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Interview - Issue #14
In their book Restoring the Kinship Worldview, Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows) and Darcia Narvaez present 28 precepts for rebalancing life on Earth. The precepts are based on a chart representing common dominant worldviews in contrast to Indigenous worldviews. Where the Leaves Fall caught up with the authors to discuss the book, the precepts and worldview chart.
Where the Leaves Fall: The Kinship Worldview book is based on a number of precepts relating to the Dominant and Indigenous Worldview Manifestations chart, which Four Arrows developed over a number of years. We’d love to know more about this chart - and if you could also explain what a worldview is.
Darcia Narvaez: Worldview is essentially a cosmology, a set of deep assumptions - mostly subconscious - about what humans are like, how they should be, how they should behave, what the world is like, the manifest and the un-manifest, what our relationships should be like. It’s a package of perspectives, intuitions and habits that are guiding behaviour and action.
Four Arrows: It’s this fundamental undergirding of our assumptions that have been formed by our cultures, by our hypnosis of early childhood, by our experiences. Cultures are not worldviews, philosophies are not worldviews, religions are not worldviews.
We look at those things and we see, indeed, that each of those precepts is representative of the ‘manifestations’, not beliefs. Everybody is on one side or the other [of the chart] in different ways and a lot of people who are western oriented [the dominant worldview] will not disagree with things on the right side [the Indigenous worldview]. But then when you say, “well, what about your community? What about your family? What about your education system? What about your economic system? What about your government? What about what you watch on television? What about the media? Where are you?”
The precepts are practical ways that any language can utilise to make changes. Do you have a high respect for women or not? Are you fully hierarchical or not? And on and on.
Darcia: The precepts are what bring about health and well-being for the human community and the more-than-human community. And the other list [the dominant worldview] brings about ill being - that’s what it does. And we can see it all over the world now.
We distinguish the Indigenous worldview from traditional ecological knowledge - that’s different. That’s the wisdom about how to live in a particular landscape with these animals and these plants and how to help the ecosystem thrive and how to all get along. That’s not what we’re talking about.
That’s exceptionally important and every community, every Indigenous first nation peoples group, has its own wisdom that we need to honour. What we’re talking about is the worldview that is shared all over the world by Earth-centred people.
— Four Arrows
WtLF: There’s something you say in the book, Darcia: “The Indigenous worldview allows for a large sense of community belonging to the overall common self, a deep sense of kinship with all.” Perhaps you could talk a little more about that?
Darcia: The common self is that sense of oneness with the universe, essentially with the cosmos. We enter that sense when we’re in the natural world and are paying attention and mindful - it just starts to flow in us. When we bring up kids and live in four walls in front of screens, we are not developing what I call the receptive intelligence to actually enter that flow - to enter that sense of common self.
Four Arrows: I agree. I talked to a guy named Brian Rice last week who is an expert on the Rotinonshonni - the Iroquois twins story of Sapling and Flint (the Iroquois creation story). He said for us to interpret any of these stories you can’t do it with a western mindset; you’ve got to go back and imagine what it was like to not know what a city or a street or a theory or a theorem or a worldview are. It was so much of a different way of being in and being of nature. And so, to replicate that, in what we’re doing in a book with worldview, it’s not easy.
WtLF: So how are we able to re-engage, reconnect and tap into that stream if we are brought up within four walls - distanced and abstracted by concrete, tarmac and brick?
Darcia: Nature is all around. There is the wind, there’s the sun, there are the clouds, there’s the dandelion or the grass in the cracks in the sidewalk and there’s the plant on your window - there are the birds outside. You can just change your attention to those living beings around you and start to try to be connected to them - and feel the connection, pause and contemplate. And there are ways to do that. At evolvednest.org there are a lot of those exercises - see ecoattachment.dance. Start by doing one thing a day - change your attention and start to build the habits of paying attention to the natural world.
WtLF: You also discuss kinship networks in the book.
Four Arrows: The relationship between a particular animal and a particular plant you can write books on. And between different animals. All of these things are part of the mutual aid phenomenon that we ignore because the networks are so complex. It’s an interconnectedness, a weaving of dependencies that even go into the opposites.
Darcia: I think the vital part of that is the relational aspect, not the individual. Life takes place in relationships - we can’t live without them. Those dependencies are interdependencies.
We are stardust. We are Earth dust. Our ancestors are in us. And our ancestors include the slime moulds and the sponges and all the other non-human animals of the tree of Life.
— Darcia Narvaez
WtLF: You’ve got the one point in the chart “Rigid and discriminatory gender stereotypes as opposed to Respect for various gender roles and fluidity”. Can you elaborate on this?
Darcia: Biology tells us that there is no binary. Everyone’s a little bit different in terms of genetics related to sexuality and we’re much more complicated than just a set of genes.
In terms of kinship, our heritage and our ancestral heritage - nomadic foragers, First Nation peoples - typically are very accepting of who you are. You don’t have to be a particular way - you’re unique. So, it’s honouring the uniqueness of the individual. That’s the way children act initially when they’re young - they see an animal and they give it a name as a unique individual. But then we go to school and we’re told to put everything into categories and lump everything together as non-individuals - as objects. So, we get into this objectification mode of consciousness that is so destructive.
Most philosophies and religions of the world have warned about a relationally - and emotionally - detached mode of consciousness (what western schooling emphasises). The warning is that if you think in this way too much, you will start to believe that this is the way to be a human, as an onlooker to life, rather than as a participant co-constructing the world. The detached mode can be useful when used briefly to solve a particular problem, but it is a very dangerous tool. If you stay in a detached mode too long, you can start to feel superior with your abstract models and your intellectual powers and you will act like you are the god of deciding who should live and who should die. The detached mode has guided western and autocratic regimes that have used it to rationalise colonisation/globalisation and impositional technocracy, which are destroying the planet. Instead, it’s important to remain in a relationally - and emotionally - connected mode of consciousness to shape decisions and actions in light of potential consequences on all our relations, human and more than human.
Four Arrows: Yeah, I agree. And you use the word ‘unique’ and that infers or implies ‘diverse’. Diversity is the key - and living with the natural world - and the more intimate you are in the natural world and the more observant, because your life depends on that observation, the more you go: “Holy cow. Who would have known that this web does this and the connections that it makes and the diversity of life is just to be respected.” You didn’t have a clue how those things were related last week and now you do. So, anything else that you see that you’re clueless of, that’s strange, that’s different, that’s not regular in terms of what you’re familiar with - if anything, give it great respect and sacredness - don’t put it down.
Darcia: I’m reminded of a story Laurens van der Post discusses in one of his books where either he or another ethnographer was migrating with the Kalahari San in southern Africa. And they were walking for days across the terrain. The San were surprised that the European didn’t recognise a particular bush. They were walking hundreds of miles: “Don’t you know, we walked by this bush before?” So, they have a thousand-mile migratory route, for example, and they know every bush, they know every tree, and it’s just unfathomable to the western mindset of categorising things and not seeing uniqueness.
— Four Arrows
WtLF: On the worldview chart you talk about “Learning is fragmented and theoretical” on the dominant worldview and “Learning is holistic and place based” on the Indigenous worldview. What is your advice for those of us who might live on land with a complicated and violent history, especially for displaced and marginalised people? How do we learn holistically and place based?
Four Arrows: Until we start looking at the truths of our original place, what was happening when we were indigenous to the land and beginning to see the hegemony that is coming at us from the western worldview, then there’s really nothing to learn that’s going to help change or decolonise, or indigenise. I see the worldview as what you do when you decolonise - you pre-colonise and to pre-colonise is to indigenise. If we want to decolonise what does that mean? That means to go back. How do you go back? You got to go back to what was before the colonisation. I would think that would be logical. And what was before that was different - before the oppression, before the inequality, before the genocide? Well, it was these worldview precepts. You could look at the right side of the chart. There’s no way you’re going to do genocide, there’s no way you’re going to do any of the kinds of discriminatory horrors that happened in places. So, to get back to the place is to get back to the understandings of the original language. If you don’t have that, then you re-learn it through whatever your language is, understanding the worldview precepts and saying, “Wow, this is how we breathed, this is how we interacted.” And the animals and the trees were intimately a part of that.
Darcia: We have to understand that the British Empire placed schools all over the world in order to train the leaders of those countries to maintain control even after they left. And then the Christian missionaries came in with their schools and such. In terms of the precept, learning is fragmented in these situations because they’re about control. They want to break everything up so that people don’t have heart, they don’t have spirit, they don’t have a mind of their own, they don’t have a sense of community with their own people. You’re trying to break all that up so that you can control from the top down.
So I think it’s really important to understand that our original way of learning, from all our ancestors, is holistic - in terms of heart, spirit, body, mind - in a way that is respectful of that place on the Earth - of the ancestors, of the animals, the plants, and the ways of thinking about future generations.
But there are people now who are displaced from their own land - they’ve ended up somewhere else, as you mentioned. So what do you do then? Well you have to relearn, not only what you brought with you of your ancestry, but the place where you are. What animals are here? And what plants? And the land - what does the land teach us here? The land is the one that teaches us the language.
That’s the tradition of our ancestors. That’s why we evolved so much cultural and language diversity, because the landscapes are very diverse around the world - the languages are diverse. And so we have to restore that sense of land-based ways of being, and the worldview helps us dismantle that bigger picture - domination, colonisation - and to get back so that we can listen again to the land, the plants, the animals - wherever we are.
— Darcia Narvaez
WtLF: What does humility, empathy and gratitude look like to you?
Four Arrows: They’re inseparable. Humility is being something that you’re not. It’s representing that you are in some way equal no matter what the different skill sets or whatever. When you have humility, you can be godlike. You can be any way you want to be, but you got to never be anything that you are not. And that includes recognising that you are not greater than an ant or any other creature or living thing on Earth. And that humility is foundational to all the Indigenous peoples that I’ve ever met.
Gratitude. [Author and professor] Robin Wall Kimmerer talks a lot about this - our only emotion should be gratitude because everything is a lesson of life. The empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of somebody else. You know, it’s part of recognising the basic foundational prayer of the Lakota - Mitakuye Oyasin. Right? We’re all related. And and if you can’t have empathy for somebody else, you’re not related. You’re not seeing that relatedness.
Darcia: I talk a lot about our responsibilities intergenerationally and humility is really important for that. And that means meeting the needs of babies, for example, which we do very poorly in the United States. And so we end up with very dysregulated children and adults in so many ways. I write about that a lot in my other work. Humility is about honouring the needs of the other and sharing and being generous to meet those needs.
And it takes then a sense of not being superior and not being more important as Four Arrows mentioned. And when children’s needs are met as they’re expressed, in what I call the evolved nest, empathy is part of that process. And the child learns empathy from being treated with empathy. They build those capacities which otherwise can be underdeveloped or even shut down with trauma or punishment and such. The child can develop callousness instead of empathy.
In terms of gratitude - people talk about mindfulness and one of the most famous books in the USA, maybe the initial book, was by Ellen Langer. I was just looking at it, on mindfulness, and as I look through it, it’s very western. This narrow western mindfulness is about paying attention to what you’re doing in the moment - so that it’s not automatic. But the Indigenous mindfulness is more aligned with the eastern philosophy of relatedness in the moment.
Mindful relatedness is what I would call it, and that involves paying attention to what you’re doing right now that’s affecting the web of life. Are you now, in this moment, being respectful of the air, of the water? Are you grateful for the water that you’re drinking? Are you careful where you place your feet as you walk outside so you’re not stepping on the ants?
Are you aware of all the humongous threads of life in which you are entangled? And are you being respectful? Now it’s hard, always, to maintain that and be super mindful, but you can get in the habit of it. You build the habits of being mindful in a related way.
Dominant and Indigenous Worldview Manifestations
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 realisation 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 worldviews. “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.
Worldview Chart by Wahinkpe Topa
(Four Arrows) AKA Don Trent Jacobs
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