“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
This popular wisdom saying, believed to be a Native American proverb, has been widely quoted by environmentalists and others who argue we should all be caring for the Earth for the benefit of those who come after.
The indigenous peoples of the world have long lived their lives with this thought in mind.
Now a group of indigenous teenagers – from Colombia, North America and around the world – want to give this proverb a new meaning. For them, it is the responsibility of the ‘heirs’ of the planet, those young people who have a vested interest in that which they are inheriting, to teach their living ancestors how to better care for the Earth. If the Earth is borrowed – ‘rented’ if you will – then the young people of the planet are, in fact, the landlords.
Earth Guardians – or Guardianes de la Tierra as it’s called in Colombia – is a rapidly-growing global youth movement that seeks to change the way their living ‘ancestors’ – namely you and I – view their relationship with our Earth Mother.
Earth Guardians was co-founded in Boulder, Colorado by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 15-year-old environmental activist of Aztec descent. Earth Guardians Colombia is led by 18-year-old Jwikamey Torres, who has been designated as a future Mamo, an elder, of the Arhuaco of la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Xiuhtezcatl (whose name is pronounced ‘Shoe-Tez-Caht’ – but who is often just called “X”) isn’t your average American teenager. He’s a kid warrior. When other 15-year-olds might be concerned about getting the latest video game or taking the perfect ‘selfie’ for their Instagram, Martínez has bigger concerns – saving the Earth. Xiuhtezcatl is quickly becoming a rising rock star in the world of environmental activists. A video titled “Kid Warrior” has gone viral on the internet.
In July, he was invited to address the U.N.’s high-level event on climate change, where he told the 200 delegates to “dream big,” saying, “It’s time to look to the skies for the solutions we need, because the future of energy is not down a hole,” a clever dig at fossil fuels.
Jwikamey has recently been inspired by his Aztec ‘brother” and is stepping up to follow in his footsteps in Colombia. With his younger brothers Bunkey and Dugunawi, Jwikamey has formed the Colombian chapter of Earth Guardians. The first projects to be organized by the group will be held in conjunction with the public school, the colegio, they attend in Minca. The first activities will be simple conservation activities, designed to benefit the local community and to begin involving the local young people in caring for their Earth Mother. In the future, he hopes to take Earth Guardians Colombia-wide, with much more ambitious environmental projects.
I recently joined Jwikamey and Xiuhtezcatl, live in Minca and by Skype from Boulder, to discuss their hopes as indigenous caretakers of the land and as leaders in the emerging youth environmental movement.
Both young men are wise, intelligent, educated and articulate well beyond their years. If the Earth is in their hands, it is in good hands indeed.
Jwikamey spoke of the Arhuaco belief that la Sierra Nevada is the ‘heart of the world,’ and that the indigenous peoples of la Sierra Nevada are called to be the heart of the world as well – the loving, caring compassionate heart of the organic planet – and that all of humanity is called to the same ‘job.’
Xiuhtezcatl responded by sharing some of what he told the United Nations delegates.
“The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet. The planet doesn’t need saving, we do. What’s at stake right now is the existence of my generation. The world has lacked global leadership,” he said, adding that climate change is “the defining issue of our time,” and “a human rights issue as well.” Heavy stuff from the mind of a 15-year-old.
“The Earth Guardians movement is a gateway and a portal to act for people of any age,” he continued. “No matter who they are or where they are in the world. It doesn’t matter what your status is in society – none of this matters, we can all be Earth Guardians.”
“That is our hope,” Jwikamey added. “For centuries my people have been caring for la madre tierra. Now we want the young people throughout Colombia to join with us in caring for the Earth as well.”
“We are the ones we have been waiting for,” is another Native American proverb the Earth Guardians like to share.
“It’s true for the Hopi of North America, for the Aztecs, for the Kogi and the Arhuaco – it’s true for all the young people of the Earth. We want the young people of Colombia and the world to think of themselves as Earth guardians in more than name only. We want them to be kid warriors – warriors for the Earth.”
I believe them. I’m convinced that the keys to unlocking the solutions to the very real challenges facing the planet will not be found among the sciences nor in politics, but rather in the collective spiritual and environmental wisdom of the world’s indigenous peoples, handed down from generations of elders to new generations of young leaders. Our future is literally in the palms of their hands.
About the author: JOHN LUNDIN is a writer and environmental activist living in Minca, in la Sierra Nevada above Santa Marta. He is the author of The New Mandala – Eastern Wisdom for Western Living, written with the Dalai Lama, and Journey to the Heart of the World, his new novel and feature film adaptation.