The present-day world is out of balance for many Indigenous Peoples, who want to maintain a balance between humans, the cosmic world, ecological habitats, and the universe.

Sustaining Order in An Out of Balance World

Duane Champagne

For most Indigenous Peoples the present-day world is out of balance. The ideal value for indigenous cultures is to sustain a balance of relations within the human world, but also with the powers of the cosmic order, including ecological habitats, and relations with the active forces of the universe. This view is like the golden mean found in many cultures and philosophies. Moderation in all things is the path to sustained health and well-being. The goal of indigenous nations and cultures is to secure, sustain, and maintain well being which can mean personal health, but also healthy and mutual beneficial relations within the nation, with other peoples, as well as the living beings and powers of the cosmic order. If the world is out of order then relational imbalances are the cause of harm and disorder.

The quite well-known statistics of Indigenous Peoples over the past recent centuries are an indication of a world out of order. High rates of crime, incarceration, domestic violence, suicide, and poor rates of education and health found in indigenous communities are all indicators of social and cultural distress. The social welfare systems of the United States or Canada are not capable of recreating balanced and healthy communities and lives for Indigenous Peoples. The health and well being of indigenous nations within the wealthiest nations in the world are far worse in many ways than life before colonization.

The traditions of many indigenous nations see the recent world and the past several centuries as time where the world is not in balance. Many indigenous religious and political movements over the past few centuries focused on restoring the old ways of life, arguing that the changes that came with colonial expansion were the cause of the destruction of indigenous ways of life. Some movements, like the Delaware Prophet of the 1760s, argued that the cause of the imbalance and destruction of the world order was the acceptance of the European fur trade and material goods, and argued for a return to traditional philosophies and ways of life.

Other movements like the Handsome Lake movement among the Iroquois in the early 1800s, created strategies for change that remained rooted in indigenous identities. The Ghost Dance of the 1890s invited participants to conduct dances, songs, and ceremonies that would cause the ancestors to return and re-establish living cultures of the recent past. Many of the colonial and post colonial treaties, like the Two-Row Wampum Treaty of the early 1600s between the Dutch and Iroquois were designed to establish peaceful relations of coexistence among the indigenous nations and colonists.

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The colonists, however, see the world as a place that requires change, development, control, and transformation of raw nature into commodified products. Indigenous nations were seen as obstacles to the efficient and productive use of the land. The strategies of treaties in the U.S. and Canada were largely to remove Indians from the land, and make the land available to citizens for agricultural production. The task is to create heaven on earth through hard work and transformation of the environment and world. Indigenous Peoples are invited to take up this way of life by abandoning their own worldviews and accepting those of the colonial nations.

Indigenous worldviews center the relations and interdependencies of the forces within the cosmic order. Well-being is established and maintained through respect and honoring of the whole of cosmic relations. The clash between European worldviews, modernization, the primacy of market economy and constitutional orders, all are power forces that do not have a place for Indigenous Peoples and nations, except as assimilated citizens. The differences in world philosophies is central to understanding the historical and ongoing contentious relations between Indigenous Peoples and nation states. Indigenous Peoples do not necessarily reject the modern world, but want the autonomy to approach the future informed by their own cultural philosophies.

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