My Grandfather's love for deer was large. It was more than an affinity, he was empathic. An orphaned fawn grew up with him and his family on their ranch on the reservation. So, one rule he impressed upon me was to never take an animal from the free life it deserves and imprison it with my human values, life and love. It may die without its own kind and we can never give it enough of the right things readily given in its own system.
Grandpa would throw up in sickness after a deer kill. My Grandmother tended to him first, and dressed the deer, second. As I explained this to my friend, a supporter of the Makah in their whaling, he said, "It would be a shame to take joy in killing anything. It's healthy to grieve for the life you take." He knew of my great despondency and offered this comforting comment. My grandfather hunted to feed not only his family, but the extended family who lived in spiritual wealth, with material limitations, on a US Indian reservation.
If you fly over, today, you can see the bordering clear cuts surrounding the reservation lines of national forests. There are small patches of clear cuts on the reservation side. The Warm Springs reservation has one of the largest elk breeding grounds, and many animals thrive in the old growth. The waters are pristine. I am told there is an excess of brown trout in the rivers. We're richer than most from our savings, living off the land's interest.
For people like the Makah, their reservation extends into the ocean. With little possessions, on a pocket of land, seafarers look to the ocean for their cultural shape and livelihood. Akin to the Island of Japan, in terms of resources, they differ from most, in that they are not financially able to traverse the globe. There are some who demand us to cash in the world's lungs: rainforest timbers sliver into exotic wood disposable chopsticks.
We can't seem to shame big corporations to back off from killing entire lakes in the remotest regions as they extract energy resources. Or, stop American tourists from sexual junkets to impoverished countries intending to buy up the innocence of children. Children are sentient beings, and I feel lakes are spiritual entities. We have a lot to be ashamed of in our country. In a tiny moment of television exposure, those who profess love for whales have the advantage.
The advantage of anti-Indian sentiment and deeply entrenched racism to prompt the public to embrace environmental issues in the world. This whale represents all the tender places and wounds we have endured and she represents all the sacrifice of first love, our mother's gift. All this primitive need is overwhelming, and upon self reflection, I take no pleasure in death. I grieve.
After centuries of species annihilation, recoveries such as the American buffalo, are rare, and now, we celebrate the recovery of the gray whale. The list of imperiled life is so immense that each day hundreds of species disappear. Species are removed from the Endangered Species list purely from extinction! The guilt I feel, and the protective spirit projected on the most admirable of creatures, the whale, is deserved. We assume privilege, but are not exempt from extinction, ourselves. With incredible excess, we live out our days unconscious of our part in death. I have very little to give monetarily to causes or politics. I take very little. Maybe, I will significantly touch only a few people in this lifetime. The main lesson learned from the frugal lifestyle of my grandparents is to forgive myself for the need to consume other life. We expressed gratitude for the experience and pleasure of being part of the plant and animal's life. And most of all, one must respect the dynamics in earth based knowledge and systems as it is found still intact. One must believe humanity can understand the true bounty of the land by knowing each one of us is fed by other life, and gratefully celebrate, assume humility, make peace.
© 1994 Elizabeth Woody
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