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How Indigenous Worldview Can Change Our Future

Way of Living – Culture & Values

July 6, 2021

Four Arrows, a scholar and author, joined us for a Way of Living conversation that invited us to consider how our worldview shapes our understanding of ourselves, our community, and our global responsibility. He first shared the fundamental importance of understanding the concept of worldview and then discussed the precepts that guide the Indigenous worldview. Four Arrows led us through a consideration of binaries, their danger and import, and then generously stayed with us to answer a variety of questions. 

The information he provided and the enthusiasm he engendered gifted us with the opportunity to start over our individual worldviews by reconnecting to the Indigenous worldview. Four Arrows believes the Indigenous worldview allows us to reconnect to our own humanity via what we innately know on a cellular level, and that within this worldview lies the map to restore the ecological and social diversity that facilitates the balance necessary for global and personal well-being.

Why Worldview Reflection is Important

Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, a psychologist and writer, defines worldviews as a set of assumptions about physical and social reality that may have powerful effects on cognition and behavior. Four Arrows noted that Koltko-Rivera believes worldviews are the most important construct that the typical psychologist, philosopher, and educator has never heard of. 

The idea of worldview can be traced back to the 19th century term Weltanschauung, coined by German philosophers, which means a specific philosophy or view of life; the worldview of a group or an individual.

Our worldview forms the foundational assumptions that we hold about our place in the cosmos. It is all-encompassing, both consciously and unconsciously influencing all of our behaviors. Worldviews are the lens through which we view the world, but also the hand that guides us through it, creating our sense of what is true and what is possible.

Shifting our worldview requires us to confront and challenge our assumptions, cracking open a space for transformation. We have the opportunity to reconsider the givens of our daily, sometimes mindless existence, such as, “Am I superior to that ant?” Ask yourself: “Why do I believe that?”

Reflecting on our worldview, and being open to questioning it, is how we alter the beliefs we hold about existence; beliefs that have been shaped and inculcated by the culture in which we live.  Exploring worldviews enables us to locate the origin of our global problems as well as move towards collectively beneficial solutions; we can reimagine what is possible.

How Indigenous Worldview Differs

This chart compares the Indigenous and dominant worldview, demonstrating 40 manifestations in our world. Four Arrows noted that this chart should be viewed as a continuum, not a rigid binary. It can be used as a tool to give us options – to help us identify problems we are facing and how they can be solved. 

The precepts of the dominant worldview form the philosophical foundation for government, educational institutions, social media, and media of all sorts; these beliefs form the infrastructure of our lives.

Contrasting the central role of competition threaded throughout the dominant worldview, the Indigenous worldview requires the belief that everyone has a role to play to ensure communal well-being and harmony, both socially and environmentally. 

Leanne Simpson, an indigenous scholar, offers several pillars for understanding how the Indigenous worldview differs from our dominant worldview.

With the Indigenous Worldview:

  1. Knowledge is holistic.
  2. Knowledge is cyclic.
  3. Knowledge depends on relationships to living and nonliving beings. 
  4. The truth is multifaceted. 
  5. Everything is alive and equal, including rocks, trees, land, and water. It all has a soul and a spirit. 
  6. Land is sacred. 
  7. The relationship between people and the spiritual world is vital.

Is Comparing Worldviews a Dangerous Binary?

Binaries can be dangerous because they eliminate context and nuance, but qualitative binaries have value as they help us deduce which one is better than the other. For example, we need to recognize that it is better to not be human-centered. It is qualitatively better for the planet if we think of ourselves as equal to animals and land.

Hillary Webb, a psychological anthropologist, has studied complementary dualities and has investigated the idea that polarities are all part of one essential, cohesive whole. She understands the Indigenous worldview as a prism of voices that help us to imagine an inclusive and sustainable way of being. 

Ultimately, the Indigenous worldview is part of a vast diversity of stories, all coexisting in a multifaceted truth, that make sense of who we are within the universe. 

The Role of Individualism

Individualism is even stronger in the Indigenous worldview than in the dominant. Even though the dominant worldview centers the self, the accrual of money, and winning competitions, the indigenous worldview enables groups to form a powerful collective by first becoming self-actualized individuals. 

The Indigenous worldview believes generosity is the highest expression of courage and that humans are not superior to any other life form. Truly believing these precepts, and those like them, with passion and conviction, requires great autonomy and thorough, challenging reflective work, which can only be done by a motivated individual. 

The chart contrasting the dominant and Indigenous worldview can be used as a blueprint to build a better self, which leads to a better society. It enables us to reconsider ways of being, creating new selves that can be more thoughtful, benevolent, and fulfilled through connection.

Fundamentally, for the indigenous, the highest authority is the personal reflection on our own lived experience, while always being aware that we are all interconnected.

Additional Wisdom about the Indigenous Worldview

  • With the Indigenous worldview, people can keep their initial faith in teachings that resonate with them culturally. 
  • Many of the profound ideas of the Indigenous worldview come from Indigenous Africa.
  • If you are seeking additional, reputable information on Indigenous worldview, look for authors that are highly respected. For information you are unable to find, seek a local person for place-based knowledge and wisdom. 
  • TEK is traditional ecological wisdom. It differs from Indigenous worldview as it refers exclusively to people raised in a specific location for millennia. They know the indigenous culture first-hand, including traditional ceremonies and the language, which passes along the wisdom to survive in that particular environment.
  • Indian Country is divided about place-based knowledge being taught in schools by anyone that is not place-based. Some believe that anyone who thinks we should not be giving medicine away and teaching the medicine, is not familiar with the medicine.
  • People need to be willing to look at their worldview before they can be open to shifting it. Lead with curiosity rather than sanctimony. Stay away from labels and try to engage in a dialogue, but keep in mind – these are difficult conversations. Finding an entry point is challenging, but necessary work. 
  • When discussing the Indigenous worldview with someone, it is ok to share your belief that there is a true way of transforming problems plaguing the world. Be as enthusiastic as you can without losing them. It’s a balance.
  • The Indigenous worldview is about sharing, not promotion or misappropriation. Work to help the indigenous however you can. For example, royalties from Four Arrows’ books go to an Indigenous cause. 
  • An Indigenous identity comes from self-identification and then is sanctioned by members of the first nation. All members bring in allies, and if they show a good heart and want to learn the culture, they are Indigenous.

Additional information about Four Arrows can be found on his website. A synopsis of each book can be found at this link and many can be purchased online

In light of the current climate crisis, this 3-minute video shares how the Indigenous worldview is essential for preserving life on this planet.

Or if you need a quick smile, check out Four Arrows playing piano.

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