Indigenous Cultural Realism

Duane Champagne
4/15/11

A great strength among indigenous peoples is their continued commitment to their cultures, values, and ways of life. If indigenous peoples decided to assimilate and join wholly into the communities and cultures of nation-states, then there would be few indigenous peoples. The continued upholding of indigenous cultures, governments, identities, and claims to land are some of the primary reasons that indigenous peoples continue as separate cultural and political groups. The persistence of indigenous peoples well into the 21st century and beyond is not predicted by Western or modern views of human groups. Most modern theories expect that indigenous peoples will abandon tribal cultures and join into national cultures and communities. The continued presence of indigenous peoples around the world begs a new understanding of the diversity of human social and political groups. The world is a more diverse and complex place than Western or modern social theories have understood. Indigenous peoples have not disappeared and will be a permanent part of the social and political landscape of the world.

Indigenous peoples believe in their own cultural traditions. They do not necessarily say their own tradition is better than other cultures or traditions. Indigenous peoples recognize the world is made up of diverse communities and cultures, and each one should be respected. Each culture of the world deserves acknowledgement and the right to persist with its own values. Indigenous peoples believe that each of the nations of the world should join in relations of respect, peace, reciprocity, and tolerance. Indigenous worldviews accept and uphold the great diversity of human cultures and communities.

Western modernist theories have been more prone to suggest there are only limited options for the cultures and organization human groups and communities. Nation-states are built on the premise that the people should share common cultural ground, and only in recent years are some are beginning to incorporate greater cultural diversity. Yet many nation-states are unstable, because they try to control cultural diversity, and impose the political order of the nation-state over the grounded and community based cultural orders of their sub-national communities. Indigenous peoples respect each cultural group as independent nations, but nation-states try to gather different cultural groups as citizens, who as individuals agree to the political rules and organization of the nation-state.

One of the reasons nation-states have difficulty with cultural, and indigenous, diversity, is that most nation-states have modernizing orientations that presuppose that economic and political interests are more powerful and will overpower cultural views and group cultural actions. In the Western world, or Christian world, only individuals and God have souls. The rest of the universe is devoid of spirit. Western science, however, has greatly confronted religion and culture, to the point that science has raised doubt about the existence of god. This dilemma, in Western thought, leaves only humans with souls, but in a godless universe, with no salvation. Until very recently, many believed that human progress and modernization would save mankind by building a better material world. Other cultures and communities, however, critiqued the materialist assumptions of modernizing theories, and cast doubt upon its optimism for the future. The modernists then turned and argued that it was true that modernization was not a universal culture, but now they argued that all cultures were not true or real, and therefore all cultures were false or relativistic. This position is a nihilist point of view that there is no value or meaning to life, and outside of the individual community and cultures are social constructions.

Most indigenous cultures, however, have a different understanding of the world, where there are many intelligences and spiritual powers in the universe, and humans are just one of many spiritual existences. Humans are not the center of the universe, and are not the only spiritual entities in the universe. The holistic and multi-spiritual orientations of indigenous worldviews avoids the dead end nihilism of Western materialism and science. Indigenous peoples believe in their worldviews because they promise this-worldly health, well-being, order, and a way of life. Indigenous cultures are real to the thousands of indigenous communities who practice their own ways of life and uphold a spiritual understanding of the universe.

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