Today is Earth Day, reminding us to honor and appreciate our planet as well as treat her kindly. The concept of doing so only once a year is incomprehensible to Indigenous cultures. Native American reverence for all living things extends to the Earth herself. Taking what you need with respect and gratitude is expected; exploiting her resources for the sake of greed is abhorrent.
Every day was “Earth Day.”
For example, bison (erroneously called buffalo) were revered and respected. They killed only what was needed for food, then used the hide, horns, bones, and sinew for such things as clothing, tipis, and tools. Nothing was wasted. Killing for sport or simply for the animal’s hide (much less its tongue), was unheard of.
Then the white man came.
At the beginning of the 19th century 30 to 40 million bison were present on the Plains. By 1895 their numbers had been reduced to roughly 1,000. Upon completion of the Intercontinental Railroad, they were often shot from moving trains. Hide Hunters moved into Native hunting grounds and slaughtered bison, leaving their rotting carcasses behind.
In 1873, Army Lt. Col. Richard Irving Dodge stated, “Where there were myriads of buffalo the year before, there were now myriads of carcasses. The air was foul with a sickening stench, and the vast plain which only a short twelve months before teemed with animal life, was a dead, solitary putrid desert.”
Historian, Pekka Hämäläinen, noted the effect this had on Native Americans when she noted, “The buffalo was the foundation of their economy and the centerpiece of their cosmology, and the wholesale slaughter shook their existence at its core.”