Sustainability

OP-ED: Joe Neidhardt, M.D.

A New Vision Forward

Larry Emerson’s hogan near Hogback, New Mexico

Hey, Americans and Turtle Islanders: Wake up! Let’s look at some facts. We need to take a hard look at where we are and create a vision to move forward.

We, individually, pollute with more greenhouse gases per person than any country in the world, except Canada. We spend more than any other country on health care, but rank about 35th in most major health indices. The United States incarcerates a higher percentage of people than any other country. We have an unjust society, with many more Indigenous Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics behind bars than white people of the privileged class. And the country has an abysmal record when it comes to rehabilitating prisoners.

Joe Niedhardt, M.D. – Photo Dean Kalyan

We have a minimum wage that is far from a living wage. We spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined, and yet we’re terrible at brokering peace. We have created a democratic government—a great thing from a historical perspective. But we have created the democracy by stealing land from the Indigenous people who were here before us. And a large segment of our population is excluded from full participation in the democratic process and from sharing the wealth of the richest country in the world.

Amazing scientific achievements and medical advances have come from our country. There has been great progress with civil rights and human rights. But we must also recognize that our history is one of slavery and inequality in African-American and Hispanic communities and among other groups of disenfranchised people. The Black Lives Matter, Idle No More and Red Nation movements all deserve to be heard, acknowledged, validated and supported.

Let’s look at our history and the fallout from what we have done. Turtle Island, which includes part of México, the United States and Canada, was colonized under a government policy of annihilating Indigenous populations. We took children from their families and marched whole tribal nations to lands they did not know. We destroyed their food production, mostly by burning it. We confined them to such small reservations that they could not maintain an economically sustainable culture or produce the food they needed; or we killed and trapped animals they relied on for clothing and sustenance.

We even killed Indigenous spiritual leaders, outlawed spiritual and healing practices and imposed our own religion. Collectively, this destruction of people and their culture is called ethnic cleansing. The effects continue today, with many Indigenous people confined to non-viable lands and an imposed economic system that creates an unemployment rate of over 50 percent. We have spent less per Indigenous person on education and health care than for any minority group. I could go on with the nausea-inducing list of traumatic events. But it’s more important to look for ways to reverse what we’ve created. We can do this by supporting Indigenous people in what they tell us they need and want.

This story can have a happy, just and equitable ending. We can correct our course if we adopt solutions that, incidentally, could become a blueprint for dealing with climate change. We can correct our historical debt; learn from those we have subjugated; correct our unjust, outdated, corrupt, immoral economic system; take over our country from the top 1-percenters; share the wealth with all sentient beings, and embrace sustainable renewable energy and resources.  

With the wealth our lands afford us, we can have the best schools, an end to poverty, fantastic health care for everyone, sustainable agriculture and wildlife corridors that ensure wildlife diversity and protection. This will also demand climate justice, social justice, economic justice, human rights and acceptance of a diversity of religious beliefs, from atheism to Islam. Indigenous rights can be honored with a return of some of the taken lands. We can honor the rights of Mother Earth. And, as an alternative to being the world’s largest war machine, we can lead the world in a peace revolution.

None of this excludes having liberty, a free enterprise system, individual responsibility, rewards for hard work, or even a level of wealth. Instilling this vision gives us real direction and can form a groundswell from the bottom up. Contemplate this vision and explore where your mind takes you. It could be a rewarding ride.

Joe Neidhardt, M.D. graduated from the University of Alberta in Edmonton. His interest in environmental issues started when practicing preventive medicine in Vancouver, B.C. He later trained in psychiatry at the University of New Mexico and practiced in the Indian Health Service. He is board-certified in psychiatry and holistic integrative medicine. He practices in Santa Fe, specializing in treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic-stress disorder. Neidhardt edited the new book Groundswell – Indigenous Wisdom and The Moral Revolution for Climate Change.

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