing in the old-growth pine forests, we used to watch the flying squirrels in the pines in wonder and amazement.  We watched them glide from one tree to the next, walking behind them on a thick carpet of pine needles.  They were beautiful, graceful animals.  It’s been more than forty years since I have seen a flying squirrel.  They have joined the vanishing species that disappear with the plunder of the ecology.  They are gone, because their home in the ancient pines has been clear-cut, replaced by aspen, and the whole ecosystem has changed.  There is no habitat for flying squirrels in aspen brush.  Where are the smallest of the woodpeckers, that used to be all over the woods when I was a boy?  In the last ten years, I have only seen three of these tiny birds.  Where are the cedar swamps, so thick that it was dark at noon?  I used to go down into these swamps and pick our swamp tea, and a few of the moccasin-flowers.  All of this is gone, and not one White man raised his voice in protest when this entire forest was destroyed.  It is only very recently that a few of the Euro-Americans are waking up, and realizing that all life on Earth is connected.  They are standing up in public and speaking out in defense of the spotted owls, and the kangaroo rat, and all of the other beings that are an integral part of Grandmother Earth, that gives us all life.  I applaud these courageous people.

Most White men can not see into the forests; they can only see the edge of them.  Along the highways and lakeshores in Northern Minnesota is a Potemkin forest: a strip of trees about six trees deep.  What the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources calls “aesthetic buffers” mask ravaged clear-cut land.

The old trees have been cut, replaced with what are called tree farms, in which the ground is hard, furrowed with plow ridges, and choked with underbrush.  These pitiful tree plantations are diseased monocultural plantings grown in an overload of insecticides and herbicides; barren unbalanced ecologies where the wildlife starves or is poisoned.  They bear no resemblance to the forests which belong here.

The ecosystem in this area is in serious trouble.  The forest products companies will not—and cannot—restore what they are looting and ransacking.  A few trees cut down, will grow back in an intact forest, but forest ecosystems, once destroyed, are not renewable.  “Fish flies” are one example of our fine-tuned ecology.  Ask any old-timer about the clouds of fish flies, so thick they looked like smoke, that swirled and hummed every May.  I haven’t seen a single fish fly in four or five years.  They may be “pesky,” but they are a necessary part of the ecosystem, and provide food for the hatchling fish at the exact time that they need it.  When the Euro-Americans destroy the forests, they destroy everything, and ultimately themselves.

The beauty which our people kept for thousands of generations  has been completely destroyed in my lifetime by the Euro-Americans and their Indians.  My children will never see much of what was our peoples’ beautiful, magnificent heritage, because of the greed of the Whites and their Indians.  Our water is polluted, our fish are cancerous and infested with parasites, and the game has almost disappeared—because the inter-connected circles of life have been destroyed.  The children growing up now see aspen brush, and do not have any understanding of what a real forest means.  They are a lost generation, and nobody is telling them that a stand of aspen, which the D.N.R. defines as “forest,” is something entirely different from the beautiful primeval forest which was once here.  Once clear-cut, the old forests are gone, and will require undisturbed centuries to regenerate.

You can plant tree farms to the horizon, and you still do not replace even one of the trees that was here.  A healthy forest is much more than trees, and planting trees will not restore an ecosystem which has been demolished.  It is said that the Europeans “can’t see the forest for the trees.”  Don’t get me wrong—I’m certainly not against planting trees—but no matter how many trees you plant or tree farms you make, no matter how much public pomp and circumstance, and no matter how many scientific foresters with Ph.D.s, a tree farm has very little resemblance to the harmonious, intricate, and balanced ecosystem of the Ahnishinahbæótjibway A tree farm will not stop your lakes from drying up; it will not provide what forests must provide in order for the lakes and rivers to be full of fish.

The scientists talk about forest management, but for them the bottom line is G.N.P.  They do not seem to understand that even a free-market, democratic economy cannot exist outside the reality of the ecosystem.  Allow the clear-cutting to continue, and you will see—you will feel the effects much closer to home than you expect.

Such heedless destruction is sacrilegious to the Ahnishinahbæótji­bway.  The Midé is beyond European time, encompassing our lives, everything that we do and think and dream.  It is not a one-hour-a-week religion, like Christianity, where a person goes to Church on Sunday morning, and then goes back to destroying the environment again.  The Western Europeans have declared a war of total annihilation on our religion, on Grandmother Earth, and on Grandfather Midé, and then they have the gall to say that we, the Ahnishinahbæótjibway who have always been a non-violent people, are warlike.

My telephone number is (218) 679-2382 and my mailing address is P.O. Box 484, Bemidji, MN 56601.


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