Indigenous wisdom is something that resonates with many people. Despite the fact that this way of life was almost completely erased all over the world by the ruling class, it lives on today, and there is a big movement to grow it and share its vital message, which necessary for the preservation of our planet.
This kind of cultural genocide began during the Roman Empire, when Roman culture, institutions, and beliefs were pushed upon the citizenry, and consequences were doled out for those who didn’t follow them. The aristocracy controlled the people, and went on a global mission to conquer other parts of the world. Through this conquest, many cultures, beliefs, and wisdoms were lost, all so the ruling power at the time could assimilate others into their way of life.
Moving forward, we saw this type of ideology pushed by the Church, which condemned those who offered new ideas, science, and alternate views about the nature of our reality. Despite history moving forward, very little had changed; the powerful group of people who control politics, finance, and most aspects of our lives today were still pushing a certain way of life upon the citizenry.
And it remains so today. The destabilization of many countries, especially in the Middle East, and the whole process of globalization in general, is proof of that. We now live in a corporatocracy, which thrives on making the “American Dream” the primary focus of all global citizens. War and corrupt politics are the main tools used to carve out this new way of life for others.
As far as indigenous peoples go specifically, scholars have estimated that, prior to the ‘discovery’ of the Americas by Europeans, the pre-contact era population could have been as high as 100 million people. In very recent history, indigenous assimilation, forced by church and state, has continued, as the residential school system in Canada makes clear.
And because these cultures pass down beliefs and teachings orally, a lot of wisdom held by the elders was lost. Fortunately, some remain to preserve it.
The world has changed a lot, but much of their teachings, meant to serve as a guidebook for a way of life that respects and honours all beings, still applies today. One great example would by the modern day food industry. Several different cultures within the first nations of America preach deep respect for all life and the animal kingdom, and a recognition that all life is connected. Imagine travelling back in time and showing footage of modern day factory farms — animals being raised and tortured en mass, in the billions, solely to be killed for our increasing greed.
I would be surprised if you could find one elder today who wasn’t appalled and heartbroken, or an elder in ancient times who would allow their people to participate in such barbaric acts.
There is no question about it — the modern day meat industry and the way we eat meat today would not have been accepted by the First Nations of recent history. But don’t take my word for it.
What Would Indigenous Wisdom Say?
Rita Laws, Ph.D., published an article explaining how among her own people, the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi and Oklahoma, vegetables were the traditional diet, and homes were constructed of wood, mud, bark, and cane — not skins.
“The principal food, eaten daily from earthen pots, was a vegetarian stew containing corn, pumpkin and beans.”
She explains how meat in “the form of small game was an infrequent repast” and how their clothing was even derived from plants.
Perhaps one of the most interesting revelations shared by her experience and research is the fact that “more than one tribe has creation legends which describe people as vegetarian, living in a kind of Garden of Eden. A Cherokee legend describes humans, plants, and animals as having lived in the beginning in ‘equality and mutual helpfulness.’ “
She goes on to explain how “the needs of all were met without killing one another. When man became aggressive and ate some of the animals, the animals invented diseases to keep human population in check. The plants remained friendly, however, and offered themselves not only as food to man, but also as medicine, to combat the new diseases.”
Laws also points out how many other Indian tribes were like hers, subsisting primarily on plants, but those who did hunt did so sparingly and with care. A special bond existed between them and the animals whose lives they took, or, according to many legends, these animals who offered themselves freely. The animals were also seen as a gift from the great sprit, spiritual warriors who were there for the protection and well-being of the people, to provide in several ways, almost like guardian angels.
“In the past, and in more than a few tribes, meat-eating was a rare activity, certainly not a daily event. Since the introduction of European meat-eating customs, the introduction of the horse and the gun, and the proliferation of alcoholic beverages and white traders, a lot has changed.”
Laws also explains how meat consumption was not revered, and there was nothing ceremonial about it. It was always plants and fall festivals centred around the harvest that were most celebrated.
Meat-eating was a rare activity, certainly not a daily event. Since the introduction of European meat-eating customs, the introduction of the horse and the gun, and the proliferation of alcoholic beverages and white traders, a lot has changed. Relatively few native peoples can claim to be vegetarians today.
“What would this country be like today if the ancient ways were still observed? I believe it is fair to say that the Indian respect for non-human life forms would have had a greater impact on American society. Corn, not turkey meat, might be the celebrated Thanksgiving Day dish. Fewer species would have become extinct, the environment would be healthier, and Indian and non-Indian Americans alike would be living longer and healthier lives. . . . Now we, their descendants, must recapture the spirit of the ancient traditions for the benefit of all people. We must move away from the European influences that did away with a healthier style of living. We must again embrace our brothers and sisters, the animals, and ‘return to the corn’ once and for all.”
You can read her full article here, where she goes into more detail and gives many more examples. It definitely gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?
An Excellent Video Discussing The Topic In More Detail
“If, as our Mi’kmaq legends suggest, animals are our siblings, then how can we justify their treatment as objects within the hunting, fishing and agricultural industries? What alternative do Mi’kmaq legends offer to the Christian colonial models of stewardship and domination, in which animals are our property? This workshop examines Mi’kmaq cultural values as an indigenous grounding for vegan practice while offering a critical standpoint on issues such as the indigenous fishing industry.”
Below is a video from of Margaret Robinson, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She’s a member of the Lennox Island First Nation. You can learn more about her and view some of her publications here.
In the lecture, she brings up several points regarding food and indigenous culture, and the current issues that surround the modern day perception of a vegetarian/vegan diet according to various indigenous cultures. She focuses primarily on the barriers for aboriginal veganism.
Personally, I believe our world is experiencing a dramatic shift in various areas, and compassion is one of them. As a result, along with all of the health benefits outlined in the articles linked below the vide, this is precisely why more and more people are switching to vegan/vegetarian diets.