I believe it is time to think indigenous even at the price of rejection. To disagree with mainstream expectations
is to wake up, to understand what is happening, to be of service to a larger whole.—Manu Aluli-Meyer (2013, p. 148)
World views create worlds… what sets the modern (worldview) apart is its fundamental tendency to assert and experience a radical separation
between subject and object, a distinct division between the human self and the encompassing world. This perspective can be contrasted with what has come to be called the primal world view, characteristic of traditional indigenous cultures.
—Richard Tarnas (2007, p. 16)
My Story, An Introduction
Worldwide, diverse Indigenous cultures possess a common “worldview” (IW) that contrasts significantly with that referred to as the “Western worldview.” (WW) One difference between them relates to the main source of authority for life decisions. In IW, “the most authentic source of authority is honest reflection on lived experience in light of holding a sacred relationship with other humans, the rest of the Natural World and with the supernatural or Spiritual World” (Jacobs, 1998, p.179). It does not come from books, parental instructions, teachers, ministers, formal laws or political oration as is common in WW. With this in mind, I share here some experiences that have “authorized” my perspective in this paper.
I was born to an Irish-Cherokee mother. She was an artistic woman whose father committed suicide when she was young. His father, we suspect, may have escaped from the Trail of Tears and wound up in Joplin, Missouri. My Dad was of Irish and English blood. He was a craftsman who died of alcoholism early in his life. Although he was indifferent to my Indian background, Mom usually tried to hide hers with make-up. When I was six, she came to my first-grade classroom without it on to bring me the Roy Rogers lunch box. She rushed into the class, set it down and quickly left. Immediately the children starting chanting, “Donnie’s mom’s a squaw.” I looked to the teacher for help. She merely crossed her arms and smiled. I stood up and ran home. This event delayed my questions about my “Indian” identity and started my long distance running career. Perhaps it also planted the seed for my interest in transformative learning.
While in college, I used money I had earned as an electrician’s apprentice to tour Europe. One day I sat next to a former RAF pilot on a train in London. I told him I was about to sign up for officer training and flight school in the Marine Corps. He tried to talk me out of it, and when we parted he told me, “The only problem in the world is the inability for each person to express their full, positive physical, mental, social and spiritual potential.” Such goals have never left my mind. Years after my discharge from the Marines, the idea that IW might help people with the RAF pilot’s declaration when I was nearly killed in a kayaking accident on the remote Rio Urique in Mexico. My book, Primal Awareness: Survival, Transformation and Awakening with the Raramuri Shamans of Mexico, tells a transformational tale (Jacobs, 1998 ).
The Rio Urique experience led to my training wild horses for the Bureau of Land Management, helping well-intended people who could not handle their adopted mustangs. The animals taught me about natural trance states that made them highly responsive to my “instructions.” I found a similar reality with the emergency victims as a firefighter around the same time and concluded that all creatures enter a similar awareness level during times of stress and become hypersuggestible to perceived trusted authority figures. My interest caused me to get a doctorate in health psychology, focusing on hypnotherapy for transformation. After years of hypnosis work and experience as Director of a large school for adjudicated children, I decided to quit my “post-vention” career and focus on “prevention” with a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, specializing in Indigenous worldview. Upon graduation, I was hired as director of the education program at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where I fulfilled my Sun Dance vows and was made a relative of the Oglala People.
Such life experiences and many others have brought me to some conclusions about personal and collective transformation. I next introduce four of these conclusions. Each is merely a theory, as is all of purported knowledge. They are, however, based on my honest reflections and are triangulated with “scholarly research,” sober reasoning and a healthy dose of intuition. I believe they deserve serious consideration and debate.
(1) Life Systems on Earth are at a Tipping Point and Worldview Study May Help Us Rebalance Them.
The reader likely knows about human-caused climate change, incessant war, increasing social/ecological injustices, rampant unhappiness, growing pollution, loss of biodiversity, etc. For those concerned with future generations, we must study these things carefully. However, to apply too much emotional urgency and focus to the problems per se is not the best way to heal. Rather, we must have courage to “trust the universe” and move forward with the change process with love. This requires investigating the source of our beliefs.
The concept of worldviews was first introduce by Immanuel Kant’s in his 1790 text, Critique of Judgment, his notion of it (Weltanschauung) “has become one of the central intellectual conceptions in contemporary thought and culture” (Naugle, 2002, p. 248). The importance of worldview study today seems to be at a high mark. This is the position of a group of educators involved with an ongoing 10-year project called “IONS Worldview Exploration Project.” An article by its researchers describes its proposed curriculum in the peer-reviewed journal published by The John Hopkins University School of Education, New Horizons for Learning Journal:
Worldviews profoundly impact individual and shared goals and desires, shaping perceptions, motivations and values both consciously and unconsciously. Worldviews inform human behavior in relationships and choreograph individual and social reactions and actions every moment of the day. They shape our habits of introspection, analysis and communication, influencing the questions we ask, how we make meaning of our experiences, and ultimately the ways we learn (Schlitz et al, 2011).
Perhaps it is telling that these project researchers were affiliated with Dr. Edgar Mitchell’s famed Institute of Noetic Sciences. Mitchell, now in his 80s was the 6th person out of 12 to have walked on the moon, and the 6th person to be inducted into the prestigious Leonardo Da Vinci Society for the “Study of Thinking.” Not long ago he wrote on the back-cover of Shapeshifting: Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation (Perkins, 1997), “Only a handful of visionaries have recognized that Indigenous wisdom can aid the transition to a sustainable world.” Yet few people have given attention to the authentic IW and the cultural wellness proven to have stemmed from it prior to conquest. If worldviews are so important, it is surely one we should study, especially in light of my next conclusion.
(2) There are only two “worldviews.”
The literature about worldviews usually says there are countless numbers of them. Writers include in their list religions, beliefs, morality, etc. Academics refer to humanism, post-modernism, nihilism, existentialism and many other “isms” as worldviews as well. I think this literature confuses these thingsd with something more all-encompassing. I concur with Robert Redfield’s definition that a worldview is “the totality of ideas that people within a culture share about self, human society, natural and spiritual worlds (Wilco, 2004, p.146). After living with Indigenous Peoples in the Yucatan for many years, he concluded that by the 1950s, WW, even in the Orient, had come to dominate the world (1953). He valorized, but did not romanticize IW, and believed that civilization’s radical departure from it was a cultural invention that resulted in “ the loss of a unified, sacred and moral cosmos and its replacement by a thoroughly fragmented, disenchanted and amoral one” (Naugle, 2002, p. 248). He saw IW as a constructive basis for a critique of WW, explaining that the WW is always trying to destroy IW but that the two continually wove into and out of each other (Redfield, 1956). Although there is increasing agreement with Redfield’s ideas, popular sentiments still dismiss them as “romanticizing the Indigenous,” as did one of Redfield’s students who called his “Indigenous-Civilization Dichotomy” “a system of value judgments which contains the old Rousseauian notion of primitive peoples as noble savages, and the corollary that with civilization has come the fall of man” (1963, p.57). This “fall of man” prediction seems upon us now, however, and unless a third all-inclusive and observable worldview comes forth, I conclude that the IW and WW are the ones to which we must give our serious attention. As Tolstoy reminds us, “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it” (2009, p. 56) and the consequences of WW are all too obvious as were the positive outcomes of WW when it was allowed to operate.
(3) The Western Worldview is Largely Responsible for our World Crises and the Indigenous Wordview Holds Keys for the Transformative Learning Needed to Solve It.
As I mentioned, academics, along with hegemonic folklore, the media, literature and entertainment have practiced “anti-Indianism” in America and other parts of the world for centuries (Four Arrows, 2013) as a foil to assure the status quo (Axtell, 1987, p.983). Yet the list of respected scholars and thinkers is growing who call for a serious “remembering” of our Indigenous heritage, with the understanding we must solicit help from those remaining Indigenous individuals who have not lost it. They see IW as the most proven basis for how to reverse the situation facing us. They include, such respected researches as John Pilger, Rebecca Adamson, Bill McKibben, William Ayers, Henry Giroux, Derrick Jensen, and Noam Chomsky (IBID, back-cover). They refer to IW as a necessary way to begin the transformation Ed O’Sullivan defines as “a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions” (2003, pp. 326-330). He continues,
It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race and gender; our body awareness, our visions of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy (IBID, pp. 326-330).
It is not a coincidence that O’Sullivan’s famed Transformative Learning Center has been a forerunner in bringing Indigenous worldview to bear on transformative learning education. I’ve attended several of its “Spirit Matters” conferences that have brought Indigenous participants from around to speak.
Chomsky writes about the importance of IW in this “shift of consciousness, “The grim prognosis for life on this planet is the consequence of a few centuries of forgetting what traditional Indigenous societies knew and the surviving ones still recognize. We must nurture and preserve our common possession, and this must be one of our highest values, or we are all doomed” (Four Arrows, 2013, back-cover). To see a bibliography for this belief, see Annick Hedlund-de Witt’s 2013 dissertation entitled, Worldviews and the Transformation to Sustainable Societies. In the first chapter, entitled, “Worldview: A Concept Whose Time Has Come,” the author refers to transformation of values for ecological sustainability and writes, “In the first place, there is a need articulated by environmental philosophers, who, despite diverging positions on the subject, generally tend to see worldviews (and frequently the Western worldview) as ‘root-cause’ of our sustainability issues, and a profound change (2013). For example, Elias writes,
One cause of the troubles afflicting the contemporary world is the quality of mind that we have perfected in European American cultures. We have perfected mental capacities that produce technological wonders accompanied by runaway ecological and social crises. If a problem cannot be solved with the type of thinking that created it, the most fruitful way to resolve these dilemmas simply may be to change the way we think (Elias, 1997).
There are barriers, of course, to changing the dominant worldview that has been seeded into most of the synapses of our brains from the moment we are born. One of the barriers, however is legitimate and I address it in the final conclusion.
(4) There is a difference between the Problem of Ethnocentrism and the judging of which Worldview is more in Alignment with the Natural World.
When we claim WW is the root of our problems and suggest we must return to IW in some way to save ourselves, negative emotional responses are common, even from those who see value in IW, and I believe this is a healthy reaction. They rightfully deplore ethnocentrism and its claims of superiority, and they feel this is exactly what we are doing when we fault WW and judge IW as a preferable path.
Because authentic respect for diversity in all of its forms is a hallmark of IW, a delicate distinction must be made between claiming that IW is “better” than WW, and making similar claims about many cultures, races, beliefs or philosophies that might be complementary. This is tricky business that requires much more discussion. Suffice it here to say that the former comparison relates to “One World” and the choice is between Indigenous observations for tens of thousands of years resulting in relative harmony, happiness and healthful life systems in contrast with a relatively short history with a very different worldview that has lead to catastrophe. Any serious comparison must logically lead to IW. Then, the complementarity can commence between the learned knowledge and beliefs that relates to the different worldviews of the One World, in spite of the cost of this knowledge that resulted from WW. This dialogue, like the variety of creatures and plants who oppose one another with complementarity, offer ways and possibilities for our survival via a complementary consciousness.
So I ask the reader, should we choose a way of understanding that stems from multi-generational studies of Natural Systems over tens of thousands of years that have allowed a variety of cultures to live in peaceful, sustainable, healthy and and happy ways for most of human history? Or should we choose a worldview that has been operational for only several thousand years and has led to the problems facing our world today? If the reader says that the two worldviews must be seen as complementary and not just cultural practices, I ask you to suggest an advantages or complementary offering of the WW that would lead to balance. It cannot be the amazing technologies that have been created under the Western worldview because comparing IW internal technologies and WW external technologies does call for complementary considerations. It cannot be a claim that WW has brought forth individualism because IW balances individualism with collectivism.
Thus, returning to IW does not infer the superiority of any race or culture. There is a potential complementarity between Indigenous cultures that contrast sharply with Western cultures. But cultures are not “the one world.” They arise from habit, hegemony, religions, as well as from mythological and experiential realities. Sometimes they are merely what is left when “truth” is forgotten. The two worldviews represent something deeper and more defining of how we live on this planet.
As for cultural stories and mythologies, it is interesting to note that some scholars believe that a culture’s mythological heritage informs its dynamics and comes from and maintains a worldview. Consider twin hero stories from around the world. The Navajo twins, Child Born of the Water and Monster Slayer represent the “solar” and “lunar” dynamic and continually work as complementary or dyadic pairs. In WW, however, most twin hero myths have the solar twin killing his brother, as in Romulus and Remus, or otherwise place the lunar twin at a lower position, as in Hercules and Iphicles (Teich, 2013). This study of mythologies might be included in a study of worldviews it seems. In fact, there are many Indigenous prophesies about a partnership between the “selfishly inventive and deceptively articulate Younger (White) brother who strays from the spiritual path known to his Elder (Red) Brother” (Four Arrows, 2013, p.11). This partnership is not about sharing worldviews, but rather about taking the cultural and scientific knowledge that emerged from both worldviews and using it in a complementary way now that “younger brother” is realizing what his diversion has cost.
I know I have just touched on this complicated “theory,” but I have gone a bit past my word limit. May this sharing help bring us all to wolokokiciapi, wohetike and wowayuonihan. (Peace with self and all creation; courage to continue on the path healthy for all; and respectful significance to all.
Axtell, J. (1987) “Colinial America without the Indians: Counteractual reflections” Journal of American Hisotry, 739 March) pp. 981-996
Chomsky, N. (2013) in “Book endorsements” for Teaching truly: A curriculum to indigenize mainstream education: New York: Peter Lang
de Witt, A.H. (2013) Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies (Doctoral dissertation) Retrieved from dare.ubvu.vu.nl/bitstream/handle/1871/48104/dissertation.pdf?sequence…
Elias, D. (1997) It’s time to change our minds: An introduction to transformative learning. ReVision, 20(1). See also http://www.glos.ac.uk/research/prsi/Documents/TL_Research_Briefing.pdf
Four Arrows (2006) Unlearning the language of conquest: Scholars expose anti-Indianism in America. Dallas: University of Texas Press
Four Arrows (2013) Teaching truly: A curriculum to Indigenize mainstream education. New York: Peter LangJacobs, D.T. (1991) Patient communication for first responders: The first hour of trauma. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall
Lewis, O. (1963) Life in a Mexican village: Tepozkan restudied. Chicago: Illini Books
Manu Aluli-Meyer (2013) “Indigenous and authentic: Hawaiian epistemology and the triangulation of meaning” in (Eds) Asante,, YM, and Jung Yin’s in The global intercultural communication reader. New York: Routledge
Naugle, D.K. (2002) Worldview: The history of a concept. Grand Rapids, MI: William Erdmans Publishing Co.
O’Sullivan, E. (2003) “Bringing a perspective of transformative learning to globalized consumption.” International Journal of Consumer Studies, 27 (4), 326–330
Perkins (1997) Shapeshifting: Techniques for global and personal transformation. Springfield, Mass: Destiny Press
Redfield, R. (1953) The primitive world and its transformations. Ithaca, NW: Cornell University Press.
Redfield, R. (1956) Peasant society and culture: An anthropological approach to civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., Miller, E., Homer, K., Peterson, and Erickson, F. (2011). “The Worldview Literacy Project: Exploring New Capacities for the 21st Century Student. New Horizons for Learning, John’s Hopkins University School of Education, Winter, IX, 1.
Tarnis, R. (2007) Cosmos and psyche: Initimations for a new world view. New York: Plume Publishers
Teich, H. (2012. Solar light lunar light “Perspectives in human consciousness. Skiatook, OK: Fishing-King Press
Tolstoy, L. (2009) A confession. World Library Classics. Franklin Park, Ill.: World Library Classics
Wilco, C. (2004) Robert Redfield and the development of American anthropology. Oxford: Lexington Books
Wilshire, B. (2006) “On the very idea of ‘worldview’” in Four Arrows, (ED), Unlearning the language of conquest: Scholars expose anti-Indianism in America. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press
 “Wordview” is not a good term because it is a European concept that gives priority to seeing as in “I see your point.” This is somewhat different than the Indigenous way of understanding the world, which is “not accessible to vision at any moment” (Wilshire, 2006, p. 261) nor conveys being in synch with Nature and the cosmos.
 I did not learn that Roy Rogers was, like me, a mixed blood “Indian” until I was in my 50s. I wonder how that might have influenced my life.