A Review of Ed McGaa’s Nature’s Way: Native Wisdom for Living in Balance with the Earth

              Nature’s Way is a work of nonfiction by Ed McGaa, a Sioux Indian tribal member.  In his book, McGaa teaches how we, the people of modern American culture, can use traditional Native American philosophies to help heal our planet.  For each chapter there is a different philosophy, and each philosophy is supported by an animal (except for Chapter 8, which is supported by a tree). Each animal, according to McGaa, is capable of teaching its respective philosophy to humans.  For instance, the philosophy of truth is taught by the owl and the philosophy of one among many is taught by the wolf.

The two strongest chapters in Nature’s Way are “Balance in all Things: Lesson of Lion” and “One Among Many: Lesson of Wolf.”  “One Among Many” shows the readers, by way of numerous examples, how acting as one among many, instead of basing our actions on our own worth and importance, can help us begin to help heal the Earth. One example McGaa gives here is a person’s willingness to have his or her body cremated when he dies, instead of wanting a permanent grave that takes up space and possibly causes habitat destruction.  This chapter has the potential of truly helping and educating the reader, because even though most people understand the importance of acting as one among many, we often forget what it means.

“Balance in All Things” speaks mostly of gender equality.  It uses the lion as an example because in a pride of lions, both males and females have important jobs.  The males fight intruders and the females are effective hunters who work in successful, egalitarian groups.  This chapter is a major eye opener, because in addition to lions, it uses examples of Celts, who, according to McGaa, were (and still are) a culture that greatly stresses gender equality.  This chapter also uses examples from ecological feminism, a field of study which equates environmental stewardship with gender equality, specifically women’s rights.

The first seven chapters of this book speak generally of environmental problems, but focus specifically on one philosophy that can help solve many of them.  These chapters differ in this way from the final four, since each of these chapters focuses on a different environmental issue.  These issues are global warming, the hole in the ozone layer, over population, and the loss of biodiversity.  These four chapters are the weaker part of the book.

The main reason these chapters are weak is that most of the information they contain is identical to information documented in many other environmental sources.  This is especially problematic in the global warming chapter, entitled “Heat: Lesson of the Cottonwood Tree.” Since the information documented in this chapter is no different from global warming information elsewhere, it is not likely to make a difference in the minds of global warming skeptics.

The only chapter of these four which may encourage people to look at an issue differently is “Gone: Lesson of Buffalo,” which is about species loss.  Most people understand the concept of endangered species, and this chapter may provide us with information on the issue we have not heard before.  For instance, many people who care about endangered species do not know how many species have become extinct since humans inhabited the Earth, but this information is given in the chapter.  Information such as this may help readers further appreciate the significance of species loss and the loss of biodiversity that comes with it.  All in all, though, the last four chapters are not nearly as strong or educational as the first seven.  If they were stronger, and offered information that is not found in most sources, then this would be a much stronger book.

 

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