Landscape Identity and Sacredness

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, popular tourist destination and sacred place for the Lakota

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, popular tourist destination and sacred place for the Lakota

Mt. Fairweather in Glacier Bay, Alaska. This is one of the world's tallest coastal mountains and a sacred place for the Hoonah Tlingit

Mt. Fairweather in Glacier Bay, Alaska. This is one of the world’s tallest coastal mountains and a sacred place for the Hoonah Tlingit

In anthropological cultural models, people see everything differently based on their cultural background and personal experience. A person might look up at a peak and see a great face to back country ski down. Another person might remember the summer they came here as a child and appreciated its hugeness. A third person might see it as a church, for lack of a better word, and relate it to their creation story and cultural history. Every group of people, and individual within that group, sees a landscape differently. When it comes to conflicting lenses, respect and understanding are required to overcome differences deeply rooted in history.

The Images:

 Devil’s Tower.  A documentary we watched in class explained how the Lakota in Wyoming revere Devil’s Tower as a “church.” People come to pray here and conduct religious ceremonies. The formation is now within a National Park, and tourists and rock climbers “desecrate” the space with their curious invasion and climbing equipment. One climber announced that climbing the tower was part of his spirituality, his tradition, and therefore had a right to even though it clashed with indigenous cultural values and offended them.

Mt. Fairfield. I studied the Hoonah Tlingit for a research design class in Anthropology. The Hoonah Tlingit look to Mt. Fairfield as their creation story. Glacier bay, the body of water it overlooks, is a key part of the Hoonah’s ceremonial egg collecting practices. Every year, tourists come to “bag a peak” on one of the world’s highest coastal mountains. They take huge tour boats into the bay and disturb the wildlife. All of wildlife are protected in glacier bay, and therefore the Hoonah are no longer allowed to practice egg collecting. Are western preservationist and conservation values more valid than indigenous sustenance practices and values?

Of course not. In a crowded, shrinking world of globalization, we have a huge challenge as humans to combine these lenses. Historical conflicts rooted in 500 years of clashing values only add obstacles. Accommodating the views of others with respect and shading in our own perspective with multiple values is the first step to a solution.

 Personal Connection:  A friend once told me he was not religious until he discovered outdoors. He told me that nature became his religion:

“Growing up I wasn’t religious at all and didn’t consider myself at all until college and I think it was when I realized that nature and the outdoors was my kind of religion, and that it’s a very powerful place. I go to the outdoors to center myself and think about things, in terms of there being a bigger… God or whatever you want to call it out there, to me that’s the outdoors. That’s nature.”

I feel similarly. My identity is the Maine landscape. I will always be from the lakes and rivers and marshes because I grew up there, I experienced there first, and I am most connected there. I still think of the little tree in our yard where guinea pigs one through five are buried. I think of the island we camped on every year and I built tree forts with my cousin. Now I am older. I have felt my heart make the inexplicable melt/explosion at the top of Mt. Katahdin at the site of the pristine Baxter State Park around me. I have felt that warmth hucking myself off of Nesowadnehunk falls of the Penobscot River with a paddle in my hand.

West Branch of the Penobscot, Maine.

West Branch of the Penobscot, Maine.

That is my lens. In the upcoming essay project, I hope to expand that lens. The Penobscot Nation has a stronger generational and spiritual bond with the Penobscot River than I do. I look forward to shade in my perspective of the river with ideas from their spirituality of the same geographical location.

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