“When the blood in your veins returns to the sea,
and the earth in your bones returns to the ground,
perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you,
it is you who belong to this land.”
The above picture and moral saying comes courtesy of the Facebook page “The Mind Unleashed” and was shared by my friend Sevim Tonbul, a duty solicitor who went to the same sixth-form college as I did. This page is self-described as an ‘education website’ which seeks to break the chain of conventional thinking and to engineer a global change in awareness. A healthy mix of information related to activism, awareness, and personal growth is a regular feature of the Mind Unleashed page.
The picture includes an vintage sepia photograph of a Native American chieftain. Although I am unsure as to what people he belonged to, or his name, he does remind me of the great chief Sitting Bull, who was famed among non-natives for his sayings and quotes.
We live in a highly materialistic world where people are marked and judged by what they own and the riches they acquire. Whether it is the woman who spends £500+ on a Louis Vuitton handbag, the man who wins the lottery and splashes out the winnings on fast cars, or the child at school who is bullied because their parents cannot afford to kit them out in the latest designer trainers, our society places a significant value on not just what people own but what type of things they own. Certain, usually fashionable or luxury brands carry an aura of respect among trend admirers.
The need to acquire is not just limited to moveable objects. Even land has acquired a monetary value, to be exchanged and sold at will. This has been standard and unquestioned for centuries. However it is only in the last two centuries, that the land we live, walk and eventually die on has become such a valuable commodity. You only have to look at the prices of prime real estate in the world’s major cities to realise how ridiculous this has become.
For example in the tiny principality of Monaco, $1 million USD will only buy you 15 square metres of space, due to the country’s size, population density and its prestige among the global jetset.
I live in London and as one of Europe’s (and the world’s) leading financial centres, a piece of land in the centre of town can cost more than £3,000 per square metre and even in the poorest parts of the city, an average three or four bedroom dwelling house can cost in the region of £250,000 thanks to rising house prices and lack of availability. We have streets in central London affectionately named ‘Millionaire’s Rows’ as every single, usually mansion-sized, habitation on them costs at least a million pounds.
The irony is that, while investors slug it out over speculating on rising land prices and potential homeowners are required to take on a lifetime of debt just to put down roots, the Native Americans traditionally had no concept of land ownership. They believed that the land was a blessed provider and traditional societies lived in tandem with their environment, allowing of course for tribal titles on particular areas which were fiercely guarded. This was probably more to ensure enough food and resources were available for each family or First Nation, than any concept of ‘this land is mine, that land is yours‘ that led to the development of nation-states across the Atlantic in Europe. They had a holistic and respectful relationship with the forests, prairies and rivers that surrounded them, and depended on the land for their survival, therefore according it a sacred respect in their cultures and religions. It was the arrival of those same Europeans whose descendants began occupying and grabbing the lands that sustained Native Americans that made the previous inhabitants begin battling to save their homes and ultimately themselves. Most Native Americans peoples are now essentially collective landowners of the reservations designated to them by the U.S. government.
The fact of the matter is, regardless of how much land you own, when you pass away, you will not take that land with you. People are buried in the graveyard or cremated on a piece of ground. Their bodies become part of the ecosystem in the soil around their resting places or their ashes intermingle with the world to which they have been relegated. While we use and abuse the Earth and squabble over buying up overpriced parcels of territory here and there, there is a subtle irony that ultimately it is the land that claims us back, a fate no amount of money or prestige can keep at bay.
Ultimately, we all need the land to survive, for our food and water and of course for our homes, so we all need to take care of the land and world that nourishes us and is the guardian of our existence.