One of the more prominent features of living in North America is the degree to which our culture(s) (American and Canadian) have adopted the scientific view of the universe. As one who has struggled with the many intricate and complex implications of this “perspective,” I always wondered, when studying statistics, for example, whether and how and to what extent the finger-and-hand-print of the researchers, their attitudes, beliefs and perspectives, were indelibly imprinted on the shape of the questions that were being pursued in and through the research. For some time, however, we have known and publicly acknowledged, that there is no such thing as total objectivity, whether in science, or in historical research, or even in theology.
In beginning what I hope will be a protracted journey into the lands of both indigenous philosophy and spirituality and also into the even more expansive and mysterious lands of archetypal psychology, the scientific euro-world view is beginning to thaw.
In their 2002 work entitled, Aboriginal Education in Canada, A Plea for Integration., John W. Friesen and Virginia Lyons Friesen write these words:
The nonNative scientific view further allows an encourages the development of separate ‘hard-core’ academic disciplines which seek to identify and explain the various components of cosmic and material phenomena, such as biophysics, astrochemistry, biotechnology, nuclear mathemat5ics, social physiology, and so on. Although the proponents of each of these specialities will make sophisticated claims about interdisciplinary parallels and concerns, there is always an element of professional ethnocentricism involved in their scientific deliberations.
The delineation of disciplinary specialities is quite foreign to the First Nations way of thinking. Aboriginal People view the world as an interconnected series of only sometimes distinguishable or comprehensible elements. They experience no uneasiness at the thought of multiple realities simultaneously operant in the universe, and they do not differentiate among the varieties or qualities of entities, that is between material or spiritual elements. Their world-view allows for the possibility that a variety of ‘structurally-different’ elements may simultaneously be active in the process of holistic healing. This also explains why dreams, visions, and personal experiences comprise an important source of knowledge as scientifically-derived truths. I short, you never know where you might gain knowledge or where you might learn something. (Op.Cit. p 45-6)
As a further explication of this holistic perspective, Friesen and Friesen also quote David Suzuki’s, A Personal Foreword: The Value of Native Ecologies, Wisdom of the Elders, by Peter Knudtson and David Suzuki, Toronto ON: Stoddart, xxixxvi) on page 46 of Friesen and Friesen:
The land is not merely soil; it is a foundation of energy flowing through a circuit of souls, plants, and animals…As ethic to supplement and guide the economic relations to land presupposes the existence of some mental image of land as a biotic mechanism. We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in. (quoted in Suzuki, 1997, 104)
Even the modest and essentially polite Euro-inference, in the last sentence, exceeds the native perspective, in that, unlike most of us who have been educated in euro-perspectives, First Nations people are not restricted to having to see, hear, feel and empirically experience something or an event to have faith in it.
To push the envelope ever further, Friesen and Friesen write:
Belief in the eternal mystique of the universe prohibits the idea of exploitation or domination. An unknowable and hallowed entity should not be approached in any other manner but with respect, awe, and obeisance. One should not tamper with the elements or workings of the universe, but respect is modus operandi. As the mysterious but Divinely-controlled source of life and sustenance the earth’s power is enigmatic but reliable. To question or seek to tamper with its rhythms functions would be tantamount to playing God. (p. 48)
For some time, there have been numerous earnest attempts to graft native spirituality to Christian spirituality, most of which have been imagined and
designed from a euro-perspective. And while some grafting of cultures has always been a component of the ecclesial history in North America, it seems high time, if not past time, to take serious note of the dramatic and significant differences in perception, attitude, spirit and ethics.
Playing God, for example, with the universe, is proving to be a demonstrably dangerous concept, given the existential crisis humanity faces in the threat of global warming and climate change. The Genesis quote: Then God Said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
A metaphoric, rather than a literal interpretation and application of this description, seems to have both evolved and evaded the minimal differentiation of human from animal creature. As an “piece of origin” writing, however, it is neither surprising nor discomfiting that a ‘conceived’ deity would seek to note a difference between humans and non-humans. One interpretation, likely an attempt to frame the quote into a notion compatible with another notion, holds that the Christian concept of God, is that the ‘expectation that humans would act as God’s representatives, by taking care’ as the ideal.
As the street vernacular would have it, “How is that ‘taking care’ working out for you?
Native peoples have consistently regarded the earth and all of the living things as sacred, not something over which/whom to have dominion. And herein lies a fundamental humility of the indigenous perspective; not treating/using/deploying as if in charge, but co-habiting with in unity. There is simply no “as if” in the indigenous perspective; it is not an abstraction, or a theoretical or a scientific or a mathematical or philosophic or a cognitive concept; they live, incarnate and embrace their unity with the earth and all of its bounty.
I feel awkward, as a descendent of a combined British, Scottish, Irish, and Dutch heritage, to be stepping into the waters of the indigenous world-view, not in an attempt to appropriate those waters but rather to try to embrace the dramatic and life-giving and life-affirming quality of those waters. There is so much of nuance, of imagination, of community, and of life-giving support in a world view that embraces the unity of all living things. Overlaid on this world view is a perspective of time as cyclical rather than sequential, flexible and shifting according to the needs of the people and what is taking place on the earth.
Bound by neither the need to take charge, rather than live in harmony with nature, and the linear concept of time, indigenous folks were/are more enlightened, mature and worthy of emulation and appreciation than original European settlers, with their world view, considered them to be.
Here is a little more from Friesen and Friesen:
The First Nations of North America see themselves as part of a great chain of existence that includes all aspects of creation; all elements in this natural chain are interrelated and interdependent. If any single element is subjected to undue attention or pressure or is tampered with, there will be repercussions in the grand scheme of things…..Traditionally, all tribal societies lived in tune with the cycles of nature. Living off the land and depending on its rhythms meant that nature dictated when things would happen…..The Aboriginal twist to the definition of sharing leans quite heavily toward the obligatory component of the process, very much to the point that they who have, had better share. (p. 51-2-3-4)
In the complex process of addressing the issue of the reconciliation process, indigenous peoples choose to “engage in an aggressive, yet reasonable campaign to acquaint their nonNative counterparts with the essence of Aboriginal philosophy (believing) First Nations will undoubtedly gain a great deal more public acceptance than they have in the last few decades.” (Friesen and Friesen op.cit. p 21-22) Other indigenous writers, however, blame Eurocentric thinking for all Aboriginal ills.
Quoting from James Henderson, Youngblood (2000) Postcolonial Ledger Drawing: Legal Reform. Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage, in Friesen and Friesen we read:
As a theory it (Eurocentric thought) postulates the superiority of European over non-Europeans. It is built on a set of assumptions and beliefs that educated and unusually unprejudiced Europeans and North Americans habitually accept as true as supported by ‘the facts,’ or as ‘reality.’Friesen and Friesen reference Henderson and Battiste in this sentence: “According to these authors, North Americans have apparently never been able to release themselves from the grasp of European thought, despite the formulation of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 or the founding of Canada as an independent nation in 1867.” (p. 22)
“A theory that ‘we are superior to everyone else so that means that we have the right to take over their land and run it for our own benefit.”
Colonization is the sending of ‘our superior people’ out to physically take the land away from ‘their inferior people’ and run it for the benefit of our superior people while relegating their inferior people to subservient and secondary roles (if our superior people don’t’ simply kill off all of their inferior people.” ( George Thomas writing in quora.com)
While Thomas’s definition is replete with sarcasm and even anger, the import of the definitions on both those indigenous people who have been subjected to colonialism and on those who imposed their ‘superior’ wills on[ja1] native peoples is still haunting North American culture and life, including the political and corporate cultures.
Superiority/inferiority lies at the heart of all hierarchies, based on any cluster of a number of asssumptions: expert knowledge, tradition, efficiency, the creation of order, the law, and an innate need for control among others. Superiority/inferiority, too, is implicit in all sorts of relationships dependent on the perceptions of individuals in those relationships. If anyone has experienced the abuse of power, regardless of when and where such abuse took place, one is especially sensitive to the dynamics of that scenario. Also, although much less discussed publicly if at all, for those who have abused power, they know intimately, if secretly, that they have abused their power. And one question that too often goes unspoken and thereby unresolved is whether or not those who have abused power come to the conscious realization and acknowledgement that they have responsibility for those abuses.
Too often in North American history, those who considered themselves and their views, dogma, theology, and positions as “protectors/rescuers/custodians/parents” of the individuals in their charge have used that position/view as justification of whatever practices and policies they deemed necessary. And that nefarious and heinous pattern was often implemented and imposed in the name of God. So, not only were there secular roles in schools and in group homes with inordinate power over both the children, directly, and indirectly over the parents from whom those children had been snatched, there was the over-bearing ‘veil’ of the sacred interceding as ethical endorsement and justification for the actions, policies and theories of the abusers
While not an indigenous person, I am familiar with the concept of the abuse of power from an early age. And it is not only the bruises and the physical pain that accompanies the abuse; it is even more importantly the shame, the guilt and the anger, married to the colonizing and militarizing of the secrecy about the abuse that is so lasting and so galling and so demeaning.
Keeping secrets inside a publicly-parading religious and self-righteous home, so that no public reputations of the parents are damaged, is a pattern from which one recovers slowly over time. The experiences, however, inform a world view that intuits bullshit, manipulation, deception, and especially cover-up attitudes and behaviours when and wherever they appear. Abused kids are implanted in a culture, with or without the will or the acknowledgment of the power structures of that society, as canaries in the wider coal mine of each institution and agency and corporation to which we become associated.
And while the abuse has ended, for many, the residue of that precipitate (the highly intuitive and extra-sensitive canary) in the bottom of the beaker of our consciousness and our unconsciousness remains and will not remain silent forever.
And, similarly, the indigenous peoples in North America are also, if we are prepared to acknowledge our reality, the sensitive, empathic, intuitive and conciliatory canaries in our shared coal mine.
Are we prepared to hear their song?