Editor’s Note: We are delighted to share this excerpt from Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley’s newest book Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting With Sacred Earth.
What does it mean to be rooted in the land? How are we shaped by being from somewhere, some place, some land in particular? How do we become rooted?
Indigenous people are those who originate naturally from a certain land, who have dwelled there for a long period of time. To be Indigenous is to be rooted: to be part of a community or ethnic group with historic continuity. Indigenous people understand how to live with the land.
We are all indigenous to some place. We are all from somewhere. I repeat: we are all indigenous, from somewhere. Allow that phrase to sink deep into your being. Now begin to open yourself up to the reality embedded deep within your own DNA, your very own identity. Each human being is a finely crafted amalgamation of various ethnicities, each originating from a particular place on Earth. Your ancestors were, at one time, all indigenous. Might we regain a bit of our ancestors’ indigeneity, much of which has likely been lost through time and travel? Your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who lived and breathed and experienced life before you—they are now living through you. From manifold generations back, they looked forward, sometimes even on their deathbeds, to your life. They and their indigeneity matter because you are here now, as their living hope.
Why does indigeneity matter? Because people who have lived on their own land from time immemorial have worked out their relationship with the plants, animals, weather, and mountains. Those relationships grew and matured over time until there were balance and harmony between the people indigenous to that place and the rest of the community of creation. In order to live in harmony and balance on the land, we all need to recover or discover truly Indigenous values.
We are all indigenous to some place. We are all from somewhere. This is not to say we should all claim to be capital-I Indigenous. Most of us have settler ancestors: those who moved onto land not their own and displaced its original inhabitants. Others of us descend from people who did live somewhere in the world, for generations—people who once belonged to the land. We can all become more lowercase-i indigenous on the land. So perhaps we should all be asking the question, Who were we all before we were colonized or modernized or urbanized or westernized? Like most people of nations composed of immigrant peoples, I am a finely crafted mix of various ethnic streams—and so, likely, are you. I was raised near Detroit, Michigan, and I am a Cherokee descendant recognized by the Keetoowah Band of Cherokee. This gives me no special rights or claims; it simply is. I have very little Indian ancestry, and as you will discover in this book, I was not raised much around Native American culture.
Although being Indian was a significant part of my identity growing up, I only began practicing a more traditionally oriented Indigenous lifestyle and way of thinking in my twenties. I have learned, over many years, to think differently than the dominant culture—the more I learned about an Indigenous way of viewing the world, the more natural it felt. I also realized that seeing all life as sacred and spiritual was what I had already learned while growing up: from my parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles. I discovered that even though most of my family had been assimilated into Western society for generations, they still retained some Indigenous values. Perhaps the same is true for you. Besides my limited Native American DNA, I also carry in my body the ancestry of numerous other nations from several continents. At one time, each of those peoples was indigenous to somewhere. They lived in a particular place, and they understood that distinct land and their place within it very well. Worldviews can be changed. Yes, true indigeneity is something earned over thousands of years. Yet if we try, we can all learn to adopt indigenous values into our lives—both from our own ancestry and, if we are very fortunate, from the Indigenous people who live with the land upon which we now live.
Planting your roots on the land in which you live is the only way to restore harmony and balance on Earth. The alternative is extremely bleak. If we fail to connect with the land in a very real and tangible way, we might still have a good life. But why miss out on the fullest of what life has to offer? Why miss out on learning from the greatest teacher, the Earth herself? Why miss seeing the beauty that awaits us in a renewed and fruitful relationship of mutual caring?
Becoming Rooted contains one hundred short meditations, or observances, to help us all become better Earth relatives. Like relatives, we are connected to one another whether we like it or not. The Earth and the whole community of creation live with us in a reciprocal relationship. What we do to the Earth and her creatures affects us. Without a strong relationship to the land, we will continue to flow with the dominant cultural view, objectifying the Earth and all her creatures: extracting, developing, and polluting without deep remorse. The Earth will not allow us to continue in this way. Even now, we are experiencing the “natural” disasters that could dominate our future.
I am inviting you on a one-hundred-day journey with creation. This journey will take you deeper into your own particular place— your own original somewhere. Becoming Rooted will help you encounter the particular place that makes you someone. The journey will help you get in touch with your own roots: with the land on which you now live and with the people who lived on that land for thousands of years prior to your arrival.
I hope you will allow these daily reflections, as seen through my particular Indigenous experience, to call you back to yours. I invite you not to mimic my experience but to integrate your own experiences, rooted in your sense of self and your own developing indigeneity. The book is for those recently indigenous to this land; Native Americans; and those who are many generations removed from their own indigeneity, which includes all immigrants. We all need to remember—or not forget in the first place—how to live with the Earth.
This journey is your personal invitation into a different kind of relationship with nature—or, as I like to say, with the whole community of creation. It is also an invitation into a different kind of relationship with Creator, however you understand Creator to be present in your own life and within everything—as God, as Great Mystery, as a higher power, or as the universe.
In these pages, I will intermix terms like nature and creation. I will talk about Creator, or Great Mystery, or God. As you read, feel free to substitute your own sense of the force you believe animates the universe. I come out of a Christian experience, so some of my references will be connected to that tradition. Your own spiritual or religious experience may be different from mine, be it Buddhism, Paganism, Daoism, Islam, Sikhism, or no formal religion whatsoever. Having taught world religions in graduate school for over a decade, I know that nearly every sacred tradition has within it an admiration for the natural world. The approach we will be taking on this journey goes deeper than any one religion. Our journey will embrace the commonality of our humanity as our spirituality. We are on this journey together. We all have the Earth in common, no matter where we are from. Everyone in the whole community of creation has common cause to live well together on the Earth and to care for nature. But please make no mistake: nature can be unforgiving. I have noticed that each of us feels a deep and primal longing both to experience nature and to protect ourselves from its harsh realities.
This balance has been the plight of humanity for as long as we have inhabited the Earth. Despite our fear of the natural world, our fascination with the beauty of creation and her creatures—the whole community of creation, of which we are a part—never ceases. On one hand, we wrap ourselves in the most concrete and blacktopped urban world imaginable. We cheer on the most philosophical of claims, the most rigorous of academic theories, and the most mechanistic of contraptions. On the other hand, a simple tree on the horizon, a hummingbird sipping its nectar, a rainbow, or freshly fallen snow still awakens our deepest sense of awe. In the process of protecting ourselves from the harshest realities in nature, we may not realize that most of the world has drifted far from our state of natural wonderment. Deep inside, though, often without realizing it, we miss nature’s beauty and the sense of her inspiration.
Eloheh (pronounced “ay-luh-HAY”) is a Cherokee word meaning “harmony,” “wholeness,” “abundance,” “fullness,” “peace,” and much more. The vision for the nonprofit organization that my wife and I co-sustain came from a sacred and powerful dream I had in 1998. The results of that vision have come, after years of many joys and heartaches along the way. Located on ten acres, in the foothills of the Oregon Coastal Mountain Range, is the place we call home: Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice and Eloheh Farm & Seeds.
Our goal at Eloheh is to live in harmony with the land by using traditional Indigenous North American knowledge, wisdom, and practices as a guiding model that embodies educating our whole selves. At Eloheh my wife, Edith—who is an Eastern Shoshone tribal member—and I develop, implement, and teach sustainable and regenerative Earth practices. Eloheh Farm is a model of regenerative agriculture, animal husbandry, and wild-tending systems that support human needs while improving the land and all creation inhabiting the web of life here. We regularly hold schools, cohorts, and summits that teach these skills to others. More importantly, we hope to help others love the land on which they live. To accept our place as simple human beings—beings who share a world with every seen and unseen creature in this vast community of creation—is to embrace our deepest spirituality. The journey we will take through these one hundred days will lead us away from the values and priorities of the “American dream”—or what I call an indigenous nightmare—toward a better understanding of what can be called “the harmony way.” The harmony way is a universal set of values that I observed among many Indigenous peoples years prior to my PhD dissertation work, where I investigated the construct in a more in-depth way. The values within a harmony way framework have sustained many of the Indigenous people in the world over millennia. The values of the harmony way are the values that will sustain us well into the future. We are all indigenous to some place. We are all from somewhere. We can all become rooted in the land that sustains us. I invite you on the journey.
We must all get together as a race and render our contribution to mankind.
—Redbird Smith, Keetoowah Cherokee, 1918
For more from Randy Woodley listen to this great podcast interview https://www.circlewood.online/podcastepisodes/episode/4bcc5cdc/becoming-rooted-randy-woodley-on-his-new-book-of-daily-reflections
As an Amazon Associate I receive a small amount for purchases made through appropriate links. Thank you for supporting Godspace in this way.
TOMORROW! Wednesday, May 4th at our regular time of 9 am PT, join Christine Sine and Melissa Taft for a discussion on Restoring Rhythms and Seasons. Live on Facebook in the Godspace Light Community Group. Can’t join us live? Catch it later on youtube!