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  • Writer's pictureDan Robinson

A Season of Gratitude vs. a History of Extraction

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

At the heart of gratitude beats a connection and relationship. To give thanks for someone or something means I see them, am grateful for the gifts they share, and wish to somehow return those gifts. At our best, community embodies this relationship of gratitude, whether with family, friends, and neighbors, or with the water, land, air, and other creatures. I try to care for the people in my life, the water that sustains me, or the animals with which I share this home, because I am grateful to them.

In turn, gratitude sits at the heart of spirituality. In another post, I described spirituality as, “how we see ourselves connected to the greater reality in which we live, how we feed and sustain that connection, and how we practically respond to that connection in our lives.” As it is with people and our environment, so it is with the Creator, God, the Great Mystery, or Ultimate Reality ... gratitude is an essential part of that connection. We are called to be grateful for the life we have and share with others and to express that gratitude in how we live our lives.

Lake Michigan shoreline in the autumn

Extraction, however, involves me not seeing the other, at least as someone or something of value beyond their usefulness to me. It also involves not seeing the other as part of a greater reality. They're outside a spiritual connection with me. I simply take what I want, and I don’t return anything. I view the extraction as a one-way transaction.

In that sense, extraction is unsustainable, because nothing can last forever if it is not replenished, healed, or cared for. Since European settlement, the Great Lakes Basin has a history of extraction with beavers, lumber, metal ore, fish, and the list goes on.

Extraction can happen with people and their stories and wisdom, too. For example, Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes Basin have shared their stories and knowledge, only to have it be turned around and used against them. During my conversation with Jerry Jondreau, he told me that copper is sacred in Ojibwe culture. His ancestors shared the location of copper with European settlers, who then took it from the Ojibwe.

I think about this distinction between gratitude and extraction often, because of all the people who generously shared their stories and wisdom with me and the Great Lakes Spirituality Project. I want to connect with these people, stories, and wisdom out of gratefulness rather than extraction. In this season of harvest and gratitude, I want to say “thank you” to them.

I’d like to think that this Project has helped amplify their voices, so that they can reach more people with their stories and with their work. But, that seems a small return to them for their generosity, so I thought I’d take one more moment to mention them, to express my gratitude, and to encourage you to learn more about them and to support their work.

Below is the list of people who have appeared in the Great Lakes Spirituality Project’s Blog in the last six months. Each name has a link to the posts in which they appeared, and after each name is a link to a site (or sites) on the web that talks about their work or the organizations they’re involved with.

The final “thank you” for now goes to you, the reader. I’m grateful that you have taken the time to read these posts. I hope that we, too, can establish a relationship and connection. May this season of gratitude, even during a year of struggle, be a reminder for all of us that life in the Great Lakes Basin is a gift that we share and tend with each other.

Thanks to everyone listed here for their generosity in sharing their stories and their wisdom

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