A Fish Out of Water
Marshal McLuhan, the great Canadian communications guru once said, “I don’t know who it was that first discovered water but I’m sure it wasn’t a fish.” His point of course: we don’t notice the environment that surrounds us. We simply take it for granted. The fish will only notice the water when it is flopping around on the dock and saying to itself, “Hey, isn’t there supposed to be water or something around here?”
Since the first Earth Day in 1970, many more of us have started noticing our environment and stopped taking it or granted. We have seen ourselves as stewards with an ethical obligation to care for our environment because it is our home. And this is all to the good. Unfortunately, despite the many benefits from this perspective, over the last 43 years things have gotten much worse, not better.
This suggests we must redefine our relationship with our environment. Perhaps we must step outside the traditional concept of stewardship. The major drawback with stewardship is that we see it—earth, the land, our environment—as something outside of us. But there is another perspective coming from science and making a come-back from indigenous peoples.
Modern science has pointed out that our earth came into existence some 4 billion years ago when a giant star went supernova and gave birth to our sun and eight planets including our earth. The minerals on the crust of earth came from the stars. And, through the process of evolution they are the same minerals in our bodies. In a real sense we are earthlings and the stars are our ancestors.
From time immemorial indigenous peoples have grasped this concept. They see earth, the land, as living and the source of their own life, often as a gift of the Creator. The Tlicho (Dogrib) people in the NWT say: “We have come from the land and we will return to the land.”
I discovered the simplest and most eloquent statement of this relationship in a film I saw a few years go. It was about the work of the Coastal Guardian Watchmen, a group of First Nation men and women protecting the Great Bear Rain Forest. In the film an interviewer asks one of the young watchmen why he is doing this kind of work. The man doesn’t talk about protecting “the environment,” or about their land claim, or about liking the work. He said quite simply, as if the answer were self-evident: “We are doing this work because we have made a promise to the Bears and the land to protect them.”
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