DEFENDERS OF OUR SACRED MOTHER: Native Wisdom Keepers Speak Out

May 01, 2020

By Danny Beaton
In Memory of Alicja Rozanska
There are old ones who still communicate with stones, bones, skulls, feathers, plants, and know the songs to honour the natural world and spirits. Our ancestors worked with the spirits, water, fire, air, earth, the drum, prayers, and songs for harmony and fertility. They walked the Earth in harmony and respect for the Universe and Creation/Great Mystery.

Our Spiritual Leaders have maintained our Sacred Ceremonies, giving great thanks and respect to the life giving forces for thousands of years. We have always honoured everything in the Sky World that moved. Our old stories tell how we traveled from the Sky World to find ourselves a place on Turtle Island. Even today our sacred circles and councils are a way for us to heal and pass our culture on to our children and our children’s children. Traditional Elders teach us that the Earth is our Sacred Mother and that everything we need to survive is here for us and that we must be thankful by our Sacred Ceremonies and protect what is here for the future generations to come. Elders can teach us how to heal with the Spirit World and how to find protection, guidance and wisdom from the eagle, bear, turtle, deer, wolf, and our ancestors. We can do sweat lodges and smudging for purification. We can call on to the Spirit World for the healing of our minds, body and spirit. Our Elders have struggled to keep our traditional ways of life alive because they knew the power of the natural world and respect of the natural laws were for harmony and peace. Our women made our chiefs and chose them when they were young. Chiefs belonged to our nations and they gave up their life for the benefit and protection of the People. Healing and solving problems was sometimes done by fasting, sweating, and listening to the Old Wisdom Keepers.

Traditional Iroquois Elders have always taught us that the Good Mind is the way for justice, righteousness, equality, harmony, and peace; that we can do good things with our thinking and be creative when it is for the benefit of all creation and the natural world. We are told by the Elders that everything we do affects the Seventh Generation and we must think of the unborn faces looking up from beneath Mother Earth.

We can put our minds together as a force. We can join our minds together and give thanks when our brother, the Sun comes up from the East every day for all the nourishment and beauty that our Sacred Mother gives us to survive. We can say Nia’wen for all the life-giving waters which all life benefits from, since all life began from the great oceans and tides. We are taught from our Wisdom Keepers how to put tobacco down for our Mother’s blood. We are taught by our Elders we must beg forgiveness for the suffering to the air, earth, fire and water and creation. Our Grandmothers show us to honour and protect Mother Earth’s blood and they tell the men that we must protect the water as the water is life. We are taught to honour the air with our ceremonies too, we are taught to be thankful to the air, the water, the earth, and the fire. The Old Ones teach us to honour and respect the natural powers and forces and spirits so that they do not go against us, so that we are all in harmony.

The rivers and lakes must be honoured, thanked, and protected for their healing power. The winds that move about must be respected in the same way. The Elders teach us to heal with the air, water, earth and fire in our Sweat Lodge and by burning our sacred tobacco, by making offerings to the Spirit World and by smoking our Sacred Pipe. We can walk in the forest and vegetation and heal by eating the plants and medicines. We are taught to honour the spirit of the plants and the spirit of the animals, the birds, the fish, the insects, we are taught that everything has a spirit on our Sacred Mother Earth and that they must be honoured and respected throughout the day as we wander and travel about. In our teachings the Sky is our Father, the Moon is our Grandmother, the animals are our brothers, and that the Three Sisters are Corn, Bean, and Squash. Our Wisdom Keepers have many teachings.


"Our Old Elders hold the wisdom for our children, they are like a book of knowledge." --Harriet Jock, Mohawk Elder


"Since the Creator made humans he also gave us the plants and animals to sustain ourselves. He gave us the Fire to communicate with Him, the Creator. The natural order of things will become effected if we forget to give thanks for these things. There may come a time when the Sun, our brother will rise from the West and there will be a storm seven times stronger than we’ve ever seen before." --Chief Leon Shenandoah (Tadadaho), Iroquois Confederacy

"We are seeing the strip mining of our Mother the Earth and also seeing the strip mining of our children (through TV). --Phillip Deere, Muskogee Elder

"We learn how to heal from our Sacred Fire and how to honour our fires with Cedar, Tobacco, and purification with our Sage and Sweetgrass. If we make every effort to be spiritual, honour the life-giving forces and creation, then our Sacred Mother will feel our love.” --Mohawk man
"Another prophecy that I’ve been thinking about lately, because it seems to be coming about is the one that warns when the birds begin to nest on the ground, that will signal the beginning of the end. That doesn’t have to mean the end, the end of the world, but maybe the end of one thing and the beginning of something else. I know by the way they are cutting down the forest that the birds have to nest on the ground because there won’t be any trees left for them to nest on." --Lavina White, Haida Elder

"As Hopi we don’t own the land, we’re just caretakers. We use it, but not with electricity and coal mines. We’re calling for the purification because it’s our obligation. We’re ready, we want it to happen. We know we can’t get people to change, but we’re near the time. Very near. We pray to the Creator and tell him this is not what we want but we feel there is no choice. We’ve already gone over the time limit that was give to us in the prophecy. Even the leaders of our village have put it off because they don’t want to see it happen in their lifetime." --Martin Gashweseoma, Hopi Elder


"We need to clean up the mess that we created. If we don’t Mother Earth is going to shake us real hard. We are all breathing this air which is a part of nature, every living thing on this earth has to breath in this air, we are all part of it. We have no business destroying any other life." --Thomas Banyacya, Hopi Elder

"You know how it is when you have a pain, if you get a little cut it hurts. That’s the way the earth is now and we need to heal her in some way. They’re not patching up anything for Mother Earth and She’s not healing, She’s just getting worse with pain. They are trying to take Her precious guts out for money." --Roberta Blackgoat, Navajo Elder

"We are ruining the earth with technology. We are polluting the waters and the air. Only 1% of the all water on this earth is drinking water, now they say that at least of that is polluted. The salmon are disappearing because of the pollution and dams just like the buffalo, the passenger pigeon, and many other species have disappeared. But the most endangered species in the world today, let me tell you, is us, we are the endangered species. We are a part of nature. We are part of this earth, we are a part of everything that lives. If you don’t know how to be a human being you’ll never be spiritual." --Janet McCloud, Tulalip Elder

"Power takes over a holy person’s life. We dream and vision and have fantastic thoughts. The Power that we receive is for healing, prophesying, solving problems, and finding lost people or objects. It is also for spreading love, transforming and assuring peace and fertility. It is not to give us power over others because the source of Power is not ourselves."--Frank Fools Crow, Lakota Elder

"Our ancestors must be respected, their spirits must be respected, our teachings must be respected." --Judy Swamp, Mohawk Elder

"Every leaf, every plant, every flower, I see my Mother. When we take a life, we must do it in a sacred way. We can’t hurt who we take from. Our Mother Earth gives continually. We have to take with love and care. We are the Earth, we are the air, we are the water, we are the fire." --Robertjohn Knapp, Seneca/Tubotolobal Elder

"For Indigenous Nations and Peoples, sustainable development often means loss of lands and resources, exploitation of Indigenous Peoples for labour, loss of culture, loss of children, high rates of death from disease and assimilation, and forced removal from aboriginal territories. Indigenous cultures in the Americas have sustained themselves for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. The people of the Amazon Basin would not need to harvest wild nuts for the international market if the international economy were content to leave them and their forest alone. Fairness to people and fairness to the environment are inseparable. The western concept of justice applies almost exclusively to humans but our justice applies to everything, even to water. Remember at one time we shared the same paths through the forest as our four-footed brothers. Being a Wolf myself, I have a feeling for the mystery of that animal. He is on a mission. He is being pushed. He disappeared from many places, driven out. He is feared for whatever reason. He is respected for whatever reason. I think that whatever happens to the wolf, happens to us. And whatever happens to us, will happen to you." --Chief Oren Lyons, Onondaga Elder


 Seneca Elder John Mohawk Speaks About Global Warming and Climate Change

--Danny Beaton is a Mohawk, Turtle Clan, son of Lois Clause, whose grandparents were Edna Beaver and Freeman Clause of the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario Canada. In 1990, Chief Oren Lyons, Faith Keeper of the Onondaga nation, Wolf Clan, brought Beaton into the Traditional Circle of Elders & Youth, a coalition of grassroots Native American Elders & Youth who gather to maintain traditional ceremonies and council. Beaton has worked intensely with Crees, Innu, Apache, Seminoles, Ojibways, and Indigneous people from the Amazon Rainforest to protect their cultures and traditional territories. Beaton has received grants from the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council to study Native American flute music at The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has produced and directed four films which feature Native American Spiritual Elders voicing their concern for the need for society to return to spiritual values and the protection of our Sacred Mother Earth. Three of these films have been broadcast nationally in Canada. Beaton has written numerous articles in newspapers and magazines across Canada and the United States to educate society about environmental protection and traditional Native values. He has a permanent collection of his photography at the Smithsonian Museum, Woodland Cultural Centre, and The Mohawk Travelling College. Beaton has lectured extensively in many schools, colleges and universities including University of Toronto, Queens, Trent and Ryerson Universities. He has also lectured and performed in Japan and the United Kingdom. Danny lectures and plays traditional Native flute on request. For more information, please visit:  

Top photo: Joe Medicine Crow with Danny Beaton.
All photos by Danny Beaton.