When visitors to the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City walk into the opening exhibit, they are greeted by a 180-degree movie screen. Benches and stools are scattered, inviting people to sit, watch and listen.
As patrons get comfortable, they give their attention to the animated movie playing on the screen and the voices from the speakers. The voice, soft but determined, is in sync with the animated story playing in the theater.
They are telling a story about the earth, animals and humans. They are telling the origin stories of the Indigenous people across North America.
While each story is unique, a commonality persists through them all. They communicate a symbiotic relationship between nature, humanity and the presence of the divine.
My ancestors, Muscogee Creeks, passed down a story about how the world was covered with water except for one mound, Nunne Chaha. Nunne Chacha was the home of Hesaketvmese, meaning master breath.
Master breath created humanity from the mound’s mud. The first two humans were Lucky Hunter and Corn Woman.
My close relatives, the Cherokees, recalled the earth being covered with water and the animals living above the sky in a place called Galun’lati. The animals wanted to see what was beneath the water, so they sent Water Beetle (Beaver’s grandchild) to find out.
Water Beetle surfaced with mud for land, which began to grow. After several other adventures, it was discovered that people lived beneath the ground, and they began to the surface. The animals, plants and people discovered they were the same.
The Osage believed that humans came from the sky and among the stars. In the upper worlds, people existed as spirit beings called Little Ones.
The Little Ones decided they wanted to go to earth and live as people. They sought advice from four gods: the gods of day and night, and the male and female stars.
After receiving help from a golden eagle, they eventually arrived on Earth and lived as people. The animals and plants taught them to survive, as they all lived harmoniously.
While the Indigenous origin stories may sound odd to some, they point to the very important truth about symbiotic relationships.
Symbiotic relationships respect the diversity of multiple organisms as they rely on each other for survival. In other words, humanity needs Earth, and the Earth needs humanity. The two are put at odds when one rejects the symbiotic relationship and dominates the other.
The origin story of the Hebrews directly points out this truth. Christians need to remember where they came from initially. Our origin story is very similar to many Indigenous cultures.
Remember the creation narrative in Genesis 2? What does God use to create humanity? The Creator uses dust. The Hebrew word is aphar, meaning dry earth of dust. (It can also mean rubbish, but we won’t go there.)
Boo Heflin, my seminary professor, suggested one reason God used dust to create humanity was as a reminder of how fragile life can be. As the great theologians and 1970s rock band Kansas sang, “All we are is dust in the wind.”
In addition to that fragility, I also think God chose dust as an agent for creation to establish the symbiotic relationship between earth and humanity. It’s only after humanity’s fall – humanity dominating the Earth – in Genesis 3 that we hear about the enmity between humanity and creation.
Listen to the results of humanity’s error:
To the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly, you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman, “I will make your pangs in childbirth exceedingly great; in pain, you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
And, to the man, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil, you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
In other words, when we reject our symbiotic relationship with God’s creation, neglect our responsibilities in the world and turn anthropocentric in our ways, we put the entire world in jeopardy. And that, my friends, is where we are today.
Last month, the United Nations warned the world that we have less than a decade to meet an essential goal of the Paris Climate Agreement: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
“Concentrations of carbon pollution in the atmosphere are at their highest level for more than two million years, and the rate of temperature rise over the last half a century is the highest in 2,000 years,” the report said.
The Washington Post responded to the report: “Beyond that threshold, scientists have found, climate disasters will become so extreme that people will not be able to adapt. Basic components of the Earth system will be fundamentally, irrevocably altered. Heat waves, famines, and infectious diseases could claim millions of additional lives by century’s end.”
It’s beyond time that we start taking our symbiotic relationship with the Earth and our responsibility as creation caretakers seriously. Humanity is not set apart from creation; humanity is part of creation with a specific responsibility.
Indigenous stories – from the first Americans to the Hebrews – agree that humanity and the Earth need each other. We must not let greed and arrogance come between us. We must embrace our symbiotic relationship to live harmoniously – together – for the survival of us all.
CEO of Good Faith Media.