Photo credit: Lakota People’s Law Project, Facebook
Let’s pretend for a second that the word “worship” has nothing to do with God or religion. In fact, if I tell you the origin of the word, perhaps that will help you pretend.
The word “worship” actually comes from the Old English word “weorthscipe,” a collusion of the word “worth” and the suffix “-ship,” somewhat like the word “relationship”. So worship is, quite simply, giving worth to something.
Lately, I’ve been watching Planet Earth (Attenborough, Fothergill, Werlowitz, & Parker, 2006). It’s a remarkable series. The cinematography is stunning, and it’s narrated in a way that is both poignant and witty. Each episode takes you to these specific geographies all over the world and tells you a bit about the plant and animal life of the region.
These two things are related, I promise.
While I was watching the episodes (So far, I’ve only seen the ones on the poles, mountains, and fresh water), I was suddenly reminded of Native peoples of America (and all over the world, for that matter) who, according to English speakers, worship nature. English speakers usually use a rather condescending tone when referring to these people’s tendencies, implying that they are somewhat primitive and animistic, that they do not worship the “correct”, colonizer-approved things, and to which I take great objection because for all I know, the blood of tribal people of Assam runs in my veins.
To preface this rant, I unfortunately don’t have much to cite, besides what I’ve read from Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian (2013) and this particular video about a man working to preserve forests of Assam. It cannot be only a product of conjecture, but I know that the preservation of nature depends intimately on the preservation of Indigenous peoples everywhere. I know this because many Indigenous people do, in some way or another, worship nature.
I think English speakers do not understand the implications of this argument, so I will explain in more detail. Indigenous people worship nature; they literally deem nature worthy. They deem mountains, rivers, and forests worthy; they are intimately concerned with the well-being of their environment; it is dictated in (to use another English word that falls far short) their religion. It is their duty and obligation to protect these places and creatures of the earth, a radical implication that descendants of colonizers will never fully understand.
Earth-preservers do not consider the preservation of the Earth to be a mindset. It is also not merely an ideology or a set of habits. Modern white “environmentalists” preach the importance of recycling, composting, reducing packaging, and using renewable materials because they just barely realize that this rock they live on gives them life.
Earth-preservers have known this throughout the ages, not just as some afterthought that accompanies earth-ravaging as colonizers do, but intuitively, as though it is religion. Earth-preserving is a part of their lifestyle, and a part of who they are. These are people who are so intimately connected to their land that they know how it “breathes”; they know the seasons of a land, they know the migration patterns of creatures, they know what grows when and how and why. They know these things so intimately that the patterns are passed down from one generation to the next (or at least, it used to be, before displacement and migrations began to be commonplace), the knowledge of when to hunt, when to plant, when to take shelter, and what is home.
In doing so, they have preserved vast ecosystems for hundreds of years, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of the entire planet. They might not have known it, but modern science has proven this to be true.
I know I don’t usually wax this cheesy, but I don’t think y’all understand how relieved I am that Earth-preservers have won in Standing Rock, North Dakota. I worried for days about what would happen on December 5, and I prayed it would not be another Jallianwala Bagh or another Selma. Americans, and people in general, don’t have great hindsight and tend to forget all the violence of American protests. Clearly, someone was listening because the pipeline has been declined, and for that I am grateful. I now, and always, affirm my support of Earth-preserving people. #NoDAPL