FAIRBANKS — What might appear to be a disparate panel of speakers — scientists, faith leaders and Native elders — seamlessly merged their perspectives about being good stewards of the Earth.
“As everyone talks, we have a lot more in common than you thought,” observed Larry Merculieff, moderator and Native leader, to the audience at Saturday’s “One People, One Earth.”
Native elders Ole Lake, Howard Luke, Elaine Abraham and Rita Blumenstein spoke of their subsistence childhoods when the bulk of their food came from the land, rivers and sea.
“We are not people of the past. We are the people of the present; we have a lot to offer,” said Elder Ole Lake who grew up in Hooper Bay.
Lake believes part of today’s environmental problems relate to our “colonial mindset.”
“We as a society now want to break everything down and build it up again. Nature is not for us to break down and build up again,” he said. “The water, the land, the air and fire, are trying to tell us something, it’s organic. Scientists have already told us that.”
But Lake doesn’t give up hope. “It is never too late to learn. Mother Earth is the only one we have. We haven’t learned how to live on the others yet,” Lake said.
Elaine Abraham of Yakutat, agrees with Luke’s statement that today’s elders’ traditional ecological knowledge goes back more than 100 years, and she noted how important it is to pass it on to one’s children and grandchildren.
“If we do not take care of the land, the next generation will not have what we have today,” she said.
Abraham suggested to the audience they start by doing just one thing such as recycling newspapers, or cutting back from buying so much clothing.
“Go home and look around and see what you can save,” she said.
Healer Rita Blumenstein, said, “We are the people of one world, but we are trashing Mother Earth; we can’t even drink water anymore, anywhere; and that’s our first medicine: water.
“My grandmother said, ‘One day we’ll be one people. There are going to be many marriages; my grand children, some are black, some are brown, some are white, with red hair, blonde hair.’”
Blumenstein also emphasized the importance of education. “Teach your young people. You don’t have to have a degree to teach, just be who you are and talk about it.”
The Rev. Curt Karns, head of the Yukon Presbytery, lives in a bio-shelter near Eagle River that mimics a living organism.
He believes Alaskans, both city dwellers and villagers, tend to minimize earth care.
“This disturbs me deeply,” Karns said. “To be in this creation and sense God’s presence is awesome,”
Karns and his wife, Cindy, started a Yukon Presbytery Earth Care group so people could figure out who they are.
“You are a child of God with all your relatives here in creation,” he said. “Look at this creation; celebrate this creation. Humans are the youngest of the creation. The Bible is strong about the younger taking care of their parents.”
Muslim Imam Dr. Ataur Chowdhury, a UAF physics professor, cited passages from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that mandate Muslims protect the environment, such as: “The world is green and beautiful, and God has appointed you His guardian over it.” (Saheeh Muslim).
As a physicist, Chowdhury said it is a fact the world is going in the wrong direction.
“We have become greedy people, and the greed is the root cause of the degradation of the natural world,” he said.
“We have a lot responsibility as trustees to take it forward, so others can enjoy it,” Chowdhury said.
The scientist stressed the importance of balance in nature.
“God made every thing in precision. The sun and the moon are in perfect precision. Everything in nature has to be in perfect balance so it can coexist in a harmonious way,” he said. “We are not maintaining the balance, and we need to know how much to take from nature and how much to put back into it to maintain the proper balance.”
Father Thomas Weise, a Catholic priest, believes people need to be in a right relationship with themselves in order to value God’s creation and each other.
“If we recognize ourselves as beautiful, wonderful creations, we might recognize others as beautiful, wonderful creations,” he said. “None of us are throwaway people.”
Weise advises Alaskans to eat what comes from the earth.
“Give up boxes,” Weise said. “Mother Earth didn’t make it in a box. This is a generation that needs to do something different or the next generation is in serious trouble.”
Dr. Larry HInzman, director of the International Arctic Research Center at UAF, briefly outlined scientific worries about climate change and global warming. He said these changes are especially noticeable in Alaska and are causing permafrost warming, glacier melting, wildfires, lakes disappearing, coastal erosion, severe storms, etc.
One of the most urgent issues, he said, is ocean acidification that will destroy sea creatures. Climate change also is causing a decline in food production of grains, wheat, maize and sorghum.
“The climate is going to hammer agriculture and marine life, and science isn’t going to keep ahead of it,” Hinzman said.
“We have to live more within our means. It’s the little steps we can take … We must teach our children.”
Terry Chapin, a UAF professor of ecology, said he likes to think science is beginning to grow up and trying to not just taking apart and learning about pieces but studying relationships.
“It is beginning to become really clear to scientists that if we want to understand what is going on in the world, we need to understand relationships that people are involved with,” he said.
“The most convincing evidence about climate change is what things elders have told me,” Chapin said.
“I think of all of us as being scientists in one way or another,” Chapin said. “This is more obvious to us here in Alaska. We need to be more active in telling the story to the world on Facebook and Twitter, about how climate is changing peoples lives, changing organisms.”
Chapin also believes scientists need to take a different approach on how they talk about climate change. When predictions are all doom and gloom, he said, people tend to disengage themselves.
“Science is looking inward, and it needs to look outward and make climate change less of a political issue and an issue of respect and core concerns,” he said, adding, “And, in Alaska, the wisdom of the elders.”
Saturday’s four-hour discussion was sponsored by Alaska Interfaith Power and Light.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at email@example.com