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An in-depth, meticulously documented exploration of the ecological wisdom of Native Peoples from around the world Arranged thematically, Wisdom of the Elders contains sacred stories and traditions on the interrelationships between humans and the environment as well as perspectives from modern science, which more often than not validate the sacred, ancient Wisdom of the Elde An in-depth, meticulously documented exploration of the ecological wisdom of Native Peoples from around the world Arranged thematically, Wisdom of the Elders contains sacred stories and traditions on the interrelationships between humans and the environment as well as perspectives from modern science, which more often than not validate the sacred, ancient Wisdom of the Elders. Native peoples and environments discussed range from the Inuit Arctic and the Native Americans of the Northwest coast, the Sioux of the Plains, and the Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo of the Southwest to the Australian Outback, to the rich, fecund tropics of Africa, Malaysia, and the Amazon. "Our technological civilization is speeding toward a violent collision with nature, and we are threatening the ability of the Earth--our home--to support life as we know it. Suzuki and Knudtson's extraordinary work powerfully reminds us that we are indeed one with the Earth. We are truly indebted to them for charting for us the course toward a healthy and sustaining relationship with our planet."--Vice President Al Gore


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An in-depth, meticulously documented exploration of the ecological wisdom of Native Peoples from around the world Arranged thematically, Wisdom of the Elders contains sacred stories and traditions on the interrelationships between humans and the environment as well as perspectives from modern science, which more often than not validate the sacred, ancient Wisdom of the Elde An in-depth, meticulously documented exploration of the ecological wisdom of Native Peoples from around the world Arranged thematically, Wisdom of the Elders contains sacred stories and traditions on the interrelationships between humans and the environment as well as perspectives from modern science, which more often than not validate the sacred, ancient Wisdom of the Elders. Native peoples and environments discussed range from the Inuit Arctic and the Native Americans of the Northwest coast, the Sioux of the Plains, and the Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo of the Southwest to the Australian Outback, to the rich, fecund tropics of Africa, Malaysia, and the Amazon. "Our technological civilization is speeding toward a violent collision with nature, and we are threatening the ability of the Earth--our home--to support life as we know it. Suzuki and Knudtson's extraordinary work powerfully reminds us that we are indeed one with the Earth. We are truly indebted to them for charting for us the course toward a healthy and sustaining relationship with our planet."--Vice President Al Gore

30 review for Wisdom of the Elders: Sacred Native Stories of Nature

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    *This is one of the books my husband had to read for his Environmental Philosophy course and I read it, too* “Wisdom of the Elders: Honoring Sacred Native Visions of Nature” eloquently and enthusiastically fulfills its promise of sharing with Western audiences the philosophies and practices of many indigenous peoples with regard to nurturing their/our sacred Earth. In the process of glorifying indigenous worldviews, however, authors Suzuki and Knudtson needlessly belittle and degrade prevailing *This is one of the books my husband had to read for his Environmental Philosophy course and I read it, too* “Wisdom of the Elders: Honoring Sacred Native Visions of Nature” eloquently and enthusiastically fulfills its promise of sharing with Western audiences the philosophies and practices of many indigenous peoples with regard to nurturing their/our sacred Earth. In the process of glorifying indigenous worldviews, however, authors Suzuki and Knudtson needlessly belittle and degrade prevailing Western viewpoints to the degree that their book sometimes feels more like a slap on the wrist rather than an invitation to explore. Ultimately, though, there is much to be appreciated in their fine collection and it remains as timely in 2011 as it did two decades ago when it was first published. The book is broken down into ten chapters. First is the introductory “Visions of the Natural World: Shaman and Scientist” in which the authors agree with the famous anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss that, there is “no reason why mankind should have waited until recent times to produce minds of the caliber of a Plato or and Einstein. Already over two or three hundred thousand years ago, there were probably men of similar capacity, who were of course not applying their intelligence to the solution of the same problems as these more recent thinkers.” They conclude the chapter by cementing their perspective for the remainder of the book, “Native knowledge and spiritual values are not simply ‘natural resources’ (in this case, intellectual ones) for non-Natives to mine, manipulate, or plunder. They are, and will always be, the precious life-sustaining property of First Peoples: sacred symbols encoding the hidden design of their respective universes; mirrors to their individual and collective identities; and ancient and irreplaceable maps suggesting possible paths to inner as well as ecological equilibrium with the wider, ever-changing world.” The subsequent chapters include specific examples from indigenous peoples, such as the Kayapo of Amazonia, the Waswanipi Cree of the Canadian Subarctic, the Tewa (Eastern Pueblo) of New Mexico, the San Bushmen of Africa, the Chewong of Malaysia, the Aranda of Central Australia, and the Mnong Gar of Vietnam. These chapters are: Distant Times: Recognizing the Kinship of All Life Mother Earth: Nature as a Living System Ways of Seeing Nature: Native Natural Histories Animal Powers: The Kinship of Humans and Beasts Plant Powers: The Relationship Between Humans and Vegetation Sacred Space: The Relationship Between Humans and Land Time is a Circle: Responding to the Rhythms of Nature World Renewal: Maintaining Balance in the Natural World and, finally, The Fate of the Earth: Voices of the Elders Included also is an Appendix with an Excerpt from the United Nations Draft “Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” I truly believe in the heart of this book as I have long been respectful of native traditions that honor the Earth and her creatures as a living entity, worthy of our care, compassion and respect. And I agree with the authors that all peoples can benefit from exploring of these ideas. The examples shown here go far deeper than the typical diluted “native wisdom” that gets translated through some of the environmental groups or that quote that you’ve probably seen on bumperstickers: “We do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children.” I was especially interested to learn more about many traditional methods of hunting in which the hunter thanks the spirit of the animal for giving its flesh so that the tribe can continue. New depth was added to my understanding of this practice, as some indigenous people actually believe that the deer (or whatever is being hunted) willingly dies for the hunter—if the hunter does not have a successful hunt, it means that the animals did not want to give itself that day. Other traditions further embellish the interconnectedness of hunter-and-hunted as the tribe believes that the souls of humans who pass away are collected and exchanged (not to be confused with reincarnation) for the souls of animals to come to earth and be hunted. Some traditions also hold a similar respect for plant life and believe that the plant is endowed with a spiritual essence and that plants, like other spirits, are “exquisitely attuned to the well-being of their kind” and that, if disrespect is shown by careless destruction, the spirits of the plants can retaliate. On the other hand, if they are shown respect, their bounty gratefully and modestly accepted and not exploited, they will continue to share their riches with humans. I do take issue with the authors in that their glorification of native traditions often seems to come with jabs at Western worldviews—although author Harvey Arden believes in his review that they “Bridge the shimmering gulf between the shaman and the scientist.” The fly-leaf synopsis even purports that this is “the first book to explore shared beliefs about the delicate interrelationship between humans and the environment that are contained in both Western science and the age-old wisdom of Native peoples from around the world.” The authors themselves believe, “Native and scientific modes of thinking about the natural world are often complimentary and mutually enriching not only in their perceptions of the workings of nature but also in their prescriptions for a viable future.” Yet, sometimes their impassioned word choices (which make for a very entertaining, not-at-all dry read) reveal some deeper biases. In their comparison of scientist and shaman, they call the Scientific Mind a “relative upstart” growing from the “much shallower soils of seventeenth-century European Christianity and natural philosophy.” In the next breath, they declare that neither is “superior” or “inferior” to the other, yet a few paragraphs later they describe the Native Mind as “yearn(ing) to envelop the totality of the world” and bringing a “totality of mental capacities, beyond cool reason, to the task.” The Scientific Mind, “rather than becoming active participants in nature—rather than ecstatically immersing themselves in the immediacy of its sensory juices—observe(s) nature as an object—as an inanimate ‘other’—and, consequently, ‘from afar.’” I don’t know about you, but compared to the active, ecstatic, enveloping yearning and totality of the Native Mind, the Scientific Mind seems “cool” and awfully boring in comparison. What a pity the authors could not let one shine without making the other seem detached, unenthusiastic, and cold—implying, dare I say, it is less worthwhile, by comparison. (Not to mention that many Western scientists seem quite ecstatic and enthusiastic about their work and the universe!) These qualms aside, the collections in “Wisdom of the Elders” portray many varied and beautiful nuances that make each indigenous people its own unique culture but the heart of the collective indigenous message—and of Suzuki and Knudtson—is that we must regard nature as a living entity, worthy of respect and reciprocity, not exploitation. And I do believe this is a message useful to all people. Whether one wishes to accept or entertain the spiritual aspects the indigenous people implicitly interweave with this worldview is up to the individual. The reader need not believe every rock and tree and creature has a life, spirit and name in order to benefit from the teachings of those who do. (No different than that one need not become a Christian to benefit from some of Christianity's teachings.) But it might behoove the reader to stop and contemplate those who do believe this; and to consider how ones actions might be different if they, too, believed it even for a day.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    A friend challenged me to read this book. Though I'm dour these days about ecospirituality, I tried to get through it. But there were so many references to native people as "simple" and even "childlike" that I eventually threw the book against the wall. I don't know, I'm sure there are important points in here, but it doesn't seem to be anything near anti-colonialist to speak of all native peoples in such idealizing and flattening terms. A friend challenged me to read this book. Though I'm dour these days about ecospirituality, I tried to get through it. But there were so many references to native people as "simple" and even "childlike" that I eventually threw the book against the wall. I don't know, I'm sure there are important points in here, but it doesn't seem to be anything near anti-colonialist to speak of all native peoples in such idealizing and flattening terms.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    For anyone who has yet to be initiated into the themes and flavours of aboriginal traditional teachings, this book offers a well written introduction. For those already studied in traditional teachings the book offers great insights into how many of the world's greatest contemporary men and women of science have come to realize the limitations of their collective work. Despite the accomplishments of science it remains unable to fully account for what many aboriginal people refer to as the Great For anyone who has yet to be initiated into the themes and flavours of aboriginal traditional teachings, this book offers a well written introduction. For those already studied in traditional teachings the book offers great insights into how many of the world's greatest contemporary men and women of science have come to realize the limitations of their collective work. Despite the accomplishments of science it remains unable to fully account for what many aboriginal people refer to as the Great Mystery; that force or spirit that holds all of creation together in a harmonious balance.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jlf888

    This is a beautiful book, lyrically written, and inhabited by carefully arranged, well-researched stories of belief from First Nations peoples from all over the world. Written first in 1992, two years before the UN issued its long-overdue Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the authors progressively challenge the notion of what science means, who says, and the false dichotomy between the answers to those questions and Native ways of knowing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    An important perspective that more must wake up to and adopt if we are going to return to a harmonious relationship with our mother and our only home This book can be an important tool for anyone on the path of awakening, and a shelter for those of us who feel battered by the storms of the chaotic and complicated modern world.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lissa

    I read this book as part of a Native American philosophy class at St. Scholastica. While not nearly as enthralling as my professor's lectures, Wisdom of the Elders does explain the basis behind many Native American beliefs on humans and their interaction with nature. I read this book as part of a Native American philosophy class at St. Scholastica. While not nearly as enthralling as my professor's lectures, Wisdom of the Elders does explain the basis behind many Native American beliefs on humans and their interaction with nature.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brigitte

    Loved it. I read the French translation and I think I would have preferred the original version.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Leanne

    I just read the Sacred Balance directly before this and there is quite a lot of overlap. Same quotes and everything. Still, it is really good and shares important messages.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lea

    If there was a bumpy year in the UK, I'm having a crappy book year. Luckily, this book was not that. The backcover says that "this is a book about *human's place in nature. It is a book about ways of "seeing"". There are ten chapters and numerous mini-chapters within these. The wisdom of earth, how earth should be treated and how creatures interact with each other, come from the elders of various tribes. Folklore and myths shouldn't be taken literally, but they are...a poetic way how people under If there was a bumpy year in the UK, I'm having a crappy book year. Luckily, this book was not that. The backcover says that "this is a book about *human's place in nature. It is a book about ways of "seeing"". There are ten chapters and numerous mini-chapters within these. The wisdom of earth, how earth should be treated and how creatures interact with each other, come from the elders of various tribes. Folklore and myths shouldn't be taken literally, but they are...a poetic way how people understood things that they had no (modern) words for. The book is not a dialogue between scientists and aboriginal people. Rather, science gives "frames" to various topics. For example, let's take a look at the mini-chapter "The Architecture of the Human Brain". These concepts and words were developed in western society long after desana people settled in Columbia, yet they knew an organ in the head and knew spirits of wild plants. We, modern people, call it brain and talk about chemicals and hallucinogens. So if you "translate" the myths into modernized and scientific language, they start make a lot of sense. It would be easy to call beliefs and myths childish. How then these "childish" people knew how to fit into the big creation scenario and live balanced and happily on earth, respecting both animals and the planet well? What if I told a story of a distant planet where people poisoned the food and the land. And then ate the poisonous food and remained among the pollution? There's no wisdom in behaviour like that and yet that's what we are doing right now. When compared, I think the aboriginal people were (and are) indeed wise. This book is not perfect, other reviews have pointed these little mistakes well enough. But oh my, what an eye-opening read. Highly recommended. * = the precise word is man, not human, but when you talk about man, you talk about the gender male and leave out WOman. I'm not lesser being even though my physique differs.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    I'm a person who is fascinated by stories, handed down over generations, and the rich fabric they create, for years to come. Native Americans have mastered the art of story telling, and have so much wisdom and experience to offer us. This book was an absolute pleasure to read, and gave me a whole new appreciation for the importance and relevance of oral tradition. I'm a person who is fascinated by stories, handed down over generations, and the rich fabric they create, for years to come. Native Americans have mastered the art of story telling, and have so much wisdom and experience to offer us. This book was an absolute pleasure to read, and gave me a whole new appreciation for the importance and relevance of oral tradition.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christel Keijzer

    Whether it be through ancient and current traditional stories and traditional lifestyles of indigenous peoples or modern day scientific research, their data often coincide and come to the same point that mankind is on a trajectory of destroying their own planet by disregarding past advice, habits and lessons given.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Don Morrison

    ..tried twice to get through this but found it terribly boring. To me it seemed incredibly fractured and superficial. I made two attempts to read this book. I am interested in indigenous beliefs and environmental perspective but this book didn’t do anything for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matt Swanson

  14. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  15. 4 out of 5

    Adriana

  16. 5 out of 5

    Desaray

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jawdan Truckey

  19. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Cowan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alford Wayman

  21. 4 out of 5

    Todd Ring

  22. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  23. 5 out of 5

    Greystone Books

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alvin

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chris Mcmanaman

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathlena

  27. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  29. 4 out of 5

    Becki

  30. 4 out of 5

    Leah

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