Archbishop Desmond Tutu on "Dignity"

October 21, 2010

A forward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Dignity: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous People, a book benefiting Amnesty International

Indigenous peoples throughout the world have something profound and important to teach those of us who live in the so called modern world.  I have long believed this to be true, even before I discovered to my delight that I was related to the San People of southern Africa. I suspect that if each of us looks far enough back into our genome we will discover that we are all indeed related.

Indigenous Peoples remind us of this fact. They teach us that the first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of creation. In Africa recognition of our interdependence is called ubuntu. It is the essence of being human. It speaks of thefact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nation, to the earth. Ubuntu is about wholeness, about compassion for life.

Ubuntu has to do with the very essence of what it means to be human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life. In our fragile and crowded world we can survive only together. We can be truly free, ultimately, only together. We can be human only together. To care about the rights of Indigenous Peoples is to care about the relatives of one’s own human family.

The Indigenous Peoples of the world have a gift to give that the world needs desperately, this reminder that we are made for harmony, for interdependence. If we are ever truly to prosper, it will be only together.

And this also includes what used to be called “inanimate nature,” but what the elders have always known were relatives in the family of earth. When Africans said, “Oh, don’t treat that tree like that, it feels pain,” others used to say, “Ah, they’re pre-scientific, they’re primitive.” It is wonderful now how we are beginning to discover that it is true—that tree does hurt and if you hurt the tree, in an extraordinary way you hurt yourself. Every place you stand is holy ground; every shrub has the ability to be the burning bush, if we have eyes to see.

Photograph by Dana Gluckstein.

We owe a very great debt of gratitude to those who remember the old ways to live and honor the earth. And yet, we have ignored them, oppressed them, and even stripped them of the land that is their life. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an important step toward protecting these vulnerable members of our human family, of giving them the dignity and the respect that they so richly deserve.

We must be grateful to those who remind us of our common bond. The work of Dana Gluckstein embodies ubuntu. It helps us to truly see, not just appearances, but essences, to see as God sees us, not just the physical form, but also the luminous soul that shines through us. Pick up this glorious book and look into the eyes of your relatives, those distant cousins you have not seen in so many years, for whom your heart ached without knowing. Greet each other again, with the love and healing that comes with reunion, and know that in protecting their rights and their way of life, you protect the wellbeing of us all and the future we share, for we are all, everyone of us, precious members of the family of earth.

God bless you,
Desmond Tutu

DIGNITY, a collection of iconic photographs by Dana Gluckstein, honors Indigenous Peoples worldwide and celebrates the 50th Anniversary in 2011 of Amnesty International.  Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit Amnesty’s life-saving human rights work.

UPDATE: The book “Dignity” was created in support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Lend your voice and help us encourage the U.S. to endorse UNDRIP now!