Native American Religion

Restoring Species to the Circle of Life

Authored by: Sidney Blankenship

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138592728
eBook ISBN: 9780429489846
Adobe ISBN:


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This paper explores the historic dilemma involved in Native American “religion” and its concern for animals. Indigenous ethical determinations are holistic and fully grounded in the non-human world. Overarching problems include habitat loss and ecological fragmentation, alien political constraints based on property rights in a secular culture, treaties made and broken resulting in tribal dislocation, reservations, other historic prejudice, and forceful subjugations including language, education and economics. A lack of understanding about indigenous perspectives, myths, creation stories, tribal structures (and the connective value of native languages to animals and the environment): all this has been an inestimable loss in benefit to history. In its reconciliation lies the fate of the current imbalance of man and nature in North America. Perceptual knowledge and spiritual awareness regarding non-human creatures (not domesticated in the modern sense) are meant to have a reverential interface in daily experience. Native fauna of concern will focus on certain key species that have been misunderstood, abused and neglected such as the gray wolf, American bison, Pacific salmon, various bear species, panthers and manatees in Florida, and the California condor. Many of these, and other smaller species of immediate concern, have been subject to the U.S. Government’s Endangered Species Act. Other collaborative efforts to address these concerns include a host of NGOs with a broad spectrum of focus. Tribal colleges with educational influence and inter-tribal organizations play a part. The introspection of non-native religious traditions could be of great benefit to this restoration. It is in this sphere that a proper animal ethic may evolve with a truly spiritual dimension. Animals are involved in the core teachings of every tradition. Hopefully this will help heal the “cosmic impiety” that has arisen as unnatural and unjust for our non-human relatives, and restore the circle of life.

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