Happy Mother’s Day!!
To our mothers, to our Mother Earth.
I have been looking on line for quotes about Mother Earth. What turns up the most are references to Saint Francis of Assisi (the Canticle for all Creatures) and those of many indigenous leaders. It is fashionable to reject the clear world view of indigenous people globally, expressing “the Earth is our mother,” as some sort of modern romanticism. The debunking of the letter allegedly written by Chief Seattle, that was actually from a Hollywood screenplay, has supported this notion.
Setting aside that one invention, there are so many quotes from indigenous traditions and cultures from the first point of contact with colonial powers, that it is not possible to deny that fundamental clash of world views that is still playing out today.
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce – whose real name was Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt (Thunder Rising to higher Mountain Heights) was deeply grounded in his relationship to the Earth. In 1972, the quote I chose in my high school yearbook was his: “The earth and myself are of one mind. The measure of the land and the measure of our bodies are the same.”
As a teenager, I learned about the Nez Perce and the 1877 brutal war visited upon them in Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It broke my heart. Over, and over again, Brown quoted indigenous leaders trying to explain to white men, “the Earth is our Mother.” Chief Joseph was among those most quoted. He had initially welcomed the first arrivals, Lewis and Clark. He saved their lives and found in them friends, who were kind. But they were soon followed by armies and commands to leave their lands and accept life penned up on reservations, ordering that they become farmers. Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt replied, “The earth is our mother. She should not be disturbed by hoe or plough. We want only to subsist on what she freely gives us.”
The words I have always found the most telling of this ontological clash were not those of Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, but of his persecutor, General Oliver Otis Howard. This from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: “‘I don’t want to offend your religion,’ Howard replied testily, ‘But you must talk about practicable things. Twenty times over I hear that the earth is your mother and about chieftainship from the earth. I want to hear it no more, but come to business at once.’”
On this Mother’s Day, those of us from settler cultures might try to re-imagine a world where indigenous world views were the presumed natural order. We have an unexamined assumption that there is some kind of inevitability to “fee simple” land title and of resource development that creates wealth by converting living things to dead things. We might re-imagine land title as the Supreme Court of Canada described indigenous title in the 2014 decision, Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, writing for the entire court explained, “Title is title is title,” but that indigenous title defers from fee simple in that title is collective and inter-generational.
Any notion of “sustainability” must be grounded in this: our relationship to the earth and the concepts of “ownership” are collective and inter-generational.
New science is giving us another concept of “motherhood” in the key role played by Mother Trees. UBC Forestry Professor Suzanne Simard is receiving amazing reviews for her new book, Finding the Mother Tree. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/may/08/finding-the-mother-tree-by-suzanne-simard-review-a-journey-of-passion-and-introspection
The work of mycorrhizal associations has been discussed for years, as in Chris Maser’s classic, The Forest Primeval. The mycorrhizal relationship between plants and fungus is a vast underground network in which trees communicate with each other, warning of coming stressors, like droughts or insect attack. This new work by researchers, including Prof Simard, identify the key role played by the oldest and tallest trees within a forest. It is the Mother Tree that has links of communication with the largest number of other plants.
And my best ever Mother’s Day gift! My daughter Cate and dear friend, author of multiple books, crazy-good knitter (and famous match-maker finding me my husband!) Sylvia Olsen wrote a book together, just released – a book for kids about my childhood. Growing up Elizabeth May https://www.orcabook.com/Growing-Up-Elizabeth-May-P5040.aspx is a book for young people, instilling an awareness of activism and its role in democracy. We have a virtual launch coming up soon, May 18th, in collaboration with Tanner’s Books! https://www.tannersbooks.com/
So, before signing off for the week, remember that there are Mother Trees in Fairy Creek, that the old growth trees are key to forest (and our) health. Join Cascadia Seaweed and celebrate Seaweed Days – May 17-23 – knowing that the green life in our oceans also sequesters carbon and promotes healthy biodiversity https://www.cascadiaseaweed.com/seven-days-of-seaweed and a note to residents of Cordova Bay dealing with the noisy overflight and to Pender residents dealing with the unregulated nature of private helipads (a local nightmare), I am working on it. Aircraft noise of all kinds remains a pretty constant source of complaints and no order of government is taking it seriously.
Meanwhile, globally, we are seeing a Green tide rising. The Scottish Greens just had their best-ever result, led by Canadian-born Lorna Slater, electing 8 MSPs! And the German Greens are leading in the polls with Annalena Baerbock running as the Greens’ first-ever candidate to be Chancellor!
In really exciting news, I include in the postscript the line- up for our Saanich-Gulf Islands Tenth Anniversary Party, next Friday night. I am very excited to announce that Annamie Paul will be speaking. Our SGI EDA has decided that we will close the evening with a fundraiser to get Annamie elected in Toronto Centre. We made history ten years ago – and taking Toronto by storm will be another historical breakthrough for Greens everywhere!
We had a busy week in parliament, so I include a number of short bits from a few of my speeches in the PS, plus petitions I really need you to sign- those that close for signatures on May 11.
Happy Mother’s Day!! Love our Mother Earth and hang on to hope!
Exciting line up for Friday, May 14, 2021, 7:00 PM!
- Annamie Paul – Leader of the Green Party of Canada
- Sonia Furstenau – Leader of BC Greens, MLA Cowichan Valley
- Cate May Burton – Author, one of the founders of Young Greens, and my daughter
- David Suzuki – Ph.D, Science broadcaster, Environmental activist
- Jenica Atwin – Green MP for Fredericton, NB
- Paul Manly – Green MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, BC
- Pat Carney – former PC MP Vancouver-Centre, former Cabinet Minister, retired Senator
- David Coon – Leader of the New Brunswick Greens, MLA Fredericton-South
- Mike Schreiner – Leader of Greens of Ontario, MPP Guelph
- Adam Olsen – Green MLA North Saanich, BC
- Ken Wu – Executive Director, Endangered Ecosystems Alliance, BC
- Sylvia Olsen – Author, Historian, Knitter Extraordinaire
- Including the music of Bob Bossin and a poem by Lorna Crozier.
Register in advance for this celebration!
Some Parliamentary speeches this week:
Alberta debate and keeping mancamps working. — https://www.youtube.com/
e-3221 Reduce emissions to meet the Paris target (closes May 11)
e-3256 Protect the Kavango basin region (closes May 11)
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