Biodiversity, a Sacred Responsibility:
Teachings from Valentin Lopez
Whenever I hear something that rings true and comes from two distinct traditions, I pay attention. Many years ago, a friend of mine related to me a Buddhist metaphor about the interconnectedness of life that suggests that every ant had been your mother in a past life for so many cycles that the milk that fed you from her breast would fill the ocean. Of course, it’s hard to take that literally, but the allegory did make me think about the kinship of life.
So, when I heard Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, speak at the 2021 EcoFarm Conference during a workshop on “Regenerative Agriculture: Equity and Inclusion” about how all life is interrelated from an Indigenous perspective, it struck me that the worldview he was sharing reflected on the Buddhist perspective.
I have been involved in organic/sustainable/regenerative/agro-ecological food and farming movements for a long time now, and I’ve recently been doing some writing about Regenerative Agriculture and the importance of biodiversity. The idea that life on earth is built on the diversity of species and driven by their interactions, cooperation and competition is certainly far from a foreign concept to me, but these Indigenous and Buddhist teachings make me feel that even those of us with a firm grasp of the scientific underpinnings of biodiversity may still be missing something essential. That rational understanding doesn’t go far enough in driving home viscerally just how fundamental our kinship with the natural world is. It doesn’t capture how our loss of spiritual connection to the web of life has inevitably led to the catastrophic, tragic loss of biodiversity our species is now causing.
In his talk, Valentin Lopez explained that it is our sacred responsibility to care for all living things, and he also offered an Indigenous perspective on true wealth:
“Creator gave us the responsibility to take care of Mother Earth. We took that obligation very seriously. We learned how to take care of the plants and the birds and the fish. How to take care of the migration patterns and how to take care of the fog and how to take care of the shadows. Those were all our responsibilities. That’s what our ancestors looked at as true wealth and riches for thousands of years. Today people look at wealth as how much money they have in the bank or what kind of car they drive or what neighborhood they live in or what kind of shoes they’re wearing. They consider that true wealth; that’s totally baffling to the Amah Mutsun and most Native Americans. To our ancestors, true wealth was two things. The first is Indigenous knowledge that was passed down from generation to generation to generation about how to take care of Mother Earth and all living things. Do you know how to take care of the bears?
On California’s Central Coast, the grizzly bears and all bears in our territory did not hibernate. There was no need to hibernate because the climate was so mild, so we had the responsibility to ensure that there was a reliable food source for the bears in all four seasons. We had to learn what plants the bears need for food for the summer, the winter, the spring and the fall. That was important to us. We had to know the ceremonies to pray for balance in the four seasons. Indigenous knowledge includes our places of power and the ceremonies to call back the migrating geese, to call back the migrating salmon.
The second thing that was important to our knowledge and riches was relationship. Do you know how to ensure that your relationships are sincere and honest? Do you have truthful honest and healthy relationships within your family? Do you have those relationships with your neighbors, and the neighboring tribes, etc. It’s important to teach people how to find a mate and to be responsible adults.
And it went much further than that. Do you have strong relationships with the insects, with the four-leggeds, with the birds, with the fish? Those are sacred relationships we all have. We recognize them as our relatives. They have the same mother and father as we do. Our father is Father Sky; our mother is Mother Earth. The same is true of the deer, the rabbits and the birds. They have the same mother and the same father. They are our relatives; we have to take care of them with love, with care. We have to sing to them; we have to talk to them; we have to listen to them.
And finally, we have a relationship with Creator. Do you have a strong relationship with Creator? Does Creator listen to your prayers? Does Creator talk to you? Do you listen to Creator and hear what he is saying? Those qualities, the knowledge of our ancestors and having those healthy, strong relationships are what gave true wealth to our people. That’s what was passed down generation to generation. That’s what all of us need to go back to—knowing how to take care of Mother Earth and having those relationships with all living things.”
Valentine Lopez offers us profound teachings. Caring for Mother Earth, who feeds uncountable life-cycles, and all her manifestations – even the ineffable entities of fog and shadows – is our sacred responsibility. Gaining the knowledge to be in right relationship with all of life, is the path to true prosperity. Those are the real treasures that we risk losing.