An Open Letter to Climate Activists in the Northwoods…and Beyond

From a talk delivered November 1, 2019.  Northern Michigan University Sonderegger Symposium:  Anishinaabek: East, South, West, North.  Marquette, MI.  


I’m going to cut straight to the point:  averting climate change is not going stop the global collapse of the planet as we know it.

Don’t get me wrong.  Climate change is a global emergency and will cause tremendous damage, and, in fact, already has for many.

But the thing is, massive, global-scale destruction has been going on for a long time even before climate change.  Although it has roots that go back further, 1492 marks the beginning of this global emergency.

So, first, averting climate change will not stop the global emergency because climate change is only one part of this global emergency.

Second, addressing climate change using the values and viewpoints of this Western culture will only exacerbate the problem.  The disease powered by solar fields is still the same disease that is powered by coal.

Third, Western industrial civilization is the cause of the global collapse of the planet as we know it.

Thus, fourth, this Western culture must change if we want to save the planet as we know it.

Finally, fifth, we need to look to healthy cultures for answers about how to change this diseased culture so we can not just avert climate change but also end today’s global ecological collapse.  One way to do this is to become acquainted with the resistance movements of healthy cultures.  We have examples we can learn from right here in Anishinaabe territory.

Identifying the Problem

To begin at the beginning, what exactly is the problem?

In 1800, half the planet’s land was still in tribal hands.[1]  Over the next 150 years, “virtually all indigenous territory” in the world was taken over “by colonizing industrial states” with around 50 million Indigenous people dying in those 150 years alone.[2]  In the Americas, this genocide began in 1492 with some estimating as much as 90% of the Indigenous peoples here wiped out.

As this settler culture spread, it deliberately destroyed not only Indigenous human peoples and their ways of life but also the lives and cultures of the Indigenous non-human peoples.  Untold numbers of plant and animal relations driven to extinction or near-extinction.  Waterways choked with poison.  80% of the planet’s forests annihilated.[3]  Grasslands destroyed.  Children stolen.  Cultures shredded.  Or to quote one British author extolling the virtues of European colonization of Indigenous Africa: “This great work of progress will be accomplished through the religion of God.  Africa shall be redeemed . . . Her morasses [swamps] will be drained; her deserts shall be watered by canals; her forests shall be reduced to firewood.  Her [African] children shall do all this . . . In this amiable task, they may possibly become exterminated.  We must learn to look upon this result with composure.  It illustrates the beneficent law of Nature, that the weak must be devoured by the strong.”[4]

Manifest Destiny — John Gast ca. 1872

The majority of people in the settler culture not only stood by and watched this apocalypse but actively promoted it as Progress, although a few wept tears for the passing of the natives.  Still, even for the sympathetic, it was assimilate or be annihilated – Progress is inevitable.

Then climate change came along.  Suddenly the privileged elites felt threatened realizing this time they, too, will be feel the impacts of their own destructive culture.  This time, they are concerned and want to take urgent action to stop the destruction.

The problem is their version of “urgent action” doesn’t call on sufficient change to address the problem because they don’t understand the cause of the problem.  Most climate activists look at this industrial civilization and boldly claim the urgent action we must take is to stop powering this civilization with fossil fuels.  We can do this, they say, with a carbon tax or a carbon dividend.  We can do this with mega-wind and mega-solar.    Their version of “urgent action” means getting off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible and replacing them with “green” energy sources.  A technologically intensive civilization powered by wind, they argue, is the wave of the sustainable future.  If we do this, as long as we haven’t yet passed the tipping point, we will stop global climate change and save the planet.  Then we can get back to the business of Progress as usual.

The changes the elites want are only those changes that will allow them to continue their materialistic, colonizing way of life.  Swept up in the urgency of things, everyone else gets swept up in their fervor, a fervor that feeds the disease and keeps it going.  Haudenosaunee philosopher-activist John Mohawk compares it to being rabid.[5]  Santee activist John Trudell calls it being “industrially insane.”[6]  Aboriginal Australian singer/songwriter Bobbie McLeod sees it as a culture of Wayward Dreams.  It is the culture that needs to change, this disease that needs to be cured.  From there, all else will follow.

Artist: John Hunter (Gamilaraay)

Other Indigenous teachings from the Honorable Harvest to the Hopi Prophecies to the Anishinaabe Seventh Fire prophecy talk about what happens when a culture is out of balance with the Earth.  The problem we need to address today, according to these teachings and prophecies, is not so much whether industrial civilization is powered by wind or coal but whether or not industrial civilization itself is sustainable.  It also the raises the question:  is the inherent parasitism of civilization even moral?

Industrialism has greatly exacerbated the disease of civilization.  Yet Columbus landed in what we now call the Americas well before the Industrial Revolution.  The Western cultural arena he came from was already grossly disconnected from the land, its burgeoning population well beyond the land’s carrying capacity[7], and thus most of Europe, even before the Industrial Revolution or before capitalism, was already wreaking havoc with its landbase.

Europe itself had undergone colonization by civilized cultures some centuries before Columbus.  Prior to the civilizing of Europe, Europe was alive with tribal societies.  The civilizing of those tribal societies by colonizers is likely where much of Europe’s disconnect from the land arose.

Yes, I just contrasted tribal societies with civilized cultures.


 Trudell says, “The Great Lie is that it is ‘civilization.’ It’s not civilized, it has been literally the most bloodthirsty, brutalizing system ever imposed upon this planet. That is not civilization […] The great lie is that it represents ‘civilization.’ That’s the great lie.  Or if it does represent civilization and it’s truly what civilization is . . . then the great lie is that civilization is good for us.”[8]

This is the conclusion many anthropologists, such as John Bodley, have come to.  Civilization is not the human ideal we’ve been trained by this civilized culture to believe it is.

According to anthropologists (and as can be seen by the definition and origins of the word itself), a civilization is a society that is city-based.  The city is the central point of power.  Some of the traits that define a city-based society, as opposed to a tribal society, include the rise of economic, religious, and political power hierarchies and stratification within the urban society.  The city needs these oppressive power structures for it cannot provide for itself from within its own borders.  It needs the resources of the people who live on the land.  This it most often obtains by force through such means as taxation, tribute, or outright military conquest.  The primary target for an urban area to use for resources is the surrounding countryside, thus the rural area is made subject to the urban.

But the surrounding countryside is usually not sufficient to satisfy the urban appetite.  Disconnected from the land and thus from understanding carrying capacity (or ignoring it), the urban world needs ever more land and resources for their ever-expanding populations.  To get it, city-based societies or civilizations engage in what some anthropologists call “predatory expansion” against their neighbors.

For the last 6000 years, Indigenous people and their tribal societies have been targeted by civilizations by their predatory expansions.  Europe itself was once a region of tribes who, if they followed the general pattern of tribal societies, would have lived in relative balance with their land and all their relations.  Eventually, however, one by one the European tribes fell victim to the predatory expansion of their more civilized neighbors and became themselves one of history’s most destructive colonizers of tribal peoples.[9]  As urbanite and historian Theodore Roszak writes, ““Whatever holds out against us[, the city] — [be it] the peasant, the nomad, the savage, we regard as so much cultural debris in our path.”[10]

But in the 6000 years of civilization and its predatory expansion, Indigenous peoples and other peoples of the land have resisted the incursions of civilization and its power inequalities, its colonization of rural/tribal areas, and its attempts to disconnect people from the land.

It was a mere two hundred years ago that, Indigenous peoples and their healthy lifeways protected half of the land on this planet.  It is because of this that we have what little healthy land we have today.  And it is this land today that is most targeted by resource corporations and their puppet governments in the Western world.

Despite the fact that some cultures got off track and became diseased with this cultural maladaptation of civilization, the Indigenous way of living with the land respectfully and in a good way is our heritage as human beings.  All of us have a human heritage of more than 300,000 years of living well with our relations.  It’s only in the last 6,000 that some of us have fallen ill and fallen out of balance.  But it is human to live in harmony with the Earth.  It is human to be at peace with the planet.

So, how do we cure this disease and move, once again, to a healthy way of living with Mother Earth?

Living the Circle:  Learning from the Past

If we see the world through the lens of the Medicine Wheel, we will see our history is not a linear lockstep “progression” leading away from those good lifeways but rather a circle leading us back to them.

Our elders represent some of the greatest repositories of how to keep walking that circle.  Climate activists of all ages can learn from them, and in fact many climate activists are those elders who have been on the front lines for decades. Without the work of these elders, we wouldn’t have the Endangered Species Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act.  Without them, we wouldn’t have the treaties and the struggles to protect those treaty rights.  We wouldn’t have had Wisconsin’s mining moratorium.  The older generations have worked hard, sacrificed much, thinking of us today and those who are yet to come.

This resistance movement to protect this planet and all our relations, is generations old and has very ancient roots.  If we follow the teachings of the Medicine Wheel, we know we need the gifts of all ages, from the young to the elders, to realize our full power as a people.

Here in the northern Great Lakes area, the rural resistance movement to Western industrial civilization has been alive and well for some time.  Most of the rural resistance I’ll discuss here comes from the Anishinaabe communites, but some also comes from the non-Native people of the northern Great Lakes area.

The two-plus centuries of rural resistance in our region emphasize how important it is to:

+ Resist civilization in its attempts to control

+ Resist removal from the land

+ Resist the predatory expansion efforts of urban areas/civilization

+ Resist the ideologies of human supremacy

As these rural resistance movements up here show, we can do this by:

+ Becoming a member of the community of a particular land or region by living on the land

+ Maintaining and reclaiming self-sufficiency and the necessary land skills for that self-sufficiency

+ Respecting the sovereignty of all our relations in accordance with the Honorable Harvest

This Land Is Our Home:  Resisting Removal from the Land

From the beginning of the treaty era in the Anishinaabe homeland, people showed their reluctance to sign away their land or to leave the land they had belonged to for generations.  Alfred Brunson, an outspoken Indian agent at LaPointe (whose criticism of the American government’s treatment of the Anishinaabe lost him his job within a year), wrote in January of 1843, “[S]o much dissatisfaction exists among the Indians and half breeds of the Chippewas of this agency” that there are “many omens of a Threatening Storm,” some of which included “a party of warriors & braves on the [1842] treaty ground.”[11]

During the discussions leading up to the 1842 treaty, Acting Superintendent of Indian Affairs Robert Stuart told the Anishinaabeg “it was no difference whether they signed or not” as the land would be taken anyway.[12]  He also issued a veiled threat of outright removal from their lands.  While uttering assurances that it was only minerals not the land that the U.S. wanted at the present time, he suggested that in the future they would be removed like so many other tribes “sent west of the Mississippi, to make room for the whites.”[13]  After his words, as historian Ronald Satz writes, the representatives “of the Wisconsin bands from the Lake Superior region remained silent.”[14]  They were “not . . . willing to sell or make any agreement.”[15]

Eventually and reluctantly, however, the Anishinaabe did sign.  Brunson points out that “the Indians did not act free & voluntary, but felt themselves pressed into the measure,” largely by Stuart’s tactics. [16]

Photo: Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission

In 1850, Stuart’s threat of eventual removal became U.S. policy.  An executive removal order was issued by President Zachary Taylor to remove the Anishinaabeg of northern Wisconsin and the western U.P. to Sandy Lake, MN by moving the location of the tribes’ annuity payments..  Closing the Indian agency at Fort LaPointe on what many know today as Madeleine Island, the Anishinaabeg of the 1842 ceded territory were told they’d have to travel to the Sandy Lake agency to receive their annuity payments of cash, implements and food.  The idea was to use a velvet glove to force the Anishinaabeg to settle around Sandy Lake (and out of the 1842 territory).  To the U.S., the Anishinaabe land in question was known as “the mineral district” and removing the Indigenous people from the area could prove beneficial to mining interests, particularly as the Anishinaabeg had already shown a resistance or dissatisfaction to mineral exploration on their homeland.  Many refused to make the trip to Sandy Lake.  Those that did arrived in October to find they had to wait weeks for what turned out to be only a very small part of the annuity payment in early December.  Dysentery and malnutrition weakened and even killed some of those who waited at Sandy Lake.  Understanding the intent of this maneuver, most made their way back home in early December.  Over 250 more people died along the way.  The entire incident is often referred to as the Sandy Lake Tragedy.

Once back home, the people refused to move and instead organized a petition drive, obtaining signatures from the Native and non-Native community.  A delegation, headed by Chief Buffalo, then an elder in his nineties, traveled to Washington D.C. to present the petition to President Fillmore.  The petition, the delegation, and the refusal to be moved from their homeland were all eventually successful as the executive removal order was rescinded.

Defending the Land:  Resisting Civilization’s Predatory Expansion

Those who live on the land and call it home are more apt to defend that land from those who threaten it.  As you see, we have a long history of such land defense in the rural resistance of the northern Great Lakes area.

Prior to Sandy Lake, back in 1820, the territory of Michigan organized the Cass Expedition whose purpose was to assess the natural resource wealth of the Anishinaabe homeland, land still legally Anishinaabe territory as the major land cession treaties were still over a decade away.  The Cass Expedition was, pure and simple, a predatory expedition, surveying another’s homeland to assess its potential to benefit American civilization.

According to Henry Schoolcraft in his Narrative Journal of the Cass Expedition, the Anishinaabe people resisted giving him information that would lead the Expedition to the minerals they sought.[17]  This was an early example of the Anishinaabeg resisting the mining that has plagued our region for the last century.  In another instance of such mining resistance, a contemporary historian writes, “We know that the upper lake Indians traditionally opposed white mining exploration before and after the treaty [of 1842], and that Father Baraga had opposed mines in the Ontonagon and Keweenaw country.” [18]

Anecdotal evidence of resistance to industrial civilization on the part of the Anishinaabe in the Great Lakes area also comes from Broker’s account of her great-great-great-grandfather who worked in the settlers’ logging camps.  “I do not like cutting the trees,” he says.  “I think too often of the animal people.  They will be few, and they will be gone from this land.  When we have enough of the lumber, I shall no longer cut the trees or travel the rivers on them.  My heart cries too often when I do this.”[19]

1910 Wisconsin Lumber Camp — Wisconsin Historical Society

In Anishinaabe country, there are and have been non-Native people who struggle to defend the land they’ve come to call home.  One of the ironies of history in the United States is that this is a nation founded on freedom and overthrowing colonialism.  Yet the the nation is also founded on that same colonialism and thus is founded on the destruction of the lives, freedom, and lifeways of the land’s Indigenous peoples.  That is still an identity crisis most Americans have yet to deal with.  It’s why you can have American historian Frederick Jackson Turner decrying, and accurately so, that the closing of the frontier sounded the death knell for American democracy, yet, with no sense of irony, also firmly believing that taking the land from its Native people was all a necessary part of creating that beloved frontier.

Here in the northern Great Lakes area we have that same irony.

In the nineteenth century, as the Anishinaabeg were dispossessed of their land, settlers, land speculators, and resource corporations came in.  The trees were cut and almost all of Northwoods’ pre-colonial forests were annihilated.[20]  Mining corporations formed and tore up the Earth for minerals, poisoned the waters with mine run-off, and kept their laborers as serfs.  Settlers came in an attempt to farm the cutover areas, areas that once rang with the laughter of Anishinaabe families and once were rich with the wellspring of Anishinaabe culture: the verdant and generous woodlands of the north country.

Those settlers who arrived to make a living on the land were often in competition with corporations and land speculators seeking to get rich off the land.  This produced some interesting scenarios.  These days, mining corporations may have convinced many in the U.P. that mining is our heritage here, or, as one oil and gas representative told me, that “Yoopers like to be exploited.”  But that prejudice ignores the rest of the U.P.’s heritage.  In fact, one could argue environmental resistance is our true heritage here in the northern Great Lakes area, a heritage the corporations would prefer we forgot.  Finnish immigrants who worked ardently to unionize miners and then sought refuge in the backwoods from corporate thugs, are yet another example of this.  And there are more.

We’ve even had what one historian calls “guerrilla warfare” launched by non-Native homesteaders against logging corporations up on the Keweenaw in the 1890s.  A lumber company named Metropolitan Lumber claimed to own land that the U.P. homesteaders saw as their own.  To protect “their” land from corporate interests, these nineteenth century Yooper homesteaders engaged in what we would call eco-terrorism today.  Draft horses pulling corporate sleds of logs were shot and killed.  Steel spikes were driven into logs that were intended for the Metropolitan Lumber sawmill.  Iced corporate roads, perfect for pulling out heavy loads of timber, were melted with hot ash.  One woman lay down in the middle of an icy winter road to prevent a horse-drawn sleigh from taking away logs that Metropolitan Lumber had cut on her land.[21]  [22]

In the last several decades, the Anishinaabe also have risen in force to protect their land from mining interests.  In Wisconsin, one of the most successful mining resistance movements around the world came out of the struggle to exercise the Ojibwe treaty rights to hunt and fish in the 1842 ceded territory, a fight for the right to maintain self-sufficiency.  This fight for treaty rights took on racism in some of its ugliest forms.  The struggle merged with the movement to protect the Northwoods from the opening of a metallic sulfide mining district.  In doing this, the Native and non-Native people of Wisconsin foiled the multinational mining corporations.  As Anishinaabe activist Walt Bresette often mentioned, the corporations seemed intent on dividing the people of the northern Great Lakes area by fanning the flames of white supremacy and racism.  In this way, Bresette pointed out, they attempted to manipulate the people of the Northwoods into fighting each other while the true threats to the land moved in and tried to open up a metallic sulfide mining district in northern Wisconsin.  The people of the land, Native and non-Native, however, united despite their differences, and fought off the multinational mining corporations with the passage of the mining moratorium, also known as the Prove It First Law.  This hard won struggle marked Wisconsin, according to one mining industry representative, as the toughest place on the planet to put in a mine.

Then we have the Bolt Weevils of central Minnesota.

The Bolt Weevils were farmers who organized in the 1970s to protect their lands and scenic areas from high-voltage transmission lines.  The lines were intended to bring power from a coal-fired power plant in North Dakota through Minnesota’s rural areas to the urban populations of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  From the beginning, the power companies told them the same thing the U.S. government told the Anishinaabe:  you can resist us, but it won’t matter because we’ll get your land anyway.

Local public opinion strongly supported the farmers in their opposition.  The farmers used every legal means possible:  public hearings, planning commissions who denied the permits, lawsuits.  Despite it all, it was determined that the greater number of people living in the city counted more than the smaller number of people living on the land in the rural areas of Minnesota.  As one veteran powerline resistor, Verlyn Marth, who lived in the area said, rural people are seen as “just a colony to be used.”  He told them, “You are being programmed to think you are helpless.  But they are an evil cartel assaulting individual farmers…It is your responsibility to beat the line.  You are the stewards of the land.”[23]

Despite the farmers’ objections, the power lines in rural Minnesota were approved and construction began.  But the farmers didn’t stop.  Their resistance to the lines turned to physical violence against the power lines.  The state governor called in the state troopers to protect the powerline as it was built through the rural areas.  The Twin Cities got their coal-fired electrical power.

But the farmers still didn’t stop.  As singer/songwriter Dana Lyons so aptly describes in “Turn of the Wrench.”

Farmers opposing the powerline

The thing is, when a society is civilized, this type of thing is part of its predatory means of obtaining resources for its urban populations.  Even if the power had been wind-derived, the powerlines would still present the exact same issue for the farmers:  destruction of their lands in order to supply power to the city.

In fact, in the heart of Anishinaabe country at the turn of the twenty-first century, the Lac Courte Oreilles band of Lake Superior Chippewa and eleven rural Wisconsin counties also opposed a 400 kV transmission line.  The line was to connect central Wisconsin to Minnesota’s energy grid, helping, in part, to increase Manitoba Hydro’s ability to bring more electrical power to urban areas in the U.S.  The power would come from “green” energy which actually meant  the expansion of mega-dams that threatened traditional Cree homelands.  The Cree helped the people of Wisconsin resist the line.  When all counties passed resolutions opposing it, however, American Transmission Company told them they’d take their land anyway, only for less compensation under eminent domain.  The line was built.  The mega-dams expanded.  Wisconsin bragged about how wonderful it was they’d obtained more “green” energy.  Ask the Pimicikamak Cree and the people of northwestern Wisconsin how “green” that energy truly is.

Likewise here in the U.P., several communities have opposed energy projects sold as “green” projects.  Most climate activists hearing of wind projects will uncritically support such projects.  Summit Lake Wind Project near the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the Heritage Wind Project on the Garden Peninsula are two such projects generating both rural resistance and knee-jerk climate activist reactions.

KBIC successfully opposed Summit Lake, not because they oppose wind in general, but because this “green” energy project would first clearcut an area that is 94% forested and full of all the gifts a forest offers.  Further, in industrializing this wild area with the extensive road network needed for the turbine construction and to transport the heavy equipment for the project, KBIC feared it would open up the land to mining interests eager to get at the ore underneath the extensive forest, part of one of the largest wilderness areas left east of the Mississippi.[24]

The other example of this type of “green” energy project here in the U.P., Heritage Wind is built along a major bird migration route and, as such, is opposed by the USFWS among others.  Although concerns are many, unique to the area are concerns over culturally significant sites, like the limestone caves containing pictographs of Anishinaabe constellations.  To safely hold its 400+ foot wind towers, Heritage drills 200 foot deep foundations into the peninsula’s limestone.  Some of the turbines will be built near the caves.  Will the limestone be strong enough to resist collapse?[25]

None of the power from either of these wind projects would be generated for the rural communities they are placed in.  Instead, for projects such as these the power they produce is loaded onto high-voltage transmission lines and made part of the national grid to be sold to urban areas.  The rural area is the site for the energy generation.  The urban areas are the sites for the energy use.  This is energy colonization.  The rural areas are being used as energy colonies for corporate “green” power production.[26]

Instead of colonizing rural areas with ever more electrical projects and ever more transmission lines, however, what if we as a society admit we have a problem – we are energy addicts.  The biggest hurdle for any addict is first admitting there is a problem.  Until then, the addict will do anything, no matter how destructive, to get what they crave.  That’s happening right now.  It’s time for it to change.

Resisting Control:  The Right to Self-Sufficiency

The history of civilization’s attempts to colonize rural-wild areas to satisfy urban appetites clearly shows that destroying self-sufficiency to force people off the land into wage-dependency is an essential component of the colonizing process.  Self-sufficiency makes people difficult to control.

 more time spent in wage work, the less time there is available to engage in traditional land skills.  This both makes peoples easier to control and weakens a people’s knowledge of the land and how to live with it.  Colonial governments on Indigenous lands around the world have used Western-style education, wage-labor, and other civilizing methods to dispossess people from their homelands.

Robert Stuart, Acting Superintendent for Indian Affairs, was well aware of this colonial strategy.  In 1843, he wrote about the Anishinaabeg, “There are those who think that all these Indians should be at once removed to the unceded district,” but this could not be “easily accomplished just now, as they have considerable game, fish, and other inducements to attach them to their present homes; but so soon as they realize the benefits of schools, and the other arts of civilization, which I trust we shall be able to cluster around them, there will be less difficulty in inducing them to renounce their present habits” and thus be able to remove them.[27]  This approach was used around the world in colonization to varying degrees, including in Kenya where Indigenous workers were forced into wage labor by various taxation laws and then were forbidden from quitting their job, on pain of torture, without permission of their employer.[28]

Social engineers in the twentieth century employed a similar mindset with planning out what they saw as proper land use for the northern Great Lakes area.  These social engineers came from urban universities.  For example, P.S. Lovejoy (1918-1941), for example, was from the University of Michigan.  George Wehrwein (1883-1945) from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.  Both were well respected men in the early twentieth century, and their ideas about how the northern Great Lakes area should be regulated to allow for a healthy regeneration of this cutover area were highly regarded.  In their view, everyone in the Northwoods should be productive members of the national industrial economy.  Farmers should not farm for subsistence but should be for-profit farmers.  People who lived far back in the woods, should be induced by zoning laws to move closer to towns.  After all, George Wehrwein argued, without neighbors to watch over them, “people in the forest might resort to a sort of savagery, bereft of any standard of morality or cleanliness.”[29]   Without this type of social engineering, Lovejoy argued, the northern Great Lakes area would continue “breeding paupers and morons and fires.”[30] [31]

Out of this mindset came elitist game laws, intended to preserve wildlife for future generations of sportsmen rather than for those who hunted for food.  They completely ignored Anishinaabe treaty rights.  Despite having their way of life outlawed unless they could afford to buy the proper permits, people resisted these laws and managed to provide for their families regardless.  As Ignatia Broker writes, “Then came the laws to control the fishing, the hunting, the trapping, even on the reservation lands…The Ojibway, however, continued to net fish and hunt deer as they had always done . . . [They] still laid nets for the fish and pulled them in early in the morning.  But they had to clean, salt, and dry their catch inside their house instead of in the outdoor ovens, so the man who enforced the laws against using nets would not know.”[32]  [33]

One of the major obstacles to controlling a people, as identified by colonial agents, is a peoples’ ability to provide for themselves from their own land.  One of the key causes of our current environmental and climate crises is that people around the world have been thrown off the land by this civilizing process.  As a result, like Europe in 1492, most people today are disconnected from the land and no longer possess an intergenerational knowledge and love of a specific land.  As such, we are all subject to ever greater control by our governments,and we face global ecological crises of cataclysmic proportions.  As Okanagan author Jeanette Armstrong says, the corporations know “how powerful the solidarity is of peoples bound together by land, blood, and love.

Resisting Human Supremacy:  Respect the Sovereignty of All Our Relations

In traditional Anishinaabe teachings, living with the land involves an intricate system of values that is based on seeing all beings as relatives, respecting their right to self-determination.  Respecting the sovereignty of all our relations.

In striking contrast, Western industrial civilization is based on a belief in the supremacy of human beings.  This Western belief in human supremacy[34] is found in its religion. It’s found in its secular views on other species. It’s found in its science.  It permeates Western culture, justifying its takeover of the planet through industry, science, consumerism, and even conservation-minded management.

The Indigenous concept of respecting the sovereignty of all our relations is complex yet straightforward.  Potawatomi biologist and author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, describes it well when she refers to this relationship as “the democracy of species.”  Being a part of this democracy means participating as a respectful member of a community, not as its tyrant or emperor.  Part of it involves giving respect to other beings so that we can see them as fully functioning, sentient, intelligent beings.  Not as our slaves.  Or our wards.

From a traditional Anishinaabe perspective, all species are sentient whether they are plant or animal.  Yet there is the recognition that life gives its life for other life to continue.  Part of living in this democracy of species as human beings is to follow the guidelines of the Honorable Harvest.  In fact, hunting, fishing and gathering in the respectful manner outlined by the Honorable Harvest connects us to the land in an intimate manner.  This connection helps us understand the land.

The Honorable Harvest also recognizes the sentience of all relatives.  When harvesting blueberries, for example, you first ask permission of the blueberries to harvest.  If they don’t give you that permission, you listen and do not harvest them.

One recent example of respect for the sovereignty of all our relations comes from the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  Isle Royale is part of the traditional territory of the Grand Portage Band.  As you know, there’s been an ecological conundrum of late as the predator/prey relationship of the moose and wolf is currently out of balance.  The U.S. government determined relocation of wolves from other areas to the island was the best way to resolve the imbalance.

Grand Portage, however, initially opposed the relocation of wolves to Isle Royale.  According to the band’s reply to the National Park Service Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the relocation plan, “The Grand Portage Band observes a cultural value that allows for natural cycles of predators and prey and the cultural philosophy of management only when necessary.”  The band continues, “Thus, we urge non-interventionist policy for management of wildlife on Isle Royale National Park and feel that upholding the Park principle of maintaining unmanaged wilderness is most appropriate.”  Wolves, they say, have only been on the island since 1949.  Ice bridges often form between the island and the mainland.  Wolves have used this ice bridge recently to cross to the island.  But they choose not to stay.  The band argued that for the next ten years at least, we should let nature take its course. [35]

The National Park Service eventually obtained the band’s cooperation when they agreed to first relocate Grand Portage wolves to Isle Royale.  This, the band felt, would protect Grand Portage wolves from diseases and parasites that could be brought in if wolves from outside the area where relocated to the island.

However, of the four Grand Portage wolves relocated to Isle Royale, one died from the stress of captivity.  A second died a month after being relocated to the island.  Another wolf, a female who was radio-collared, left the island, crossing back to the mainland via an ice bridge – according to leading Western expert on wolf biology, David Mech, relocated (I’d say kidnapped) wolves released within eighty miles of their home will often return to their home.

The White Earth Land Recovery Project refers to Ma’iingan (the Wolf) as “[t]he one sent here by that all-loving spirit to show us the way.”[36]  Ma’iingan, one of our very home-centered, family-oriented relatives, did once again shows us the way: our animal relatives are not there for us to control.  A central tenet of traditional Indigenous philosophy that can be found around the world is the development of a relationship with all our relatives that respects the sovereignty and life force of those relatives as a whole and as individuals.  The settler culture, however, being the civilized entity that it is, seeks to control that which is out of its control.  This is central to the disease that so besets a civilized culture.

Yet there are non-Native people in the northern Great Lakes area who also demonstrate resistance to aspects of this diseased culture by protecting our non-human relatives.  A retired teacher who has lived in my area since childhood is a recent example of this.  A pillar of her Christian community, a well-respected member of various community organizations, this outspoken rural woman who usually votes Democrat, although she preferred to vote Green rather than vote for Hillary, lives at the end of a dirt road with her Republican husband.  She loves and nurtures monarch butterflies.  When the county Road Commission brushcutter headed down her way one summer, after having destroyed a milkweed patch along her road the previous year, she blockaded her end of the road with her car to protect the milkweed there, milkweed reserved for the monarchs.  I call it, the Monarch Blockade, yet another great example of rural resistance.  As the Earth-advocate Derrick Jensen often prescribes, find something you love, then stake yourself to it and protect it.

The Oshki-Anishinaabeg and the Green Path:  On Being an Evangelical Heathen

I recently learned this summer that the word “heathen” comes from a time when England was converting to Christianity.  People who lived in the city became Christian.  These urban people looked down on the people who lived on the heath. The heath was a wild, “uncultivated” land.  The people who lived there kept to the old tribal ways.  The people of the city, like so many urban people of today, ridiculed the rural people as unenlightened and backward because it was those people, the people of the heath, the heathen, who kept to the old ways. [37]

Well, I have decided I am an unequivocal, evangelical heathen.  I firmly believe returning to the wild, “uncultivated” lands and the old ways that belong to them is our way out of this mess.  Our way out of climate change.  Our way out of the larger global emergency that civilization has brought to this planet.

To quote a scientific report done in 1964, “It is realized that a whole system of culture and an age-old way of life cannot be changed overnight, but change it must, and quickly.”[38]

Like so much of civilization’s attempts to control and manipulate the people of the land, this report was directed at forcing the self-sufficient tribal peoples of India’s Chittagong Hills to become cash-croppers.

But this sentiment needs to be reversed.

Indigenous peoples around the planet were forced to change quickly from living in their well-adjusted tribal cultures to becoming part of the colonizers’ diseased, maladjusted one.  The rapidity at which this happened shows how quickly cultures can change.  But this time, it’s Western industrial civilization’s turn to change and change as quickly as possible.  For those things that cannot humanely change rapidly (for example, in dealing with our overpopulated numbers), we need to start planning now on how to get to where we need to be.  All of this needs to be part of a Seventh Generation Sustainability Plan wherein we work out where we need to be seven generations from now.  Part of this involves long-range planning.  Part of it involves urgent immediate changes.

As Trudell said, “Earth is a living entity. It is not in man’s destiny to destroy the Earth. That’s arrogance. What it is man’s destiny to do is destroy civilized man’s ability to live with the Earth… the antibiotic will come, in a planetary sense. If it means…letting it wipe out civilized man, then the Earth will do that. The Earth will continue on.”

The question is, will we?

The thing is, we have various Indigenous teachings and prophecies that are there to help.  According to the Anishinaabe prophecy of the Seventh Fire, this is not only a time to be choosing the Green Path over the Burnt Path, but it is also a time when the oshki-anishinaabeg, the New People, will rise.  Various culture bearers from Eddie Benton-Banai to Nick and Charlotte Hockings to Walt Bresette and others have felt this includes both Native and non-Native people.  It refers to those people working to bring us back to the Green Path through finding that which was lost during the process of colonization.

The root causes of this global collapse are ignored, and in many cases, even exacerbated by the solutions proposed.  Even if the ice caps stop melting and climate change is averted, as long as this industrial, technologically intensive, species-isolated culture continues as is, the apocalypse will continue until there is nothing left for us as human beings.

If, however, we recognize our potential in becoming the oshki-anishinaabeg we are prophesied to be, leading this society to the good path, we can enter a future where we don’t have to fear for our children and our children’s children.

I’d like to end with some words from Anishinaabe activist, Walt Bresette.  As usual, in this excerpt of a speech he gave to a crowd at Northland College in Ashland, he offers us a way to build that bridge together and move into a world that, seven generations from now we can look back on and say, “We’re proud of what we’ve done.”

Miigwech.  Mii i’iw.

Aimée Cree Dunn teaches at the Center for Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University.


[1] John Bodley.  Victims of Progress.  6th edition.  NY:  Rowan & Littlefield, 2016.  p7.

[2] John Bodley.  Victims of Progress.  6th edition.  NY:  Rowan & Littlefield, 2016.  p10.

[3] John Bodley.  Victims of Progress.  6th edition.  NY:  Rowan & Littlefield, 2016.  p184.

[4] Winwood Reade.  Savage Africa.  1863.

[5] John Mohawk.  Thinking in Indian: The John Mohawk Reader.  Ed. Josée Barreiro.  Golden, CO:  Fulcrum Publishing, 2010.  p260.

[6] Trudell:  A Film by Heather Rae.  Passion River, 2007.

[7] Anyone who thinks overpopulation is not a problem, that overpopulation is not something that we should be concerned about, needs only to look at Europe in the fifteenth century.  The overpopulation of Europe, like steam coming out of a boiling kettle, launched Columbus and the ensuing colonization of Indigenous lands around the world.

[8] Trudell:  A Film by Heather Rae.  Passion River, 2007.

[9] In fact, that is the danger in existing as an Indigenous person within a colonial society.  The pull to assimilate is strong, to go with the crowd, even when it’s the liberal wing of the colonial society.  Such assimilation, over generations, leads to becoming colonizers ourselves.

[10] Theodore Roszak.  Person/Planet: The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society.  1978.  Garden City, NY:  Anchor Books, 1979.  p243.

[11] U.P. Indian Treaties.  Institute for the Development of Indian Law and Cook Christian Training School.  “Treaty Rights Workshop:  L’Anse Chippewa Treaty 1842.”  Mimeographed copy at Northern Michigan University Olson Library.  N.d. p36.

[12] Qtd. in Satz, Ronald N.  “Chippewa treaty rights : the reserved rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in historical perspective.” Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.  Vol. 79, No. 1.  p38. <>.

[13] Satz, Ronald N.  “Chippewa treaty rights : the reserved rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in historical perspective.” Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.  Vol. 79, No. 1.  p37. <>.

[14] Satz, Ronald N.  “Chippewa treaty rights : the reserved rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in historical perspective.” Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.  Vol. 79, No. 1.  p38. <>.

[15] Qtd. in Satz, Ronald N.  “Chippewa treaty rights : the reserved rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in historical perspective.” Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.  Vol. 79, No. 1.  p38. <>.

[16] U.P. Indian Treaties.  Institute for the Development of Indian Law and Cook Christian Training School.  “Treaty Rights Workshop:  L’Anse Chippewa Treaty 1842.”  Mimeographed copy at Northern Michigan University Olson Library.  N.d. p36.

[17] U.P. Indian Treaties.  Institute for the Development of Indian Law and Cook Christian Training School.  “Treaty Rights Workshop:  L’Anse Chippewa Treaty 1842.”  Mimeographed copy at Northern Michigan University Olson Library.  N.d.  p8.

[18] U.P. Indian Treaties.  Institute for the Development of Indian Law and Cook Christian Training School.  “Treaty Rights Workshop:  L’Anse Chippewa Treaty 1842.”  Mimeographed copy at Northern Michigan University Olson Library.  N.d.  p8.

[19] Ignatia Broker.  Night Flying Woman.  St. Paul, MN:  Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1983.  72.

[20] Most estimates place the amount of pre-colonial forest remaining in Michigan and Wisconsin at around 1%.  Dickmann and Leefers write that by 1926, after less than 100 years of colonization in Michigan, only 7% of the original forest was left, most of that in the Upper Peninsula.  They add “most of that has since been cut.”  Donald I. Dickmann and Larry A. Leefers.  The Forests of Michigan.  Ann Arbor, MI:  University of Michigan Press, 2016.  p173.

[21] Theodore J. Karamanski.  Deep Woods Frontier:  A History of Logging of Michigan.  Detroit, MI:  Wayne State University, 1989. 101.

[22] This is not intended as a promotion of violent protest but rather simply referencing histories that are all too often ignored.

[23] Barry M. Casper and Paul David Wellstone.  Powerline:  The First Battle of America’s Energy War.  Amherst:  University of Massachusetts Press, 1981.  p44.

[24] Rural Resistance Network.  2019.

[25] Rural Resistance Network.  2019.

[26] See the film Planet of the Humans by Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore for a deeper discussion of this issue.

[27] Qtd. in Satz, Ronald N.  “Chippewa treaty rights : the reserved rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in historical perspective.” Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.  Vol. 79, No. 1.  p39. <>

[28]John Bodley.  Victims of Progress.  6th edition.  Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.  p148-151.

[29] James Kates.  Planning a Wilderness:  Regenerating the Great Lakes Cutover Region.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 2001.  p158.

[30] Qtd. in James Kates.  Planning a Wilderness:  Regenerating the Great Lakes Cutover Region.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 2001. p48.

[31] For a more thorough discussion of this issue, see my article “Listening to the Trees:  Traditional Knowledge and Industrial Society in the American Northwoods” originally published in Honor the Earth:  Indigenous Response to Environmental Degradation and Beyond.  Ed. Phil Bellfy.  Now available at

[32] Ignatia Broker.  Night Flying Woman.  St. Paul, MN:  Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1983.  p117.

[33]For a more thorough discussion of this issue, see my article “Listening to the Trees:  Traditional Knowledge and Industrial Society in the American Northwoods” originally published in Honor the Earth:  Indigenous Response to Environmental Degradation and Beyond.  Ed. Phil Bellfy.  Now available at

[34] Derrick Jensen.  The Myth of Human Supremacy.  NY:  Seven Stories Press, 2016.

[35] Brian Larsen.  “Grand Portage replies to Draft Environmental Impact Statement on reintroduction of wolves to Isle Royale.”  April 1, 2017.  Cook County News Herald.  <>.

[36] White Earth Land Recovery Project.

[37] Joseph Bruchac.  The Dark Pond.  NY:  HarperCollins, 2004.

[38] John Bodley.  Victims of Progress.  6th edition.  Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.  p19.