The Oconee Enterprise, March 16, 2017:
Dr. David Lewis
At the end of the last Ice Age, severe fluctuations in climatic conditions likely killed off all of the large mammals in North America except bison. The list of casualties included mastodons, giant sloths, massive beavers and other “megafauna.” Some scientists point to evidence of an asteroid or comet striking the Eastern side of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which covered most of Canada and much of the northern United States.
Early Native Americans living along the Eastern Seaboard relocated out West. Surviving climate change of this magnitude may have been no less of a challenge than us putting astronauts on the moon and bringing them back safely. Their experience living in the wilderness combined with their knowledge and understanding of nature enabled them to survive. By contrast, European colonists arriving in New England in the 1600’s couldn’t even survive far milder winters without help from Native Americans and regular supplies crossing the Atlantic.
With the early Native Americans’ knowledge of nature came a dedication to protecting the earth’s natural resources. They co-existed with nature throughout North, Central and South America while building great civilizations that lasted for thousands of years. Despite being overwhelmed by superior weapons and infectious diseases for which they had no immunity, Native Americans still battle government officials from Standing Rock, North Dakota, to Nicola Valley, British Columbia to protect our natural resources.
When I spoke at a forum in British Columbia where First Nation chiefs recently met with Ministry of Environment officials, each session began with drum beating and representatives of the First Nations praying and singing in their native tongues. I began my talk by noting that descendants of the very first people to enter North America were seated before us. Unlike many of our ancestors who arrived after depleting the old-growth forests of Europe, these people revered, managed and protected the natural environment that made this part of the world a wonder to behold. They considered protecting the land to be a sacred responsibility. And here their descendants sit before us today, I said, still bearing that same responsibility.
As I stepped down, a young member of the First Nations approached and put his hand over his heart. “Your words touched my heart,” he said. “I want you to call me ‘Petugas,’ which means White Buffalo. It is the name given to me by my elders.” I told him Moses wrote that God’s calling is irrevocable. Petugas’ reverence for nature and commitment to protecting our natural resources, which the Great Spirit gave to his ancestors, is as vital to our survival today as when the Pilgrims first set foot on the shores of New England. It’s something we should all think about as severe climate change looms over the horizon.
The opinions expressed are those of David Lewis, Research Director for the Focus for Health Foundation in Watchung, NJ (www.focusforhealth.org/davidlewis), author of Science for Sale (Skyhorse Publishing, NY) and CEO of Saxon Road Church Inc. in Watkinsville, Georgia.
Join the Conversation
your thoughts matter
David Lewis, Ph.D.
Former U.S. EPA Research Microbiologist
David Lewis is an internationally recognized research microbiologist whose work on public health and environmental issues, as a senior-level Research Microbiologist in EPA’s Office of Research & Development and member of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia, has been reported in numerous news articles and documentaries from TIME magazine and Reader’s Digest to National Geographic.