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Guest opinion: Service and kindness: our cultural and environmental cure

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I wake up to the most incredible view of the mountains each morning. They remind me every day to be thankful for the teachings of my people and the blessings that I have. This land that we live on is sacred. My people have called it home for centuries.

There is a natural order to the universe of which man is a part. We have been entrusted with the responsibility to take care of this earth so she will continue to give and continue to reproduce for the generations yet unborn.

I believe that ancient tribal cultures have important lessons to teach the rest of the world about the interconnectedness of all living things and the fact that our very existence is dependent on the natural world that we seem to be destroying.

Former U.S. adviser on climate change Gus Speth said, “I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

My Shoshone people are indigenous to this land. We were hunters and gatherers and we traveled with the seasons. We looked upon the earth as not just a place to live, but something so special and sacred that we called her mother. She was the provider of our livelihood.

To my native people the mountains, streams and plains stand forever, and the seasons walk around annually. We traveled to different areas when the game was plentiful and the seeds and berries were abundant. It was a hard way of life; we were never more than a few days away from starvation. But it was a happy life. Every member of the tribe played an important role in its survival. This communal relationship was always sacred. Because we had no concept of personal property, we all looked at each other as equals always making sure that everyone’s needs were met. There truly was no poor among us.

But how things have changed. Today as I turn on the news we seem as divided as ever. Apathy at best, tribalism at worst. We fear others will enter our country to harm us. Rather than trusting the abundance of nature and the goodness of the human spirit — principles that our country was founded on.

When Brigham Young and the first group of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, they were welcomed. Today some who enter our country to escape poverty or oppression are welcomed with a metal cage and some find it necessary to separate the children from their parents. We can do better. We need to be better.

Our country was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of its people even the marginalized. Good people need to stand up and make a difference in their communities. Government is seldom the answer. This country is worth fighting for. We must keep believing, keep learning and keep moving forward.

We can’t change the past, but we can all change the future. Some of the greatest crimes in the history of our country were not caused by hatred but by indifference. It is time for good people to stand up and make a difference.

A month ago I had a second grade girl ask me how I came to be the chief. I told her when a young Shoshone boy or girl does an act of kindness or service, the chief would give them one eagle feather. I asked the girl what would happen if that boy or girl kept doing nice things for people and providing service to their community. She answered that they would keep getting eagle feathers. I then told her that when the chief is ready to die, he calls everyone together and says, “I want everyone to show me your eagle feathers.” The person with the most feathers would then become the chief. You see the chief isn’t always the toughest or bravest or loudest. The chief is always the one who has lived a life of service to their communities. Go be a chief today.

Darren Parry is the chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.