Sustainability, a Seventh Generation Philosophy

This week we posted a link to our 2010 Effectiveness Report. It is good to look back at the outcomes established for the year and see progress. In our services, progress means that many people on the reservations we serve had opportunities to improve their lives in substantial ways. National Relief Charities’ vision is “strong, self sufficient American Indian communities.” Each year when I review our progress toward this vision, I look closely for evidence that our programs resulted in long- term, sustainable solutions for the people who participated. We are interested in alleviating the serious and immediate needs that exist in many isolated reservation communities. But our vision requires that our programs also focus on sustainable results.

“Sustainability” has become a bit of a “buzz word” and can be defined many ways. While its definition varies by sector, it is commonly understood that sustainability refers to the capacity for continuance into the future. The United Nations describes sustainable development as:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


Iroquois Woman, 1664 (Public Domain)

The concept of sustainability has been increasingly brought into focus as we have become convinced that all systems on are earth are inter-related and that many of today’s problems were the solutions of yesterday. Sustainability is, however, a very old concept. Most American Indian cultures understood the importance of sustainability and sustainable development, living in harmony with all things.

Many people are familiar with the Seventh Generation philosophy commonly credited to the Iroquois Confederacy but practiced by many Native nations. The Seventh Generation philosophy mandated that tribal decision makers consider the effects of their actions and decisions for descendents seven generations into the future. There was a clear understanding that everything we do has consequences for something and someone else, reminding us that we are all ultimately connected to creation.


Most strategies for creating sustainable social systems include improving education, empowerment of women and establishing greater regard for social justice. To be sustainable, programs need to involve the people affected by them in all aspects of planning, should be self-repairing, have local ownership and involve levels of collaboration that ensure continuation. At National Relief Charities we consider collaboration and education are keys to sustainable social solutions to poverty. We focus a fair amount of resource in these two areas. To learn more about our education services, please see our AIEF program site.


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