What can we learn from Indigenous peoples about loving the earth well? And what might it mean to consider our own indigeneity? Christ & Cascadia Editor Forrest Inslee sat down with Oregon author Randy Woodley to talk about his new book Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth.
Forrest: So, you have a new book coming out, Becoming Rooted: 100 Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth. Tell me, why this book at this time?
Randy: Well, the world’s in a mess; our country’s in a mess. Climate change is bearing down on us every day. And we’ve not treated the world the way it deserves to be treated. We’ve not treated the earth and the whole community of creation, all of God’s creatures, the way they need to be treated.
I started asking why a long time ago and I’ve sort of boiled it down to the western worldview—which has all kinds of deficits—and comes from platonic dualism 3000 years ago. A lot of things may have been baked in the bread along the way, so we call that being ubiquitous. It’s in our social systems, our economic systems, our political systems, our educational systems. They all come out of this dualistic thinking which says that the ethereal—those things of the mind, the spirit, the things that you can’t touch—are more important than the material-the things that you can touch, the tangible things. We have seen that in theology, particularly. We see it in our politics and we see it in our social movements, in the culture wars. We believe that if you think the right things, then you’re basically a good person and you’re doing your job.
I write a lot about theology and philosophy. I write a lot about critiquing social systems and those kinds of things. But in this book I wanted to write in a way that doesn’t confront these matters head-on. I wanted to share this side of me which says: This is what enriches my life. And I wondered, if people could go 100 days reading just a bite-sized reflection followed by one action point, would that help them to change from a western worldview to a more indigenous worldview? And I thought: What better way to do that than to connect them with the earth?
You know, Native Americans don’t have a patent on our relationship with the earth. Everybody’s meant to have that. So the point of the book is to say, walk alongside me for a hundred days and let’s see if we can’t begin to change ourselves, and the structures around us that are not going to sustain us for the future.
Forrest: I really think the strength of this book is that you’re not coming at this sort of change in worldview from a heady, ideological stance. You’re really inviting people to experience—to sort of taste and see what happens. It’s disarming in a great way. Your style overcomes our internal resistance to change in a way that’s very invitational and full of grace.
Randy: Thank you. Yeah, I appreciate that. I don’t think I was always that way but people have been telling me as I get older, they feel a lot of love even though I might say some hard things sometimes. So, I’ll take that as a compliment.
Forrest: So, this is a collection of daily reflections, as you’ve said. And that makes it quite a bit different from books that you have written in the past, and books that are soon to come out. Could you talk about your intentions in doing this particular format, and maybe talk about how you hope people will engage this book?
Randy: So, I know everybody’s busy, right? I don’t think people got less busy during our Covid quarantines, they just found other ways to fill their time. And we’re not in a culture that likes to spend a whole lot of time reading or thinking about spiritual things, you know? We think, Okay I’ll go to my church or synagogue or whatever and fill that niche. And then, you know, I’ll go out and live my life as I always do. This is not meant to be that. This is meant to help people to be more reflective, maybe at the start of every day. These are bite-sized reflections. They don’t take even five minutes to read—and maybe a bit longer to think about. I’m hoping people continue to think about what they read throughout the whole day. And ideally they’ll find ways to practice the one action point at the end of the daily reflection. The action point offers a way that they can, in a very simple way, do something to get in touch with the community of creation, the earth.
Forrest: I find that much of what you write in this book is almost permission-giving. Because you tell your stories in a particular way, you show what it could look like for someone to try this new mode of being—this new mode of relationship. I found that, in my case, a lot of times when I heard your story it pushed me to recall moments from my own life when I’d had a similar experience or a resonance with the story you were telling. And in that sense, you were reconnecting me to experiences that I’ve already had. It wasn’t just outside ideas coming in, but you were calling up my own encounters with nature.
Randy: That’s wonderful to hear because that’s really the idea. We all have this relationship with the community of creation. Maybe one time we saw the Grand Canyon, or went to the ocean, or we saw an eagle fly above us, or a hummingbird on a flower, and we felt that special connection. I’m hoping that I can reawaken that in people’s lives and do exactly what you just said—get them to think, “Oh, I do have a relationship with nature. I’ve just been ignoring it.”
Forrest: I think that’s where the permission-giving comes in. You legitimize those experiences when, in fact, many people have been taught to delegitimize them, right? So to call it a relationship, to value that relationship as a spiritual practice even, I think that’s pretty powerful.
Randy: I’m hoping so because we are not going to be able to sustain the earth—well, ourselves on the earth. I think the earth is going to be okay in the long run, but I’m not sure humanity will. We need to find a different way of relating. From our indigenous perspective, this is one of those ways that might help us sustain our privilege to be caretakers of the earth.
Forrest: I want to talk about a particular term that you use: indigeneity. There’s a lot going on in the book around that term. What does it mean to become more indigenous to the places we live in?
Randy: I think it takes several things. One is to understand who lived there before you and perhaps where they are now, and to begin to understand their mythologies, their stories, and their causes. In a sense, this just means being a good guest on someone else’s land, right?
So, that’s one thing. But I also say a number of times in the book, we’re all indigenous from somewhere. The values that have been developed, the relationship with the earth—those were all given to indigenous peoples all over the whole earth. I call them the original instructions. And those values are what’s needed to sustain us and to treat each other well. I think all people were given those values, those original instructions. In some sense, getting in touch with our own epigenetics. Some people describe it the ancestors calling us back. The ancestors are speaking to us and saying, there’s so much you’ve lost. And they looked forward to this day that we stand here—14, 15, 20, 25 generations ago—they wanted something of themselves to remain intact, some of the good things. Those are the things that we need to sort through and say, what are those good things? What are the myths? What are the ceremonies? What are the spiritualities? What are the ways they looked at life that can help me be in touch with the earth and be a better caretaker and tender?
We have our own sort of indigeneities, all of us. We call that a lowercase “i” indigenous, and the indigenous people who are in this particular land where we are, that’s capital “I” Indigenous. Like I said, Native American people don’t own the market on relationship with the earth. In fact, a lot of our stories and prophecies tell of a time when this would start to happen and that it would be the teachings of the indigenous people that would begin to heal and save us. And I think we are beginning to see that day. We would certainly see ourselves as a very small part of that.
Forrest: I really want to give emphasis to that idea. It’s a very powerful one. And I think what I hear you saying is that we have lost touch, perhaps, with our own indigeneities wherever we come from in the world. And what we need is people who still have those traditions, whose indigenous worldview is more intact, to model for us indigenous values—which ideally will push us back onto our own values from our own roots. There is something really powerful when you say: It’s valid for you to look at these ways of being from the indigenous people in the places where you live. It’s valid to look at those traditions and borrow from them in the sense that you can learn to think differently, learn to be differently, in terms of your relationship with the land, without appropriating.
Randy: Yeah, exactly. That’s why I wanted to make the distinction. In a sense, what we’re “borrowing”, if you will, or what we are actually learning from and assimilating into our own lives, are the values. Not necessarily the tangible objects or the ceremonies or things like that. Those you need to be given, or earned, or invited into. We don’t want to appropriate or misappropriate other people’s cultures. But the values that sustain them are universal, and that relationship with the earth is universal; whoever you are on earth, your own people had those values at one time. I think it’s up to each of us to regain them. And we might begin to pick up those values again, just from spending time with the earth and the community of creation. I think we’ve lost a lot of stories; we’ve lost a lot of ceremonies; we’ve lost a lot of knowledge. But the earth is still here and the earth is still teaching us.
Forrest: What is your hope for this book as it gets released into the wider world? What are the changes that you would like to spark in the people who read it?
Randy: There’s always this interplay between what happens to us personally, and what we are involved in structurally and socially. Sometimes persons change and they begin to change structures. Sometimes structures change and they begin to change persons. I’m hoping that this book promotes a combination. I hope we begin to take our responsibility as earth tenders seriously—and that it doesn’t just affect our lives, but also our families, our children, and our grandchildren. It affects the politics that we’re involved in. It affects the way we begin to evaluate our actions with attention to the damage they’re going to do to the earth and to the creatures living on the earth–not just human beings, but the whole environment—so that we might make a better earth, more livable and more sustainable for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all the way down generations.
Cover photo credit: Mar Bustos