The Rights of the Living
by Mitakuye Oyasin

A recent study shows that people who are cruel to animals tend to be cruel to other people. As with so many studies that cost money, this one reached conclusions that are obvious. Respect for life doesn't come in categories or degrees. It either is or it isn't.

Native Americans have always believed that the Great Spirit placed a piece of himself within all living things. As Chief Luther Standing Bear, a Teton Sioux, puts it, "From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying life force that flowed In and through all things­­ the flowers of the plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals­­ and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred and were brought together by the same Great Mystery."

When the first white men arrived, they viewed the wilderness as the enemy, something to be tamed, to be forced into subjection. This meant a lot of killing and little distinction was made between killing the wild animals, the trees, or the Native Americans who comprised the "wilderness."

Standing Bear continues: "Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue."

The Bible toters who invaded Turtle Island brought with them a "credit card" of sorts for their ravaging of our land and the life it supported. They found this rationalization in the Bible: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.'"

Without benefit of such written "words from God," the Lakota and other Native Americans still managed to carry within their hearts the real intent of the Great Mystery in giving man "dominion" over the earth and its creatures. As Standing Bear puts it, "The animals had rights­­ the right of man's protection, the right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom and the right to man's indebtedness­­ and in recognition of these rights the Lakota never enslaved an animal and spared all life that was not needed for food and clothing.

"This concept of life and its relations was humanizing, and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all."

Now you know why I hate butterfly collections. Capture, kill, and pin on a board, and then play "show and tell." It is the same with the report I read recently by some idiot who traveled to South America in search of a new species of bird, and when he found it, killed it so that he could claim fame as a discoverer. And zoos are nothing but prisons for living creatures who would gladly trade their concrete enclosures for freedom in their natural world.

The treatment of hogs as machines by the mega-hog industry was recently addressed by Roger Caras, President of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (Zephyr, September 11, 1997). He pointed out that pigs are smart and have feelings. They need some dirt under their feet, some sunshine on their bodies, some freedom to move about. Most significantly, he points out what happens to farmers when they become part of treating animals like machines: "They cease to be animals themselves; they're a cog in a machine."

It is not my imagination, and I am not just glamorizing the 50s of my youth. The cruelty of people to other people has risen dramatically and to levels of intensity not present a few short years ago. Something is missing in America.

Experts love to point to education as the scapegoat. Others blame the family. These may be part of the problem but beneath it all is the absence of spirituality, the fruit of respect for all living things.

This article posted to Zephyr online September 25, 1997
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