Southwest Native American Religion and their Relationship to the Environment

Native Americans have long had an immediate relationship with their physical environment; they t lived in relatively small units close to the earth, aware of its rhythms and resources. They defined themselves by the land, by the sacred places that bound and shaped their world. They recognized a unity in their physical and spiritual universes, the union of natural and supernatural. Their origin cycles, oral traditions, and cosmologies connected them with all animate and inanimate beings, past and present.­­­

They were herded like cattle onto reservations  losing the land that they love and with the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887, they were transformed from hunters to farmers and herdsmen and often simply to become paupers on their own land.  Subsequent acts of Congress opened Indian Territory, withdrew forests, reservoir sites, mineral and grazing lands, regulated Indian access to those areas, and even dodged the trust period to hasten the transfer of lands into non-Indian hands.

By the early twentieth century, the little land Native Americans controlled was mostly in the trans-Mississippi West.   They maintained a land base and a cultural identity, things that continue to set them apart, economically as well as socially and politically from other ethnic groups or classes in the United States. Although viewed as relatively valueless by nineteenth-century white standards, these lands were places of spiritual value and some contained resources of immense worth. This fact informs nearly all Native American environmental issues in the twentieth century. Land (its loss, location, and resource wealth or poverty), exploitation of land, and changing Indian needs, attitudes, and religious demands define the issues facing modern Indians and their environments.

Lewis, David.  “Native Americans and the Environment”.  American Indian Quarterly .  19(3) [Spring 1995].   Web.  10 June 2013.

The Native Americans and the Environment.  A.I.R. Policy Center-Knowledge and Education.  Web.  10 June 2013.

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