The Stars Are Our Ancestors: Reflections on Nature and the Universe

The history and culture of my people, the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans, is connected to the land Kripalu sits upon. Our name, Mohicannuk, means “They from the great unstill waters.” My people lived all along what is now called the Hudson River and the smaller inlets and outlets connected to it. The original name for the Hudson was Mohicannituk, which means “Mohicans River.”

The Hudson is a tidal river: When the tide comes in, the river flows inward. When the tide goes out, the river flows outward. For this reason, it was considered “Great waters that are never still”—in other words, Mohican. My people had many villages in this area, and we coexisted with the elements for more than 14,000 years. Unfortunately, their diminishment from these lands was due to European diseases, war, and unlawful land acquisitions.

At a young age, we would sit by the fire and listen to the elders speak. One of the many things we talked about was the stars. We were told that the stars are our ancestors, and that all living matter is created by exploding stars: Their death brings us life. Humans, animals, plants and trees, rocks, rivers, lakes, oceans, clouds, air … we are all relatives created from the same ancestor.

Being told that we were a part of nature taught us to respect Mother Earth. My people honored the land and all the gifts it provided. We would give offerings of food, tobacco, and song for what we collected from Mother Earth. This was done before hunting, planting, harvesting, gathering, and clearing the land of trees. We would give thanks to the earth for what she generously provided. That is why we refer to the earth as our mother, and that is why we call the trees, animals, and even the wind our brothers and sisters. We are all connected and related.

It’s important to remember that everything has life, and everything has a conscience. We humans have separated ourselves from Mother Earth, so much so that we have come to believe ourselves as a “higher” life form, above all else. In truth, we all have an equal place in nature, just as my ancestors taught us. When we interact with nature with reverence, we acknowledge that we are part of a larger ecosystem, and that we are all made of stars.

Shawn Stevens is a faculty member for the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership and a Language and Culture Peacekeeper for the Stockbridge Muncee Mohicans.

Find out about programs with Shawn Stevens at Kripalu.

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Shawn Stevens (Red Eagle), a member of the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohicans, is a Native American culturalist, artist, musician, and ceremonial helper.

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