Excerpt from the book Grandfather
by Tom Brown
The Bow Stave
Grandfather told me that there were two types of survival; that of the white
man and that of the Native American. He said that the white man's survival hurt
the earth, but the Native American survival helped the earth. He then told me
the story of the two men collecting bow staves, to illustrate how different
these types of survival were.
He said that when a white man needed a bow stave, he would just go out onto
the land and take the finest and straightest sapling he could find. He cared
little about what impact it would have on the land, nor did he care what he
would leave for the future. As far as the white man was concerned, nature was
put there for his use and his abuse. Land, water, animals, or plants did not
matter. He fulfilled only his own needs with no thought to future generations or
nature in general. Survival to the white man was a struggle between himself and
nature. He felt that he was above the laws of creation and had dominion over the
land. This survival destroyed the earth then and continues into the future. The
white man's legacy has been adopted now by the global society, a society of
people that kills its grandchildren to feed its children.
Grandfather said that when the Native American went out to collect a bow
stave it was far different from the consciousness of the white man. First, the
Native American had to have an extreme need for the bow stave. Then the
collecting trip would be proceeded by periods of fasting and praying. After all
it was not as simple as just cutting down a tree, for he would be taking the
life of his brother. He would then go out onto the land and begin his search. He
was not looking for the solitary saplings that grew straight and tall. Instead,
he would search the groves of saplings that were in competition with each other.
He knew that in their struggle for soil and sunlight many would die and others
would be badly bruised and injured as the years passed. If left alone the forest
would not be strong and healthy. When such a grove was found he would search it
thoroughly, looking for the ideal sapling. It would not be the straightest and
tallest. Instead, it would be one that was dying or would eventually be crowded
out by the other saplings. He would then ask himself if the land would be left
better by removing the sapling. If so, then he would ask what kind of legacy
would he leave for his children and grandchildren. Would it be a strong and
healthy forest? Only when those questions were answered in a positive way would
he eventually cut the sapling. Even then there must be the prayers of
thanksgiving. His was the attitude of the caretaker, helping nature to grow
better, stronger, and faster. He could do in a short period of time what would
take nature years to accomplish. That was his purpose: to help and nurture
creation, not to destroy it.
"It is not enough to just take that sapling. Your vision is in a tunnel.
You must look beyond the sapling and see what else should be done in the area to
make the forest healthy. By taking care of a small part and not the whole, you
are not doing enough. Your work as a caretaker has not been completed. It is
also not enough to be the caretaker only when you are collecting something for
survival. You must be the caretaker all of the time, whether collecting or
"But isn't that like playing God?" I asked Grandfather. He said,
"In a way it is, but we are only following the instructions of the Creator.
After all, that is why we are here on the earth, to care for nature, not destroy
it. You must take things from nature to live, that is a given fact, but it is
the way that we take those things and the end results, both immediate and in the
future, that make us caretakers."