Creation and Kin, Woven Together

A common cultural thread across Native American traditions is the foundational conviction that our lives are interconnected and woven together with all of creation, including animals, trees, and rocks. Indeed, in many Native languages, there is no separate word for animals. Animals simply have names and are considered non-human persons and, among the Lakota, even “relatives” or “relations.” Within this understanding, no animal, plant, or tree is killed, harvested, or chopped for the tribe’s benefit without some form of ceremonial act of spiritual reciprocity that restores and sustains the balance and harmony of the world. Every created being and thing deserves our appreciation and respect. However, humanity spreads discord across the created order, harming itself and its broader “relatives” through endless wars, the exploitation and pollution of land, the contamination of waterways, the desecration of sacred sites, and structural, interpersonal, and even interspecies oppression. Within an Indigenous perspective, creation stories that promote a rigid hierarchy, wherein the first humans are enjoined to “subdue” and “have dominion over” all creation as in Genesis 1:26–31, are not conducive to restoring and preserving the sacred balance of life. In contrast, according to a Haudenosaunee (or “Iroquois”) creation story, animals both precede humanity upon the earth (cf. Gen 2:4–5) and literally pave the way for their survival. The ancestors of the Haudenosaunee originally dwelt in the sky realm, until the Sky Woman, pregnant with twins, was pushed from the heavens and fell to the earth. Fortunately, she was caught by two birds. Unfortunately, she had no place to stand as the earth was only comprised of water. The animals, most notably the toad (or the muskrat in some retellings), sought to help the Sky Woman and retrieved mud from the bottom of the ocean and crafted the first patch of land on the back of a turtle. And so, still to this day, many Haudenosaunee continue to recognize the continent of North America as “Turtle Island.” Animals stand in solidarity with humans and humans have been interdependent upon animals since the beginning for their survival. And yet, Genesis is not the only or last word on humanity’s relationship to creation within Christian scripture.

Romans 8:18–23: Solidarity in Suffering

Paul of Tarsus possesses an underappreciated understanding of creation in Romans 8:18–23 that resonates with that of Native Americans. Romans 8 follows after Paul’s damning indictment of humanity’s idolatry and immorality (Rom 1—3) and how its only hope of being found righteous before God’s judgment is through its allegiance to Christ, being filled with the Spirit (pneuma), and participating in Christ’s perfect faithfulness and suffering (Rom 4—7). In order to place the suffering that those “in Christ” experience into proper perspective, Paul not only gestures toward the glory that awaits followers in the anticipated resurrection of the dead, but surprisingly to creation’s shared hope and solidarity in our suffering. According to Paul, “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” at the resurrection when it too “will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:19–21). As if in a parenthetical aside, Paul explains that creation’s current futile state of corruption resulted not because of its own volitional failing, but rather as a sort of collateral damage connected to humanity’s disobedience and resulting punishment (Rom 8:20). Humanity bears responsibility for the plight of creation. And so, Paul continues, “the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now,” alongside of humanity, as “we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22–23).

Creation and the Kin-dom of God, Woven Back Together

In this passage, Paul describes creation as a non-human person. A non-human person who stands in solidarity with us in our shared suffering and hope that at the resurrection of the dead, the earth itself will also be resurrected and restored to its original paradisiacal state as in Eden. This passage lends itself to the affirmation of Native convictions that our present livelihood and destinies are tied together with creation; that we inter-exist and are interrelated with the world such that we should treat all of creation around us with an attitude of appreciation and strive for balance with our non-human kin in the greater Kin-dom of God. Within a Native perspective, the work of making manifest the already-but-not-yet Kin-dom of God on earth also entails the restoration, reformation, and flourishing of Indigenous lifeways and worldviews that are conducive to maintaining cosmic balance. Within a Maskoke postcolonial vision in particular, as put forth by Marcus Briggs-Cloud (Maskoke, son of the Wind Clan), living in the New Creation involves the resurrection of intentional village communities (ekvn-yefolecv), the revitalization of the Maskoke language, and the continual renewal of the Maskoke’s covenant with the earth through the posketv ceremony and ecologically sustainable practices (e.g., renewable energy sources, the cultivation of maize, conservation of bison and lake sturgeon) (Briggs-Cloud, “Creation—The New Creation”).

Bibliography

  • Briggs-Cloud, Marcus. “Creation—The New Creation: A Maskoke Postcolonial Perspective.” In Coming Full Circle: Constructing Native Christian Theology, edited by Steven Charleston and Elaine A. Robinson, pp. 89–118. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015.
  • Charleston, Steven, and Elaine A. Robinson, eds. Coming Full Circle: Constructing Native Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015.
  • Deloria, Vine, Jr. God is Red: A Native View of Religion. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2003.
  • Kidwell, Clara Sue, Homer Noley, and George E. “Tink” Tinker. A Native American Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001.
  • Treat, James, ed. Native and Christian: Indigenous Voices on Religious Identity in the United States and Canada. New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • Woodley, Randy S. Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012.

T. Christopher Hoklotubbe (Choctaw)