The students were looking for “an older person” to interview as a class project and so they asked me.
Thanks very much.
Anyway, they wanted to know what I thought about “the Aboriginal Worldview”.
Firstly, I told the nice young lady with the tape recorder, we don’t like to call ourselves “aboriginal”. That is a word that government people like to use because it fits on their business cards better than “First Nations, Metis and Inuit”.
Secondly, we don’t all have the same opinion on anything, let along a worldview, any more than all European, Oriental, or African people do.
And thirdly, our worldviews are probably not much different from those of many other peoples around the world – everyone in the yellow, red, black and white sections of the Medicine Wheel.
Take the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinabek, for example: wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, and truth. Does any society not include these values in their belief systems? It is not a truly Muslim principle to blow people up with bombs, or a Christian one to torture schoolchildren, even though individuals of both these faiths have been guilty of doing those things.
If there is one way in which – as a group – the 400 million Indigenous people on this planet might be seen to have a unique collective outlook on life it is in our relationship with Nature. Most of us do not think of Mother Earth primarily as a parking lot, or a place on which to build shopping malls or subdivisions.
As Crazy Horse once told a bewildered U.S. Cavalry officer, “Our land is where our dead lie buried.” First Peoples tend to have a special relationship with the land because we understand that we are literally part of it, it is included in our DNA.
The federal government is beginning to understand that, as their well-heeled lawyers wend their way through over 800 unresolved First Nations land claims, most dating back to the days when our ancestors did not have hired legal help.
We also believe that we have relationships with all other living things. Indians don’t “worship” animals, the way many “civilized” societies like the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians did, with their graven images and idols. Rather, we believe that we are related to all the other beings put here by the Creator. We should treat them with respect, like our best hunters do when they offer tobacco to a felled moose who has given up its life to provide them with food.
Another important worldview traditionally exhibited by Indigenous peoples is the ethic of sharing. Europeans were, for the most part, welcomed to the shores of the Americas – Turtle Island – by people who showed them how to feed, clothe and house themselves in a foreign, and sometimes hostile environment. Otherwise, they would have all died of scurvy or hypothermia, buried under large snowdrifts.
Young First Nation and Inuit hunters still proudly and generously share their harvest of venison or seal meat with community members, maintaining a tradition that dates back thousands of years.
This practice of supporting other members of the collective has often been looked on with suspicion by Europeans who value individualism above all else. They liken this type of custom to communism, and their governments outlawed such celebrations as the Haida Potlatch, where community members shared their wealth with one another.
Unfortunately, the “every-man-for-himself” mentality has endured right up to the present day, evidenced by government practices like freezing annual increases of First Nations funding at 2%, while permitting the federal Indian Affairs bureaucracy to balloon from 3,300 employees in 1995 to over 5,000 last year.
“Is there any likelihood that the Indigenous worldview will influence the rest of the world?” the student concluded her list of questions.
I predicted it was a matter of time before citizens of wealthy nations like Canada – where children still go to bed hungry each night – would demand change from the wealthy few who dictate their future.
Like most shrewd forecasters, I didn’t pin down when this would happen.
Maybe when Ottawa residents – including Members of Parliament -- are paying $3 for a litre of milk, like they do in Attawapiskat.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.