NASA Reaches Out – Asks Native Americans How to Heal the Earth
In October 1998, a group of traditional Native elders, tribal leaders, scholars, educators, and scientists gathered together to address the socioeconomic impact of climate variability and change.
This gathering, entitled the ”Native Peoples/Native Homeland Climate Workshop,” was one of 20 workshops initiated by NASA and held around the country as part of a national assessment conducted by the U.S Global Change Research Program to analyze potential consequences of climate change. The Southwestern regional workshop brought together important stakeholders to assess the current state of knowledge, information and research needs, and possible policy strategies for the southwestern U.S. and the rest of the nation.
Nancy Maynard, a NASA scientist, said, ”[I]t is critical to combine the wisdom of Native peoples — their historical knowledge of environmental events, cultural perspectives, research and expertise — together with non-Native scientific observation and research.”
Native people have always maintained that their input is critical, and it is perhaps not surprising that a magazine like the Spirit of Ma’at would explore the future of the Earth Mother through the wisdom and knowledge of indigenous spokespersons. What is astonishing is that an organization like NASA also seems to see the value in an exploration of this kind.
The New ”Earth Science Enterprise”
NASA created the Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) to develop an understanding of the total Earth System and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment. With the recognition that Earth’s ecology is in critical condition (see the Spirit of Ma’at Volume 1 August 2000), it becomes clear that more studies are essential in order to fully grasp the complexity of the problems and, ultimately, for humanity to come together as one race — both indigenous and non-indigenous — and heal our world. NASA’s approach is definitely encouraging.
The objective of one department of ESE, called Regional Application Centers (RESACs) is ”to provide NASA developed technologies to enable both ‘non-sophisticated’ and non-traditional users of remotely sensed data to benefit from the information that is available from the many government and commercial sources of data available now and expected over the next five years” (from NASA’s Gateway to Applications Data).
NASA technologies utilize not only satellite remote viewing, but also automated data from web sources and in-situ systems using smart ”agents,” low-cost processing at multiple levels, automated metadata generation and storage, and an e-commerce approach to interactive information distribution over the web.
Another component of ESE is the Earth Science Information Partners (ESIPs), who are drawn from academia, government, and the private sector. Among other tasks, the ESIPs are charged with ”developing innovative, practical applications of earth science data for the broader community.” The foresight exhibited by NASA in approaching the Indian Nations perhaps acknowledges that the old ways which sustained indigenous peoples on this land for thousands of years may give us some healthy solutions for Mother Earth’s illnesses.
The Dialogue Continues
The Native Peoples/Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop has resulted in continuing dialogue and communication with the scientific community. Efforts are being made to identify key Native people from different regions to participate with the National Assessment Synthesis Team and with Regional Coordinators.
Exchange of information and dialogue on climate change is happening throughout Native communities from distribution of relevant materials in the middle schools to gatherings of Native spiritual elders.
The spiritual well-being of indigenous peoples is intimately connected to origins and geography. A sense of origins is remembered mytho-historically and interjected with perceptions of the supernatural and the evolution of a culture. The preservation and continued access to certain sacred locations may have a direct influence on the governing capabilities of an entire Tribe.
A common view held by many Indigenous people throughout the planet is the recognition of the land as Mother. The relevance of spirituality, which includes cultural resources (i.e. water and indigenous plants) and sacred sites, is a significant factor in understanding and proposing Native resolutions for issues raised by climate variability/change.
An alliance between Native peoples and science could create a multicultural partnership for managing our lands. Native Peoples would contribute their traditional ecological knowledge, and bring a spiritual oneness with nature to the management table. Now is the time for Mother Earth’s sacredness to be shared by all.