Other Americans could learn a lot from the traditional Native American concept of “the gift economy.” Simply put, it is reverence for the gifts Nature gives us for nourishment and other life-supports.
Which means, take what one needs and no more. Do not waste natural gifts, be it fish, mammal or fowl. Do not despoil habitat, which Nature’s works require.
Some tribes celebrate the New Year earlier than the rest of the western world. The Umatilla in eastern Oregon, for instance, observe “Kimtee Inmewit” before the winter solstice. It is a celebration of sacred foods as the sunlight hours begin to stretch again.
“This goes back to when the world was new,” says Armand Minthorn, the spiritual leader of the Umatilla. “The first food that was created was the salmon. We call it, “nusux.” The second food was the deer. We call the deer, “nukt.” The third was the bitter root we call, “sliiton.”
To honor these sacred foods the tribe sings, drums, dances, prays and shares a meal together at the longhouse. “I just want to ask the creator to give me the strength to do right by my children,” says one woman. “I want to teach them the longhouse way.”
The tribes’ children sing to the elders during the community meal. Tribal elders teach youngsters how to gather the traditional foods for the tribes. Every year they go out to the mountains and bluffs to harvest the wild celery, bitterroots and huckleberries.
The foods are sacred because they nourish the people, but also, “When our elders pass on and go back to the ground; this is how they come back to take care of us, in these foods.”
I often contrast the Native American concept of the “gift economy”–especially at the advent of a New Year–with scenes I saw in Northwest history books of Columbia River salmon the size of a short man staked like cord wood on piers outside canneries in Astoria, Oregon, rotting in the sun because they couldn’t be processed fast enough.
Here’s an idea for the New Year: let us all celebrate “Kimtee Inmewit.”