The Native American 10 Commandments

I am pretty sure that everyone knows of the Ten Commandments. If you have been to a Christian church more than once, you were probably taught them, especially as a child. Many will use the Ten Commandments as a basis for their life and to determine what is and is not sin. Lesser known is the Native American Ten Commandments. While little is known about its origin, the Spirit (Great and Holy) is definitely behind their origin and they offer strong words of wisdom:

The Earth is our Mother, care for Her.
Honor all your relations.
Open your heart and soul to the Great Spirit.
All life is sacred; treat all beings with respect.
Take from the Earth what is needed and nothing more.
Do what needs to be done for the good of all.
Give constant thanks to the Great Spirit for each day.
Speak the truth but only for the good in others.
Follow the rhythms of nature.
Enjoy life’s journey, but leave no tracks.

What sticks out to you? For me, the first is that they are not a list of things not to do, but of what to do. Depending on which translation of the Christian Ten Commandments you utilize, eight of the ten include the words “you shall not,” or something similar. None of the Native American Ten Commandments contain that type of language. It is commandments on what to do to live life as we should.

Secondly, the Native American Ten Commandments are holistic. They are about you and creation and your community. They tell us how to live in union with God’s Creation. They tell us how to live in community and to make that community better by our participation. The Native American Ten Commandments acknowledge that life is more than just individual people. They recognize that all creation is linked together and that humans need to be a part of the links, but not destroy or interfere with those links. For the generations that follow, we must preserve and protect creation so that it is passed down to them.

In a corollary to my first point above, the Native American Ten Commandments come from a positive perspective instead of a negative perspective. The term “original sin” has always gotten my panties in a bunch. Did God not say at the end of each day of creation, “It is good.” God did not say, “this is full of sin.” Sin did not come into the world until Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, after creation. So, in my view, grace predates sin. I think we should spend more time on “Original Grace.” For all you social scientists out there, is positive reinforcement more effective than negative reinforcement? If we came into the world in a cloud of sin, how does that effect our psyche? I would rather come into this world in the great sunlight of grace.

I encourage you to copy the Native American Ten Commandments and place them with the Christian Ten Commandments. Compare them, contrast them. Use them both in your daily life so that you, your neighbor, your community, and creation all live in harmony.

–Duane Short is a lifelong agriculturist and Master degree student. He and his family live in Hamilton County, Iowa.

  • Jim Grant

    Somehow I am only learning of these Native American Ten Commandments and hopefully I’ll start putting them into practice today! In some ways, it’s a capsule summary of Laudato Sí, and I’ll be sharing this connection when I next teach about Caring for Our Common Home…