Native Culture

But it is with concern that I make my next segue, an attempt to make the important link between humanity and natural communities; especially the idea that rehabilitation of community as applied to intelligent animal species, as in the self-healing of the Cayo Santiago monkey colony, is also good for humanity.  In biological science, much of what we know is from what we have lost, or what is missing.  Early mapping of the human brain came from patients who had lost use of parts of their brains because of accidents.  By seeing what mental abilities were lost by accident victims in relation to parts of the mind that brain that were damaged, scientists could fairly easily determine what parts of the brain have which specific responsibilities.  The same is true for society and community, including both human and animal community.  Much of the knowledge we have about empathy in society, likewise, comes from what we have lost. 


Much can be learned about the loss of the cultural connection with nature from the suffering of the Natives of the New World.  Knowledge learned from the Native tribes about cultural loss comes from the extermination of 90% of their population. Much of the death was from direct killing, much from disease, and much from what a Native, Standing Bear, calls psychecide: the destruction of a person's spirit.


It is with a reconnection with nature that tribal Natives seek to bring back happiness to their peoples, they seek to do so through the concept of the rehabilitation of their communities, what I think of as, in constructivist terms, the reconstruction of community knowledge.  With that connection humanity meets two vital needs: an end to the self-destruction of humanity because of environment deprecation that even the coldest of scientists are concerned about, and the re-establishment of empathy as primary human mode of communication and activity.  (Blackmore)


Understanding the tribal reconstruction process requires, however, that the reader remove any rose-colored glasses that he may be wearing-- the process of societal survival involves self-survival, and at times, self-defense.  It requires isolating personal thought from the mass of ideas driven by an agenda of capital and control, and also the influences associated with the mass of false information coming from those sources.  This information is deliberately designed to lead a journey meant to bring peace into one that suffers from exploitation.  Economic systems, whether they be capitalist, communist, royalist, multiculturalist, globalist, socialist, or even religious consistently operate for the single purpose of depleting local environments and communities by accumulating resources in centralized locations for the benefit of a tiny percentage of the population: the elite and their families.  All efforts are concentrated for the support of the centralized structures they require; the agenda of nearly every active operator or manager in that system is the consolidation of control systems to assure the future of that, or the, structural system. 



The New World

When European powers arrived in the New World, the intention was exploitation through annexation; the global expansion of the time was colonization, and no one disputes the colonists' intentions or tactics.  Obstacles would be eliminated through domination; within the European religious structure of the time was, to borrow from Goleman's high road / low road idea, high-level religious justification for the low-level toxic lust of the greed of the European empire builders. 


Contemporary to the arrival of the French Jesuits in what is now the motor city of Detroit, and important to understanding the rehabilitation of Native culture, was the vilification of the innocent by the witch hunters all through Europe.  Seeing how religion could be corrupted into sadism of torture, promoted by the seizure of the property by courts complying with the witch hunters, is something we can comprehend. 


What happened in the New World that is much harder to comprehend, a more systematic justification for sadism, in this case genocide, operated at a much higher level of thought, which fits Goleman's high road / low road model much better?  Early religious representatives of European capital, the Jesuits, sought to force onto the Native cultures the values of a Europe gripped at that time by the paranoia of the sadistic culture of the witch hunt.  We see here common goals of structural control: the theoretical separation of humanity from nature; and more on the more real level, the separation from humanity from its land.  Religious forces, working closely hand in hand with the capital structure, were aided by a single common trait of global expansion: disease.  In this case, it was small pox and influenza.


Before European Arrival

A single interesting fact about tribal culture that helps explain the tribal member's relationship with nature is, somewhat ironically, the ritual surrounding hunting. Though not a historical source, the movie The God's Must be Crazy helps explain this. The tribal Bushman in the movie is highly empathic with nature and with his prey, as tribal Native people tend to be.  By the necessity of survival, he is socially empathic, and as a Native he is fully connected with his environment.  When he hunts he apologizes to the game before killing it; in the movie it is a domesticated goat he kills --leading to a confrontation with the law.  In the Native cultures of the New World the hunter would pray for the animal's soul in a form of the hereafter as an apology, and the prey would be offered tobacco, considered by New World tribal Natives as a psychological medicine.  In stark contrast, the typical American hunter kills from a historical perspective of colonialism: exploitation.  As capitalism absorbed Native culture, native hunters collapsed morally, transforming into cold killers as they lost their spiritual connection to their prey.  The Native hunters were both economically and psychologically forced to join the White hunters in the exploitative destruction of the environment, as well as cruel hunting practices.  Mumford throughout his book Technics and Civilization describes hunters as rogues who could not come from the hills to live peacefully and socially in the villages. Hunting weapons in America, especially weapons kept in the home for protection, are notorious for their role in killings resulting from domestic violence, as well as accidental killings.


The hunting environment prior to the arrival of Europeans in the New World is described in the previously cited paper about the rehabilitation of Native cultures.  Quoted is this description is writing by Paula Allen, a poet of multiple backgrounds and social facets who explored every imaginable interrelation of the lives of Natives and new-comers:


"Hunting was 'regulated by the hunter's attentiveness to the continued welfare of his prey - both living and dead'  Rituals surrounding the hunt require that the remains of the animal be respected so as not to offend the spirit of the animal.  Leaving 'desecrated the remains of the slain animal and offended its soul-spirit. The offended spirit would then retaliate in any of several ways.'  It could make the 'means of hunting ineffective; it could encourage its living fellows to abandon the hunter's territory; or it could inflict sickness' on the tribe.  The idea  that failure was brought to the tribe was 'mediated by the' .. 'the spirit of the slain animal or its keeper' possibly the slain spirit's protector in the cosmos.  Offenses against animal spirits or the greater spirits could be 'reversed through the magical arts of the shaman.'

Indigenous people of the Americas always emphasized direct contact with The Spiritual. This was understood in both their immediate surroundings and what is beyond them. The focus was placed on establishing and maintaining close relations with spirits. In the beginning were the people, the spirits, the gods, the four-legged, the two-legged, the wingeds, the crawlers, the burrowers, the plants, the trees, and the rocks. There was the moon, the sun, the earth, the waters of earth and sky. There were stars, the thunders, the mountains, the plains, the mesas and the hills. There was the Mystery. There were the Grandmothers, the Mothers, the clans, and the people. At the end of the fifteenth century, Anglo-European time, the old world that the tribes, Nations, and Confederacies lived in began to be torn apart.


Aboriginal people saw morality in terms of protecting the integrity of relationships and minimizing the hurt. Their perception of what was appropriate and right was dramatically as different from the convictions that non-Aboriginal people hold as their respective perceptions of reality." (Allen, from Aboriginal Healing)


Dorothy Lee, an anthropologist, described the differences experienced by White and Native cultures with respect to the land. Looking out her window, she said she saw "trees, some of which I like to be there, and some of which I intend to cut down to keep them from encroaching further upon the small clearing I made for my house."  She compares her relationship with the tress with Black Elk, a Dakota Native "who saw trees as having rights to the land, equal to his own standing people, in whom the winged ones built their lodges and reared their families."  (Lee, from Aboriginal Healing)


"Aboriginal people were separated from their land, which was always sentient to them and affected people's lives and their social constitution through time. The introduction of non-traditional coping mechanisms damaged families, altered gender roles and diminished cultural values. Indigenous people, before contact, lived in a complex socio-economic system that required co-operation to maximize the productivity of the landscape.

After contact, Indigenous people were disfavoured in access to resources and social opportunities and killed by diseases. Colonial powers introduced sharp status distinctions, imposed strict rules for governing conduct, controlled the system of social rewards and punishments, and manipulated power and status symbols. These alterations are generally discussed in reference to past events, but it can be readily argued that the impacts have contemporary and generational application and effect. According to many, colonialism belongs largely to the historical past and was replaced by inequality and domination in other forms."   (Aboriginal Healing)


As described in the Aboriginal healing text, the worst of the suffering inflicted on the Native Peoples of the New World came from the forced cultural separation of their lives from the natural environment.  What they lost as a people was their connection to the basic social knowledge of the forests, and other biomes, that was the basis of all benefits and the joys in their lives.  Nature was the Native community of knowledge, as constructivists might observe.  Their social foundation was connected to nature, and as we all come from nature, the Natives were closest to the source of our basic morality, what Darwin called social affections.


The deprecation of Native culture as European capital spread across the New World occurred in three stages: transition, dispossession and oppression.  The first stage involved the immigration of settlers who imposed on life's web structured foreign economics, all the resources that the natives had now become utilized for the benefit of colonial capital.  Small pox and influenza were brought by the immigrants, and these two diseases presented a plague to the Natives.  As more and more of the Native population died from these diseases their ability to preserve their culture subsided.  Disease was the most effective of the immigrants' weapons.


As the European immigrant culture further imposed itself, colonial organization refined with the arrival of missionary Christianity.  With the arrival of religious officials from Europe, the Native beliefs were outlawed.  Christianity crushed the Native culture with the same determined sadism that Christians in Europe at that time were attacking their imagined enemies: the witches.  Ripped from the Native was the social layer; Native family and village life was forcibly altered to suit the needs of colonial capital.  Native life effectively ended.  In the third phase of deprecation of the Native culture, religious leaders attacked the minds of Natives systematically with combined trauma and guilt.  The trauma came from the marginalization and isolation of economic impoverishment, disease and the destruction of Natives' human spirit.  Diagnosed now as post traumatic stress disorder, this type of pain has the incidental affect of causing feelings of guilt along with grief, sometimes thought of as "survivor's guilt."  The suffering and guilt were exploited by the religions aspect of the increasingly organized colonial structure, destroying the self-esteem of each individual as the disease dramatically reduced the population.


"In the face of extermination accelerated by disease, so many Natives gave up hope, simply laying down and dying. Feeling hopeless against disease for which the empathic tools of the Shaman had no hope of success, many Shamans likewise gave up, laying down their "medicines and holy objects."   (Aboriginal Healing)


"To the conquered and conqueror alike, it seemed as though God really was on the white man's side."  This concept was promoted among settlers by clergy members that God was killing the Natives to "clear a path" for his "chosen ones," the colonists.  (Wright, from Aboriginal Healing)

The Ojibwa Native nation, sometimes referred to as the Chippewa nation, was in the path one of the first waves of colonization: the French.  As a result of the pressure of the colonialists, the Jesuits and the diseases, the Ojibwa formed a sort of revolution that was spiritually based, focused on medicine, and organized as a network.  This organization was a first for the Native peoples; it was the Midewiwin Society.  The medicinal focus of this society was as revolutionary as its resistance to the cultural attacks of the colonists.  New diseases had arrived against which the Native shaman had no skills; their skills were traditionally tuned to increasing the internal resistance to disease with the help of the empathic connections available from the natural environment.  The shamans were skilled in helping their people fight normal infections and disorders.


Since the society operated underground, it is not known how they dealt with disease.  But this great medicine society has maintained itself throughout the hundreds of years of colonial occupation and has survived the pressures of the Western culture we have today.  The Midewiwin is organized today precisely as was when it was created to combat the destruction of colonialism; and shamans have inherited responsibilities in a direct and well organized lineage.  Many of today's Midewiwin shaman hold doctorate degrees, and many, if not most, are women.

Networking across much of the nation, the Midewiwin worked to preserve the Native empathic connection with nature as a single unifying spirituality.  Empathy is never mentioned within documentation about the Midewiwin culture, and it is only rarely mentioned in direct relation to Natives in the New World.  But empathy has always been both the meditation tool to reach the inner soul, and the mediation path to connect with the environment and the community.  Natural spirits, evoked by the shamans, mediate empathic connections with the entire community of knowledge, which, as the Midewiwin influence spread, had to include their entire known natural world.  Science, to the Midewiwin, only expands this connection.  The Midewiwin practitioners, more than anyone, world probably delight at the discovery of empathic abilities in the wild animals they respect and connect with, if they have not already.



Descriptions of Midewiwin empathy and their connection with nature

"much of what survived of ceremonies and medicines were taken underground and hidden away to be preserved in many tribes. In northeastern Canada and the United States, the rejection of Indigenous healing practices and spirituality saw the origin and development of several Ojibwa religious movements. One of these movements is the Midewiwin Lodge or Grand Medicine Society."  (Aboriginal Healing)


"the Midewiwin came into existence when the servant (Mi’’ nabo’zho - Great Rabbit) of the Good Spirit (Dzhe Man’ido) saw the helpless condition of the A-nish’-in-a’-beg (the original people) and wanted to give them the means to protect themselves from hunger and disease. He chose to communicate with the people through an Otter, which subsequently became a sacred spirit of the Midewiwin. An Otter Pelt was often used thereafter as a medicine bag, which contained the sacred curing items used in the healing ritual.  The Great Rabbit gave the Otter the sacred drum, rattle, and tobacco to be used in curing the sick.  The Great Rabbit conferred upon the Otter the secrets and mysteries of the Midewiwin, and with his Medicine bag “shot” the sacred Migiis Shell into the body of the Otter."   (Henderson)


"The Medicine Society, the Midewiwin Lodge, build upon the spirituality of the Native tribes. As with most religions, there is for the Native culture a God, a Great Spirit: creator of all things. But this spirit was too great to be concerned with people directly, as for the Natives, people are subordinate to the land. He was accessible through manitous or animals spirits, each of which as a special place with the environment as well as a special function."   (Martin, from Aboriginal Healing)


Despite being part of a hunting culture, Natives were humble towards nature and had a respectful relationship with it; they extended the concept of kindness to all living things. Health was derived through compassion; the shaman built the immune system through compassion allowing the Native to develop defenses to normal infections and diseases Natives had encountered before the arrival of the Europeans with their smallpox and influenza.  Also Natives, with their shamans, built a solid base of understanding through which they could feel secure in their existence, unquestionably a stabilizing and rehabilitating force for the traumas and losses of life that Natives no doubt normally felt just as we do.


The shamanism of the Native tapped into the experiential knowledge, the power of life that would conceptually evolve in America's emerging and Humanist cultures as self-actualization. It does not seem like a coincidence that the very concept of self-actualization was developed and popularized by a man in our time, Carl Rogers, who was in fact born where the Midewiwin first developed: the farmlands of Indiana.  Self-actualization, as defined for modern society by Rogers, resembles no other similar concept in that Rogers’s definition is transcendent.  It applies to all aspects of life as the life giving force, and not just as an important factor in psychology, as other psychologists see self-actualization.


Midewiwin medicine as it is described in nearly every source seems to have Asian influence; it seems to be almost Buddhist.  At the core of healing in Midewiwin medicine is transcendence.  With the help of Shamans, Natives would work to attain a "balance between the four dimensions of the person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual” with "focuses on inter-connectedness between family, community, culture and nature."  Humility is part of maintaining heath; "the individual would transcend ego rather than strengthen it.”  Native healing was based on balance: "inter-connectedness and intra-connectedness, and transcendence:" "healing through interdependence," in other words, a relationship the community and the environment.  (McCormick, from Aboriginal Healing)


From the spirituality of the Midewiwin formed a rebellion built from components from both the human soul and the soul of nature.  This rebellion was a society of transcendence; it succeeded in overcoming obstacles faced by Native culture that have been as difficult as any faced by humanity --possibly even the worse.  Native Shamanism was protected by the Midewiwin society so that it never went away; Midewiwin culture is experiencing a revival that is not really a revival in the sense that the Midewiwin rituals never went away.  Today, as social science advances to understand the human relationship with the environment, the Midewiwin way is accepted as a therapeutic psychology promoting the reconnection with nature as a way to rehabilitate Native peoples who have been damaged deliberately by colonization and immigration from Europe. 


Because of the challenges presented by colonial and immigrant oppression, the Midewiwin were forced to function in secrecy, to live underground.  To adapt to oppression the Midewiwin adopted some ideas from Europeans including record keeping on birch scrolls, systems of communication, as well levels of expertness for its shamans, called fires, which also related to levels of the Midewiwins' hopes for peace on their continent. 


"It has always been customary for the Midewiwin priests to preserve birch-bark records, bearing delicate incised lines to represent pictorially the ground plan of the number of degrees to which the owner is entitled."  (Henderson)


A recent symposium of Native affairs held in Canada described an attendee, Lorena Sekwan, as "a member of the wolf clan and 1st degree Midewiwin of the Three Fires Society."   She is also an assistant professor at the First Nations University of Canada with extensive experience in Native cultural rehabilitation and legal activism.  Other concrete examples of Midewiwin success through their perseverance can be found throughout the Internet.  Most of the more valuable and expressive references to the Midewiwin experience are small.  They are also difficult to confirm as they were not written with citation in mind, but simply as expressions of the experience.


Historical aspects of Midewiwin culture may be difficult to prove in terms of the standards of social science.  Data about the Midewiwin is much like the mass of animal observations accumulating to form the new empathic perspective of animal psychology.  As one pulls together all the smaller bits of Midewiwin knowledge, they form a large and very consistent picture; as a whole, the disparate facts create valid scientific knowledge. To anyone who as extensively traveled the US and Canada, the other name for the Ojibwa culture, Chippewa, is very familiar --it is nearly everywhere.  Streets, corner stores, and small towns, ranging from Quebec to the Rockies, and even locations in the deserts of the Southwest are associated with the name Chippewa; America's best working and walking shoes are the Chippewa brand from Wisconsin.  As the Ojibwa, along with the Midewiwin society they formed, traveled widely, the medicine society would have probably even traveled farther as the medicine culture was not required to settle, but only to communicate, teach, and organize.


An actual early reference to the Midewiwin in colonialist records are in the form of panicked requests by the Chiefs of the Illinois and Miami tribes to the French army for assistance in dealing with a power struggle with rebels they identified as the Midewiwin.  We can see here the power of the Midewiwin that the Midewiwin were politically effective, as well as expert at self-defensive; these chiefs could not defeat the Midewiwin as they had their other opponents previously.  Also interesting is that as colonization progressed into immigration phases, Native and French relationships changed as some of the opponents become allies.  No doubt the Midewiwin saw Native fraternization with the French as treachery, and the Midewiwn proved them correct, of course.  Consistently, natives everywhere who have stood their ground rather than capitulate to the invading forces have, in the end, preserved their culture.  The Midewiwin are special in that they also preserved an empathic connection with nature and have, as their purpose, the goal of showing all humanity that path.  The success of the invasion, as well as the capitulation of the local forces to the invaders only strengthened the Midewiwin as Native and foreign power structures merged, the Midewiwin cultural undercurrent expanded as a network to preserve and protect the Native connection with the environment.  (Sultzman)


The University of Saskatchewan website provides the pages of the Native Law Centre of Canada.  This is part of a legally oriented social rehabilitation program of Native culture; what is called healing through justice.  Provided is a prophecy document that has served as a guide to the Midewiwin for centuries.  It describes clearly both the moral and geographic paths the Midewiwin must take, as well as their plan for success with symbolic meaning.   It is in this document that the goals of the Midewiwin are described in relationship to fires, as well as their moral code.  Clearly, to Canada, the Midewiwin culture is key to the undoing of so much damage done by European resource exploitation and reconstruction of Native spirituality and psychology. (Benton-Banai)


In the prophecy, which has been written by the Anishabe tribe of the Ojibwa nation, is described the journeys the Anishabe must take to in the face of White expansion. It warns of treachery among the Whites whose desires may very likely be to take the riches of the land, despite their appearances of well meaning and gratefulness for Native support.  The Whites ultimately, of course, eventually took all the land.


Also mentioned in the prophecy document are sacred shells.  These sacred shells are described elsewhere as a species of cowries that can only be found around the Pacific Islands.  If in fact these sacred shells are from the far side of the Pacific, then the Midewiwin indeed had long reach.  One of the smaller and only recently settled Ojibwa tribes is called the Three Shell Ojibwa, a tribe named for the sacred shells.


As Thor Heyerdahl proved in his Kon-Tiki crossing of the Pacific, transoceanic travel throughout the ages was possible, and from my own experience as a sailor, I think Pacific Islander visits to the New World may have been probable. Sailors all through history have been blown off course only to accidentally discover new lands. It was through mis-chance that the Vikings arrived in Newfoundland, and also possibly Maine --only to be pushed back into their long ships by the Mi'kmaq nation.  Interestingly, this makes the New World Natives the only effective resistance the Norse warriors ever experienced.


Proof, or course, of the origins of the sacred shells will have to wait for the discovery of a sacred shell in historically identifiable layers of ground, preferably in one of the many sacred mounds created all over North America by Natives before the arrival of Europeans.


The rehabilitation of the tribes focuses on the idea of historical trauma, where the suffering of the Natives that started with the White arrival and continued through the development of the US and Canada. In many respects, the trauma continues, as the capital structure continues to search for resources to exploit, much of it under the land to which Natives have been driven as part of the never ending process of annexation.


Highly symbolic today of the process initiated by the Jesuits to destroy Native culture was the development of Indian residential schools throughout the US and Canada.  The abuse was horrific; intentionally Native children were stripped of their self-esteem through physical and sexual abuse, starvation, slavery-level conditions, even and homicide.  It is only in recent decades that the schools have been closed, showing that normalcy and equality within the legal systems of the US and Canada is actually so new that may not have had time to take effect yet, it may still be purely biased.  The Midewiwin therapeutic healing effort practiced today as part of Canadian society focuses on the damage inflicted by the residential schools as it represents the most recent and enduring of Native suffering. Luther Standing Bear is a survivor of the residential schools; he writes eloquently of the experience, and in his description he symbolizes the Native experience:


"By and large the procedure was successful, although the legacy of damaged minds and crippled souls it left in its wake is as yet untold. Psychic numbing, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, battered wife syndrome, suicide, alcoholism, ennui - are there any names for psychecide?"  (Standing Bear, from Aboriginal Healing)


Within the Anishabe prophecies are many ideas for adaptation and cultural survival in the face of White immigration. The document gives a sense is of optimism, as if cynicism and suspicion don't exist in the Native spirituality. While it is possible that Natives may be brothers with Whites, it says, the Whites must prove themselves. Even if the new-coming Whites are in need and the Natives help them, the prophesy specifically mentions that Whites still may have an agenda that will cause them to forget Native generosity and continue to annex the land and its resources. (Benton-Banai)


The prophecy moves through time through eight levels described as fires. In the seventh fire is described a prophet who comes and speaks in a new way, "He was young and had a strange light in his eyes."  The young prophet talks about the possibility of the reawakening of the Native spirit through new people, people who must be careful because the Native elders have been asleep too long, and that when they awaken, they, and symbolically the Native nations, will have nothing to offer to the reconstruction of the Native culture. But through strength, new people will be able to pick up what has been lost during their endless travels and restore the Anishabe culture.


The focus of the prophecy moves to the Whites, telling that the Whites will have a choice between two roads. If the Whites choose the correct road there will be a blossoming across cultural lines. The prophecy says "two nations will join to make a mighty nation," and that the Seventh fire will ignite the eight and final fire.


"If the Natural people of the Earth could just wear the face of brotherhood, we might be able to deliver our society from the road to destruction. Could we make the two roads that today represent two clashing world views come together to form a mighty nation? Could a Nation be formed that is guided by respect for all living things? Are we the people of the Seventh Fire?"