The Rev. Dr. Martin Brokenleg of the Vancouver School of Theology is a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe of South Dakota.

We experience God as we live with this earth. Environmentalists speak of the use of the earth but a Christian speaks of a relationship with the earth and joins with the earth in praise of God. Because God took on human flesh by incarnation, we know how to see the presence of God in a physical manner. Jerry Yellow Elk is a Viet Nam veteran who did two tours of duty there. While visiting a sacred site he stooped down to pick up an unusually coloured stone. He examined the stone and commented on its colour and markings. He then placed the stone back on the ground in exactly the position it had been laying in before.

As a Lakota, Jerry understands that everything has a place where it belongs by the will of God. No person has the right to move things just for self-pleasure. This is a profound difference from the mentality of those who invented a four-pronged scoop that is designed to pick up trees by the roots so trees can be rearranged and relocated.

Deacon Dora Bruguier is 87, a deacon of the diocese of South Dakota. At a clergy conference we attended in the Black Hills she wanted to go walking. I offered to walk with her and so we walked until we stood under some aspen trees. She looked up and said in Lakota, "We don't have trees like this where I live."

I offered to pick some leaves so she could take them home and show them to others. She said simply, "No, that wouldn't be polite." She meant polite to the tree. Lakota experience permits one to take what is necessary for survival but nothing more. Since Deacon Bruguier didn't need those leaves to stay alive, she had no right to pick them.

Similarly, Lakotas do not pick flowers to bring into the house or to carry about. If a flower blooms somewhere, it belongs there and a human being does not have a moral right to pick that blossom. It is blooming where it is by God's will and should be left there unless it is needed for survival.

To First Nations people the earth is a living being. We speak of her as our mother and this is not just a poetic way to speak. It is our experientially learned reality. It may be that God has given a particular awareness of this to First Nations people through revelations and experiences in our cultural and ceremonial "Old Testament."

Creation is an incarnation. God has given us this earth as our home for now. At some point in the future we are to see "a new heaven and a new earth." Now our survival and life is completely dependent on our mother earth and, of course, on God.

The earth is not an inanimate object as some supposedly learned people claim. Its resources are not unlimited. Over the lifespan of a North American, we will use 100 times the energy of someone from India or China even though we think we are only using what is necessary for light, heat, and travel. The Rule of St. Benedict says we are to make modest use of what is necessary for life but we are to take nothing extra.

What are you using?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Brokenleg is director of Native Ministries Programmes and professor of First Nations Ministry and Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology. This article is excerpted from Cornerstone, the parish newsletter of St. James', Vancouver.