Words of the Elders and the Tragedy of the Commons

Each morning we start out with Wisdom of the Elders. After breakfast we gathered in the Great Hall and listened to the morning wisdom. The phrase that resonated with me was: “The strongest weapon of any warrior is love.”. This is a phrase that reaches across the boundaries of every religion. The Lakota people also think of their warriors as Great Defenders.

As I listened to the Wisdom this morning, I was also struck by a thought about the Native American concept of “ownership” as related to the Environmental Situation often referred to as the Tragedy of the Commons (ToC). The ToC refers to a common resource that becomes overused as individuals try to increase their wealth or better their position without respect for the others depending on the resource. The common example is the overgrazing of a “common pasture”, and as a common resource becomes overused, everyone in the community suffers. We see it happening today with tester resources, fisheries, overgrazing, mineral and petroleum resources, etc.

I think the ToC is a uniquely European concept. I have not come across anything relating to the mis-use of resources in Native American cultures. In fact, they lived sustainably; the Lakota were hunters and gathers, the were nomadic. I wonder if other nomadic cultures also avoided the ToC. It was only after the Europeans came and started to kill the buffalo and force the Native Americans onto reservations did they begin to suffer so greatly. In fact, if you read about the early treaties signed by the government officials and the Lakota at the time, the government made them wards of the state. They were going to be responsible for feeding, caring, and more or less raising the Lakota peoples. Well, we see how well that has worked out…haven’t we. The reservation where the Lakota have been forced to live on Pine Ridge is one of the poorest places in the United States. The life expectancy for a male Lakota born on the reservation is 47 years old….47. I could go on, but I think the life expectancy sums it up.

The only other place in the Western Hemisphere with a lower life expectancy is Haiti.


Living in the Shadow of Wounded Knee


The memorial for the massacre at Wounded Knee

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