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  • Writer's pictureChristine "Liz" LaRue


Photo by bennett tobias on Unsplash

I recently came across a post on a popular social media page that showed a group of African children sitting in a circle under a huge tree with their feet in the center, all touching. The children were holding hands and grinning. As the story goes, a white anthropologist takes a large basket of fruit and places it in a spot for a game for the kids. He told the children that the first child who raced and got to the basket would win all the fruit.

Much to the anthropologist's surprise, the children all clasped hands and ran as a cohesive group so that ALL the children reached the basket together. As they enjoyed the juicy fruit, the anthropologist asked why they did this together, as the goal was to see who ran the fastest to get the fruit. The kids piped up UNBUNTU!

Ubuntu is a Zulu (South African Indigenous tribe) concept that means "I am because we are." The children told the anthropologist, "How can one of us be happy if everyone else is sad?" Nelson Mandela spoke to this philosophy, which drove him in his anti-apartheid work for South Africa to free his people.

This mindset is also seen in Native American cultures. When a hunt is over, a buffalo is shared with the entire Indigenous community, paying particular attention to the elderly, women, and children. I saw this in real-time with my grandfather, whose father was born on the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma. He had a small farm in the Utah mountains raising corn, pears, and other vegetables. Every once in a while, he would bag some fruits and veggies and instruct me to run across the street to give a bag to various neighbors... no cost...just to share. It built up great connections in the neighborhood, and folks would also share back from their gardens. We ended up with a variety of foods at our table that we might not have on our small farm - a delight for a table with such a variety, nutritious too.

In thinking about our "Unity," I remembered that the founders of our country took the basis of our Constitution from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. They included the following tribes: Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga, and Tuscarora. It was called "The Great Law of Peace". Each tribe managed its affairs but worked together to maintain cooperation between tribes for resources. The only part of the Iroquois Confederacy that the white founders did not take into the U.S. Constitution was that part where all tribes were responsible for the equal protection and stewardship of the lands the tribes existed on. That part of neglect is biting us collectively in the butt with trying to survive our climate change.

For instance, for centuries, Native American tribes have been carrying on the practice of saving seeds. This practice is normal for most tribes. Today, American scientists have begun working with tribes that have saved a much wider diversity of heirloom seeds important to the U.S. agricultural process.

Saving seeds is crucial now as our lack of native biodiversity threatens our nutrition and survival of plants and animals that we eat in America. Our European farming practices have decreased the health of our soils, which everyone depends on for nutritious foods.

Did someone tell Native Americans to save seeds? No. It was a natural thing to do to protect the "We" of the future. This is something that Americans have lost in our current social discourse and politics. We focus more on "me" and preventing others from moving forward. Our European ancestors came from countries that pushed deprivation of natural resources to control populations and to have free or slave labor to build a caste system for the monied class.

So, as we contemplate UNITY, we must remember that we are all connected in invisible ways. If one group falls, it directly affects the entire group. We cannot be fully human. We act alone. We see this in Nature daily.

An example of this is when American Plains farmers began poisoning prairie dogs, as they saw them as vermin. As prairie dog populations plummeted, farms and prairies began to flood, and the biodiversity of their fields drastically decreased. Scientists and farmers discovered that the natural burrowing of the prairie dogs' tunnels helped disperse flood waters and created places for a greater diversity of plants to grow.

For UNITY to work, it starts just with one outreached hand, idea, movement, and seeing how our commonalities intersect in ways that may be visible and invisible.

"How can one of us be happy if everyone else is sad?" This is UMBUNTU. Let's find more ways to practice this. Not only may we save others, we may even save ourselves.


Christine LaRue

Artist Bio

Christine “Liz” LaRue is a clay artist and illustrationist. She is known for her intricately textured figurative sculptures and emotionally illustrative drawings. Chicago born though also raised in Utah and Idaho, Ms. LaRue is of Creole/Cuban descent. Her art has been influenced by her Afro-Latino heritage. Ms. LaRue’s interests have been in pre-Columbian art of the Olmec, Maya of Mexico, Nazca, and Moche face pots of Peru. This also includes the bronze sculptures of the Ife of Nigeria and Tā Moko tattoo art of the Maōri.

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