We Have A Lot To Learn From Indigenous Peoples

Recently, the UN celebrated the Day For Indigenous Peoples. Western history's coverage of our relationships with Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples has mostly been reporting on western cases of killing and cultural annihilation. I've come to believe that we have much to learn from Indigenous peoples.

Historian Ken Burns said, in his Stanford University 2016 commencement speech,
"Each generation rediscovers and reexamines that part of its past that gives its present new meaning, new possibility and new power. The question becomes for us now -- for you especially -- what will we choose as our inspiration? Which distant events and long dead figures will provide us with the greatest help, the most coherent context and the wisdom to go forward?"

Perhaps we have to go back to the study of people's who still live like humans lived for 99% of their existence, to find that help and wisdom. Fortunately, Dr. Darcia Narvaez has organized a conference, Sustainable Wisdom: Integrating Indigenous Knowhow for Global Flourishing (Sept 11-15. 2016) The conference is to be held at the University of Notre Dame in the ancestral lands of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi.

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Painting title: Placing Stars (by Anthony Chee Emerson)

I asked Dr. Narvaez to explain the value of Indigenous wisdom. She replied,

"What accounts for the differences between dominant global modern culture and the cultures of successful, sustainable indigenous communities that existed for tens of thousands of years? First, there appear to be opposing worldviews: indigenous communities typically display a philosophy of the earth, an orientation to respectful, reciprocal, co-existence, whereas dominant global modern culture promotes a philosophy of escape from the earth."

"It is a philosophy that is homo centric and easily casts off the existence of other life forms as collateral damage to the pursuit of wealth through the trope of "substitutes" used in its most revered episteme of justification -- economics. In the last centuries the dominant Western culture has assumed human separation from and superiority to Nature, removed "personhood" from all but humans, and taken up attitudes of commodifying nature for human interests."

She explains how,

"beginning in the 16th century, Western science, technology, and economics have led to extreme abstracting. They have advocated detachment from the earth, breaking the bonds of relational responsibility to nonhumans, and studied them as objects." And, "Western expansionism and global control of most areas of the earth have impaired capacities to perceive alternatives to the current pathway of increased control of nature and of cultures that do not conform to the dominant system. Yet, most societies in the history of the world consider individual "self-interest," assumed to be normal human nature in most of the West, to be a sign of insanity and profoundly destructive."

"In the last half millennium, the dominant Western view (still propagated by mainstream media today) was that the Americas were a wilderness brought under proper control by European settlers. Through a selective re-telling of history, it came to be believed that those who lived in the Americas before European settlement either were savage (and evil), spiritually "primitive," or undeserving of the land because they did not control Nature in the proper, European, way (control and enslavement of nonhumans for human ends.) At the same time, US history books tend to discuss first nations as relics or extinct ("firsting and lasting"), "wiped out" by the progressive wave from European expansion. However, in fact North America was not a wilderness but an inhabited, nourished and enhanced by small-scale ingenious innovations with a limited but partially cultivated landscape. Many North American first nation peoples still exist (and flourish) today continuing longstanding relations in the environments they have inhabited for thousands of years. In fact, much of Western scholarship has ignored the vast numbers of societies and perspectives that fall outside of dominant Western notions of human life, societies that lived sustainably for thousands if not tens of thousands of years. Non-industrialized, first-nation, indigenous societies around the world have very different worldviews from common Western assumptions about human superiority and separation from Nature. These societies display a whole different awareness of humanity's place walking with the earth, not simply on it, and walking in its relational grasp. Many first nations peoples around the world come from cultures that lived sustainably and relatively peacefully for tens of thousands of years. What accounts for both the sustainability and flourishing of first nations societies? The epigenetic and developmental neurobiological causes of this different way of being are being delineated by scholars. It may have to do with the processes of childrearing and social support which appear to foster greater wisdom, morality and flourishing. For example, several scholars have noted the power of early life experience on neurobiological and social capacities as well as worldview.

What accounts for the differences between dominant global modern culture and the cultures of successful, sustainable indigenous communities that existed for tens of thousands of years? First, there appear to be opposing worldviews: indigenous communities typically display a philosophy of the earth, an orientation to respectful, reciprocal, co-existence, whereas dominant global modern culture promotes a philosophy of escape from the earth.

The conference was organized in response to the ill-being of the planet and its creatures. How could humans become the only species that destroys its habitat? Humans have not always been so destructive. There have been many indigenous peoples who lived sustainably within their landscape (e.g., archaeological studies show that Australian Aborigines have been around for over 60,000 years and the !Kung of Southern Africa for over 40,000 years). Can our culture return to the mindsets and responsible actions of such sustainable cultures?

The focus of the conference is on such questions: How can we integrate the best of modern technology and capacities with the wisdom of first nations? The conference presents the mindsets, practices, and wisdom of first nation peoples across multiple disciplines.

The goals of the conference are to:
" Increase understanding of "first ways."
" Demonstrate how indigenous cultures foster wisdom, morality, and flourishing.
" Find commonalities among different indigenous societies in fostering these outcomes.
" Develop synergistic approaches to shifting human imagination towards "first ways."

The conference will help us envision ways to move toward integrating helpful modern advances with "first ways" into a new encompassing viewpoint, where the greater community of life (diverse human and other-than-human entities) are included in conceptions of well-being and practices that lead to flourishing."

Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows), former Dean of Education at Oglala Lakota College and currently faculty with Fielding Graduate University, another organizer for the conference added,

"I see the conference as an opportunity to rekindle the legacy of our original "worldview" that remains in the DNA of all of us before we alienated ourselves from Nature. I agree with the work of Robert Redfield of the University of Chicago, one of the first social anthropologists. Redfield believes there are only two essential worldviews today, the dominant one and the primal or Indigenous one. We hope our conference speakers and opportunities for dialogue will remind participants about who we really are so we can begin to reflect on some of the different ways of being in the world."

I'l be attending, covering and mining the conference for wisdom.