I transcribed this because I thought it was an interesting story:
Going back to Roosevelt, the environmental movement — the most powerful part of it — really did arise from the upper class. There’s no question about it. But people in that class like (George) Perkins Marshall and so forth really made a separation between society and human beings, and nature itself.
But Native Americans and, if you look at the native languages from all
the Americas — Northwest America and South America — what you find is
a very, very different set of perceptions that inform their relationship
to the environment.
I was reminded of this when I was in Patagonia several years ago,
climbing with some friends, and there was a very tawdry little museum
there of an extirpated tribe called the Yaghan or the Yamana people.
These are the people that Magellan spotted when he came around Tierra
del Fuego and he called them beasts. He called them beasts because when
he looked at them, they were bathing in the winter at the seashore,
they’d taken off their furs, they were rubbing themselves down with
salt water, and steam was coming off their bodies. And he called them
When the Czechs and Germans came and created the great estancias in
Chile and Argentina for wool, for the Hobbesian “dark satanic mills” of
the Industrial Revolution, these natives were bountied at twenty-five
dollars a head and they were rounded up until they were finally in one
mission, an Anglican mission, and this mission was headed by a priest
who was an amateur lexicographer. He loved words. His father, however,
was involved with an earlier massacre of the same people. So even though
they were there and there was only a few hundred of them left, they
didn’t trust him, because of his father’s involvement with this
massacre. So they wouldn’t talk to him, just the tribal chief started to
tell him their language and give him the definition of the words. He
wouldn’t talk about women’s issues, cosmology, ritual initiation, you
know, certain things that were taboo, because those weren’t to be given
to just anybody, but he would talk about everything else. He got to
30,000 words and the Anglican lexicographer died.
Now that dictionary is in the British Museum. Just to give you some
sense, there’s 40,000 words in Japanese. This dictionary’s 30,000 words,
one person, all memory, and no written language. This language has more
verbs than English. And this language, when you read the dictionary
is, in a sense, “local science”. This is a language, when you read it,
where the sacred, survival, hunting, gathering, and psychology, are not
integrated, they were never dis-integrated.
And so, the terms for spiritual states and the terms for psychological
states are all poetically metaphorical of the science of place. So
“i-ka” is a verb, and means: “lying in your canoe in the morning before
dawn, listening to the rushes brush against the bark”. “What were you
doing this morning?” “Oh, I-kan…” Their word for depression is a crab
who is molting its shell and hasn’t dropped it yet, it hasn’t lost the
old shell yet. The language is exquisite. Now if you take seven people
here who are college-educated, and lock them up for a week, they’ll come
up with 12-15,000 words.
This is the beast that Magellan saw. These were the people who were
bountied. This is a language that we don’t understand, because what
we’re trying to do is bring this together (society and the environment)
and these are people that never separated. So, in a sense, the framing
of environmentalism arose — and this is what I think — from a great
love of nature, but also came from a sense of alienation and separation.
Paul Hawken, “The Long Green”. Oct 2004, Long Now Seminars