Indian Health Council for Urban Indian Families


Talk at IHRC on Protecting Mother Earth, April 22, 2010


Hauka, memyu’temenuway.  That’s “hello, how are you?” in Kumeyaay.  This is the language of the people whose land we’re meeting on.  We thank them for taking such good care of this land for thousands and thousands of years.  “Menuara?” are you all here?

            I’m Norrie Robbins; kids call me Doc.  My tribe is known as the ancient Hebrews.  My people aren’t from North America, we’re from the east side of the Mediterranean Sea.  My people were a small tribe that lived between the Assyrians and the Babylonians.  We lived under the rule of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.  But we hung together, kept our traditions, and now we’re known as Jewish people.  We think of ourselves as tribal people.  I watch my Indian friends make the sign when they want to know if the person they are talking to is Indian [two fingers up].  My people ask “are you MOT?”  Are you a Member of the Tribe?

            The oral history of my tribe is really famous.  It was incorporated by other religions.  Our oral history was first written down in the Torah, which then became the first third of the Old Testament of the Bible.  My people did not have an ethic to protect the land.  In fact, if you read in Genesis, my people said this: “Then God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild beasts of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

            This idea of domination over everything got included with the thoughts of the Greeks and Romans, all of which became something called “Western philosophy.”

            I’m a geologist, trained under this Western philosophy.  I’ve been trained to study the Earth and I’ve been trained to extract its resources.  I’ve worked on mineral deposits, coal deposits, and oil.  I have three university degrees in the geological sciences (the earth sciences), and of all the courses I’ve taken over my life, no one ever taught me about taking care of the Earth.  I think I can also say though, that inside every geologist is a person who has an emotional tie to the Earth. 

            My dad was the wisest person I know and he guided me into geology.  He was a physicist, a systems science much like Don who we just heard from.  Dad taught about physical forces and energy transfer between all things, the sideways forces and the up down forces that tie everything in the Universe together.  I brought free copies of his last book; please take a copy. 

Dad taught us that if you have a problem to solve or a big decision to make, such as how to protect Mother Earth, you want to talk to three people who solved that problem.  Not to ask them for their advice, but to find out what they did.  He said that after you hear what three people did, you get some sense of what is possible and it helps you decide what you’re going to do. 

            I’ve made the change to actively working to protect the Earth, so I would like to share with you what I did. 

            As I said, I was a Western trained scientist.  I worked for the Federal government for 36 years, mostly in the Washington, DC area.  Every four years we would change the focus of our research to get in line with the latest administration.  Something radically changed with the Clinton-Gore administration.  We were encouraged to read Al Gore’s book “The Earth in Balance.”  It opened my mind and completely changed the direction of my research from exploiting resources to working on cleaning up the environment.

            I began to work on cleaning up coal mine drainage in West Virginia.  I was appalled at the mess rivers were in because of coal mine acid drainage.  I went looking for help in understanding how people could have allowed this to happen to the rivers.  And I went looking for help in understanding how to restore the balance.  I looked in the scientific literature.  Nothing.  I looked for a course I could take.  Nothing.  I went looking for some books.  Nothing.  I went looking for teachers.  I read that American Indians understood how to Protest Mother Earth, so I went looking for Indian geologists.

            I couldn’t find any.  I kept looking around and I finally met a Pawnee woman who lived with one of my colleagues.  Ramona Osborne was a social worker with the BIA.  I got up my nerve and asked her why I never met any Indian geologists.  She said it had to do with role models.  When she was a kid on her reservation in Oklahoma, she saw lawyers and social workers.  She became a social worker. 

I said to her, “ok, when I retire I’m going to become a role model for tribal youth on an Indian reservation.  I’ll teach kids and see if I can get them interested in becoming earth scientists, or environmental scientists, or ecologists.  And they can add their voices to the few people who are discussing protecting Mother Earth.  And maybe in exchange, Indian people will teach me the things I never learned in school. 

            And that’s what I did.  I retired in 2001, we moved to San Diego, and I went looking for a reservation.  I met Geneva Lofton-Fitzsimmons from the La Jolla Reservation and she introduced me to Luiseno elder, Henry Rodriguez.  I told him I wanted to start a free monthly outdoors science activity for tribal youth.  He gave me his blessing.  He said: you turn these kids into hydrologists.  He said: if you’re an Indian, you have to protect your water resources, you have to fight for your water, and you have to understand your water.

            So I started Science Explorer’s Club, which is now monthly outdoors science program for 4 to 11 year olds living on 11 reservations.  How many kids here today have come to Explorer’s Club?  I teach at Pala, Pauma, Rincon, La Jolla, Santa Ysabel, Mesa Grande, Campo, Viejas, Sycuan, Barona, and San Pasqual.  Two of those students from the first two years are now in college, training up their voices to become future leaders who can walk and talk authoritatively in both worlds.

            That’s what I do.  Thank you.  Ye’ehan.

            Last week I was driving around with Kumeyaay elder, Jane Dumas.  I told her I would be talking here and I asked her if she could share one of her ideas with me.  She said: I protect Mother Earth because I am here as a guest.  I have a lease on my life.  I protect Mother Earth because she can take me back any time.  That’s how I have always lived my life.


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