Excerpt from Restoring the Kinship Worldview

Posted by – May 09, 2022
Categories: Excerpt Indigenous Cultures & Anthropology New Release

From Restoring the Kinship Worldview: Indigenous Voices Introduce 28 Precepts for Rebalancing Life on Planet Earth by Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows) and Darcia Narvaez, PhD

This book is about worldview and the consciousness it creates and reflects. It is a topic of utmost importance for the continuation of humanity. “Worldview is a concept ‘whose time has come,’ and its increasing appearance in the contemporary climate change and global sustainability debates can be understood as both response to, and reflection of, the challenges of our time and the solutions they demand.” Everyone acts according to their worldview, an implicit set of assumptions that guide behavior.

Among scholars, the term Weltanschauung was first used, and only once, by German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) to refer to sense perception of the world. The term spread through German scholarship, with Heidegger interpreting it as “a world-intuition in the sense of contemplation of the world given to the senses.” It evolved to mean an intellectual and intuitive concept of the universe. Mark E. Koltko-Rivera’s seminal integrative work on the psychology of worldviews referred to the concept as vital for cognition and behavior and noted how it has been underused. He described the Indigenous worldview of cultures around the world as seeing “subjectivity inherent in the natural world itself ” with all that is, and he contrasted it with the Western world, which sees in a segmented way. He wrote: “In summary, the scholarly study of mysticism defines at least three dimensions of world-view: beliefs regarding the underlying unity of reality, the existence of a conscious nature, and the possibility of a truly ego-transcendent consciousness. Implicit in the mystical approach to the world is the notion that it makes a difference as to whether one sees the world in materialist terms or in terms that allow for an ontologically real spiritual dimension to reality.”

We go further than Koltko-Rivera to assert that the worldview that considers Nature as intelligent and living and the worldview that perceives Nature otherwise are the only two essential worldviews. As we discuss below, it is difficult to find a third category. This may be illus-trated by the mystical experience of Edgar Mitchell, one of the Apollo 14 astronauts and the sixth man to walk on the moon. He founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences to explore the relationship between worldview and the suffering that civilization has caused on the earth. Looking back at planet Earth from outer space made him realize that the “great frontier wasn’t the exploration of outer space, but a deep and systematic inquiry into the nature of our inner awareness.” After witnessing the research of his institute, he would later write that “only a handful of visionaries have recognized that Indigenous wisdom can aid the transition to a sustainable world.”

We two authors have searched for a better word to describe the proverbial invisible waters in which we swim that are the foundation for our assumptions and actions. The Indigenous worldview as we describe it is not a matter of perception or conception alone, but of experiencing and being. It is more of a “world-sense” because it involves dozens of senses and a coordinated way of moving through the world. Indigenous peoples have a broad integrative understanding of body, mind, and Spirit that allows for a more holistic orientation than the narrow perspective that has led us toward extinction. Robert Wolff called it “original wisdom.” Because of its wide, cross-sensory scope, Indigenous worldview in its fullest sense is more of an existencescape, Steve Langdon’s term for describing the Tlingit people’s way of being. Langdon explains that reciprocal sensations, not “seeing,” are how Tlingit understand humanity’s place in the universe. Indeed, tribal knowledge worldwide stems from language birthed in its speakers’ wilderness environment, cultivated through interactions with local spiritual entities, and passed on through thousands of sacred stories and ceremonies grounded in resident relationships. Existencescape prioritizes this place-based knowledge, knowledge that varies according to the interaction between a particular landscape and the people who live there. In this book, however, we wish to emphasize the common precepts shared by Indigenous peoples across the global landscape. As vital as place-based knowledge is, this book is designed to help those with a Eurocentric mindset to begin the journey toward a kincentric relationship with the earth, starting with the larger worldview that diverse Indigenous cultures share. Dennis Martinez, who identifies as O’odham, Chicano, and Anglo, coined kincentric as a way to include all aspects of “harmony between people and other people, and between communities and people and the natural world.” Kincentrism is the first step toward returning to an earth-based consciousness, a starting place for relocalizing or restoring place-based knowledge. 

With all this in mind, we have selected speeches and writings from Indigenous leaders that reflect Indigenous worldview precepts that are rooted in the ancestral human nature and collective unconscious we share. The precepts represent different dimensions of life. Some precepts are principles put into practice on a daily basis. Some are assumptions about how the world works based on generations of observation. All are guidelines for behavior and living a good life. We consider the precepts to be an essential starting place for bringing balance back into the world. 

The twenty-eight Indigenous worldview precepts we address in this book stem mostly from a chart published in Four Arrows’s 2020 book The Red Road: Linking Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives to Indigenous Worldview. The chart contrasts forty dominant worldview precepts with forty Indigenous worldview precepts. There are likely other contrasting Indigenous worldview precepts beyond these forty to be found in the literature. For example, Wade Davis, a celebrated anthropologist who has written about Indigenous cultures from around the world and about the tragedy of their loss, said in a published interview that “the fluidity of our memory, our capacity to forget, is the most haunting trait of our species. It accounts for why we’re able to adapt to almost any degree of environmental or moral degradation.” Upon reading this quote, Four Arrows contacted Davis and asked if he’d really meant to refer to “our species,” as opposed to the relatively recent dominant worldview of our species. Davis responded with an apology, agreeing fully that this was what he should have said. Wade’s mistake is all too common. More and more people seem to be attributing to human nature traits that have only emerged in the past 1 percent of human history. This is why understanding our original, Indigenous worldview precepts is so important. Thus, another Indigenous worldview precept might include “the capacity to remember.”

This chart is not intended as a rigid binary, but a true dichotomy best viewed as a continuum. It is meant to encourage seeking complementarity and dialogue. Absolutism is discouraged with the realization we are all participating in dominant worldview precepts to some degree. The chart assumes that all diverse cultures, religions, and philosophies can be grouped under one of the two world-views. “Indigenous worldview” does not belong to a race or group of people, but Indigenous cultures who still hold on to their traditional place-based knowledge are the wisdom keepers of this original Nature-based worldview. All people are indigenous to Earth and have the right and the responsibility to practice and teach the Indigenous worldview precepts. All have the responsibility to support Indigenous sovereignty, dignity and use of traditional lands. For non-Indians who are concerned about misappropriation, see the peer-reviewed article, “The Indigenization Controversy: For Whom By Whom.”

In this book, we use our unique scholarship specialties to analyze and explain our perspectives on the Indigenous quotes via brief dialogues. Darcia’s work encompasses evolutionary moral developmental psychology. She studies how humans develop best within our evolved continuum of child raising, patterning the individual’s psyche, and relationships to humans and beings other than human, including the world of Spirit. Four Arrows has been a proponent of the original Indigenous worldview and its incorporation into education. The result of our collaboration is a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being, a member of the earth community, in ways that contrast with the dominant anthropocentric/materialistic worldview. Throughout the book the two of us bring forth insights from our experiences and scholarship in an effort to help readers learn and apply the precepts to their own lives.

Our combined years of research and experience have brought us together for this serious task. We believe that the original Indigenous understanding of the world offers the most crucial way to rebalance life systems. This is not a romanticized notion. It is ancestral wisdom. The 2019 global assessment report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services provides concrete evidence of this wisdom. This report, which was based on data contributed by hundreds of scientists from fifty countries, is the larg-est ecological analysis ever undertaken. Although we believe it may be too late to stop many of the impending extinctions of life on earth, this is all the more reason to heed the words spoken by our selected guests. They show us how to live with the fullness of appreciating the wonder of the gift of life on Mother Earth, no matter how great the challenges. For those who want to transform what lies ahead, our book provides an opportunity to reembrace our original Indigenous worldview. We hope it will strengthen you in your personal journey while you do what you can for future generations, both in your current life and in whatever existence follows it.

When reading the quotes and our dialogue about the worldview precept they represent, understand that worldview is not interchangeable with concepts such as ideology, paradigm, religion, or discourse, although such concepts do emerge from a worldview, the source of our beliefs and behaviors. Worldview goes deeper than culture, religion, or philosophy, all of which are fueled by the underlying assumptions we have. 

We adopt the idea that there are only two observable, essential forms of assumptions—worldviews—to choose from today. One has us as creatures that are intrinsically part of Nature, physically and spiritually. The other has us separated from Nature, also physically and spiritually. Dualistic either/or thinking, which does not seek complementarity between apparent opposites, is not part of the Indigenous worldview. Making comparisons between the two worldviews may therefore seem to be a contradiction. We maintain, however, that although there may be some mysterious symbiosis at play, we are at a point where either/or decisions must be made regarding which way of understanding our place in the world will best serve life systems. For us and many other scholars, the choice is clear because the Indigenous worldview has proven itself over thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of years. 

We are not alone in our identifying only two worldviews. Robert Redfield, considered to be the “father of social anthropology,” introduced this hypothesis while at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. Redfield considered the replacement of the Indigenous worldview by the dominant worldview as one of the great tragedies of human history, substituting the moral order of precivilized societies with the technical order of modern civilization. Based on his fieldwork and academic research, he asserted that the “primitive” cultures he studied seemed to have an automatic or natural morality that emphasized empathy and compassion for all. From this perspective, “industrialized humans have become unvirtuous and holistically destructive in comparison to 99% of human genus existence. . . . The pillars of original virtue include relational attunement, communal imagination, and respectful partnership with the natural world.” We think you will see such morality in the words we offer in the following chapters.

To shift from the dominant worldview to the original Indigenous worldview takes some decolonizing of the mind. Our minds have been suckled on the milk of civilization’s domination and coercion of life, with industrialization and capitalism increasing disconnection and alienation from earth consciousness. This book plants the seeds for decolonizing your mind. Please take further steps in this direction by investigating the speakers and resources we cite.

One concern or question that often comes up with our recommendation to decolonize and Indigenize our minds and institutions relates to the right of “non-Indian” people to attempt to re-Indigenize themselves and their systems such as education. Indeed, many Indigenous people believe that non-Indigenous teachers have no right to try to “teach” the Indigenous worldview. They call it a cultural appropriation. Such a concern is well grounded and must be respected in light of the massive mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in the last half millennium. 

However, many Indigenous elders believe otherwise. They know about misappropriation, but they also know that with sincerity, respect, and support for Indigenous rights, allies are necessary. An increasing number of leaders are sharing Indigenous wisdom in order to restore harmony and balance. And as others note too, “the aim is not to return to the details of Native ways, but to apply Indigenous values appropriately for our time and with an eye to the future.” The Indigenous worldview reflects the original instructions for how to approach living well on the earth. As Manitonquat (a.k.a. Medicine Story; Wampanoag) noted: “The Original Instructions are not ideas. They are reality. They are actually Natural Law, The Way Things Are—the operational manual for a working Creation.”

One of the most respected of the Oglala Lakota spiritual leaders was Frank Fools Crow. When he passed away at age ninety-nine in 1989, many considered him the most revered holy person of the twentieth century. He spoke about certain good spirits as a gift to the whole of humankind. He talked about how he helped individuals with vision quests and the sweat lodge so they might better understand themselves and find peace. Then he added, “and these ceremonies do not belong to Indians alone. They can be done by all who have the right attitude, and who are honest and sincere about their belief in Grandfather and in following his rules. . . . Grandfather’s spirits serve others as well as the Indian.” Fools Crow knew that survival of the world depends upon our working together and sharing what we have. He continued: “The ones who complain and talk the most about giving away medicine secrets are always those who know the least. If we don’t share our wisdom, the whole world will die. First the planet, and next the people.” 

With careful effort to make connections to the Indigenous way of understanding our place in the world, we write this book to share such wisdom. We ask you, dear reader, to keep Fools Crow’s wisdom in mind. At the same time, we remind all that without the place-based Indigenous languages and memory of local traditions that the remaining Indigenous wisdom keepers are holding onto against overwhelming odds, our ability to reclaim the Indigenous worldview is severely compromised. If these speeches and our dialogues about them move you to rethink your place in the world, please make it a point to do what you can whenever you can to support the sovereignty of First Nations as well. First Nations people remain on the front lines in defending what biodiversity remains on Mother Earth, and they need our prayers and supportive actions.