Tag Archives: colonization

War Dance (PDF)

Teresa Rae MacColl

(Excerpt from my master’s thesis titled “Remembering Our Future: The Search For The Salmon of Wisdom”, Naropa University – May 2006)



“What gives the white people the right to come here and kill my people, take our homes away and treat us so badly? Our blood is the same as other human beings. We are people, too. Just because the color of my skin is brown that doesn’t give them more rights than the Creator put down for all people. I’m trying to make the white man see that the sacred spring on Mt Shasta, the herbal medicines, and the spiritual doctoring we use to heal our people are all connected. It is not something that can be separated out. Don’t they know that the Wintu have had religion to stay well all these years before they came to our land? Our children will need our religious ways, our language and sacred places to call themselves Wintu Indians in the future.”     

  • Florence Jones (Pui-lu-le-met),
  • Winnemem’s spiritual and tribal leader61



When the Shasta Dam was built in 1945, the Shasta Reservoir drowned more than 90% of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe’s ancestral land. The Winnemem (McCloud River) come from Mount Shasta. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is today proposing to raise the dam again by 19 feet, which would flood many of the remaining Winnemem Wintu Tribe’s sacred sites. On September 8th, 2004, the Tribe performed a War Dance, “Hu’p Chonas”, at Shasta Dam to declare the Tribe’s opposition to the Shasta Dam raise. It was the first war dance performed in over 100 years.62



We sing to water. The sacred places must be protected. We cannot survive the flooding of our people a second time.

–        Caleen Sisk-Franco

Spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu


A mural was created in San Francisco to honor the struggle of the Winnemem Wintu tribe against the raising of Shasta Dam. The unveiling of the mural was in November of 2005. The wall mural depicts Winnemem members at the four-day “War Dance” ceremony that was held at          Shasta Dam in September 2004. The mural is titled “We sing to Water”. Members of the Winnemem Wintu tribe danced in full regalia at the event and talked about their opposition to expanding Lake Shasta. The ceremony was a dedication for the mural and a memorial to Florence Jones, the Winnemem’s spiritual and tribal leader, who died just more than two years ago, Nov. 22, 2003. Her successor is her great-niece, spiritual and tribal leader Caleen Sisk-Franco.


We sing to water. We have to give the river a voice. We have to give the fish a voice.”

–        Caleen Sisk-Franco


I was blessed with the great fortune of being present for this ceremony, which took place in a narrow alley in the Mission in San Francisco. I almost did not make it because I was hurrying and scurrying to finish the last pieces of my thesis. After attending the dance, I saw that this was what I needed to experience, this was part of the completion of my thesis writing.

Tears came to my eyes immediately, even before the dancers danced, and before the singers sang. I knew that my experience was different than it would have been had I not spent the last two years working with Apela and all the Elders in ritual and ceremony. I was there at Shasta Dam, at Shasta Lake, and in the water with the salmon and the sturgeon. I could “feel” the water, as they sang for water. I was swimming with the salmon, when they sang for the salmon. And I too was a warrior when they danced their War Dance, one who has been called to fight for the waters of the world. My story, in its completion, is now just beginning.

The Shadow of Evolutionary Thinking (PDF)

The Shadow of Evolutionary Thinking

Jürgen W. Kremer


This version is a slightly edited compilation of the following publications:

(1998). The shadow of evolutionary thinking. In D. Rothberg & S. Kelly, Ken Wilber in Dialogue (pp. 237-258). Wheaton, Illinois: Quest. (Reprint of 1996)

(1998). Lingering Shadows. In D. Rothberg and S. Kelly, Ken Wilber in Dialogue (391-393). Wheaton, IL: Quest. (Reprint of 1996)

(1997). Probleme mit Ken Wilber’s evolutionären kognitionspsychologischen Annahmen. Teil II. Ethnopsychologische Mitteilungen, 6(2), 132-158.

(1996). Probleme mit Ken Wilber’s evolutionären kognitionspsychologischen Annahmen. Teil I. Ethnopsychologische Mitteilungen, 6(1), 41-58.

(1996). The shadow of evolutionary thinking. ReVision, 19(1), 41-48.

(1996). Lingering shadows. ReVision, 19(2), 43-44.

To all my ancestors!

To all my ancestral relations!

To all my relations!

When I try to fathom what it means to be alive these days in 1996, what my obligation as an individual may be, then I have to be present in a variety of ways. Let me first speak more personally before I explicate my major points in a more theoretical way. I have made an attempt in the style of this paper to reflect my understanding of the indigenous mind process as I am recovering it (see Kremer 1994, 1995a, b, c, 2002). This is why I begin with an honoring, continue with a personal story as an evocation of the recovery of the indigenous mind process identifying the specific place from which I speak, and proceed to a description of indigenous consciousness in a contemporary society. I finish the article with yet more descriptions of the indigenous mind process. In this sense the paper is a compromise between the more common academic writing style (of the middle part of the paper) and indigenous presentations, including my own attempt to speak from a recovered indigenous perspective.


At the threshold of this coming-to-be-present I encounter a variety of guardians: The land I live on is not my ancestral land – it is the ancestral land of the Ramaytush-speaking people of the San Francisco peninsula, the first people of this particular land with a name we still remember; for the purposes of dealing with the shadow of evolutionary thinking the original keepers of this land. The beauty of the land I live on has suffered from the devastating consequences of technological progress – overpopulation, overbuilding, pollution of the waters, pollution of the air… I live in a society where the destruction of its aboriginal cultures is scarcely acknowledged and is not mourned by the majority of people; living in this society I am in a certain way complicit in the ongoing perpetration of racism and cultural genocide. Yet, I also live in a city which seems to be among the most comfortably and richly multicultural places in the U.S., with less pollution than in many other metropolitan areas.

My Germanic ancestry puts me in the gateway of the Holocaust. I recall Hitler’s perversions of mythology in the service of genocide; I will never forget the image of the Germanic goddess Nerthus cattle-drawn past Hitler, which I saw in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I recall the aberrations of the Vikings, their vicious slaughters and conquering – another guardian at the threshold. Passing these and more guardians, witnessing what they hold, is to heal old collective wounds as they have been passed down to me as an individual, passed down consciously and unconsciously. These guardians don’t stand at the threshold simply to propagate guilt. The guardians are medicine for the collective shadow of the Western world. They are the medicine of remembrance with all that it entails, be it fear, pain, guilt, anger….

Having taken this medicine I see the outlines of an old tree, the tree of the Nordic and Eurasian traditions that is spoken about in a language simultaneously poetic and scientifically precise: At this tree stories are told of the Great Return, the great round of the precession of the equinoxes, the ragnarökir of the past (footnote 1); these stories contain the native scientific star knowledge of my traditions. The spakona and the spamaðr, the women and men seers and healers, travel along this tree across the rainbow bridge, across the milky way – bifrost – to the ancestral souls of the past and future. These seers place those in need of healing at this center of the universe, one of many known to them, to see if they can help the sick find their place of balance. Stories are told at the tree, of ancestors, trade, and migrations. Ceremonies are held to honor the great and the small cycles of the season, to honor the law of balance, of friðr. Community gathers at the tree. I hold ceremony to honor the protective spirits, the dísir, and the máttr og megin or gift which they hold for me; I hold ceremony to find balance and to honor balance. I look at the stars and see the image of a deerlike animal and I look at the rock carvings by the tree and see images of various deer. And I see boats, boats filled with ancestors travelling the skies and travelling the seas. Across the stream three spirits appear. In the rock I see the deer carrying the sun. My conversation which is also a prayer or chant is with all these relations within friðr. I offer amber as I am held by by all these beings and by the guardians.

The only way to reach the tree for somebody like me is to pass the guardians at the threshold and to take the medicine they offer. They offer their painful medicine kindly.

All this helps me understand what my obligation is as I recover ancient memory for the future, today. (For background information on this section see for example: Bonnefoy 1993a & b; Coles, 1990; Crichton, 1976; Davidson 1964, 1988, 1993; Graham-Campbell, Batey, Clarke, Page & Price, 1994; Metzner, 1994; Tacitus, 1967; Titchenell, 1985)


The contemporary Andean peoples of Peru have their own way of talking about their obligation. This is how it has been described:

The ayllu is a group of related persons living in a particular place. The ayllu consists not only of a group of related humans but of other beings of that place: the animals, the mountains, streams and rocks and the local deities. The ayllu should therefore not be considered simply a sphere of kinship. Rather one could say that kinship in the Andes extends to the non-human realm.

The conversations held between persons and the other inhabitants of the world are not primarily engaged in for the purpose of “knowing reality.” They are engaged in it as part of the activity of criar y dejarse criar, of nurturing (raising) and letting oneself be nurtured (raised). The verb criar is used to speak of raising children, animals, plants, relationships, etc. It is the activity that fosters the growth and development of any potentiality or generativity. It is a fundamentally mutual or reciprocal activity: as one nurtures one is simultaneously nurtured. The action in the world does not leave the actor untransformed; acting in the world is being in relationship with that world, so the language of conversation is more appropriate than the language of knowledge. There is here no knower and known, no subject and object. Rather there are actors in relationships of mutuality. By acting one transforms not only the world but oneself as well. Therefore it is a fundamentally dynamic world, always moving, always changing, always in flux. There is, as it were, no simple act of knowing as we moderns understand the term for such knowledge-acquiring activity presupposes that there is something to be known, irrespective of who knows it.

This is not to say that conversing with the world does not involve cognitive faculties, it of course does, but that the activity is not primarily and certainly not exclusively a cognitive one. Criar demands not only understanding but love, tenderness, patience. But it is to say that the point of conversation is not the attainment of knowledge through the interrogation of nature, it is rather to generate and regenerate the world and be generated and regenerated by it in the process. (Apffel-Marglin, 1994, p. 9)


The above descriptions of friðr and the knowing and nurturing conversation in the ayllu are illustrations of what can be called rather inadequately ‘the indigenous mind process’ (the reader may consult Valkeapää, 1985 & 1996, for a Saami description of siida life or Colorado, 1988, for an Iroquois description of skanagoah); they are descriptions of an integral way of knowing and being which is difficult to capture in its richness and subleties. They circumscribe my place of analysis and point of departure for dialogue with Ken Wilber’s books.

I am writing this article as somebody who is remembering his indigenous roots without any claim to being native or having shared native experiences of discrimination and colonialism; I grew up as part of the dominant culture in Germany (see Kremer, 1994, 1995a for further discussions of my stance). The endeavor which I call “recovery of indigenous mind” is a process which does not invite romanticism or nostalgia – it is a painful process of remembering back in order to go forward. There is no going back. My way into the future moves through the integration of historical wounds, painful memories and seemingly senseless events in order to work out a future based on ayllu or friðr, based on an ecologically specific notion of balance.

The indigenous mind or consciousness process I am referring to is not based on an essentialist understanding of tribalism or indigenism (footnote 2), but a discourse view in which individuals understand themselves in an ongoing conversation with the surrounding community, in which the local animals, plants, ancestors, and other spirits take as much part as the humans (cf. Apffel Marglin, 1994; Rengifo, 1993; Valladolid, 1995); this conversation is carried on as a part of unfolding one’s own gifts while paying attention to the ceremonial and seasonal cycles as well as the larger astronomical cycles. This is a worldview of total immanence. It is acknowledged that the social construction or conversation in one place is different from other conversations in other places, yet seeing this is to stay grounded in the detailed observations of and conversations with the community and the cycles of the specific place one is in. This is not a mind process where egoic consciousness and transcendence stand in some form of opposition or tension to each other, but where individuals of the permeable, participatory consciousness live with spirits as much part of their community as other human beings or plants. “El mundo es inmanente – the world is immanent” (PRATEC, 1996, 10).

Since the 1977 publication of The Spectrum of ConsciousnessKen Wilber has emerged as one of the most significant and productive transpersonal thinkers. Walsh (1998, p. 33) regards Wilber view as “unique in not only providing a far-reaching vision but also in grounding that vision in contemporary research in fields such as cosmology, biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and ecology.” In 1996 three issues of the journal ReVision, edited by Donald Rothberg and Sean Kelly, critically reviewed Wilber’s work and attempted to engage him in dialogue; the articles were subsequently, together with additional material published in book form as Ken Wilber in Dialogue(1998). The current compilation is based on my contributions to these publications. My primary focus in this article is on Wilber’s Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995a), and Up from Eden (1981). My central question in looking at social evolutionary theories such as Wilber’s is: How do evolutionary theorists deal with contemporary indigenous peoples? Or, to return to my initial descriptions: How would Wilber conceptualize the conversational process of the ayllu in the Andes?

My discussion of Wilber’s more recent work focuses on two major aspects of this broad issue:
1) What is the nature of the indigenous mind process and are Wilber’s descriptions consistent with the available data? My point below is that closer attention to the indigenous consciousness process suggests a different model of history than the eurocentered conceptualizations and cannot be subsumed under stage models without being made invisible. (Discussed below in this section.)
2) If Wilber’s conceptualizations of evolutionary stages imply “losers” (meaning: the so-called ‘lower’ stages and their contemporary “remnants”), then how does his theory deal with this shadow of evolutionary theorizing? The stance which I take is that we can no longer afford to think about evolution of consciousness and so-called civilizations without explicitly addressing the shadow of purported advances. (Discussed below in section IV.)
In addition, I address the following topics:
3) If it is indeed reasonalbe to assume qualitative differences between eurocentered and indigenous discourses, then what are the requirements for the facilitation of dialogues between these two types of discourse? My basic argument is as follows: Dialogues between cultures steeped in a eurocentered worldview and cultures engaged in indigenous consciousness processes have to be conducted in such a fashion as to insure that the voices of both groups have a chance to be heard directly and without intermediaries. (Section V below.)
4) I discuss Wilber’s critical commentary on sections I through IV and VII of this article. (Section VI below.)
5) I conclude this article with a continuation of the indigenous mind process descriptions given at the beginning of this article which suggest alternate conceptualizations of universality, evolution, and knowledge exchange. It is beyond the scope of this article to explicate these alternate conceptualizations fully; all I can do is give the rough outlines and some general parameters. (Section VII below.)

At the root of my concerns is the question of cultural ownership of evolutionary thinking which I have raised in a recent ReVision article (Kremer, 1996), and the call for theorists of human evolution to reflect consciously and explicitly on the cultural biases inherent in their thinking.

Wilber’s model of social evolution is in the tradition of 19th century evolutionary conceptualizations (cf. Winkelman, 1993, 5). Julian Huxley gives a good example of this thinking in the field of biology:
If we accept the doctrine of evolution, we are bound to believe that man has arisen from mammals, terrestrial from aquatic forms, vertebrates from invertebrates, multicellular from unicellular, and in general the larger and the more complex from the smaller and simpler. To the average man it will be indisputable that a man is higher than a worm or a polyp, an insect is higher than a protozoan, even if he cannot exactly define in what resides this highness or lowness of organic types. (Huxley, 1923, 10; quoted from Barlow, 1994)
Of course, if this type of evolutionary thinking is extrapolated into the field of evolution of consciousness and societies, then we can see how the prehistoric peoples of all continents and the contemporary remaining indigenous peoples can be classed as “lower” and the euro-centered as “higher” (even if there are yet higher stages to come). In E.B.Tylor’s words:
Human life may be roughly classified into three great stages, Savage, Barbaric, Civilized, which may be defined as follows. The lowest or savage state is that in which man subsists on wild plants and animals, neither tilling the soil nor domesticating creatures for his food. … Men may be considered to have risen into the next or barbaric state when they take to agriculture. … Lastly, civilized life may be taken as beginning with the art of writing, which, by recording history, law, knowledge, and religion for the service of ages to come, binds together the past and the future in an unbroken chain of intellectual and moral progress. (1881, quoted from Wenke, 1980, 32-33)
Evolutionary thinking concerns itself with the development according to inherent tendencies of anything that may be compared to a living organism (OED). Theories of evolution, whether in the fields of biology, consciousness or culture fundamentally have a mono-causal structure, where things unfold from some point of origin basically in a linear fashion (however complex and multi-dimensional the descriptions of this causal line may be) toward some future or utopian stage which represents the unfoldment of the inherent tendencies, particularly of human beings and their cultures.

Let me give a very brief summary overview of Wilber’s model as it appears to pertain to contemporary indigenous peoples. In Up from Eden (1981), Wilber has delineated dates for stages of the evolution of human consciousness, and he has provided us with updated descriptions since.

— Hominids appear during the uroboric stage which lasted roughly from 3 to 6 million years ago to 200,000 years ago (Wilber, 1981, 28). “Simple sensorimotor intelligence and emotional-sexual drives” are seen as characteristic for the early hominids of this epoch (Wilber, 1983, 240; see also Wilber, 1987, 239 for descriptions of the “archaic”, and 1995a, 153ff.).

— The subsequent typhonic stage lasted roughly from 200,000 years ago to 10,000 B.C.E. (Wilber, 1981, 39 & 87). Here we find “the first symbolic cognitive mode, the primary process, which confuses inside and outside, whole and part, subject and predicate, image and reality” (Wilber, 1983, 240). “Magical thinking” is an important characteristic of the mental process of the typhonic epoch which Wilber describes as follows: “This includes simple images, symbols, and the first rudimentary concepts, or the first and lowest mental productions, which are “magical” in the sense that they display condensation, displacement, “omnipotence of thought,” etc. … The magic realm is the beginning of mind” (1987, 239). He further elaborates that “the mind and the body are still relatively undifferentiated, and thus mental images and symbols are often confused or even identified with the physical events they represent, and consequently mental intentions are believed to be able to ‘magically’ alter the physical world, as in voodoo, exoteric mantra, the fetish, magical ritual, ‘sympathetic magic,’ or magic in general” (1995a, 165).

— The more recent mythic-membership stage lasted from about 12,000 B.C.E. to 2,500 B.C.E., with the high membership period dating from about 4,500 to 1,500 B.C.E. (1981, 87). According to Wilber, “this stage is more advanced than magic, but not yet capable of clear rationality or hypthetico-decuctive reasoning” (1987, 239).

— And the current solar ego stage began about 2,500 B.C.E. (with the low ego period dating from 2,500-500 B.C.E., the middle ego period dating from 500 B.C.E. to 1,500 C.E., and the high ego period dating from 1,500 C.E. to the present; Wilber, 1981, 179-180). Wilber more recently has set the incipient egoic-rational phase at about 500 B.C.E. (1995a, 179). “Egoic rationality and formal-operational logic” (1983, 240) are some of its central characteristics in the individuals of this epoch.

Wilber clarifies (1995a, 172-173) the meaning of his stage descriptions by stating that
these various ‘epochs’ … refer only to the average mode of consciousness achieved at that particular time in evolution – a certain ‘center of gravity’ around which the society as a whole orbited. In any given epoch, some individuals will fall below the norm in their own development, and others will reach quite beyond it. … Thus, in the magical, as I just mentioned, the most advanced mode seems to have been the psychic (embodied in a few genuine shamans or pioneers of yogic awareness); in mythological times the most advanced mode seems to have reached into what is known as the subtle level (embodied in a few genuine saints); and in mental-egoic times the most advanced modes reached into the causal level (embodied in a few genuine sages).
Plotinous and Plato may serve as illustrations for this: They
were situated in an average-mode mythological background worldview (mythic-rational), against which they had to fight (while delicately and unavoidably embracing aspects of it). They spoke from the center of a mythic worldview, even as their own substantive Reason transcended it, and even as their own contemplation transcended Reason; but mythically situated they could not avoid (Wilber, 1995a, 637).

Wilber comments in regard to the contemporary situation that
the majority of individuals in rational societies still settle in somewhere around the mythic-rational, using all the formidable powers of rationality to prop up a particular, divisive, imperialistic mythology and an aggressively fundamentalistic program of systematic intolerance (1995a, 252). The statement “the majority of individuals in rational societies still settle somewhere around the mythic-rational” is somewhat inconsistent with the definition that this is the epoch where “the average mode of consciousness achieved” is the rational mode; this implies that at least fifty per cent of the population is functioning in that mode, particularly if the “high egoic period” is dated to the present. “The majority of individuals in rational societies still settle somewhere around the mythic-rational” suggests more the “low ego period” rather than the time when the next epoch is beginning to emerge, even if only as the low vision-logic period. In any event, Wilber appears to put contemporary eurocentered societies (the modern state) at the rational stage, and he places “the rough beginning of this new emergence (egoic-rational) in the middle of the first millennium BCE … it reaches its fruition with the rise of the modern state, roughly the sixteenth century in Europe” (1995a, 179; similarly on p. 396). All this “brings us up to the present, and the new integration that is struggling to emerge” (1995a, 184), namely “vision-logic.”

Wilber never concerns himself explicitly with the indigenous peoples who remain. He primarily discusses the anthropological construct “shamanism” and “shaman” when elaborating the earlier evolutionary stages. This isolation of shamans and the “shamanic state of consciousness” inappropriately focuses only on certain aspects of the holistic and integral process of indigenous conversation described at the beginning of this article. How this particular lense may be related to some of the problems which I identify in Wilber’s theory should become apparent below. Since contemporary indigenous peoples continue to use ceremonies, for example, in which, according to anthropologists and in Wilber’s valueladen words from above, “mental intentions are believed to be able to ‘magically’ alter the physical world, as in voodoo, exoteric mantra, the fetish, magical ritual, ‘sympathetic magic,’ or magic in general,” (1995a, 165) they could be considered contemporary remnants of the typhonic stage, or at best the mythic stage. In any event, contemporary indigenous peoples still engaged in their traditional cultural practices would not fit Wilber’s various descriptions of the mythic-rational stage or more recent epochs. Nevertheless, as previously quoted, he would concede that some of their authentic spiritual practitioners may be able to reach the psychic or subtle levels.

Wilber is reluctant (1995a, 571) to use anthropological material about contemporary indigenous peoples in order to discuss past evolutionary stages (such as the magic or mythological stages), yet much of the understanding of the past evolutionary stages is based on projection of the anthropological literature of this century into the past (see e.g., Cazeneuve, 1972; or McGrane, 1989). He also does not include the direct voice of indigenous peoples in his discussions of the contemporary situation. (In scanning his approximately 640 references listed in 1995a I found two – Lake and McGaa – where indigenous peoples speak with a voice of their own (problematic as they are to some traditional natives); I was unable to determine during my reading or with the help of the index how these references actually have been used.) I am assuming that this is either because he does not see them as significant for or part of the cutting edge of the evolutionary arc he describes, or that they don’t offer descriptions which illuminate this evolutionary arc. Whatever his reasoning, contemporary indigenous peoples end up de facto as a negligible quantity in his writings. The terms “mythos,” “mythic,” and “tribe” are frequently used in a negative or even cntemptuous sense – indeed, no different from everyday usage in dominant eurocentered discourse; this suggests that racialist thinking is at work (e.g. in 1995a on p. 572 or 582).

The following two illustrations demonstrate graphically the need to question Wilber’s model.


The practices of voladores (the flyers) from the Totonac, Nahua, and Huastec natives of the Mexican Gulf Coast [right illustration] is said to be at least 1500 years old. It is sacred to Quetsalcoatl, the Morning Star. It spread from the Gulf Coast to the Aztec Capital Tenochtitlan. It is a ceremonial celebration of a calendrical count that can be traced back to the Olmec culture (1500 to 400 BCE; cf. Hancock, 1995; Markman & Markman, 1992). The rock carving from Bohuslän [left illustration] presently is dated to 1000 to 850 BCE (Coles, 1990) and can be viewed in the context of various descriptions of the Norse tree of life (Yggdrasill) and the contemporary May pole (Brodzky, Danesewich & Johnson, 1977; Gimbutas, 1958; Grimm, 1966). The calendrical and navigational cognitive capacities implied in these images go far beyond what evolutionary theories commonly attribute to humans of these time periods. For example: Wilber sees the “Mexico of the Aztecs and Mayas” at the stage of “mythic membership” (1981, 92). Since the Olmecs preceded these cultures they would have to be regarded either at the stage of mythic membership or the earlier typhonic stage. During the typhonic period “subject and object are undifferentiated, … image and entity are confused, symbol and object are conflated, and thus subject and predicate, whole and part, class and member, are all ‘magically one'”(Wilber, 1981, 49). At the subsequent mythic membership stage “mind is tentatively starting to emerge” (Wilber, 1981, 93, italics in original). In subsequent publications Wilber characterizes this stages as capable of “higher representational thought, but still incapable of formal-operational insight; still anthropomorphic; mixture of logic with previous magic” (Wilber, 1983, 240).

It is somewhat difficult to imagine how people would be capable of crossing the Atlantic one way or the other without having at least mythic-rational consciousness, to stay in Wilber’s frame (unless we invalidate the potential significance of the implied event by calling it chance or accident). Navigational capacities, the art and science of identifying one’s own position and tracking a ship’s course (determination of latitude and longitude), require formal-operational cognitive capacities (cf. Kyselka, 1987, 38-45; Graham-Campbell, Batey, Clarke, Page & Price, 1994, 180/1; or Aveni, 1993, 149ff. for sample descriptions). Formal operational awareness “introduces a new and more abstract understanding of mathematics, logic, and philosophy, but those are all quite secondary to the primary and defining mark of reason: reason is a space of possibilities (italics in original), possibilities not tied to the obvious, the given, the mundane, the profane” (Wilber, 1995a, 231). This description would subsume the possibility to navigate oceans with the help of these capacities. If the Olmec culture is indeed accurately described as “typhonic” or “mythic” in character, then its members should be incapable of the complex mathematics, astromical observations and calendrical calculations the Aztecs and Mayans based their developments on (cf. Hancock, 1995; Aveni, 1980; Closs, 1986). And they should not have possessed the nautical and navigational capacities for the long sea journey from Mexico to Sweden (or Bronze Age people in Southern Sweden should not have been capable of navigating toward what is now called Mexico). Of curse, we could argue that these early navigators were individuals of the typhonic or mythic epochs with a level of personal development that reached significantly beyond the majority of the times. Such an argument would only hold if we do not find too many exceptions to the claims made by Wilber’s theory.

My review of the literature indicates that it is at least questionable to use the “special case argument” (i.e., in these cases especially gifted, highly developed individuals with capacities far beyond the general level of development accomplished these significant achievements). The numerous exceptions to Wilber’s theory deserve at least explicit discussion. The following sampling may serve as illustration for numerous cases in archaeology, anthropology, and mythology that do not seem to fit dominant evolutionary conceptions, including Wilber’s. Winkelman (1990) offered significant objections against the literature used in Up from Eden (1981), yet Wilber has only provided incomplete responses (he claims that his new descriptions and new timelines resolve all these issues and that Winkelman’s relativistic approach is “simplistic and hypocritical;” 1995a, 575).

The following is a brief listing of some examples from past and continuing indigenous cultures, which by all appearances not only require, if they are to be integrated, a fine tuning of Wilber’s theory, but, if taken seriously, a rethinking of the entire model (see Winkelman [1990] for a first extensive list of objections). All these brief descriptions highlight the cognitive aspects of the indigenous mind process in order to show limitations in Wilber’s descriptions and interpretations; the integral nature of this process is implied in each of the examples, but not explicated here. Readers may use their own imagination to see how the various sacred sites mentioned below, for example, represent the indigenous conversation I have described at the beginning of this paper using the examples of friðr and ayllu.

— The first example is the Aztec and Mayan calendars (which can be dated back to the Olmec times) with the calendar of the great pyramid in Chichen Itza as an elaborate example of the thinking and architectural skills of these peoples; we can add to this example Mayan mathematics in general (these civilizations are according to Wilber part of the mythic stage; 1981, 92). All of these instances presuppose cognitive skills which do not fit his descriptions of any of the stages before the rational (Aveni, 1980; Closs, 1986, Men, 1990; Vergara & Güemez, n.d.). How these feats could have been achieved without, for example, hypothetico-deductive cognitive skills is not clear to me.

— The alignments of the pyramids in Teotihuacan (just outside of Mexico City) and the knowledge of the number pi are other examples which do not fit Wilber’s scheme (Aveni, 1980; Hancock, 1995; Stierlin, 1963; Tompkins, 1976); again, according to Wilber, these buildings were erected by a mythic culture, yet the architecture, astronomy, and mathematics embodied in these pyramids require cognitive skills at odds with Wilber’s descriptions of “magical oneness.”

— The Egyptian pyramids, their alignments and architecture, are yet another example of similar feats on a different continent (see, e.g., Bauval & Gilbert, 1994 or Hancock, 1995; see also the recent unpublished research by Hawas, Verner and Dreyer, reported in Anonymous, 1995/6, which pushes the dates for certain accomplishments in the early Egyptian cultures farther back). Wilber considers these Egyptian cultures also at the mythic-membership stage (1981, 92).

— The architecture and alignments of Tiahuanaco in Bolivia (at Lake Titicaca) also don’t fit Wilber’s outline by a long shot; according to persuasive evidence the building of this sacred site can be dated to at least 15,000 B.C.E. (Hancock, 1995).

— The architecture and alignments of Stonehenge, dating to about 3,000 B.C. E., and Newgrange, dating to about 3,200 B.C.E. are European examples which are out of sync with Wilber’s descriptions (Aveni, 1993; Biaggi, 1994; Brennan, 1980, 1983; Burenhult, 1993; Mohen, 1990) in terms of the skills required for the building of these sacred sites.

— Finch (1996, 25) points out that
the Dogon have known (probably for seven hundred years) that Sirius B was a mostly invisible white dwarf that periodically underwent nova explosions which spewed matter (“grains”) into space that ultimately became the stuff from which other heavenly bodies – including our solar system – were made.
This traditional knowledge of an ancient African tribe, which is consistent with the findings of contemporary astronomy, questions definitions of “primitive” and Wilber’s descriptions of the stages prior to the rational (see also Finch, 1991 & 1995; Griaule & Dieterlen, 1986; de Santillana & v. Dechend, 1969).

— We have evidence of very early global travel across the oceans, which again requires cognitive skills not ascribed to peoples of these early stages by Wilber. Examples of such evidence are: (a) the Piri Reis map dating to 1513 which includes an image of the eastern promontory of South America and is
comparable to the most detailed and accurate of nineteenth century maps. It proves that the ancient cartographers who constructed it possessed precise knowledge of the dimensions and shape of the earth, its lands, and its seas (Finch, 1996, 21);
(b) accurately mapped images (Piri Reis, Oronteus Finaeus, Mercator, Buache) of Antarctica before it was covered with the current ice cap (which began to occur beginning around 13,000 B.C.E. and was complete by 4,000 B.C.E.; Hapgood, 1966; Hancock, 1995); (c) the chalice which Hostetter (1991) acquired in Saudi Arabia which led him to the re-discovery of ancient astronomical and navigational knowledge; (d) Mayan, Olmec, and Zapotec (Monte Alban) sculptures and reliefs of individuals found in Mexico which are clearly not Native American, but obviously Chinese, African or European; we have similar evidence from the Moche culture of Peru.

— Gimbutas’ description of early European writing from the 6th millenium on (Gimbutas, 1991, 308ff.; Haarmann, 1990, 70ff.) is also not easily reconciled with the cognitive skills Wilber ascribes to those times in Europe.

— And most recently the rock art of Chauvet thought to be about 30,000 years old (Chauvet, Dechamps & Hillaire, 1995) points to cognitive skills akin to our own.

We could argue in each single instance given in my list above that these feats were accomplished by the most advanced individuals of those times, but this argument to my mind is increasingly difficult to sustain with all the examples given (and this list is not complete). And this argument could hardly be made for the following instances, which represent widespread skills, rather than skills conceivably attributable solely to an elite:

— The cognitive skills required for flintknapping provide an example for the mentations of early hominids. Gowlett (1993, 54/5) gives a detailed analysis of the sophisticated cognitive skills the making of the stone tools of the Oldowan people (in Wilber’s scheme of uroboric times) imply.
The stone-workers knew what was possible, and this implies that they had the whole routine for the tool-making process stored in their heads, somewhat like a computer programme. … Many activities of early man [sic!] which have left traces were co-operative, social ones. Does this then imply the use of language from the time of early tool-making? There is no direct evidence for this, but the sequences of operations involved in toolmaking have parallels in structure with those of producing sentences. (p. 55)
Lewin (1988) suggests that the behavior of early hominids increasingly was governed by complex rules, and that these abstractions seem impossible in the absence of language. “The creation of paintings, carvings, and engravings is surely unthinkable in the absence of language, because such activities represent true abstraction of the mind” (p. 186). These descriptions are a far cry from Wilber’s discussions of the uroboric stage to which this type of tool making is assigned.

— Additionally, Wilber has yet to answer the various points Winkelman (1990) makes regarding evidence for language use among the earliest hominids, the similarities in cognitive capabilities in humans of today and 40,000 – 100,000 years ago, the non-existence of the uroboric stage, and astronomical observations as early as 30-32,000 years ago (see also Aveni, 1993, 23). Marshak (1991) provides extensive discussions and illustrations of the complexity of cognitive processes of paleolithic hominids from 35,000 to 10,000 B.C.E.

All of these examples presuppose complex cognitive processes supposedly unavailable to humans during those time periods. They suggest that a stage model may not be the most appropriate way to take these data into account. Gowlett (1992, 345) suggests
that through the past 30,000 to 40,000 years the brains of modern homo sapiens were similar to our own. Physical and cultural evidence points to lower levels of mental ability and craft skill in the earlier periods. Nevertheless, we may have to concede that the foundations of many basic human skills were laid 1 or even 2 million years ago, rather than at the origins of our own species.
Even Lévy-Bruhl, who wrote extensively about ‘primitive mentality’ stated in his last works that he no longer assumed a structural difference between contemporary Europeans and indigenous humans:
Let us expressly rectify what I believed correct in 1910: there is not a primitive mentality distinguishable from the other by two characteristics which are peculiar to it (mystical and prelogical). There is a mystical mentality which is more marked and more easily observable among ‘primitive peoples’ than in our societies, but is present in every human mind. (Les carnets, 1949, 131-2, quoted from Cazeneuve, 1972, 87)

This seems to lead to what appears like a paradox on the surface: Peoples of these earlier mythic or even typhonic times may indeed have participated in the phenomena, yet they may simultaneously have been capable of cognitive feats requiring skills commonly associated with the much later times of the egoic-rational processes. Mayan architecture, glyphs, mathematics and calendrics may serve as a surviving and continuing illustration (see recently Freidel, Schele & Parker, 1993) that participation in the phenomena and cognitive skills like formal-operational logic are a contradiction in the eyes of the solar ego only.

The pieces of evidence which don’t fit easily with Wilber’s timelines and descriptions lead me to doubt that his model adequately represents contemporary and past indigenous peoples and their mind process. His abstract descriptions and the available data don’t match sufficiently, and if Wilber continues to think that they do, then he is under an obligation to explicate this much more than he has done in response to Winkelman. His descriptions of the”earlier evolutionary stages” render the integral mind and being process of past and present indigenous people invisible in his model and devalue it in these distorted representations.

The rapid developments in the fields of prehistorical research indicate a general trend to date certain cognitive capacities earlier and earlier. This should lead us to be cautious. This trend can be explained not only through previously unavailable evidence but it may also point to research assumptions that hindered the field of prehistorical research: It is possible that a goodly portion of our reconstruction of prehistory is projective in nature. Recent anthropological and archaeological research examples investigating human sacrifice and cannibalism indicate how past evidence had been tainted by its Zeitgeist. Hassler (1992), for example, has concluded that evidence for ritualistic human sacrifice or sacred ritualistic killing among the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples is lacking; he asserts that past discussions are based on eurocentric assumptions, prejudices, and misunderstandings in the communication with indigenous people or that they were based on their deceptive maneuvers. Peter-Röcher (summarized in Anonymous, 1996) developed a similar argument regarding cannibalism in prehistoric Germany. These are two out of a number of examples that should induce utmost caution in our use of descriptions of so-called primitive peoples, past cultures and contemporary indigenous peoples. Wilber, however, believes that “what we call civilization, and what we call human sacrifice, came into being together” (Wilber, 1981, 127). Evidence for cannibalism and human sacrifice, whether among the Hisastsunon (Anasazi), Aztecs, or early Germanic peoples, require complex interpretive maneuvers and special self-reflective awareness of presuppositions (whether idealizing or discriminatory).


From a native perspective, evolutionary thinking in general has always been problematic because of its (at least implicit) notion of progress toward some better, more complete or more actualized way of being, some outopos (Greek: utopia) or nonexistent place to be realized in the future.
European utopian visions have been used to rationalize a range of criminal behaviors including the enslavement of millions of Africans and the annihilation of entire American Indian peoples as the (sometimes) regrettable but necessary consequence of the construction of some kind of future state of human perfection (Dion-Buffalo & Mohawk, 1994, p. 33).
This statement cannot be taken seriously enough and should be a clear warning signal to pay attention to the shadow of evolutionary thinking. Unless we do so evolutionary thinking will remain misguided and dangerous because there is no reason to assume that it is outside of its history which – at least implicitly – justified cultural and physical genocides. In order to step outside of this intellectual history it is necessary to address explicitly shadow material issues such as the ones Dion-Buffalo and Mohawk mention in their quote. Otherwise whatever is written is at least an unconscious continuation of eurocentered dominance and (cultural) genocide. McGrane (1989) in his critical analysis of the history of “the Other” and anthropology comments that
when the ‘sun’ of civilization dawns on the virgin forest of the Other, instead of nourishing him, it chars and blackens him. … At the very instant they (primitive societies) become known to us they are doomed (108, last sentence quoted from Bastian).
This would mean that one of the most important current historic tasks of eurocentered cultures is to retract its attention and periodic obsession with other cultures and to focus on its own history, including the shadow of its own history.

Wilber talks about the emergence of global market economy and acknowledges that it is “tinged, initially, by remnants of imperialism, which indicated not an excess of reason but a lack of it” (1995a, 178, emphasis added) – an acknowledgment which is far from sufficient given the ways in which the rise of what he considers evolutionarily positive is entwined with rather lethal shadow material. The words genocide, colonialism, imperialism do not show up in the index of the book, and they do not seem to warrant special analysis within his evolutionary scheme. The phrase “tinged, initially, by remnants of imperialism” implies that this is in the past – a denial of the ongoing destruction of native cultures (Bodley, 1982; Berger, 1990); it is also a denial of such continuing imperialism (biocolonialism) as is exemplified by the hunt for certain nutritional plants and plant medicine among native people, which then get patented and resold to the indigenous peoples they were taken from (Abya Yala News, 1994; Mies & Shiva, 1993; Shiva, 1993). Imperialism and colonialism have taken on the mantle of economic development thinking, under which they continue their contemporary expression and continue to have a destructive effect on indigenous peoples (cf. Sachs, 1995 for a history of the term and a critical discussion in terms of sustainability; see also: Pratec, 1993; Parajuli, 1996 for analyses). All of these destructive events are, of course, a result of the increasingly global market economy and the expansiveness of eurocentered ways. While Wilber may label these events pathological within his system, their effect on new emergent and purportedly desirable qualities still needs to be critically reviewed.

Looking at the historical shadow material created by what the dominant discourse of eurocentered cultures calls “evolutionary advances” or “achievements” (Wilber’s rational societies) is not just a question of intellectual honesty or integrity; it is much more a question of doing one’s best to avoid inflation, ethnocentricity, and prejudice. If eurocentered societies are to step out of the continuing history of colonialism, then evolutionary thinking produced by the intellectuals of these societies needs to grapple with the fact that the so-called evolutionary advances have come at a price, and that this price is even now being paid by peoples which can be identified as the “primitive,” “archaic,” “mythic” peoples of contemporary “backward” societies. As Wilber and others would say: these peoples have had their chance, and “they all failed – each in their own special and wonderful and spectacular fashion” (1995a, 243). In evolutionary models, “losers” are inevitable if there is to be evolution, and the winners of today may be the losers of tomorrow. The aura of inevitability is part of the justificatory function of evolutionary thinking. It creates a context in which cultural and physical genocide can easily be understood as a given, ‘unfortunate as that may be.’ The continuation of economic development thinking in relation to so-called Third World countries is part of this genocidal context: The dominant, primarily materialistic, euro-centered standards identify them as inferior societies and cultures, and they are consequently in need of help so that they may join the fold of “developed” countries. This development thinking devalues their own cultural roots and richness destroying communities and killing people in the name of progress.

McGrane (1989) has done an admirably lucid job of tracing the history of the relationship between euro-centered cultures and the Other, the alien, the different – an “archaeology of anthropology,” so to speak. One of his fundamental premises is that “a culture that discovers what is alien to itself simultaneously manifests what it is in itself” (McGrane 1989, 1). He sees anthropology as an endeavor which is “fundamentally involved in the reproduction of Western society… It manifests and highlights that egocentric tendency of our Western mind to identify itself as separate from what it perceives as external to itself” (1989, 5). Wilber’s model, of course, draws on just this anthropological literature. MacGrane’s discussions are also helpful in contextualizing historically the aspects of indigenous lives on which Wilber primarily focuses, i.e. shamanism.

In the Renaissance Christianity came between the European and the non-European; demonology determined that the Other, the fallen, was in need of naming, christening. Trances (and the concomitant healing practices) were seen as a practice which maintained the contact with demons and christianization meant the termination of such evil proceedings; killing or arrests of tribal members during ceremonies, the destruction or confiscation of artifacts (even during recent history, such as potlatch masks in Canada) are a result of this paradigm. During the Enlightenment ignorance was the fundamental coordinate around which the understanding of the Other was constituted: indigenous peoples were living with the errors of superstitution. For example, trances and alternate modes of healing were seen as superstitious practices which could not provide any true help or serve a healthful function. The 17th and 18th century saw the beginning of colonization. The evolutionary thinking of the nineteenth century used the coordinate of time to understand natives as “primitives,” a fossilized developmental stage from the prehistory of European civilizations. Thus trances were conceptualized as contemporary remnants of an outmoded, primitive human potential; their usefulness was superceded by the emergent medical and other sciences. The 19th century saw the height of colonialism and imperialism. It was also the time of in which evolutionary theories were first proposed. MacGrane shows how this notion of the “primitive” is entwined with the idea of progress:
The very identification of and naming of the non-European Other as “primitive,” as “primitive mentality,” as “primitive culture,” presupposed a theory (language) of rational progress, of progress in and by reason (Enlightenment) and/or progress in and by history (nineteenth century). The very possibility of the conception of “primitive” presupposed the prior commitment to a conception of progress. (McGrane, 99)
The notion of progress implies that there is something at least insufficient or even bad in the past and that the good lies in the future.

When we talk about the lamentable and unfortunate price of evolution paid by certain peoples of past and present, but without simultaneously confronting the presumed advances with their own shadow, then we act arrogantly, coldly, and, ultimately, dishonestly. The historical connection between the arising of enlightenment philosophy and colonialism is not just accidental.
Anthropology has been an extremely subtle and spiritual kind of cognitive imperialism, a power-based monologue about alien cultures rather than, and in active avoidance of, a dialogue with them in terms of sovereignty, i.e., the untranslatability and irreducibility of one ‘culture’ to the being and language of the other (McGrane, 1989, 127).
Until we understand the impact of this connection the cultural shadow material will determine what eurocentered cultures are as “rational societies” – to an extent difficult to fathom. Adorno and Horkheimer (1944) have noted how what is suppressed in society inevitably returns through the backdoor – now with increased power.

The U.S. constitution was paid for with the genocide of the Native Americans. The social and economic stability of the colonies rested on the success of pushing the Native Americans out; the possession of the land was necessary for the development of the ideas and allowed the appropriation of native ideas, e.g. during the development of the constitution. What does it mean that the freedom of the early immigrants was achieved at the price of tremendous destruction? What does it say about the civil society that was put in place of the autochthonous cultures which also had elaborate “legal codes”? The best known example is probably the Iroquois confederacy, and its significant impact on the U.S. constitution is largely unacknowledged by the dominant culture (Barreiro, 1992).

In keeping with one brand of rather conventional wisdom, Wilber describes the process of Hawaii becoming a state of the United States of America – its annexation – as follows: “all the basic structures and functions are preserved and taken up in a larger identity, but all the exclusivity structures and functions that existed because of isolation, set-apartness, partialness, exclusiveness, separative agency – these are simply dropped and replaced with a deeper agency that reaches a wider communion” (1995a, 52 [italics in original]; see also p. 245). I doubt that traditionally spiritual Hawaiians (let alone political activists) would agree with this statement as an appropriate abstract principle derived from this specific historical example. Not only is his theoretical statement racist and colonialist when applied to the analysis of actual historical events by virtue of discounting native notions of interconnectedness, history and science (“isolation,” “partialness,” “separative agency”), it also lends itself to the justification of genocide in the the service of the emergence of higher order holons. After all, “each emergent holon transcends but includes its predecessor(s)” (1995a, 51). Wilber may consider such use of his theories abuse. However, his model adds to a justificatory context which facilitates this kind of thinking in contemporary euro-centered cultures. Such justification happens culturally, when “progress” is accepted as a framework, which then inevitably entails the notion of losers in the service of progress. To my mind the Hawaii illustration of his eighth’s tenet does not hold, and his model would be invalidated if it is based on other examples of a similar nature.

When I analyze other instances which his tenet should cover (and the above quote of his principle) then his model becomes increasingly questionable in the form stated. If we look, for example, at the reality of the relationship between Native American tribes and the dominant society, and apply his abstract statement to the specifics of an ongoing history, then his statement is simply ludicrous. The history of invasion and colonization has destroyed native ceremonies, instituted boarding schools, and used missionary activity as a major avenue to genocide (all these are things which are still happening in the present in one form or another); in the process the reservation system was created. I don’t think it is an adequate theoretical precept to subsume this under “the exclusivity structures and functions that existed because of isolation, set-apartness, partialness, exclusiveness, separative agency – these are simply dropped and replaced with a deeper agency that reaches a wider communion.” Wilber’s statement has a certain compelling logic in its abstractness (and if we agree with the implicit assumptions of progress and universalization as he defines it), but this generality obfuscates the inflated stance hidden in it. This inflation is based on the culturally narcissistic assumption that we have truly understood peoples who live in an entirely different consciousness.

Our current challenge appears to be to develop a quality of thinking that is no longer based on fundamentally mono-causal and linear models (models with roots in 19th century thinking and to which I am referring with the lable “evolutionary thinking”). Nitecki summarizes the current scientific Zeitgeist as follows: “The concept of progress has been all but banned from evolutionary biology as being anthropocentric or at best of limited and ambiguous usefulness” (1988, quoted from Barlow, 1994, 49). It seems necessary to remove notions of progress from our descriptions of the evolution of consciousness and civilizations (indigenous civilizations and others), since it is entirely eurocentered. McGrane states pointedly that “if the rather deeply sedimented, institutionalized belief in ‘progress’ disappeared, the ‘primitive’ would vanish” (1989, 99). The notion of progress is an essential ingredient of Wilber’s system and “the primitives” are alive in his model, even if they are not doing so well.

Alternative models of conceptualizing socio-historical changes in structure and process of consciousness would address directly and with specificity such difficult issues as genocide, colonialism, and imperialism; they would address the ancient spiritual foundations of the European peoples, their ancestries, and their ceremonial practices. Such models would self-consciously restrict themselves to self-reflective acts by people of European heritage in order to understand their history of increasing dissociation, the dominance of the masterful, bounded modern self, and the possibilities to remember and recover integral beingknowing (Kremer, 1994). These would be inquiries aimed at resuming the European conversations analogous to those of the Andean ayllu. Other culture would be invited to dialogues dedicated to the mutual exploration of historical and evolutionary meanings. This would break the pattern of colonial thinking assigning non-Eurocentered cultures their status from the domineering vantage point of Eurocentric discourses.

The assumptions we hold about ourselves as modern, scientific and rational people are at times rather self-righteous – if we take the time to look in the mirror. For example, Wilber states: “The modern solution to this developmental nightmare [that the majority of individuals haven’t made it to the rational stage yet, J. W. K.] is that the rationality structure of the democratic state tolerates magic and mythic subholons…” (1995a, 252) While this statement makes sense on the face of it – the sad fact is that it hasn’t and still isn’t working out this way. I don’t think the traditional hill tribe peoples of Thailand or the Saami people in Sweden or the Wintu people of Northern California (to give just a few examples) have an experience of tolerance. Yes, maybe the rational stage theoretically should afford this tolerance, yet it doesn’t in so many cases and development thinking (“help for the Third World”) is inherently intolerant and destructive of indigenous cultures (Berger, 1990; Bodley, 1982). Is this because there is an inherent problem with the rational stage that makes it so difficult for its members to embody this tolerance or is it just the fact that “the majority of individuals in rational societies will settle in somewhere around the mythic-rational” (Wilber, 1995a, 252), that there isn’t enough rationality? From a native perspective the inherent problem of the so-called rational stage is the notion of progress and the “primitive”.

Wilber recommends “regression in service of higher integration – a regression that allows evolution to move forward more harmoniously by healing and wholing a previously alienated holon.” (1995a, 105) This is a somewhat unfortunate analogy to individual psychological theory, since it presupposes the ego constructed by modernity, an ego – as I have pointed out elsewhere (see Kremer, 1995a) – which is constructed dissociatively (from nature, community, ancestry, – from what I have described as the conversation in the ayllu above). Consequently, this ego is likely to project from its personality make-up into the past whatever it has dissociated from. In fact, projective identification may be the most apt clinical term to point to the psycho-emotional process eurocentered cultures are engaged in with contemporary indigenous peoples (this term also acknowledges that history is carried and handed down specifically in the process of socialization in each individual). Projective identification means that other people are made to feel the highly conflicted and split off material dominant cultures unconsciously injected into them – so that they feel and experience it as if it is their own. Natives feel the eurocentered dissociation from prehistory, ancestry, nature, etc. as self-hatred (“primitives”) which is so destructive to their cultures. Of course, self-hatred as an effect of internalized colonization warrants a much longer statement than I can offer here. Notably, in individual psychotherapy projective identification is known to be a pathological process oftentimes quite resistant to change because of its strongly self-reinforcing nature; this would seem to imply that we can assume strong resistance to the healing of the history of colonialism in the relationship between indigenous and eurocentered cultures. I would think that the retraction of these projections is the first order of business; for this we need a different metaphor than “regression in the service of the ego” (an adequate statement in the psychotherapeutic context, of course). The reintegration of cultural shadow material presupposes the possibility of an ego – the indigenous ego in communal conversation, if you wish – which would be differently constructed than our contemporary ego can easily imagine (see Kremer 1994 for descriptions). (Footnote 3)

We know from individual psychology that the shadow, the aspect of the self that is most troublesome and inimical to the ego-ideal, has a significant impact on the conscious awareness of the individual. Individual psychotherapy is in many ways the process of integration of this shadow material. Just as denial of the personal shadow distorts development of self, denial of the cultural shadow – indigenous peoples past and present – distorts the development of our understanding of history and consciousness. My point is that the evolutionary thinking needs to grapple with the fact that there are not only parts of history which have been denied (that we are or can easily be conscious of), but that there may be parts of history, just as with the individual shadow, which we are not aware of and which we need to struggle to become aware of and integrate. The fundamental question is this one: Is somebody who publishes A brief history of everything (Wilber, 1995b) under an obligation to struggle with the non-mediated voices of contemporary indigenous peoples? Since the Rio Earth Summit, if we venture to take that as a watershed event, this seems to be more necessary than ever (cf. Rogers, 1993). Can Wilber legitimately write A brief history of everything without delving into cultural shadow material? My answer would be that any contemporary author writing on social evolution does have this obligation – unless he wants to continue perpetrating an unfortunate history which created the cultural shadows I am referring to.


Yvonne Dion-Buffalo and John Mohawk (1994) outline three choices which colonized peoples have in response to cultural colonization.
They can become “good subjects” of the discourse, accepting the rules of law and morals without much question, they can be “bad subjects” arguing that they have been subjected to alien rules but always revolting within the precepts of those rules, or they can be “non-subjects”, acting and thinking around discourses far removed from and unintellegible to the West [EMPHASIS ADDED, J.W.K.]… In a world composed of fewer than a dozen distinct civilizations (including the metropolitan West) plus 3,000 to 5,000 distinct indigenous societies, the range of possible experiences is very great indeed. These are the autochthonous peoples whom such luminaries as Arnold Toynbee wrote entirely out of history. Much of what remains of the range of human potential for creating versions of reality exists in the framework of the arts, stories, oral traditions, music and other cultural manifestations of these peoples. Their lived and dreamed experiences are the world’s richest sources of exploration of the human potential. – Gaining access to these experiences will not be easy. Not only are the voices of these distinct “others” remote, the channels of communication are practically non-existent. Few individuals from tribal societies write novels or history texts (p. 35).

“Non-subject” is a double-edged term: It refers not only to the choice native peoples may make not to be in reaction to their dominant societies, but it also signifies how the non-subjects do not show up in the prevailing discourses, because these don’t have the capacity to make them present (traditionally indigenous peoples are present to each other through the appropriate “legwork”, meaning knowledge exchanges set up in an equitable way). The words “acting and thinking around discourses far removed from and unintellegible to the West ” are of great significance. I have explored the qualitative differences between indigenous consciousness and eurocentered consciousness in my other publications (Kremer, 1995b). To put it simply: the cross-cultural differences between Germans and Italians are not of the same order as those between Italians and Navajos. Cross-cultural differences between cultures engaged in the participatory conversation with the phenomena are of one order, while cross-cultural differences between cultures representing a dissociative mind process are of a different order. Within each of these orders comparisons are easier, while they are very difficult between these two broad classes of cultural consciousness processes. The integral consciousness of indigenous minds and their cognitive capacities fall through the cracks of the eurocentered, anthropological lenses; what they allow us to see ends up as earlier developmental stages in models of the evolution of consciousnes (in models á la Piaget, Wilber, Kohlberg, etc.). As such they are a reflection of the eurocentered minds and their dissociation from their own origins and not an appropriate model to capture the worlds of native peoples. Advocates of stage models claim to be able to capture indigenous consciousness as archaic, typhonic or mythic. As I have tried to illustrate above, this type of conceptualization is a categorical error, inappropriately conflating two worlds: the eurocentered conceptualizations of non-subjects make them appear as “primitives” thus making them part of the dissociative eurocentered universe – a continuation of colonial thinking. Until such time when we as eurocentered people begin to pay attention to this error, our impact on native peoples will continue to be lethal.

Wilber doesn’t do any better than Toynbee. The indigenous peoples and individuals have no voice of their own in his writing. Whatever is said about them is written through the lense of received anthropology – a lense which is part and parcel of colonial history (more recent critical deviations within the field of anthropology notwithstanding). The literature by native people may not be extensive, for the reasons that Dion-Buffalo and Mohawk point out, but it is extensive enough to help us question quite clearly the prevailing discourses on legal, transpersonal, scientific and many other issues (see for example Lyons et al., 1992; Wa & Uukw, 1989; Wub-E-Ke-Niew, 1995).

Wilber quotes Roszak affirmatively (1995a, 571) as saying that “it is always risky to infer from contemporary to prehistory tribal groups.” Of course, this needs to be done thoughtfully. All this is contrary to the stance that other scholars such as Martin have arrived at when he imagines “that the speech and artisanry of modern (i.e., sixteeenth- to twentieth-century) hunting peoples is a close approximation of that mesolithic ancestral model” (1992, 35). Nevertheless, one of the examples from contemporary literature which Wilber gives shows clearly the process how native peoples become non-subject. He uses the “Hopi Rain Dance” (1995a, 128) as an example to discuss the distinction between hermeneutics and structural-functionalism. This discussion, interestingly enough, clearly ends up on the functionalist side: “Whether it is really going to make rain or not, or trying to make rain or not, is quite secondary to our concerns; because what it is really doing is providing an occasion that binds individuals together into the social fabric of the tribe” (1995a, 128/9; emphasis added). Wilber later clarifies that the “really” in this quote is indeed his position, and not just a disinterested discussion of functionalism: “Complex systems of mythology, whatever other functions they might have performed, began to serve first and foremost as a way to unify peoples beyond mere blood lineage” (1995a, 169, emphasis deleted). As other examples in his text show, his interpretation of tribal cultures, here even a contemporary one specifically mentioned by name, gets reduced to the “real meaning” which functionalism provides for him and which fits his general evolutionary scheme. The rest of the Hopi cultural practices, which presumably fall under the category of “magic,” are not considered as real and are relegated to the shadowlands. As long as members of the dominant discourse assume that they can intelligently talk about everything (with the implicit assumption that non-subjects are non-existent and with the corollary assumption that the possibility of non-subjects as defined above is a figment of “retro-romantics” or likeminded folk – as long as this is the case it continues to prepetrate colonialism and imperialism. The direct, unmediated Hopi voice is required in these discussions.

The question of how a non-subject might engage in dialogue with Ken Wilber is a tricky one. The fundamental problem is, of course, that a non-subject does not really have any place within the scheme which Wilber outlines except in the historical past as an evolutionarily earlier occurrence. Non-subjects thus only show up as the projections of the civilized eurocentered mind appearing at the earlier evolutionary stages – rather than as past and contemporary subjects in their own right with a fundamentally different way of knowing and being. The only way to gain or claim a place is to engage in a dialogue on the stage which has been prepared by the grand scheme he and others in the 19th century evolutionary thinking lineage. This means leaving non-subjecthood in order to gain or maintain credibility as an academically honorable conversational partner. This is the trap of colonialism and internalized colonialism. When I am striving to be seen through the eyes of the dominant paradigm – and Wilber is a part of that, different as he may appear on the surface – I am losing my otherness as I am trying to communicate using the forms and conventions which are not mine. Obviously, the style of my paper is an attempt to be respectful of the tremendous amount of work which he has put into his writing, while at the same time engaging in a way that is respectful of who I am. If I were to engage on the stage which he has prepared, then I would violate who I am; and if I don’t then my credibility is questionable in the eyes of the conventional discourse. Given this predicament I am trying to frame the dialogue in a way that more than just a meeting of minds may become possible. If Wilber is interested in dealing with his own indigenous cultures of origin and with contemporary native peoples in a way which is not dismissive, then he needs to seek an avenue of conversation and knowledge sharing which is different from standard academic discourse.

I have described the notion of participatory or shamanic “concourse” as a way of having knowledge exchange based on equity in a framework in which all participants are free to choose participation (Kremer, 1992a & b, 2002). The change from discourse to concourse is intentionally somewhat provocative. In reviewing the etymology of both words it becomes apparent that the embodied running of the Latin currere has become the disembodied movement of the mind in current academic discourse. Currere also connotes the running of waters or the circular movement of wheels. Instead of the antagonistic dis of the critical review of reality models (or truth claims), where scholars and others dispute conclusions reached in relative isolation by moving from premises to consequences, I am suggesting the con of communal, social reality creation (this is based on the presupposition that there is no genuine community without conflict and agonistic moves). Participatory concourse would be a circle where the communal reality creation is reviewed through talking as well as ritualistic embodiment; this circle would have space for silence, stories, humor, theater, dancing and other arts.

If scholars were to engage in participatory concourse, then this would mean that they are resuming an ancient conversation (where in ayllu, friðr, or elsewhere). They would understand that consensus about a particular truth claim is not something which can be achieved by means of the rational mind alone. The knowing of the body, the knowing of the heart, the knowing which comes from states of shifted awareness (including the dialogue with the ancestors) are all valuable processes. Even though every consensus will have to withstand the challenges posed in verbal, rational discourse, the words of resolution will have to withstand the challenges from all other human dimensions of experience – somatic, sexual, emotional and spiritual. Such an embodiment of knowing can heal the various splits, such as between body and mind. Any resolution has to include the explicit, verbal expression of agreement as well as the felt sense of common understanding. Any resolution needs to be open not just to be questioned through the pragmatics of testing propositional truths; it also needs to be open to moral and aesthetic (in the Batesonian sense [1991]) investigations. Somatic knowing and intuition need to see the light of the rational mind, while the mind needs to see the light which is in the body. While it is true that we are always challenged to reflect our resolutions in language, this does not mean that language is the sole arbiter of truth. It is in the open and fluid interaction of the different dimensions of the participatory concourse that we can discover how our resolutions of truth address the alignment issues we are faced with. To deny science is foolish; not to acknowledge its participation in the phenomena (in the Barfieldian sense) is equally dangerous. Participatory concourse allows us to appreciate scientific achievements without denying the body, the heart, sexuality, gender differences and the divine.

I have given this rudimentary description to indicate that there are ways in which qualitatively different paradigms could be with each other and explore each other’s knowledge (which takes more than the written word). All the issues which Wilber discusses are of tremendous consequence for eurocentered cultures and those peoples who are at the butt of their paradigm. I wish there were an occasion to engage about these issues in a setting which is respectful to all sides willing to participate. I hope that such a forum will be created and that discussions, such as in ReVision and Ken Wilber in Dialogue (discussed in the next section) may be the beginning of such participatory concourse (See Edwards, 2002, for a contribution to this debate). This would also allow eurocentered people to focus on our own history, the tribal perversions which we know about in our own past, and come to terms with the dissociation from our own prehistory.


In 1996 a number of authors appreciatively and critically engaged with Wilber’s work in the journal ReVision. Editors Donald Rothberg and Sean Kelly developed a generative format for the discussions they intended to facilitate. After an overview by Donald Rothberg, Roger Walsh, Sean Kelly, Peggy Wright, Michael Zimmerman, Michael Washburn, Stanislav Grof, Jeanne Achterberg, Robert McDermott, and I discussed various aspects of Wilber’s publications; in addition, Rothberg interviewed Jospeh Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Michel McDonald-Smith. Wilber wrote an extensive reply to these contributions. All authors then briefly replied to Wilber. The final words were written by Wilber and the editors. All these articles were published in ReVision (1996), Vol. 18 #4, Vol. 19#1 and #2. In 1998 this dialogue, together with additional contributions, was published by Quest.

Wilber responded to the critique voiced above in this article in three ways (1996, 31 & 46): 1) Future publications will address my concerns in detail and discussion the shadow of evolutionary thinking; 2) he repeated positions previously published without additional explanations; 3) Wilber assumed that my critical points represent a stance that he himself had taken in his earlier publications. Beyond that I did not find any specific responses to my remarks. Indeed, this appears to be the case in his responses to almost all appraisals of his works in these ReVision issues. In that sense the debate does not resemble particpatory concourse, however, the discussion can be seen as solid preparation for such process.

Gregory Bateson pointed out that lack of response is a significant piece of information (rather than no information). I find Wilber’s responses in this discussion disappointing, primarily because they fall short on engagement with the current writings of the contributors, while they are long on restatements of published positions and engagement with previous publications of some of the contributors. The stance that author X “tends to misrepresent my [Wilber’s] overall model” seems to be the stimulus for extensive restatements instead of a detailed dialogue with the thoughtful reflections offered by the various authors. Of course, a perceived misrepresentation can mean at least three things: a) an actual misrepresentation and distortion of something clearly stated; b) a misrepresentation of something open to interpretation or unclearly or insufficiently stated; c) something perceived or framed as a mispresentation, which is acutally a disagreement based on a correct or at least possible reading of an author’s statements. While I can deeply appreciate an author’s concern with the desire to be represented as accurately as possible in the secondary literature, the experience of misrepresentation could at the same time also occasion an introspective exploration of the possible causes that might contribute to such misunderstandings from the author’s side. The small amount of space dedicated by Wilber to dialogue about significant issues as they are described and identified by the present discussants results in less of a conversation and much more of a series of monologues than I had hoped for. But then: Wilber’s vision-logic, and certainly the indigenous mind process I am talking, about calls in part for a different setting and a different kind of interpersonal exchange than a journal can offer.

It is interesting to notice how Wilber reads McDermott and fails to distinguish between critical disagreements, outspokeness and level confrontation on the one hand and put downs, dismissive commentary and demeaning caricatures on the other hand. (And no response to Zimmerman on this topic.) I heartily agree with Wilber’s advocacy for honest disagreements and outspokeness. Yet: Wilber writes about my article that “I find his [Kremer’s] actual argument rather confused” without either saying what his reading of the argument is or why the argument is confused. An equivalent statement would be “I find Wilber’s actual writing rather dissociated.” Either of these remarks may be true, but they may be stated dismissively or in engaged level dialogue; the latter requires different wording and the creation of context through argument and explication.

One of the central issues around Wilber’s conceptualization of our evolutionary past is his image of peoples of previous historical stages. Stephen Jay Gould, who can hardly be called a “retroromantic,”discusses the nature of many of these assumptions commonly held about prehistoric peoples in a recent article about the Chauvet Cave art: “Old should mean rudimentary – either primitive by greater evolutionary regress toward an apish past or infantile by closer approach to the first steps on our path toward modernity. (…) This equation of the older with more rudimentary both violates the expectations of evolutionary theory when properly construed and has now also been empirically disproved by discoveries at Chauvet Cave and elsewhere. (…) The hypothesis of progressivism in paleolithic art cannot hold” (1996, 17, 72). Gould, of course, also advocates that the notion of progress be removed from evolutionary thinking.

Let me address some more of the specifics in Wilber’s reply to my article: Wilber points to my lack of his discussion of Winkelman’s reviews of his work. However, Wilber’s critique of Winkelman’s approach is quite beside the points which I am trying to make – no need for me to respond to his criticism. To use Wilber’s words: “Alas, you have misread my model.” My model is not one of cultural relativism and Wilber fails to explain how the performative contradiction identified in Winkelman’s work applies to my article. And Wilber has yet to answer to the detailed objections by Winkelman and myself regarding available archaeological and anthropological evidence which challenge his model as a whole (a discussion of cultural relativism, even if valid, is no response to these specific points).

Wilber’s statement about a society’s center of gravity is a restatement of his own published wordings and not a response to the inherent contradictions and unclarity related to Wilber’s work I point out in my article, especially in regards to his contradictory statements about rational societies and the present stage of the majority of its members.

Wilber finds my discussions of the indigenous mind process neither “fair, balanced, [n]or anthropologically representative.” This reminds me of debates around racism where one of the defensive responses to discussions of the Middle Passage is: “Well, African peoples had slaves, too.” Indeed – but it misses the point of engagement with the complicity in racism and colonialism. Naturally, within the euro-centered place where Wilber stands he has to find my discussion unbalanced – which is exactly what my critique addresses.

I find nothing in Wilber’s responses that persuades me that his model is not complicit with the continuation of racism and colonialism, I am sorry to say. The shadow of modernity continues to loom.

No author can be expected to address all the critical issues raised in the ReVision issues, yet Wilber’s selection of topics for his responses is disappointingly non-dialogical. – Wilber’s contributions to the field of transpersonal theory are impressive, yet, vision-logic, to my mind, requires a quality of dialogue about these issues which I have yet to see manifested in his response. The groundwork for the emergence of that possibility may have been laid with these ReVision issues. I am eager to be engaged in a quality of discourse (which I have called participatory concourse) which would do justice to the stage which Wilber sees emerging. His perspective and provocative engagement will be desirable in a context of shared assumptions about the nature of such a critical dialogue.


Let me return to the beginning of this paper and add some descriptions, which point to alternate frames for history, evolution, and universality through grounding conversations in the astronomical cycles and facilitating universality through equitable knowledge exchange within a consciousness of the same indigenous quality. The constraints of this article don’t allow for the elaboration of these practices of being and knowing, but I will briefly sketch some of the fundamental assumptions. The knowledge exchange between peoples in a dissociated consciousness process and peoples in an integral, non-dissociated consciousness process is likely to be governed by a paradigm of domination (driven by the dissociative process), while knowledge exchanges among peoples in an integral, non-dissociated consciousness process have a greater chance of being equitable. Universality is created in the latter exchanges through the specific understanding of relatedness and the sharing of the specific conversations engaging each other – the ceremonial context of such exchanges supports equity and reaches for global connections and universality in a different way than the process of abstraction. Deloria gives a succinct description of such an indigenous perspective from one of the Native American traditions:
The Plains Indians arranged their knowledge in a circular format – which is to say, there were no ultimate terms or constituents of their universe, only sets of relationships which sought to describe phenomena. No concept could stand alone in the way that time, space, and matter once stood as absolute entities in Western science. All concepts not only had content but were themselves composed of the elements of other ideas to which they were related. Thus it was possible to begin with one idea, thoroughly examine it by relating it to other concepts and arrive back at the starting point with the assurance that a person could properly interpret what constituted the idea and how it might manifest itself in concrete physical experiences. … A list of the most important components of the Indian universe:… The universe is alive … Everything is related …All relationships are historical … Space determines the nature of relationships … Time determines the meaning of relationships. (Deloria, 1996, 40ff.)
Returning to the Andean peoples of Peru we find the following descriptions of the indigenous mind process:
The chacra is the piece of land where the peasant lovingly and respectfully nurtures plants, soil, water, micro-climates and animals. In a broad sense chacra is all that is nurtured, thus the peasants say that the llama is their chacra that walks and whereof wool is harvested. We ourselves are the chacra of the wakas or deities that care for, teach and accompany us. …[There is a] continuous conversation and reciprocation between the relatives with the Andean ayllu, forming an organicity that facilitates the nurturing of the chacra, through practices of mutual help… This help takes place in an atmosphere of fiesta, with joy and always asking permission of the wakas or Andean deities. (Valladolid, 1995, 23 &46)
What happens between the Andean communities of humans, deities and nature is reciprocal dialogue, a relationship which does not assume any distancing and objectification between those dialoguing, but rather an attitude of tenderness and understanding towards the life of the other. Such dialogue does not lead one to a knowledge about the other, but rather to empathize and attune oneself with its mode of being, and in company with that other, to generate and regenerate life. It is a dialogue … that leads [not to knowledge but] to wisdom. (Rengifo, 1993, 168, translation by Apffel-Marglin)

These are descriptions of a process of an immanently present visionary socially constructed being, which is sustained without a need to progress or overcome some insufficient state – conversations are held for balance’ sake. These descriptions are different from Wilber’s definition of vision-logic. Given the space limitations let me just briefly sketch some coordinates. The two quotes and my initial sections above describe the immanent, ongoing conversation with everything, including spirits, which constitutes the community for human beings. Within this framework, if individuals do not know their ancestry, place in the community, the cultural stories, the land they live on, the cycles of the seasons, the stars, etc. – then these persons are lost to who they are, and pathology ensues – these individuals are in need of healing or balancing. These indigenous models, which to my mind require cognitive skills akin to Wilber’s vision-logic, allow for an alternate understanding of time, history, and the variety of cultures; they also allow people to be in participation or conversation while exercising high level rational skills. Part of this conversation is the observation of the precession of the equinoxes and other larger historical cycles. This indigenous conceptualization allows each culture to understand its historic spiritual mission in its own ecological niche, so to speak. It is not just that this type of model is preferable, I would suggest that it has greater accuracy because it is more complete and integral. It facilitates cultural exchange because it establishes equality among prospective partners of knowledge trade and avoids implicit or explicit imperialistic thinking. From this particular perspective Wilber’s evolutionary story is a sad one, because it seems so desperately to seek that place of balance and healing of dissociation – but, sadly, continues to speak from a place of dissociation from parts of the self which indigenous consciousness considers essential for well-being; it continues to perpetrate the splits from participatory or conversational self, shadow and historical roots. As long as there is a trajectory of progress and as long as vision-logic is described without full attention to all aspects of the conversation in the ayllu (Wilber, 1995a, 185), we further the dissociation from the ancient conversation of balance, and Wilber’s grand scheme remains additive holism still in need of further integration.

Much of the current interest in native peoples – especially among New Age folk – is permeated with nostalgia and romanticism. The Hopi Indians of Arizona have been the object of such inappropriate and insufficient understanding. Yet, their history and stories show a complex struggle for balance, which all too frequently ends in kooyanisqatsi or social disarray – with all the gore of killed fellow tribal members, burnt villages, etc. (see M. Lomatuway’ma, L. Lomatuway’ma, Namingha & Malotki [1993] for illustrative stories narrated by Hopi people). I am giving this reminder so that the reader may resist temptations to see my descriptions as amounting to some form of ideal or perfect image of native peoples which can be – maybe nostalgically or romantically – projected into the past. There is nothing ideal about these descriptions in the contemporary sense of the word. The present dialectic of the ideal and the flawed are machinations of contemporary discourse fueled by the shadows of its past; the creation of these figments support its addictive hunger for power and domination. Life is never ideal, it never has been. Human follies and fallacies have always been there. Trading in ideals is the narcissism of the dominant culture. Good-bad, ideal-flawed have always been contextualized, relative, historical. Romanticism and nostalgia are the the reaction to the denial of the presence of indigenous mind and non-subjects in contemporary life; neither know who they are in terms of the indigenous framework which I have just described. Both are lost to the sacred obligation which humans have to all their relations on this planet.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Eduardo Grillo, one of the founding members of PRATEC and their primus inter pares, who unexpectedly passed away on April 23, 1996.


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Footnote 1: The precession of the equinoxes (the westward drift of the vernal equinox through the zodiac) is caused by the wobble of the earth; as a result her axis points to different parts ofo the sky at different times (e.g., while Polaris is the current North Star, Vega will have that position 13,000 years from now). See Kyselka & Lanterman (1976) for a basic overview discussion of this astronomical phenomenon. De Santillana & v. Dechend (1969) have written the fundamental work – from the European perspective – for an interpretation of myths in astronomical terms, demonstrating how the language of ancient stories can be simultaneously poetic and scientifically precise (especially in regards to the example just given in my text).

Footnote 2: Cf. Warrior, 1995 for a discussion of these positions; cf. Vizenor, 1989, 1994a, 1994b for an example of Native American discourse stance.

Footnote 3: Thanks to Betty Bastien for our conversations about internalized colonization which led me to conceptualize the dynamic in terms of projective identification.


Remembrance: An Intercultural Mental Health Process (PDF)

Remembrance, An Intercultural Mental Health Process

by Pam Colorado

Mental Health is a European, western derived construct which, in the context of colonialism, has been imposed upon Native peoples. thus one could question the health of “mental Helth”. I propose that it is possible and timely to create processes and models of mental health which are intercultural and have, as their first order of business, the healing of mental health practitioners…myself included!

Issues of mental health and culture are central to my life. I am a traditional Oneida woman, married to a Hawaiian, Kuhuna Kalai Wa’a and Kii, that is, a man who has the Huna or secret knowledge of how to carve traditional ocean going canoes and images. We live on the island of Maui where I commute to California to teach in the Traditional Knowledge Program—a doctoral program for tribal people worldwide. I am also of French ancestry and travelled to France during my early twenties to make peace with the conflict I felt as a mixed blood person.

In twenty years of activism my model of mental health practice evolved from a largely clinical social work/community organizing focus (with a few cultural touches) to an almost completely cultural, spiritual practice that drew on western psychology when necessary. Although reluctant to draw on extra cultural approaches,I found psychology and its terminology to be helpful in dealing with deadly colonial wounds, notably alcoholism. Counselling methods also became a bridge to the western and professional world and to assimilated parts of my personality. In fact, western counselling helped me to decolonize and to embrace my true cultural identity.

But joining Native and western approaches to mental health has always made me uncomfortable. First of all, there are no guidelines or mutually established ethics to govern the linking. Second, the concept of mental health is inextricably bound up in relationships of domination and power. Prior to the invasion of North America there wasn’t even a concept of mental health! Native cultures sought and were an expression of grounded lives lived in balance and intimate communication with all living beings. third, western practitioners’ denial of the power dynamics between Natives and westerners emotionally charge the counselling process. Fourth, whether we like it or not, there is no part of Native life that has not been violated or desecrated. As a result, we carry enormous and undifferentiated anxieties and pain; often we swing back and forth between western and Native behavior without conscious choice. Finally, as my genetics suggest, there is no escaping the obvious fact that American Indians and Euramericans (with their mental health practices) share a land and a reality. We must address the intercultural mental health conundrum and transform it into something good.

Recently, I worked with a French American person whose wife had suffered with terminal cancer for ore than two years. I began the work in my usual way, as a cultural person who used western concepts to communicate and engage. Four months later, when the work was complete, I had been taught a way of doing Native mental health in the western world; moreover, a westerner had entered my Native paradigm and healed aspects of my life. I refer to the process as remembrance and share some of it with you now.

A stormy twilight sky holds the ocean in an indigo embrace. Moving smoothly through the cold spring ocean, I hesitate for a moment, questioning the wisdom of a swim so late in the day. Hawaiian elders warn against this. As I realise I am alone in the water, a sense of vulnerability rises; I do not recall how I got here. I want to return to shore but am powerless to move. The growing density of the night time sky is matched by a sense of growing danger in the water. Suddenly, I am aware of an enormous and awesome presence—Mano! The shark1

My reaction is instantaneous. Rolling over on my back I lie suspended in the water and I wait. Mano is one of the most powerful animal spirits in Hawaiian cosmology. The shark empowers priests, healers and intellectuals; it is an Aumakua, the head of a major clan system and it is Mano that accompanied and protected the first Polynesian voyagers to settle the Hawaiian islands. Lying motionless is the only act of reverence available to me. I can feel him approaching from my right; swift and smooth. He transverses the length of my body, as if appraising me. Death may be imminent. I am afraid. I am hopeful. The shark turns and heads directly towards me. Bright blue lines of electricity stream from either side of his head. Reaching my still body, he races beneath me, around me, wrapping me in blue lines of vivifying intelligence and power. Then he is gone.

I awake, shaking and weeping with joy. Gathering up my medicine bag, I pull on some clothes and head to Launiopoko Beach to make an offering of thanks. Pulling Indian tobacco from its pouch, I call to Mano. Laying a gift of tobacco in the water, I wait. Was it a true dream? A few moments pass, doubt begins to enter my mind. Just then a movement about fifty feet off to the left catches my eye. It is a shark fin, standing nearly one foot out of the water. This must be a great animal. As quickly as it moves towards me, it turns and disappears from sight.

As I drive home, I wonder at the beauty and power of Native ways. The feelings that went through me when I saw the shark acknowledge the offering! I wonder what the meaning of this experience is and what is expected of me. A few days later, a stranger stops by our house to look at Hawaiian art work. It is Mr. Robert Requin (Mr. R), an elderly gentleman of enormous wealth and great political repute.

It is not usual to greet someone of Mr. R’s standing, so I paid attention to what happened. As he entered our house, he went almost directly to the scale model canoe, “Lele O Ke Kolea”, the canoe that brought the first Hawaiians here. As I approached Mr. R to welcome him a spiritual presence, nearly palpable, filled the room. My traditional training enabled me to see it my western mind interpreted it as a crucial bonding. I was shocked because I had never had such a moment with a non Native person.

Any traditional Native person will tell you that ordinary reality is not real at all. This world is spiritual and beings of great power, like Mano, move through the veil of our conscious minds. Like Creator, Mano touches us. It is only an instant but in that moment we experience something timeless and real—our own truth. Truth, according to Native thought is meant to be lived. When a dream comes, work of transformative nature is sure to follow. Because the work is spiritual and difficult, it is important to interpret the direction of the dream accurately.

In the weeks that followed, I struggled for understanding and direction. I spoke to another traditional person who responded, “A strange thought just came to me—your visitor is Mano!” The truth of the message was so strong, it took my breath.

Identifying the Mano as the spiritual protector and power of my visitor, gave me a beginning point for determining how we were related. For a few days, I struggled trying to remember anything I heard or knew of the relationship between Mano and the Thunderers—my clan. The answer came in the middle of the night when I awoke thinking of a petroglyph from the Northwest Coast (where I learned the process of deciphering the ancient language).

On a large rock, located in the tideline, is a carving of the Shark and Thunderbird, held together by a huge lizard—the protector of water and change of consciousness. This 15,000-year-old carving is predictive of transformative learning—of movement into a higher integration of knowledge which will be sensory or predictive. The Lizard also implies genealogy or ancestral communication. In a western sense we might say I had determined an archetypal relationship. I understood that this was a powerful connection but I lacked a course, or even a next step of action.

One day, during a phone conversation with Mr. R, we discussed our French family histories. Realising that our ancestors had arrived in the New World about the same time, I decided to check my family tree, a lengthy document. Turning to a random page, I glanced down and discovered that a man from my family and a woman from his had married in 1560; furthermore, this couple moved to the New World and became the progenitors of both his family line and mine! This confused me. If I had found a mutual Indian ancestor, I would know what to do or who to contact. I was in for a surprise.

Mr. R had purchased a number of traditional Hawaiian art pieces of my husband’s and had asked me to bless them. I readily agreed, until I turned to do it and discovered the purchases included Lei o Mano—weapons of war constructed of sharks teeth and a wood that women do not touch! How do I, as a woman, pray over weapons of death? Is this proper? Do I have the authority? These questions took several days and the pieces were to be delivered the next day. Finally, I understood the next step.

Moving the weapons into the sunshine, I made my prayer but something didn’t feel complete. So, I meditated some more and realized that I needed to do a night ceremony as well.

That night on the lanai, the spirits spoke in unmistakable messages. Mr. R’s wife had survived because two, vainglorious physicians, eager to win the respect and approval of her wealthy husband, had used extraordinary means to keep the woman alive. She had been tortured. I knew it because for a brief moment the spirits made me feel what she had suffered; it was agony. I was told that her end would come soon and I was given several other pieces of information for Mr. R.

When I came in from my prayers, I was shaking with fear. I knew I had to tell Mr. R but I doubted myself. What if I was wrong? What if I had misinterpreted something? And I questioned my right to even tell someone such news. Nevertheless, the following morning while burning sage, I called Mr. R and shared, as gently as I could, all of what had transpired. To my amazement, he nearly wept with relief. In the next few weeks, everything happened just as I had been told. I was stunned at my self doubts and with the power of these old ways.

I was also pleased that ancient Native ways could help Mr. R—in fact, even seeming to complement his devout Catholicism. But two weeks after his wife’s death I learned that my sister was alcoholic and suicidal. Thee generations of family addiction came crashing down on me. All my work in healing did not seem to stop the destruction and death in my own family. I was terrified.

Another dream came to me. This dream revealed the origins of the family addiction problem. It rested in an event that happened in France nearly 700 years ago—an event that Mr. R’s family shared. I awoke from the dream, it was near midnight. Heading directly for the closet, I rummaged around until I found my baptism candle (although raised traditionally, I had also been baptised Catholic, perhaps to cover all the bases!) I took the candle out to my rock altar and then stopped. I didn’t know where to put it. How could I respect these two ways and still bring them together? Desperate for my sisters life, I finally placed it on the lower right hand corner. Then I began my prayer, in my Indian way, explaining what I was trying to do and why. I asked permission to proceed. It seemed okay, so I picked up the candle, stuck it in the damp tropical earth, and lit it. I wasn’t sure how to pray. I tried all the Latin prayers I could remember but nothing felt genuine. Then I tried it the Indian way, by calling to the ancestors. Suddenly, the sultry, leeward night was hit with a cold wind from the North. It came down on me so hard and fast, I had to cup the flame to keep it from going out. I was scared. I knew I had pinpointed the cause and I knew I needed help.

The next morning, I called Mr. R and asked him to help in the tradition of his French Catholic religion. He agreed and for the next three days he prayed for us.

About a week later, Mr. R and I spoke. I thanked him and told him the astonishing news. My huge French-Indian family had finally acknowledged the problem of addiction in our family and was preparing for a family intervention for my sister. He was not surprised because he had felt a peace come over him the first night of his prayers. We both wept and laughed on the phone. Who would ever have guessed the combined power of a Pagan and a Catholic!

I used to think that darkness was evil but an Elder once told me, that darkness is safety, security, like the womb. In the darkness we are all one; separations cannot be seen. Perhaps this is the Huna, or inner secret Hawaiians know. For Mr. R and I to heal required great risks and trust. We both stepped into our shadow many times but we were not alone. At night, in a dream, the shark spirit came to give me the power to do the healing work. Although I doubted myself, I still went to the beach and made a thanksgiving offer. A real shark came proving the truth of the dream as well as the value of facing self doubt.

Mr. R knew of the terrible things his culture has done and continues to do to Native people, but he stepped through that history when he asked for my help.

I entered the shadow again when I turned to my French genealogy; used my candle and asked Mr. R for his help. It was difficult to do. Yet, the evil visited on my family—the multigenerational alcoholism derived from and depended upon the continuing hatred and divisiveness of Catholic and tribal people.

Most likely I will never see Mr. R again, but in the dark moment we shared, a beautiful healing emanated. Two people—from vastly different political, socioeconomic backgrounds, one traditional Indian, the other Catholic—joined using western psychological language and simple loving prayers particular to our own cultures. We healed. Nothing happened, yet everything changed.

First Reading, Vol. 13, No. 3, Sept 95 ESPC

Inowendiwin: Peace and Honor Going Back and Forth Between Us (PDF)


Peace and Honor Going Back and Forth Between Us

Pamela Colorado

The American Indian Movement is a nation of people concerned with life and continuity. The goal and the philosophical basis of this American Indian world view is Pimadaziwin which means life lived in the Good Way, or life lived to its fullest. This connotes responsibility, joy, and liveliness; it is an objective as well as subjective state of being.

This Spirit Way has neither beginning nor end and is often referred to as “the Life of the People”. Successive generations are born and choose to enter the Good Way or not. In the past most Indian people lived this way as a matter of fact. And the very tangible and beautiful outcomeof those choices can be seen in the Black Hills of Dakota, the Red Earth heartland Okalhoma, and in the wooded glens of New England called Wampanoag.

While there are many other such places in America today, the people who live with and care for these places are uniformly a people no one believes in. Yet this was not always so. Images of free Redmen and a Promised Land called many people to our shores. These strangers, experiencing the results of Pimadaziwin, called this land a virgin wilderness which, by definition necessitated taming through civilization and progress.

Under the rubric of civilization/progress, it is estimated that nearly twenty-four million Indian people were exterminated. And this figure does not include the population decimated by disease before Columbus. For example, Jennings demonstrates, in his book The Invasion of America, that nearly half of the Indian population of the Eastern Seaboard died prior to 1492 as a result of earlier contacts, i.e. the Vikings.

These early European “contacts” escalated into full scale invasion. And the Good Way of Life, became distorted. Pushed, marched, tortured, and exterminated, Indians began to resist. But this resistance did not come easily to a people committed to life. Ward Churchill, Native American activist and writer, notes:

There is no historical record of any war between the tribes and the U.S. which was initiated by the Indians. Each known outbreak of open warfare was predicated upon documentable invasion of defined (or definable) Indian lands by U.S. citizenry. The defensive nature of Indian participation in these wars is thus clear. Logically, they should thus be termed, “settlers’ wars” or, more accurately, “wars of conquest”.

Thinking, now, of Indian resistance, a picture of the Little Bighorn comes to mind. I visited this place in 1981. It was summer and it was dawn. My husband and I scarcely spoke, and when we did, it was in whispers. Feeling what it was, to walk on earth, where our Holy Men and Spirit Warriors put aside peace and decided to kill — for the People, for the children, for the natural world. And I recall thinking how painful it must have been for those people to make such a choice. For the Old Ones know that it takes four generations to heal from a time of killing.

Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Gall, and Dull Knife, I was stepping in their footsteps. The green rolling hill sloped down to the river. A gentle wind blew early morning mist on our faces. Int eh stillness were the voices. And the voices spoke of love for the land, for the People.

Dots of white stone markers, nudged their way up the hill, mutely testifying to the valor of the man called Custer, and all those who fell beside him that day of Red Paint Dust…. The Old People tell us of the Medicine that day—how everyone knew it was going to be a time of death, that no one of the White skinned would breathe after sunset. They speak of the preparation, of the purifying Sweatbaths, of the Holy Men offering the Sacred Pipe, and they speak of how it was done. And the Great Silence afterwards, which stands today, next to a marble marker dedicated to the members of the cavalry… standing there, on lands of Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapahoe. They do not speak of Sand Creek or Washita Bend.

Now two tourists arrive and question the military bungling that led to this slaughter—of the Seventh Cavalry. And they ask us, isn’t it nice that there is this monument? I  ad silent now too, for another reason.

Thinking of another time. In the snow, without food, old people, women, and children…Warriors gone…follow the aged Chief Big Foot to safety. They are Ghost Dancers. They are dancing their death but they do not know it. Facing starvation they see in their prayer, songs, and dance a Way to live, to stay vital to keep the Way of the People. And they understand that the holocaust visited upon the Land and People will end in a whirlwind of destruction for the invaders.

But they do not know they are dancing on land that holds gold. And they do not know that the cavalry is eager to kill and even now encircles the few ragged tepees on this bitter cold December night in 1890. And they do not know they will awaken to screaming, bloody massacre. They do not know these things. But if they did know, they would still dance, pray, and sing. For this is the Great Law of Peace.

And despite this horror, something good happened. You see, the Ghost Dance had opened up channels of friendship among diverse tribes and had taught the lesson of regional unity. Now, survivors continued to travel, and they began to pray in the manner of the Southwest tribes through the Peyote Way. By 1910, Peyote had spread north through the Dakotas and west.

The strength in this movement did not go unnoticed. Christian reformists, who wer the policy makers for Indian affairs from 1900 to 1940, met at their annual conference at Lake Mohonk, New York. The theme of the 1914 meeting was the “menace of Peyote”. The reformists labeled Peyote “a dangerous drug” and referred to its practitioners as “mescal fiends.” For nearly twenty years, these policy makers attempted to outlaw the Peyote Way. While they did not scucceed in creating law to that effect, they did inspire the Bureau of Indian Affairs to administratively outlaw the practice of traditional healing ways. In 1921, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs issueed Circular 1665 to all Indian agents. This law not only affected Peyote, but all the remaingin spiritual and healing ways, especially the Sun Dance, which is a renewal ceremony and involves giving things away as part of the sacrifice. The Circular read:

The Sun Dances and all similar dances and so called religious ceremonies are considered Indian Offenses…and corrective penalties are provided. I regard such restrictions as applicable to any dance which involves…the reckless giving away of property…in all such instances the regulations should be enforced.

In this manner, the massacre of traditional spiritual ways, became institutionalized. But even this did not succeed for the movement went underground; it did not die.

And in 1973, the American Indian Movement, which was five years old, organized the first four-day Sun Dance since 1927, at the Lakota Sioux, Rosebud reservation, in South Dakota. Six months later, a group of Sioux women requested a meeting with AIM and traditional chiefs. AIM leader Dennis Banks recalls:

These women only asked that the spirit, the fighting spirit return so that there would be no reason for Indian people to drink themselves to death, so that there’d be no reason for Indian youngsters to be slashing their wrists.

One by one the Chiefs stood up and their names will come before you…Names like Fools Crow and Crow Dog, names like Catches…names like Kills Enemy, Iron Cloud…We’d reached a point in history where we could not tolerate that kind of abuse andy longer where these women, these parents, these mothers who couldn’t tolerate the mistreatment that goes on, on the reservations any longer they could not see another Indian youngster die. They could not see another Indian man meet death, whether he was in Chicago or Nebraska or Buffalo Gap.

Then one of the Chiefs said: Go ahead and do it, go to Wounded Knee. You can’t get in the BIA office and the tribal office, so take your brothers from the American Indian Movement and go to Wounded Knee and make your stand there…

And we did stand. For 71 days, Indians held the FBI, the U.S. Army, and hundreds of local and state “law” officials at bay. And when the occupation ended, the entire world and all of the Indian country knew, that the People were standing again. And the People continued to stand, for the organizing and sustaining force of AIM was “spirit, land, and people”. The regionalism of the Ghost Dance had now transformed into an international unity of Peyote, Sweatlodge, and Pipe. By 1981 there were 19 Sun Dances held! Sweatlodges stood in Massachusetts and Alaska. Naturally the spiritual unity meant political strength.

In 1974 AIM founded the International Indian Treaty Council which carried Indian issues to the United Nations and to other nations struggling under foreign domination and corruption. IN 1976 AIM “caravaned” to the Custer battlefield, in Montana, to protest the bicentennial celebration honoring Custer. The list of AIM achievements is long, nearly as long as the list of legal actions against the members of AIM. By 1981 nearly all AIM leaders had been imprisoned and the FBI admitted openly that it had used terrorist tactics against the American Indian Movement (Durham, “Columbus Day”). Russell Means, perhaps the best known Indian activist, would be beaten, stabbed, and shot.

It was generally assumed that AIM was dead; that the Indian movement was over. But, fortunately, this was only a superficial observation. For the movement has merely transformed again to the spiritual basis from which it derives. And Indians, hundreds, from North, Central, and South America, are now meeting every year on sacred lands of the Black Hills and Oklahoma. Spiritual elders such as Philip Deere, experienced in international politics as well as healing ways, speak to the People about critical issues like colonialism and survival of humanity through Pimadaziwin.

Old people speaking this way teach us the power that we have. They remind us that outr 191 treaties with the U.S. government put us in a strong position in the international community—because treaties are the universal language of coexistence in the world today. But they also caution us, for we should not expect a country like the U.S. “to recoil in shame at the exposure of its misdeeds”.

But we do have another power, a power that comes with the understanding that we are related to the Great Mystery through the waters, fire, wind, and sacred Mother Earth. And through this knowledge, we are free, knowing that life renews when we live in balance. This is the single most liberating aspect of our traditional beliefs. Life renews. There is no scarcity, except that created by artificial boundaries drawn by those who seek profit. And we understand that balance means that all the Great Directions, Black, Yellow, Red, White, and Self, must work in spirit with the Earth. The Indian has always trusted this and lived it.

In fact, tribes were just beginning to form alliances and confederacies, to insure international peace, when the invasion began. For a while growth stopped but we have begun again, many times. Today, the ceremonial elements may be reduced to a bucket of water, a small stack of wood for a fire, our own breath, and a circle of earth fifty feet in diameter. That is all the natureal resources a Peyote ceremony requires. But even this is viewed as too much by our enemies. *

Looking at America, we see rivers burning, people suffering, and the desecration of al living beings. We are told that this is progress, and some of us believe it. We seem committed to a course of destruction. And while we may flirt with death and brush up against it, we cannot commit to it and survive. This is the lesson of the Indian and the land…..Life. We must respect it; for the children and the relations.

*The average annual income of an American Indian is less than $2,000; approximately 30% of all Indian women have been sterilized; three of five Indian children die in the first year after birth; 70% of all Indian people suffer from malnutrition; Indian people are imprisoned ten times more often than whites; and Indian people have lost 45,000 acres of land every year of this century…

You who have assembled here are already committed to the survival of humanity, the Earth and children, or you would not be here. Let us hope, in the Old Way natural to this land, that we can put our minds together and become “one way of thinking—Pimadaziwin”. It is vital, life-giving and joyful; it is natural.

Like the Tibee gee quay, song of the Anishnabeq:

nin a gamoo an



nin mino inowendiwin

“Warrior spirits related with peace and honor going back and forth between us.”

It is good to be here, to give voice to the People, to the children, the land…and the spirit of CRAZY HORSE.


Native Philosophy of Peace (PDF)

Title: Native Philosophy of Peace

Part I. An Introduction to Native Philosophy of Peace

Part II. Speaking Towards Peace: A Native American Way

Pamela Colorado

Lethbridge Extension

Faculty of Social Welfare

University of Calgary

Sam Kounosu

Physics Department

University of Lethbridge


From the time of the invasion by the European Civilization in the 15th century, the history of Native Americans has been a history of violence. The Natives have had to endure and subsist under the genocidal policy of colonial powers that overwhelmed them. And the struggle still continues. Yet, the Natives had a profound Philosophy of Peace and have lived and survived with it. We have a great deal to learn from the Philosophy of the Natives. It also gives us an opportunity to examine “violent” elements in our “Civilization” itself, as well as a way out of it. Since the Native Philosophy of Peace is not the academic kind that can be summarized in a set of propositions but rather is a way of life, we shall not attempt to “describe” it. Here, we shall endeavour to introduce the Philosophy in two ways. In Part I we make a descriptive introduction. In Part II, we narrate the Philosophy in the Native Oral Tradition, aiming at communication at a spiritual level.

Feb. 14, 1987.

An Introduction to the Native Philosophy of Peace

Since the invasion by Europeans in the 15th century, the history of Native eAmerica is a history of violence. Therefore, it may appear almost a contradiction to seek the message of Peace from the Natives. But, because of experiences of violence and facing their own extinction, Natives created urgent messages for Peace and have lived with them and survived by them in desperate situations. We have much to learn from their wisdom that is embedded in their way of life.

The violence which the Natives experienced was not the kind which we consider in the conttext of the “push button” Warfares that our science-technology has made possible nor the Nuclear Arms Race between two Super Powers that the huge bureaucratization of violence has lead us to. And if our concern for Peace is limited to the question of how to prevent Nuclear War from impending upon us, the Spiritual form of the Native message for Peace might appear only remotely relevant to us. However, the very difficulties which we have in reducing the scale of the Arms Race indicates that we have a need to examine if our way of life for itself is a part of the problem. And, in that we may find and gain great wisdom for Peace from Natives who have faced and survived the destructive forces of modern civilization.

To understand and to learn from the Natives, however, it is absolutely necessary that we look back to the history of violence. This is an exercise in dialectics We shall learn Peace by learning about our own violence.


[Vine Deloria, God Is Red, Laurel Book, 1973.

Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America, Univ. of N. Carolina Press, 1975.

Gary B. Nash, Red, White and Black, Prentice-Hall, 1974.

Merrill D. Beal, I Will Fight No More Forever, Univ. of Washington Press, 1963.

Dee Brown, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Holt-Rinehart, 1970.]

2. The way Indians were treated in the North American continent was worse than the Apartheid of South Africa today. Outright massacres were carried on even after the Civil War which supposedly liberated Black slaves for humanitarian reasons. One might imagine that for economic growth, the liberated Blacks were useful, whereas “the only good Indians were dead Indians.” And since Natives resisted “Christianity”, the Christian compassion was not applicable to them. They were considered a part of the Wild Nature to be conquered by the Civilization.

The colonialization started with violence. The Spanish came with greed and atrocity in the name of Christian mission to the New World. That part of history is well known, so I shall not talk about that here.

[See Bartolome de las Casa: Brevisima Relacion De La Destruccion De Las Indias, 1552, for the earliest account. In Montaigne’s Essay (1580), the third book, chapter 6, there is a brief remark about the Spanish atrocity.]

The British flowed soon after, with no less violence. According to the few records that are left, British settlers came to the Virginia coast area and found the natives there to be friendly. One report said:

“We were entertained with all love and kindness, and with much bounties, after their manner, as they could possibly devise. We found the people most gentle, loving, and faithful, void of all guile, and treason.”

[David Quinn, The Voyagers, 1584-1590; quoted by Gary B. Nash Red, White, and Black.]

But the Britons did not come there simply to live with friendly natives. The competition among empires in Europe to establish and expand colonies had already started. Naturally, soon the initial friendly relation deteriorated and “incidents” were created for “Show of Force”, which became a universal pattern in most colonialization processes elsewhere. I cite only two examples here.

“No conflict occured until the English discovered a silver cup missing and dispatched a punitive expedition to the nearby Indian village. When Indians denied taking the cup, the English decided to make a show of force, burned the village to the ground and destroyed the Indian’s supply of corn.”

[Edmond S. Morgan, “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox”, Journal of American History. Vol. 59, 1972, p. 16.]

“Many were burnt in the fort, both men, women and children. Others forced out…which our soldiers received and entertained with the sword. Down fell men, women, and children…Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents. Sometimes the case alters; but we will not dispute it now. We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings.”

[John UnderHill, News from America, (1638), London. Quoted by Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence. Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1973.]

One notes here that burning villages and destroying crops were already practiced tactics when the British invaded Ireland centuries before that time. Both the Red Army and White Army in the Russian Revolution practiced the same. Hitler used it in W.W. II. Americans did that in Vietnam.

[As to the “metaphor” of Indian War repeated in Vietnam, see Richard Slotkin: The Fatal Environment — The Myth of Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800 – 1890. Atheneum, 1985.]

The idea of “show of force”, or equivalent phrases such as “show who is the boss” appears quite often in the records that were left from the period of colonial time. The British were there with the intent of conquering and domination from the beginning. They needed only slight provocations, if they did not create the excuses. Many stories of Native attacks may well have been fibs constructed, like “the Bay of Tonkin incident” in the Vietnam War.

To be sure, there was romanticizing of Natives as “Noble Savages.” We can read it in poetries of Walt Whitman, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, et al.

(see White On Red, ed. N.B. Black. Kennikat Press, 1976.)]

Or see it in paintings by Benjamin West and others. But the romanticizing was in effect a beautifying cover for the colonial conquest. It did not stop physical and cultural genocide. Quite aware of such a sentiment, John Quincy Adams wrote in 1802:

“The Indian right of possession itself stands, with regard to the greatest part of the country, upon a questionable foundation. Their cultivated fields; their constructed habitations; a space of ample sufficiency for their subsistence, and whatever they had annexed to themselves by personal labour, was undoubtedly by the law of nature theirs. But what is the right of a huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles over which he accidentally ranges in quest of prey? Shall the liberal bounties of Providence to the race of man be monopolized by one of ten thousand for whom they were created? Shall the exuberant bosom of the common mother, amply adequate for the nourishment of millions, be claimed exclusively by a few hundreds of her offspring.”

[Quoted in I Will Fight No More Forever, p. 24.]

The answer to Adam’s rhetorical question was obvious, as we can see in history. The Natives were driven off the land, if not exterminated. They were confined in concentration camps, called “Indian Reserves.” And as the “Progress of Civilization” wanted more and more land, the Natives were forcefully moved again and again to smaller and smaller confinements each time. The metaphor of the “Mother Earth” was Native, not White, nor was it Christian, as we see in the environmental destructions that went on under what was called the “Manifest Destiny.” The rhetoric asked for sharing the gifts of Mother Nature, but the invader came to dominate and rape the Mother. Environmental concern did not emerge until late 1960’s, and collectively speaking, our actions with regard to Acid Rain, Nuclear Wastes, Deforestation, etc., regretably suggest that we have not yet stopped rationalizing our rapist practices.

[see “Metaphysics of Indian Hater” in Herman Melville’s Confidence of Man. 1857. As to hi Moby-Dick, critics pointed out that Melville was writing, in the metaphor of Whale Hunt, on the whole American assault on Nature in the name of Progress.]

We note here that as late as October of the last year, The United Church of Canada has come to Apologize to the Natives for its “policy of cultural genocide”. In an article “Of course we forgive you,” [The Observer, Oct. 1986], Rev. Wilf Dieter narrates:

“I grew up in residential schools…The second year, I remember going back to school. I was crying. My mother was wiping away the tears. Why were my parents sending me away. I guess one of the things I didn’t realize was the law. If she didn’t take me back, the police would come for me.”

This was taking place only a few decades ago in Canada which we think the most peaceful country in the world. What if some agents of a foreign country come in and pass a law to separate Canadian children from parents? Does white majority consider it less than atrocity? Of course, we as the majority “did not know” that we have been practicing the cultural genocide policy, just as the majority of Germans did not know of the infamous concentration camp during W.W. II. The point is that we did not care to know about them. While reading philosophy of Kant or Russell in books, we did not “read” our real philosophy that we practiced and lived in.

3. Today, we may be sufficiently “liberal minded” to say that the colonial practices of the historical past were “mistakes.” But read the rhetorical question of Adams again and see if we have changed our way of thinking. The Capitalists, the bourgeoisie, and the liberal thinkers would say that, “in the inevitable power struggles which bring the progress of the production power”, the “backward” way of the Native life had to be eradicated, although we might try to employ as “humane” means as possible. And socialists and Marxists would agree. The modern intellectuals, left, middle or right, are believers of “progress” in which some unfortunate “backward” portions of humanity will become extinct like Dodo birds.

[see also Ward Churchill, ed. Marxism and Native Americans. South End Press, 1983.]

Christians today would say that the atrocities condoned by the missionaries in the colonial conquest did not represent “True Christianity”, which is presumably based on Love. But, one wonders if the christians clearly distinguish the religion of Love and the religion of Power, and honestly live by the principle of Love, as the Natives have lived by their Spirituality. It appears that the Christians believe more in the Might of Nuclear Weapons and Laser Guns than Love. It is ironical that the presumed anti-christians in the Soviet Union do the same. They both are believers of the same Power.

[However, we pay attention to Liberation Theology.

Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation. Orbis Books, 1973.

Bishop Remi De Roo, Cries of Victims – Voice of God. Novals, 1986, etc.

As to links between Christianity and European Civilization, see:

Max Weber, Protestant Ethics and The Spirit of Capitalism.

Lynn White, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis”, American Scientists. March 1967.

Lawrence R. Brown, The Might of the West. Joseph J. Binns Pub., 1963.]

Here I am not talking of the hypocritic morality, but doing purely pragmatic thinking about the consequences and the cost of the European World View. The “Intelligence” of the European tradition is centred around “Power” to dominate people. Our “science” stemmed from the desire to conquer and exploit Nature. Academic and theological knowledge claims are claims of authority and control of thinking. Our official languages are basically the languages of commanding others.

Of course, we know that our competition for power, authority in terms of knowledge claims, etc., is illusionary and for the most part of little significance. Nonetheless, we do use the stylism as a “proper ritual” in academic settings, if we wish to be taken seriously. And, perhaps, the effects/consequences of such a ritual may only be indirect in encouraging the notion of the Conquest of the Wild Nature with Barbaric primitives in it. Our higher Education, which produces elite classes of our society , may or may not be directly responsible for Pollution and Environmental Destruction. If someone argues that the Pollution and Destruction are necessary requirements for the existence of the Elitist System, there would be many objections from the Intellectual elites. They would demand “scientific” proof demonstrating causal mechanisms for the connection. But, in a noncausalistic sense, we are all implicated in the violent history. And if the Nuclear extinction falls upon us, it is we who made it possible, not by default, but by a determined will, a great organized drive and mobilization of intellectual efforts.

4. After all, we do believe in the hierarchical system of Power. In our ordinary language, “Powerless” does mean degradation. We have not reconciled with Love that is powerless. For the North American psyche, it is winning that tells them that they are on “God’s side.” Not fighting tantamounts surrender to the Devil. We say “all men are created equal”, but we are as “equal” as the degree by which we win the competitions. As long as it is legal, and does not offend one’s own “moral feelings”, Might is Right. The only thing that protects one’s safety is, therefore, military superiority. The modern nation-states followed that logic. If one follows the causal-mechanistic thinking which we consider “rational”, there is no other way.

We know SDI would not work, but we do have to keep the illusion of the Superior Power going even at the cost of Trillions of Dollars. Recently, some among us apparently started to worry that the “peace propaganda”, such as The Day After, made us “too soft” and so they produced a counter-propaganda series on T.V. called Amerika to remind people that the Power Principle has to be defended. That is because Power is our religion. If the Power Principle is undermined, the whole social structure of the Western society might collapse.

The only trouble is that the logic of Power has now reached its ultimate in that it can destroy the human race as a whole. That is why some of us are interested in searching for alternatives.

[see also Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point, Bantam Books, 1982.

Morris Bermann, The Reenchantment of the World, Cornell Univ. Press, 1982.]

But there is a problem. If we are to turn around on the way to ultimate power, what would be the alternative? Certainly, going back to the arbitrary dictatorship of the feudal system or the old slave-caste system would not likely secure Peace in any sense. At least, we think, we do have a “civic” sense of peace in the advanced industrial countries. “Democracy”, although perhaps imperfect, seems to correlate with the progress of civilization in the European style. We would say that we cannot go back to the Stone Age, in a metaphor of Indians as wild beasts who lived in inhuman indignity. The Noble Savage metaphor does not work here any more than the romantic metaphor of womanhood works for women’s dignity. But rather, it enforces our fear of going back to Feudalism or Barbarism which we think dictatorial authoritarian. Hence, we would normally not think of the Native Culture as possible instructive material for learning the way to Peace.

5. Surprisingly, however, the Native Americans were not authoritarian. Their communities were organized on the principle  of sharing. The Indians were capable of becoming fierce warriors, but they lived in their communities of Love. They had a strong sense of personal dignity, and honored their liberty, though they were not egocentric Individualists. Nash narrates:

“One aspect of child-rearing on which European and Iroquoian cultures differed was in the attitude toward authority. In Iroquois society the autonomous individual, loyal to the group but independent and aloof rather than submissive, was ideal…

They were trained early in life to think for themselves but act for others…

They were being prepared for an adult society which was not hierarchical, as in the European case, but where individuals lived on a more equalitarian basis, with power more evenly distributed among men and women…”

[Red, White and Black.

See also: Walter B. Miller “Two Concepts of Authority”. American Anthropologist. Vol. 57. 1955, p. 271-289.

What Max Weber described in his study of “Authority” may be peculiar to Europe. We also note that, phrases such as “Show who is the boss” appeared frequently in the expressions of British colonialist to justify atrocities committed against the Natives.

In the context of Peace Research, Wm. Eckhardt’s study showed that the “aggressive” and “authoritarian” personality are correlated.]

It is also known that the principle ideas of Democracy in the American Constitution were influenced by Iroquoian ideals.

[Carol L. Bagley and Jo Ann Ruckman, “Iroquois Contribution to Modern Democracy and Communism.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 7 #2, 1983. p. 53-72.]

6. Iroquois, before their contact with Europeans, had established a “United Nations”. The name “Iroquois” stands for a group of five nations established in the 14th century or earlier: the Mohawks, the Onondaga, the Oneidas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas. The philosophy that united these nations was known as “Dekanawideh”, and we can decipher that the basic principle fo the Native “United Nation” was a philosophy of Peace, not the European tradition of “domination by the strongest.”

[Anthony F.C. Wallace, “The Dekanawideh Myth analyzed as the record of a revitalization movement”. Ethnohistory, Vol. 5, 1958.

Wm. N. Fenton Parker On the Iroquois. Book III. Syracuse U. Press, 1968.]

It appears that to the Natives “to know” a philosophy can be nothing short of honestly living by it. Therefore, they left no written “expose” on their philosophy. Nonetheless, we can infer a few glimpses of their philosophy; for example, the Philosophy of “Tree of Peace” has been translated and documented. It is remarkable that the Natives, despite their experiences of violence, had a vision of Peace in which they embraced whiteman within the “Four Roots of the Tree of Peace” that holds the World in love.

The Natives narrated the philosophy of Peace in a form of “prophecy” using a metaphor of a huge tree that protects and provides for all people. Its four roots are said to interconnect and hold the entire World.. They did not see any other possible way to have Peace on Earth, but by love that embraces the whole.

Since Dr. Colorado is to communicate the Peace message in the proper Native way in the following presentation, I shall not elaborate on the Peace Philosophy.

[See also Pamela Colorado, “Inowediwin. Peace and Honor Going Back and Forth Between Us.” Toward Social and Economic Justice, Gil & Gil, Schenkman Publishing Co., 1985.]

I would like to discuss one thing however. In studying the Native Philosophy of Peace, I have come to think that this Philosophy was embedded in a distinct Epistemology from that of traditional Western culture. I shall try explaining, the best I can, the distinct Epistemology that the Natives had.

7. The Natives had an oral tradition and to them “to know” was “to live in” the philosophy, as I mentioned above. They did not have “philosophy” existing only in texts, as in the European case. As a consequence, there existed no written text for their philosophy. Therefore, from our European custom of scholarship being a “book knowledge”, there exists considerable difficulty in researching the Native philosophy. I cannot assert that what I say here is correct. The only thing I can do is to report what I have “guessed” so far in my groping of an hypothesis in hopes of stimulating interest.

We cannot understand “philosophy” here in the sense of technically analyzing written expressions — as lawyers do in technical arguments about the “letter of the law” —, but we have to address “the spirit of the law”, so to speak. and the philosophy has to be deciphered from practice, and inferred from the way of life in the contexts of concrete situations at hand. The western sense of “objective knowledge” alienated from the knower’s own life is absurdity, if not dishonesty to the Natives. That is, Native philosophy was “spiritual” in the sense that it was the inner most thinking of the sovereign soul. And at the same time, the philosophy was “pragmatic” and “existential” in that it did not allow alienation from actual living. It was also akin to the Marxian position, in that “knowing” was “changing the World”. They did not learn “philosophy” as a text, but learned it as “awakening to wisdom”, which is an experience of change in the way of life. “Truth” that does not change one’s way of life is not a Truth, in their philosophy.

Even the Greek work “Truth” (a-letheia) meant “uncover” or “revelation” , refering to the existential experience in learning processes. The authoritarian dogmatism of European religion and academia perverted the active sense to a static sense of “knowledge” that someone could have a “patent” on, stake a claim on, and even could sell on the market. This “objectification’ is a peculiar fetishistic characteristic of the Western Scholarship and Science. It is the Epistemology of Capitalism, although the Communists also believe the same; whereas the natives had a dynamic epistemology.

We talk, in particular in an academic context, in the posture of claiming knowledge, with an implicit assumption that the audiences are hostile and demanding proofs and demonstrations. We are competing in an intellectual market, on an assumption that the adversary system brings the best. This is the assumption of the Free Market and Social Darwinism. Although we have disproved them a long time ago, our stylism has not been changed.

The Natives would much rather think of their statements to be gifts from love. Their discourses are not “power struggles”. Their propositions are “proposals” offered with unilateral commitment by the speakers. They know “giving” is the way of making a community. If the negotiators of Western nations talked in the Native way, we would not have the Arms Race.

We have an intellectual pride in being able to articulate technically on “letters.” But we might look back to see why we have come to do that. Perhaps, we are thinking of our communication as if a battle with a hostile audience and the art of articulation is a defensive shield against expected attack. We also think by articulation that we assert our intellectual superiority, if not attack the other. Do we play such games so often that we come to value the skill? If so, we may be mentally sick in admiring the art of manipulating our letters. To the Natives, it is a puzzle that there can be differences between “letter of law” and “spirit of law.” And they would say it is incomprehensible absurdity, if they were told that the Western Philosophy thrives on technical analyses of “letters” and has little to do with “spirit” or practices in living. They would not understand why we have to be so aggressive even in intellectual games. We analyse violence in Alcoholism as someone else’s problem from an “objective” stance. But, perhaps, we might look at our own tendency to intoxicate in a Power sensation.

We do know that Nuclear War in its scale is not the same as aggression at a personal level. We do have concerns about social structures of violence, but it may be that Nuclear Aggression is a collective consequence of our aggressive drive which manifests even in academic contexts.

And in talking of aggressiveness, we might also pay attention to our attitude of contemptuously looking down at “subjective” experiences in the name of “objectivity” or “value neutrality” of “science”. It might very well have come from our alienated neurotic psyche. I might concede to some theory to an effect that the scientific sense of “knowledge” can only be generated from alienation, enigma or fear, and although the “knowledge” does sometimes “sublimate” the aggression, it leaves residues of fear or hostility which leads us to violence. If so, we have a serious task to change “science” as such for the sake of Peace. And on this point, Native Philosophy appears to be very instructive.

[As to “Science as a destructive element”, see Birgit Brock-Utne. Education For Peace. Pergamon, 1986. This is a feminist critique of science. ]

Shamanic Initiations and Their Loss–Decolonization as Initiation and Healing (PDF)


Shamanic Initiations and Their Loss —

Decolonization as Initiation and Healing


Jürgen W. Kremer


3383 Princeton

Santa Rosa

CA 95405, USA



© 2000 by Jürgen W. Kremer


Published in:

Ethnopsychologische Mitteilungen, Band 9, Heft 1/2, 109 – 148

[Page numbers inserted below as P109 etc.]




to the students who

have shared this path with me –

in gratitude for the gifts

of learning they offered



[P109] I am a white man. White is short for “socialized into a Eurocentered frame of mind.” White is the name of forgetting. Forgetting so much of how we came to be where we are. I am a white man. Boxed into a box that likes to forget its name. I do not walk alone. Like other white men something walks with me. With me walks a shadow. Before me I project the shadow of forgetting where I came from. Behind me trails the shadow of the tears of native peoples. Below me I march on the shadow of the lands my peoples have raped. Above me looms the shadow of the spirits which I am blind to. All around me walks the shadow of domination, witchhunts, genocides, holocausts, sexism, racism. I do not walk alone.


When I walk into healing – how can I heal when these shadows walk with me? How can I heal when they obscure what lies beyond them? I hope to heal by remembering and seeing the shadows that walk with me so that I can become complete. So that I am not made of illusions. I hope to heal by purifying the shadow. So that I am not boxed in a box without names. So that I walk with the multitude, richness, and plurality that is me. Til árs ok til friðar – so that there may be fertility and peace. So that there may be friðr and heill before me – peace, wholeness, and health… may there be friðr and heill behind me… may there be friðr and heill below me… may there be friðr and heill above me… may there be friðr and heill all around me. So that, maybe, I can go on in beauty, friðr and heill. And so that, maybe, even we all can go on in beauty, friðr and heill. So that, maybe, I can walk with all my relations. So that, maybe, I get healed.



Who is the self that is getting healed?

So often people of the Eurocentered frame of mind are puzzled why indigenous people are upset when they see their healing approaches used in a context different from or alien to their traditional ways. Aboriginal people may then speak not only of abuse, misunderstanding, or appropriation, but also of the grave spiritual dangers ensuing as a consequence of healing done outside of what is defined as the proper practice according to indigenous beingknowing. This contribution attempts to address and clarify the significant [P110] differences in understanding the process of healing in the context of native (or indigenous) thinking vs. Eurocentered thinking.


Interest in Native American and other indigenous healing practices (and ceremonies in general) has increased quite dramatically in recent years. This surge in curiosity is fueled by the experience that the conventional western healing; paradigm frequently reaches its own limit and that the spiritual connections within one’s self, with community and with nature, have desiccated. While this yearning for holistic healing by way of indigenous healing practices stems from a valid desire and need, it raises not only ethical and political issues, but also epistemological questions: Is the Eurocentered way of knowing indigenous healing compatible with the native understanding and use of these practices?


Cosmologies are inevitably implicated in any healing activity, but our attempts to be aware of such cosmologies, and, even more so, our attempts to participate in them in an indigenous sense are a matter of choice, commitment, and presence. Two significant things follow from this: 1) If people engage with an indigenous paradigm in a non-indigenous fashion then they continue to act out the imperialistic nature of Eurocentered knowledge acquisition. 2) Healing endeavors offer a choice of the quality of conversation one wants to create for the future (indigenous vs. Eurocentered). This is true regardless whether one’s indigenous roots are present, recent, or have to be sought in the distant past amidst a crisscrossing entanglements of cultural, genetic, and other heritages.


A significant part of the unease and discomfort indigenous people have around the decontextualized use of native healing practices is the shadow material looming not just in the background of such endeavors, but becoming part of them. Using native healing approaches outside of an indigenous way of being means carrying the disease of the colonizing paradigm, in fact, perpetrating colonization. Removing the presence of these shadows means decolonizing for all of us ensconced in the Eurocentered paradigm (whatever the cultural roots). It means healing the diss-association from communal roots. It means recognizing the losses of our own cultures. It means recognizing the history of colonization, racism, and sexism. Only then arises the possibility of a knowledge exchange about indigenous healing practices that can be called equitable, instead of acquisitive, reifying, or appropriative. It may lead to the renewal of a more complete, holistic, and associative nurturing conversation.


My general framework is a discursive conversational stance of communal con-course, which resists the reification and ossification of what is usually described as “the other” (e.g., the Indian, the Sámi, the Aboriginal). It is an attempt to recover the traditional plurality of tribal or indigenous stories not only in the perception of other cultures, but particularly and foremost in the perception of one’s own roots. This means overcoming the denial of and separation from “the other” within one’s own self constructed in the [P111] Eurocentered fashion; it means discontinuing and healing the projective identification with indigenous peoples (the romantic colonization and containment of native life and history through Eurocentered sciences). The construction of indigenous peoples as “the other” is only possible as long as Eurocentered folk choose to forget their own indigenous roots, since out of this denial arises the legitimation of Eurocentered scientific dominance, progress thinking, and colonization. This approach is based on the recognition that the discontinuance of colonizing action is not just to cease outward acts of hostility, violence, and dominance, but just as much the internal abolition of the colonizer or the colonizing mind (the latter being a concept synonymous with the construction of the Eurocentered mind or consciousness).


I would like to be as clear as possible about the vantage point from which I am writing: The framework is a) decolonization and b) the healing of the masculinization of the phenomena of perceived reality. Any consideration regarding indigenous roots for people who are removed from them by more than a couple of generations needs to include such dimensions as politics, economics, law, cultural practices, ceremony, initiation, science, psychology. Healing the Eurocentered thought process from its dissociation or split from an embedded, nurturing, or holistic participation in the phenomena cannot be merely an individualistic process – it has to be a cultural, communal, and social process. I am writing as a man of Nordic-Germanic ancestry struggling with the depths of the scars of modern pathologies as they show themselves in individuals physically as such illnesses as cancer, addictions, chronic fatigue syndrome, and in social anomies (in Durckheim’s sense), ecological crises, continuing physical and cultural genocide of indigenous peoples, the crises of knowing, the persistence of sexism, institutionalized violence and racism, etc.


I am using the terms indigenous roots, indigenous consciousness, and the like not out of any presumption that this is something I have achieved for myself, or that I have reached closure to my personal process of decolonization (I do not believe that individual closure is possible without the healing of the communal, cultural contexts). These terms have been suggested directly and indirectly by Native American thinkers, Apela Colorado in particular (1994, 47):

The goal of the recovery of indigenous mind [is] to reunite people with their tribal minds. Each of the races of humankind was given a sacred circle or original instruction to live by. If our species is to survive, Euro-Americans must be supported in their effort to regain the Earth-based knowledge of their ancestors. Native Americans will help.

Churchill (1996, 386/7) spoke similarly when addressing an audience of Germans:

You must set yourselves to reclaiming your own indigenous past. You must come to know it in its own terms – the terms of its internal values and understandings, and the way these [P112]  were appplied to living in this world – not the terms imposed upon it by the order which set out to destroy it. You must learn to put your knowledge of this heritage to use as a lense through which you can clarify your present circumstance … You must begin with the decolonization of your own minds, with a restoration of your understanding of who you are, where you come from, what it is that has been done to you to take you to the place in which you now find yourselves.

Within the framework of his own indigenist approach he urges the expression of “German indigenism” (389). Mohawk (n.d., 17) speaks to the same issue when stating “I do not want people to adopt Indian rituals, because I want them to own their own rituals. I want them to come to ownership of experiences that are real for them. Then I’ll come and celebrate with them.”


According to all the native and indigenous people (shamans, medicine people and intellectuals) I have spoken to, the crucial point here is that indigenous roots are always recoverable. Indeed, indigenous leaders see such task as a historic necessity in our times. This is where their hope for the resolution of the current crises, particularly the ecological crisis, rests. For example, Bob Hazous, Chiricahua Apache, has stated: “Don’t come to Indian people and look for feathers and sweats and medicine men and stuff like that. Go back to your own history and find out who you are so that you can look at yourselves and see how beautiful you are” (1994). Implicit here is an assumption about “original instruction – words about purpose, words rooted in our creation, words that allow the human being an identity beyond the illusion of civilization,” as Native American writer Gabriel Horn puts it (1996, 49). Reconstructing indigenous consciousness is about the remembrance of these original instructions and the indigenous conversation with all beings they guide in a particular place at a particular time. While consciousness is a psychological term that has arisen from the individualism facilitated by the Eurocentered paradigm, it assumes quite a different meaning in an indigenous context: instead of being merely psychological it refers to a fluid and embedded awareness of and connection with all our relations – humans, ancestors, animals, plants, earth, stars, sun, and all others. And all this in the storied, imaginative, communal reflections of lived participation.


Even though the words “recovery of indigenous mind” have been suggested by Native American thinkers I have to admit to a certain degree of anxiety whenever I use words like these. So many concepts and terms have become superficial labels as they have entered mainstream or popular thinking that I am afraid a similar thing might happen with a romantic, nostalgic, or opportunistic appropriation of and identification with the word indigenous. This would be terrible and an outrageous misunderstanding of the process I am calling for. The remaining indigenous peoples continue to struggle for survival and recognition. Indigenous is a term with important political meaning. Any person of Eurocentered mind needs to assume (take it on!) this political meaning (together with all [P113] the other meanings the word indigenous connotes). Assuming it means a personal and social struggle for decolonization, it means fighting genocide, racism, sexism, and ecocide. Outside of that context the use of the word indigenous is abuse and devaluation of the struggle of aboriginal peoples and supports those who keep destroying indigenous cultures in conscious and unconscious ways.


The differences in healing paradigm between indigenous traditions and Eurocentered traditions can be understood as the result of different constructions of self (importantly, any self construction arises within a complex web of mutual causality; consequently, the perspective offered here should not be misread in a monocausal vein). There are multiple ways of identifying such differences; for the purposes of this contribution on healing I am using shamanic initiations as a marker to identify differences in self construction. This leads, in a sense, to the most fundamental questions:


Who are we healing? Which self are we healing when we attempt to relieve human suffering?


Are we attempting to heal the modern, Eurocentered, colonizing, or dissociated self? Or are we attempting to heal the indigenous self, the self embedded in community, land, and ancestry?


Are we attempting to heal the Eurocentered self, and make it more functional within the modern world of progress and dissociation? Or are we attempting to bring balance to the indigenous self by healing it from the source of creation as it is understood in the plurality of stories of traditions within which we are working?


The most succcinct way to describe my stance would be as follows: The exposure to Native American and other indigenous healing practices needs to be an occasion for people of Eurocentered mind to develop and remember their own indigenous healing practices. This process would include the integration of the western medical and psychological achievements from European indigenous perspectives – from the indigenous roots Eurocentered folk have recovered for a concursive construction of indigeneity for today and the future (not a folkloristic or retroromantic reènactment of things past).


In my attempt to clarify the issues I have just introduced I:

— describe and discuss what is usually seen as the classical shamanic initiation in Eurasia, the prequisite for the highest levels of healing in her indigenous traditions;

— discuss my understanding of indigenous healing;

— describe the historical loss of rites of passage and initiations leading to the construction of what can probably most accurately be called the Eurocentered self;

[P114] — contrast the modern paradigm of healing that arises from this self construction with indigenous understandings of healing;

— describe the process of decolonization as a rite of passage and initiation.

— I conclude with I poem and overview table “summarizing” the issues discussed in this article.


Shamanic Initiation

Most indigenous cultures seem to have a variety of specialists engaged in healing endeavors. Their native labels express their work succinctly, distinguishing between e.g., herbalists, bone setters, shamans, seers, diagnosticians. Given my background, my focus is on the Eurasian cultural areas which, amidst their rich diversity, have certain connecting strands. Here the jajan, saman, noaidi, völva, or seiðkarl embody the highest or deepest forms of seeing and healing; they are holders of the deep knowledge of their cultures and keep it alive through their ceremonial practices; they have been initiated by spirits into the lived knowledge of their cultures.


My Nordic-Germanic roots connect me with the vast Eurasian cultural complex that has certain common strands (Pentikäinen 1989). Within this rich area I begin my discussion with descriptions from cultures that are less impacted by Christian influences, and move subsequently to the Old Norse material that is much more fragmentary and influenced by Christian thought.


A feature on Tuvan shamanism filmed by Belgian Public Television (Dumon 1993) contains a brief moment where the interviewer asks the shaman whether he had to go through the shamanic illness in order to become a shaman. “Were you also sick?” The question leads us to expect a long explanation of such a significant event, however, the old man only answers matter of factly: “Of course, I was sick.” The brevity of the answer indicates how obvious, necessary, and inevitable the so-called shamanic illness or albystar (in Tuvinian). It is what makes and defines a shaman, whether woman or man or hermaphrodite. All other shamans shown in this movie have undergone similar trials as they were called to shamanize.[1][1]


The common language for the call to shamanize and the initiation is ‘initiatory illness’ or ‘shamanic illness.’ The following are excerpts from descriptions among the Evenki (Tungus) of Central Asia:

…He became tormented and timorous, especially at night when his head was filled with dream visions. On the day when he had to act as shaman, the visions stopped, he fell into a [P115] trance and stared for hours at an object. The pale and worried man, with his piercing look, made a peculiar impression. After his dream, the chosen man became uneasy and timid, began to meditate, did not answer when he was addressed and frquently heard ‘words whispered into his ears’ which he had to sing, žarižačan (literally: ‘to repeat’). That was the moment when, in shamanistic terminology, ‘the spirits entered his ears and brain’, telling him the words of the song. … [The Evenki] believed that the choice itself and the transfer of the assistant spirits to the novice were directed by the master spirit of the upper world. The first words heard by the chosen person were instructions, such as: … ‘do not commit evil things, only cure the sick. … I shall be above you, and take care of you, and give you strength.’ In his dream, the young shaman could see the shaman ancestors who also gave him instructions. Then other spirits came ‘whispering into his ears’. (Vasilevič 1968, 345)

The last sentence of this quote speaks most clearly to the difference between a psychologizing Eurocentered perspective and indigenous perspectives: the ancestors and other spirits speak to the initiand, self construction is fluid and open enough to have intercourse with such realities; this is different from an internalizing self construction comprehending and apprehending ancestors as various aspects of the monadic self (whatever psychological theory we might use). The process leads from the initial visitation by spirits to the acquisition of the necessary shamanic accoutrements, as described in the following statement from the Tuva (Soyot) of Central Asia:

A shaman is recognized by typical attacks of a special ‘disease’ called albystar. The person in question ‘goes off his head’, utters inarticulate sounds, breaks dishes, leaves the house and roams about the taiga, twitches in hysterical convulsions, is seized with nausea and rends his garments, etc. The ‘invalid’ repeats that the soul of a shaman ištig irgäk has moved into his body, that the spirit urges him to take a horse (by which the drum düŋür is meant) and clothes (ala xujaq) and to become a shaman. (Vajnštejn, 1968, 331)


Even in the Old Norse traditions, where shamanism fell prey to Christianity more than one thousand years ago, we find remnants in the records describing an indigenous self construction of the practitioners. For example, at the beginning of the Eddic poem reaching most deeply into the older layer of the culture we read how the seeress was raised by ancestral spirits:

Ek man iötna / ár um borna, / þá er forðum mik / fædda höfðu. / Níu man ek heima / – níu íviðiur, / miötvið mæran – / fyr mold neðan. (Völuspá, stanza 2)

I remember the Jötnar who were born at the beginning of time and reared me in former times. I remember nine worlds beneath the earth, nine giantesses, and also the glorious tree of fate. (Pálsson 1996, 47 & 58)

The völva is raised by giants, reared with primal spirits of old, one of them called Burr, the bear ancestor. Personal and collective or communal time are indistinguishable in this [P116] incantoatory account of earliest Norse history. The giants are primal spirits, presences from before human beings (If we accept Pálsson´s interpretation of iötna as Sámi we still end up with the same understanding: the seeress was raised in the presence of spirits or with spirits.)


The connection with one’s dream or vision or medicine power or personal gift is part of native life, manifesting in all the multitude of cultural ways. Reinforcing that connection is the function of rites of passage. Shamanic initiation, in the indigenous sense, is deepening or reinforcing one’s presence to the spiritual realities within a communal framework. While spirit(s) are part of all indigenous conversations, the awareness of and presence to spirit(s) becomes intensified and heightened for shamans. Thus the völva in Völuspá is raised with spirit(s) in such intensity and to such depths that she sees through time, that she remembers the beginnings of things, the center of her traditions (the tree of fate). As the descriptions above indicate, such shamanic initiations are not mere psychological processes. They are a process always also resulting in actions capable of manifesting healing. Paula Gunn Allen (1998, 47) aptly describes the difference between the psychologizing of spirit – a temptation to which many alternate Eurocentered approaches succumb in our current culture of psychology – and the indigenous conversation:

In tribal cultures, ecstatic, mystical states don’t so much convert into emotive personal experience as into physical experience or experience with direct effect in the physical (that is, as a consequence of entering an ecstatic state, a practitioner can do something actual). Visionary experiences, in themselves, are either a direct requirement for some ritual activity in which the individual is engaging or are a prelude to a life as a holy person.

The shamanic self is not so much constructed as affirmed and confirmed during initiations; it is the rigorous confirmation of something which has already been in the process of construction from early on. It is worthy of note that the ‘shamanic illness’ is not something an individual chooses as an endeavor during a sequence of workshops, but that the spirit(s) come to them. The shamanic self is initiated from the ‘outside’, to speak in Eurocentered terminology. We might say more accurately that other aspects of the weave that the fluid, participatory indigenous self is connected into impinge their awareness onto the individual mind. Or, more plainly:

The Indian has achieved a particularly effective alignment of [the physical and imaginative] planes of vision. … The appropriation of both images into one reality is what the Indian is concerned to do: to see what is really there, but also to see what is really there. (Momaday, from Blaeser 1998, 26)

So, this is a self which has easy concourse with spirits and spiritual dimensions, or rather: instead of being unconscious or in denial about such presences and concourse, it is present to it. This is the work of the völva, noaidi, and the various other shamanic practitioners.


[P117] Eliade, in his classic book Shamanism – Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1951/1964, 42), complains that not enough “care had been taken to collect the confessions (sic!) of … Siberian shamans” so that they are “reduced to the meager common formula: the candidate remained unconscious for a certain number of days, dreamed that he was cut to pieces by spirits and carried into the sky, and so on.” He sees the following detailed description as a relief from such reductions. This example may be the one most frequently quoted in the literature (see Popov in Dioszegi 1968, 137-146;  Elidade 1951/1964, 38-42; Halifax 1979, 37-49; Vitebky 1995, 60-61), and it can also be found on the internet (see below). Repeating this report one more time may thus contribute to a reification and ossification of what shamanic initiation is. The ones who escaped the care of the anthropological collectors may be the lucky ones, since they have escaped the grasp of anthropology, “the natural enemy of natives” (88), or more elaborately: “Natives are forever studied, invented as abstruse cultures, and then embodied in motion pictues as the simulated burdens of civilization. … These adversities became more grievous and caused a turn in the notions, courses, and literary canons at universities, but the treacheries and dominance of anthropologism, the obsessive, unmerciful studies of natives by social scientists, have not been overturned…” (Vizenor 1997, 86). With the opening of the East Bloc, anthropological attention has turned more intensely on her aboriginal traditions previously more difficult to access. Here is an abbreviated version of the account:

At first he was descending somewhere, then he grasped that there was a sea beneath him. While walking by the sea, he listened to the voice of upper disease who told that he would acquire the shaman’s gift from the Mistress of water and his shaman name would be Hotarie. After that he reached the shore. A naked woman, who was lying there, suckled him. She was the Mistress of water. Her husband Frosty God gave an ermine and a mouse to guide him.  They led him to the hill in the lower world where he saw seven tents. Dyukhade entered the second tent. The Smallpox people were living there. They cut out Dyukhade’s heart and put it in the cauldron to boil. Afterwards Dyukhade visited other tents and got familiar with the spirits of diseases who lived there. Still preceeded by his guides, Dyukhade came to that place of the Shaman’s Land where his throat and his voice were strengthened.  Then he was carried to the shores of the nine lakes. In the middle of one lake was an island and on the island there was a tree, quite similar to the larch, only its top rose to the sky. It was the tree of the Mistress of the earth. Beside it grew seven herbs, the ancestors of all the plants on the earth. In each of the lakes swam a species of bird with its young. There were several kinds of ducks, a swan and a sparrow-hawk. While singing songs and telling incantations, Dyukhade walked round all of the lakes. Some of them were very hot, some were terribly salty. Thereafter Dyukhade raised his head and saw men of various nations in the top of the high tree. There were Nganasans, Russians, Dolgans, Nenetses and Tunguses. He heard voices: “It has been decided that you shall have a drum from the branches of this tree.”  Then he grasped that he was flying with the birds of the lakes. As he left the shore, the Lord of the Tree called to him: “My branch has just fallen. [P118] Take it and make a drum of it that will serve you all your life!” The branch had three forks and the Lord of the Tree bade him make three drums from it. “I let you have three wives, who will watch over your drums,” he said. “The first drum you have got to use for shamanising women in childbirth, the second for curing the sick and the third for finding men lost in the snowstorm.”  Dyukhade took the branch and flew away with the birds. On his way he met a demiman-demitree creature who told: ” If you will be asked to shamanise in the case of serious illness and your heart will not be strong enough, then you will take this,” and he gave him seven herbs. “Each of them has its lords. If you will meet an orphan girl or a widow, you will help them.”   Then Dyukhade reached the large sea. He saw seven cliffs on the shore. When he got close, one of them opened. There were teeth like from the bear inside the cliff. The cliff said: “I am the Heavy Stone. By the use of my weight I hold the fertile soil in its place. The wind would carry it away without me.” The second cliff opened and said: “Let all men melt iron from me.” So Dyukhade studied seven days near the cliffs.  Afterwards the ermine and the mouse led him to the marshland. They reached the hill with swampy slopes. There was an open doorway on the closest slope, and they went in. The interior, except for the ice around it, looked like the one of the conical tent’s. There was a hearth in the middle of the room. On the left side two naked women were sitting. Their bodies were furry and they both had antlers (one of them had green ones). Both of them bore him two reindeer calves destined for sacrifice and nourishment. They gave him some reindeer fur for the shaman costume and for good luck with reindeer.  Then Dyukhade came to a desert and saw a distant mountain. After three days’ travel he reached it and entered an opening. There was a naked man working a bellows inside the mountain. On the fire was a cauldron as big as half the earth. The naked man saw Dyukhade and caught him with a huge pair of tongs. Dyukhade had only time to think: “I am dead!” The man cut off his head, chopped up his body and put them in the cauldron. There he boiled them for three years. There were three anvils on the tundra side of this mountain. The naked man forged Dyukhade’s head on the third anvil, which was the one on which the best shamans were forged. Then he chilled his head in the cauldron, in which the water was the coldest (there were three cauldrons with water). He said: “When you will be called to cure someone, you will remember – if the soul of your patient will be warmer then water in the first cauldron, it will be useless to shamanize, for the man is already lost. If the soul will be as warm as water in the second cauldron, your patient is not very seriously ill and you will shamanize to cure him. Water in the third cauldron has the temperature of the healthy body.” Then the blacksmith poured Dyukhade’s bones and muscles out of the cauldron and separated flesh from bones. He said: “As you have three of them too many, you will have three shaman costumes too.” Afterwards he said: “Your spinal cord is a river now, look at your bones floating away!” He fished Dyukhade’s bones out of the river and put them together. The bones were covered with flesh again. Only the skull was still separated. Then the blacksmith told Dyukhade to read the letters inside the skull. And Dyukhade read. Then the blacksmith covered the skull with flesh and put it to its original place again. He changed his eyes and pierced his ears, making him able to understand the language of [P119] plants. Then Dyukhade found himself on the summit of a mountain. He entered a tent and awakened – in his own tent.   Afterwards he behaved like an insane person: daily he sung incantations and frequently swooned away, nightly suffered torments caused by spirits. During the seventh year of his illness he went far into the tundra and met there a man who gave him back his heart, cut out at the very beginning of his shaman’s sickness. (A. Popov “Tavgitsy” – Trudy Instituta antropologii i etnografii, t. 1. vyp. 5. Moskva-Leningrad 1936, pp 85 – 93. Abbreviated translation by A. Lintrop at http://haldjas.folklore.ee/~aado/vis.htm)


As all these descriptions should make obvious: the call to become a shaman is not a light matter; the initiation is a journey where the person’s life is on the line, where not getting something right can easily mean death (see Eliade 1951/1964, 38-42 in particular). The patterns of call, initiation and instruction vary from culture to culture in accordance with the form the nurturing conversation takes in a particular place (local knowledge), time, ancestry, and ceremonial tradition (See Vitebsky 1995 for a brief, comprehensive overview). However, common to all is pressure from spirits resulting in a heightened presence to them, and the imparting of healing knowledge in a way that makes it available to the personal repertoire of the initiand – the person is getting initiated into the deep knowledge of his or her culture. This is the crucial point: while this process certainly has a psychological dimension it functions, when comprehended as a whole, entirely outside of not just a psychological paradigm, but outside of the boundaries of the Eurocentered paradigmata in general. Psychologizing spirit amounts to the appropriation and containment of Eurasian ancestries. Especially since Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949) Eurocentered individuals are prone to interpret initiation in psychological terms, particularly in Jungian archetypal terms (initiation into Self). While such process has psychological validity (there is, of course, such a process as the psychological initiation into the Self archetype), it is a partial interpretation of the Eurasian indigenous process of shamanic initiation (the call from and invasion of spirits) as is, hopefully, apparent from the above statements.


An illustration of such contact with spirits can be seen in the story of Óðinn being initiated by fasting and hanging on the tree of life for nine days. While fragmentary, it clearly contains some of the elements described above for Siberian shamanism. We reasonably have to assume that Óðinn started out as the village master shaman, who later became hypostasized and patricarchalized in the course of the emergence of Eurocentered social constructions. In the following quotation Óðinn undergoes shamanic initiation, what is really there and what is really there, come together, the physical and imaginative, spiritual planes get aligned. He is wounded and sacrifices himself for nine long nights on the tree of life, at the center whence the female spirits Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld renew life continuously from the sources of creation. The giant spirit of Bölthorn’s son (ancestral spirit of his uncle) teaches him the shamanic song for spirit calling, he drinks the mead, the [P120] herbal drink of ecstasy and in-spiration, thus becoming full of spirit and being present to spirits he learns from various spirits, ginnregin, the mighty gods,[2][2] the tools of his shamanic trade (runes, not merely letters or symbols, but images to make spirit present for shamanic work, invocations; carving runes means creating spiritual presences).

  1. Veit ek, at ek hekk 137. I know that I hung in the windtorn tree

vindga meiði á

nætr allar níu                                 Nine whole nights, spear-pierced,

geiri undaðr Óðni,

sjálfr sjálfum mér,                        Consecrated to Odin, myself to my Self above me in the tree,

á þeim meiði

er manngi veit                               Whose roots no one knows whence it sprang.

hvers hann af rótum renn.


  1. Við hleifi mik sældu 138. None brought me bread, none served me drink;

né við hornigi,

nýsta ek niðr                                 I searched the depths, spied runes of wisdom;

nam ek upp rúnar

Ïpandi nam,                                   Raised them with song, and fell once more thence.

fell ek aptr þaðan.


  1. Fimbulljóð níu 139. Nine powerful chants I learned

nam ek af inum frægja syni

Bölþórs, Bestlu föður,                   From the wise son of Bölthorn, Bestla’s father;

ok ek drykk of gat                        A draught I drank of precious mead

ins dýra mjaðar

ausinn Óðreri.                               Ladled from Odraerir.


  1. Þá nam ek frævask 140. I began to thrive, to grow wise,

ok fróðr vera

ok vaxa ok vel hafask;                                   To grow greater, and enjoy;

orð mér af orði                             For me words led from words to new words;

orðs leitaði,

verk mér af verki                         For me deeds led from deeds to new deeds.

verks leitði.


  1. Rúnar munt þú finna 141. Runes shall you know and right read staves,

ok ráðna stafi,

mjök stóra stafi,                            Very great staves, powerful staves,

mjök stinna stafi,

er fáði fimbulþulr                         Drawn by the mighty one who speaks,

ok gørðu ginnregin                       Made by wise Vaner,

ok reist Hroptr rjögna.                  carved by the hightest rulers.

(Evans 1986, 68-69)                     (Titchenell 1985, 126-127)

This is one of Óðinn’s shamanic journeys recorded in the Old Norse literature, where he learns what he needs for his craft. While this description seems to contain but remnants of a complete cultural practice, these ciphers direct our attention to a quality of indigenous conversation present beneath the layer of Christianized descriptions and patriarchal conceptualizations. In this nurturing shamanic conversations Óðinn consorts with spirits and feminine sources of creation, renewal, and healing. Hanging from the tree of life he has accessed the deep knowledge of his culture.



Indigenous Healing

Healing is intimately connected with seeing: the perception of spirits and spirits is an integral part of any healing endeavor. Without seeing spirit there is no healing. Understanding spiritually what is out of balance and how healing needs to happen requires seeing. We find this form of seeing described in Eiríks Saga Rauða:

Slógu þá konur hring um hjalling, en Þorbjörg sat á uppi. Kvað Guðriður flá kvæðið svá fagrt ok vel… Spákonan þakkar henni kvæðit, ok kvað margar þær náttúrur nú til hafa sótt ok þykkja fagrt at heyra, er kvæðit var svá vel flutt.

The women then cast a circle round the ritual platform on which Thorbjörg seated herself. Then Gudrid sang the songs so well and beautifully… The völva gives thanks for the song to her and said many spirits have come to us and are charmed by what they hear as the song was sung so beautifully. (Jones 1961, 136)

The calling of the spirits is done by means of varðlokkur, the spirit song, which has a similar function to the drumming and inspired singing or chanting in other Eurasian shamanic traditions (varðlokkur is oftentimes translated as magic song, Zaubergesang; warlock is a related word; vörðr is soul, fylgja, the familiar spirit who follows, the spirit of the home and hearth, guardian spirit; lúka is what encloses the spirits, binds them). It is the power and beauty of the song that brings the spirits. The völva cannot do her seeing and prophecying without the spirits being present.


[P122] The various techniques of spirit calling have led many to interpret indigenous spirituality in terms of the dichotomous pair immanence – transcendence used in religious discussions of “major religions,” for example. However, this represents, I believe, a fundamental misunderstanding of native beingknowing, where even the term “spirituality” creates a division reflecting more the impact of Eurocentered thinking and splitting than the practice of native realities: spirit is everywhere, spirituality is everywhere, everything is spiritual. Everything is immanent, spirit is immanent, not separate or transcendant (immanence and transcendence are more like poles on a scale with many thick and thin places of connection inbetween). While there are all kinds of aspects and levels to this, and while our awareness of these various presences and aspects may be clear or clouded, all these aspects and beings are nonetheless present to indigenous beingknowing. By contrast, the dissociated mind needs to transcend in order to conceptualize or even reach any of these aspects that are immanently present to the indigenous or primal or natural mind, when in balance.


Such immanent worldview can be found even at the roots of the Eurocentered traditions. (Historically, they first turned against their own indigenous roots, and subsequently projected this shadow material out; this led to all the colonial and genocidal violence against indigenous people.) We can trace it clearly in someof the central concepts: Within the oldest layers of the Indo-European traditions we find healing, holy, and wholeness all as aspects of such an immanent world view.

IE*kai-lo-, which occurs in Goth hailjan, OE hælan, OHG heilen, and OBulg celjo, all of which mean “to heal.” What is expressed most directly through these terms, however, is not just the establishment of a vague state of “health” or “well-being” but more precisely a state of “wholeness, totality, completion,” as shown in the nominal and adjectival formations from this root, such as Goth hails, ON heill, OHG heil, and OBulg cel, all of which mean both “healthy” and “whole”… So desirable was this state of wholeness thought to be that two common IE formulaic greetings and toasts express the wish that the one addressed may be “whole.” Such a state of well-being and wholeness might be lost through injury or disease, whereupon the healer’s task was to restore it. (Lincoln 1986, 100)

The centrality of this concept of healing is apparent. Hitler turned this very understanding of heil through his evil genius on to the dark side; from an indigenous perspective one could venture to say that the constant everyday use of a formula in older times spoken for the sake of healing, blessing, and greeting, but now spoken millions of times every day for the sake of destruction and genocide, gave the fascism of the Third Reich a particular power and created the mass of bystanders and willing executioners so much in the public debates since Goldhagen’s book. Ever since the word denoting the process of healing carries the shadows of history, and is thus collectively in need of purification and healing. Lincoln’s analysis of the old Indo-European understanding of healing and wholeness identifies magic not as idle superstition, but rather as a

[P123] system of non-Aristotelian, homologic causality, whereby items connected to one another in a relation of underlying constubstantiality are considered capable of acting on one another. And what is more, the precise terms of these homologies are drawn from cosmogonic and anthropogonic myth. (1986, 110)

Within this worldview healing by acts of magical speech is the highest form of healing (ibid. 101). Magical speech, sacred poetry, singing, chanting are part of this evocative context, in which physical accoutrements and interventions form adjuncts which would be less effective if not accompanied by the spiritual presences created through sacred sound. Many words in the Old Norse and other Eurasian indigenous traditions use terms for ceremonial endeavors that are etymologically connected to chanting (Old Norse blót, seiðr, Evenki jajan, etc.), and many words for chanting are connected with seeing (even the English ‘singing’ is). (Another important complex consists of the words for knowing, the-one-who-knows, and seeing.)


Lincoln concludes his discussion of “magical healing” by saying

In considering the IE (Indo-European, JWK) vocabulary for the act of healing I noted that one term commonly used in this context, *kai-lo-, signified “wholeness, integrity.” It now becomes apparent just how awesome a task the production or restoration of such integrity must be, for it is not just a damaged body that one restores to wholeness and health, but the very universe itself. I also noted that the verb used to denote “healing,” *med-, stressed the knowledge and authority that enabled a healer to create proper order in an ailing patient. The full extent of such knowledge is now revealed in all its grandeur: the healer must understand and be prepared to manipulate nothing less than the full structure of the cosmos. (Lincoln 1986, 117/8)

Kailo and heill are terms that need to be understood in a communal frame of mind which includes humans, ancestors, animals, plants, and others. To conceive of them or of friðr (peace or Great Peace) as individualistic pursuits (analogous to the “pursuit of happiness”) means not seeing the obligations which weave the individual’s contribution into the communal fabric. Such weaving has its origins in the place from which the possibility of healing and balance emanate: creation and creation story. Óðinnfasting on the tree of life puts him at the center of anthropogenesis where he receives crucial instructions for his way as a shaman or seiðmenn. The following story from Snorri’s Prose Edda (Sturluson 1987) speaks to the centrality of healing and in-spiration emanating from the oldest layers of the story of the people. The literature commonly talks about the mead of inspiration or the mead of poetry, however, as we have seen previously, to be in-spired by poetic song is making the spirits present, is becoming present to them. Such poetic inspiration is not just seeing, but also the foundation of healing, of manipulating the structure of the universe through the power of the magic words chanted. Of course, the power of such tremendous [P124] manipulation is not the shaman’s, but that of the spirits; the power of the shaman is the capacity of varðlokkur, spirit calling, and then the skill of his spirits traveling to where they must go for seeing and healing (the intensification of indigenous presence); the rest is the grace of spirit(s).


The story of Óðinn’s recovery of the mead that is given below, illustrates a variety of things important in shamanic work: we read about shapeshifting, wrestling with spirits, the recovery of medicine, and a spirit which has been held by illegitimate owners, spirit journey. Remembering that magical speech is the highest form of healing the significance of the rescue of the source of such magic from thieves and murderers becomes evident. It is important to notice how the nature of the medicine of the mead changes as the story unfolds from creation: from the power of truce between two groups of spirits (the Vanir and the Æsir) to poetic in-spiration from one group of spirits only (the Æsir; Indo-Europeanization is thus strengthened).


The mead Óðinn recovers by means of his shamanic work is spiritually of eminent importance: Its origins lie with the truce between the Æsir and Vanir groups of gods/goddesses or spirits. They had spat into a vat to seal the agreement, and then decided to create the wisest of humans, Kvasir,[3][3] out of it. Kvasir travelled through the world teaching his wisdom. He was killed by dwarves who preserved his blood, mixed with honey in three containers. The mead was passed on as recompense for the drowning of a giant. His son kept the mead putting his daughter in charge of it. This medicine, which was ceremonially created by the Æsir and Vanir spirits, and which became manifest in the wandering wise person Kvasir, then gets rescued by Óðinn during a shamanic recovery process, but changes its character significantly in the process – instead of being medicine mediating and balancing between the Æsir and Vanir spirits it now ends up in the possession of the Æsir as the mead of poetry (poetry is also known as Kvasir’s blood), from the seal of truce making between two aspects of spirits it turns into the in-spiration from [P125] and for one group of gods and goddesses; the magic of healing words and inspired song is now in the hand of the Æsir, spirits of Indo-European cultural context:

Óðinn told him his name was Bölverkr (“worker of trickery or evil”); he offered to take over the work of nine men for Baugi (“the bent one”), and stipulated as his payment one drink of Suttungr’s mead (Suttungr is probably “heavy with drink”). Baugi said he had no say in the disposal of the mead, said that Suttungr wanted to have it all to himself, but he said that he would go with Bölverkr and try whether they could get the mead. Bölverkr did the work of nine men for Baugi during the summer, and when winter came he asked Baugi for his hire. Then they both set off. Baugi told his brother Suttungr of his agreement with Bölverkr, but Suttung flatly refused a single drop of the mead. Then Bölverkr told Baugi that they would have to try some stratagems to see if they could get hold of the mead, and Baugi said that was a good idea. Then Bölverkr got out an augur called Rati (“drill, augur”) and instructed Baugi to bore a hole in the mountain, if the augur would cut. He did so. Then Baugi said that the montain was bored through, but Bölverkr blew into the auger-hole and the bits flew back up at him. Then he realized that Baugi was trying to cheat him, and told him to bore through the mountain. Baugi bored again. And when Bölverkr blew a second time, the bits flew inwards. Then Bolverk turned himself into the form of a snake and crawled into the auger-hole, and Baugi stabbed after him  with the auger and missed him. Bölverkr went to where Gunnlöð (“invitation to fight”, giant spirit) was and lay with her for three nights and then she let him drink three drafts of the mead. In the first draught he drank everything out of Óðrærir (“the one stimulating ecstasy”; originally the mead itself, but also the vessel containing it), and in the second out of Boðn (“vessel”), in the third out of Són (probably “blood, reconciliation, atonement”), and then he had all the mead. The he turned himself into the form of an eagle and flew as hard as he could. And when Suttungr saw the eagle’s flight he got his own eagle shape and flew after him. And when the Æsir saw Óðinnflying they put their containers out in the courtyard, and when Óðinncame in over Ásgarðr (the home of the Æsir) he spat out the mead into the containers, but it was such a close thing for him that Suttungr might have caught him that he sent some of the mead out backwards, and this was disregarded. Anyone took it that wanted it, and it is what we call the rhymester’s share. But Óðinngave Suttungr’s mead to the Æsir and to those people who are skilled at composing poetry. Thus we call poetry Óðinn’s booty and find, and his drink and his gift and the Æsir’s drink. (Sturluson 1987, Skaldskaparmal, 63-64)

This seems to be a very old shamanic story that finds clear resonances within the Eurasian complex, for example, in the Rig Veda of 1200-900 BCE: Here Indra, in the form of an eagle or with the eagle as helper spirit, steals the elixir of immortality, soma (which Wasson [1968] identifies with the fly agaric mushroom), the plant spirit of in-spiration and seeing. Verse 4.27.5 offers an interesting conjunction between “overflowing cow’s milk, the finest honey, the clear juice” (all presumably words connoting soma; see Wasson for [P126] extensive discussions), which, by bold Indo-European generalization, brings Óðr, the drink of in-spiration, to the milk the primal cow Auðumla offers as nourishment. Modern Icelandic óður (adj.) means not just “furious,” but also crazy and mad, which originally presumably would have been the “madness” of spirit possession or religious trance of in-spiration. Doniger O´Flaherty (1981, 128) comments that “Soma is the ‘fiery juice’, simultaneously fire and water”, and Auðumla feeds the primal giant spirit Ymir who was born at the place from which the world arises, Ginnungagap, the conjunction of fire and ice (cf. Gylfaginning, Sturluson 1987). Óðrærir is commonly translated as mead (German Met), considered the oldest spiritual drink; it is the drink of fermented honey (but also berries[4][4]), and a word which points to an old connection between Indo-European and Finno-Ugric cultures: Saami miehta (originating from Proto-Finno-Ugric of ca. 4000BCE; Sammallahti, 1998, 119), Finnish mete, etc. are related to the Pre-Aryan Indo-European language layer. In the words soma, mead, and óðrærir we find a constellation of the primal forces of creation, spiritual seeing, renewal, mantic poetry, nourishment from the center of creation and spirit(s), as well as atonement and peacekeeping.


The discussions of varðlokkur, kailo, and the mead of in-spiration serve to show that what so many of Euro-centered mind are looking for in Native American and other indigenous traditions can truly be found in their own roots, e.g. the Germanic-Nordic traditions. Healing is not a mere technology, but a spiritual activity which, while using certain pragmatic interventions such as herbs, is embedded in the deep structure of cultural beingknowing and the prerequisite initiations and lifeways. In my case healing can and needs to arise from the place where the Old Norse ancestors were created into their precise cultural identity. Just as it does for Native American tribes and other indigenous peoples. LaPena (1999, 18) comments beautifully: The elders “learn the earth’s secrets by quietly observing. It is a secret language called knowledge that releases the spirit from stone and heals by tone of voice and by changing sickness into elements that flow instead of blocking life.” This is what it means to follow our original instructions in a particular place and time. “Sacred names, dreams, and visions are images that connect the bearer to the earth; shamans and other tribal healers and visionaries speak the various languages of plants and animals and feel the special dream power to travel backward from familiar times and places” (Vizenor 1981, XVII). This is what the völvas, the seeresses, and the seers of the Nordic Germanic traditions did and do. The importance of the connection between language and place is described by Pinkson (1995, 127) based on his initiations into the Huichol tradition:

The original language of the people indigenous to a specific area on Mother Earth’s body grows directly out of the land itself. The vibratory essence of the natural forces in a given area grow upward from the bowels of the land and surrounding elements to form the plant life and vegetation of that area. The indigenous people live, eat, and breathe these natural elements. They die back into them and new generations birth back out again in the passage [P127] of generations. The land literally teaches them how to live in harmony with it through this ingestion process. They take it into their bodies. It “speaks” to them. Then it comes out of their mouths as language. They speak the vibrations of that land. Their language and creation myths are embodied vehicles for for the wisdom of that place. I could now understand why maintaining the original language of indigenous people is important not just to their survival but to all of humanity. Original languages contain within their vibratory sturcture the operating rules for how to live in their home territory in a harmonious manner. The indigenous language is a nierica [gateway, JWK] by which to access the intelligence of place. Lose the language and you lose its vital instructions about right relationship.

This visionary insight finds its reflections in the Nordic Germanic indigenous traditions where the power of the word arising from the lands is used in spells and runes, where the language of the Poetic Edda speaks an ancient wisdom from creation. But this statement does something else also: It clearly identifies the initiatory challenges for those who no longer live in the place of their ancestors, who have forgotten their language, and who may now live in places where the indigenous language has disappeared eating food that predominantly is not indigenous to their area of residence.



The Loss of Initiations

A dramatic and succinct description from Leslie Marmon Silko’s book Ceremony (1977, 132ff.) captures the rise of the Eurocentric story out of its Indo-European origins. Her use of the words “witch” and “witchery” is clear: it refers to the working of evil and imbalance. In its origins (Indo-European root weik-) it had religious connotations, the working of magic. These and similar words originally seem to have been rather neutral, although always holding the potential not just of good, but also of abuse of magical powers; however, the predominant identification of such words with evil and the devil clearly seems to be a consequence of the rise of Christianity. Before awareness of the medieval European witchhunts had a chance to infuse Native American use of the English language, workers of excess and evil were frequently called “witches” in Indian vernacular, thus assuming the Christian, pejorative use of the term. The word evil is connected to the Indo-European root upo and upelo-, meaning: exceeding the proper limit. And it is this that Silko talks about: It is the story of imbalance, the story of certain aspects of being exceeding their proper limit. It is in this sense that the sustained, thus pathological, dissociation of the Euro-centered endeavors from their balancing aspects can be understood as evil. (During the more than 20 years since the publication of Ceremony the word “witch” has re-established in pagan discourse as a positive and affirmative term.)



Long time ago

in the beginning

there were no white people in this world

[P128] there was nothing European.

And this world might have gone on like that

except for one thing:


This world was already complete

even without white people.

There was everything

including witchery.


Then it happened.

These witch people got together. (…)

They all got together for a contest

the way people have baseball tournaments nowadays

except this was a contest

in dark things. (…)


Finally there was only one

who hadn’t shown off charms or powers.

The witch stood in the shadows beyond the fire

and no one ever knew where this witch came from

which tribe

or if it was a woman or a man.

But the important thing was

this witch didn’t show off any dark thunder charcoals

or red ant-hill beads.

This one just told them to listen:

“What I have is a story.”


At first they all laughed

but this witch said


go ahead

laugh if you want to

but as I tell the story

it will begin to happen.


Set in motion now

set in motion by our witchery

to work for us.


Caves across the ocean

in caves of dark hills

white skin people

like the belly of a fish

covered with hair.


Then they grow away from the earth

then they grow away from the sun

then they grow away from the plants and animals.

They see no life

When they look

they see only objects.

The world is a dead thing for them

the trees and rivers are not alive

the mountains and stones are not alive.

The deer and bear are objects

They see no life.


They fear

They fear the world.

They destroy what they fear.

They fear themselves.


The wind will blow them across the ocean

thousands of them in giant boats

swarming like larva

out of a crushed ant hill. (…)


Set in motion now

set in motion

To destroy

To kill

objects to work for us

Performing the witchery

for suffering

for torment

[P129] for the still-born

the deformed

the sterile

the dead.





set in motion now

set in motion.


So the other witches said

“Okay you win; you take the prize,

but what you said just now –

it isn’t so funny

It doesn’t sound so good.

We are doing okay without it

we can get along without that kind of thing.

Take it back.

Call that story back.”


But the witch just shook its head

at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur and feathers.

It’s already turned loose.

It’s already coming.

It can’t be called back.



It is important to underscore that this process of the creation of imbalance is effected not with the help of shamanic paraphernalia, but by means of words, the power of words, the abuse of words, the imbalance or evil of the story – a story that inexorably grinds along, leaving many dead in its wake. The socialization of millions of people in conformity with this story of imbalance and its daily performance and reènactment as individual and cultural injunction constitute its power. As a story which pervades cultures, tribes, civilizations, and societies it cannot just be called back or counteracted with some medicine item as antidote. This requires words of balance, stories respecting proper limits, narratives healing the excessive dissociation from a self construction that acknowledges ourselves as whole and indigenous – the recovery of indigenous consciousness.


This story of the development of Eurocentrism from its Indo-European origins can be told in an alternate form using the information from scholarship which continues to be marginalized because it refuses to be part of the creation of imbalance (Silko’s “witchery”). The story is, of course, a complex one with many twists and turns, multiple currents and many voices to be heard. What I present in the following paragraphs is a mere outline of some of the major shifts that are relevant for the discussion of healing and cosmology.


— I postulate that the various Indo-European peoples had, at one point in their histories, an understanding or ideal of balanced living, a detailed understanding of their place in the cosmos and its cycles based on detailed ecological understanding, and reflected in their stories and communal ceremonies. The remnants of such understanding are reflected in etymological and other analyses, such as the ones provided from Lincoln above. We can possibly see them most clearly in the images of the tree of life, the anthropogenesis beginning with the nurturing cow Auðumla, and the presence of the feminine in the oldest [P130] stories preserved.[5][5] How and why these peoples changed from a cultural practice of balancing themselves with each other and their environment to a cultural practice of invasion and patriarchy (ultimately linear progress) remains mysterious, as Gimbutas achnowledges when she states that “this is a very serious question archaeologists cannot answer yet, but we can see that the patriarchy was already there around 5,000 B.C.” (n.d., 17). It is reasonable to assume that these oldest Indo-European layers had cultural practices similar in ideology and practice to those who have retained their indigenous ways to this day, although the specifics of their socio-cultural practices were, of course, unique in accordance with their location, specific histories, and local indigenous science inquiries.


— According to Gimbutas, beginning at about 4300 BCE the earliest inhabitants of Europe, the “civilizations of Old Europe” become Indo-Europeanized as three waves of Kurgan invasions effect a blending between the indigenous and indo-europen populations. The matristic, matrifocal or matriarchal cultural practices become obliterated in the process as the indigenous peoples are destroyed or assimilated. (In the Nordic-Germanic stories this is reflected in the conflict between the Vanir and Æsir resulting in partial cultural assimilation, the increasing importance of Óðinn and the lessening importance of Freyja and other Vanir goddesses and gods.) We observe the rise of patriarchy, hierarchy, abstraction, dissociation, as well as increasingly larger scale violence and invasions. Healing now becomes an endeavor increasingly shifts into masculine, priestly contexts, with rigidly ritualized forms eclipsing shamanic seeing and inspiration; some of the original healing interventions become marginalized as woman’s work as patriarchal forms of dominance gain strength. The Eurocentered medical sciences find their origin in Greece during the 5th century BCE with Hippokrates.


— The rise of monotheistic Christianity through its appropriation of the shamanic Jesus figure and the alliance between Christianity and the Roman Empire in 390-391 by Constantine constitute a major turning point toward increased patriarchal power and the rise of Eurocentrism. The descriptions in Tacitus’ Germania (ca. 98; 1967) reflect the relationship between the “barbarous,” indigenous Germanic (and other) tribes north and east of the Roman Empire from the viewpoint of “civilized” Rome. “They even think that there is a prophetic quality in women, and so they neither reject their advice nor scorn their forecasts” (67). With the end of the East Germanic and Slavic migrations, and the formation [P131] of various royal empires (Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Francs, etc.) anything resembling communal tribal or indigenous practices disappears rapidly in most of Europe as Eurocentrism progresses in the form of Christian missionization and colonization. The reign of Charlemagne (crowned as emporer in 800) represents a major shift, most apparently with the felling of the world tree Irminsul and the massacre of 30,000 Saxons refusing conversion to Christianity in 772 CE (Gimbutas 1999, 190).


— The oldest Nordic-Germanic knowledge about indigenous balanced living is recorded in sacred places, rock carvings, monuments, and artefacts accessible to the practice of indigenous science (cf. Kremer 1996). Most of what we know verbally is written down by Christians after Iceland’s voluntary conversion to Christianity in the year 1000 (with Snorri Sturlusson, 1178/9-1241, as central recorder and interpreter). Other written sources can be found in poetry, inscriptions, place names, folk customs, fairy and folk tales, as well as language etymology (the work of the Grimm brothers is seminal in this regard). Just as indigenous peoples have been identified as the Other, their practices getting reified in the process, so have the pre-Christian traditions been reified and safely othered under the gaze of the various Eurocentered human sciences (creating a textual and artefactual museum of Nordic-Germanic self-otherness equals to the dissociation from its origins, thus obscuring the potential of balanced cultural practices within an indigenous Nordic-Germanic worldview). In the oldest writings, healing practices are usually merely alluded to, either because the recorder was no longer initiated or because initiation prohibited the dissemination of such information to the uninitiated. We find much focus on spells and the power of runic knowledge, again with an increasing tendency toward rigid ritualization under the sway of men, increasingly eclipsing women.


Beginning with the Renaissance this story becomes the story of the rise of eurocentric sciences. Anthropology can serve as a particularly good illustration for the increase in Eurocentered dissociations and splits from indigenous origins. McGrane (1989) has done an admirably lucid job of tracing the history of the relationship between euro-centered cultures and the Other, the alien, the different – an “archaeology of anthropology”, so to speak. His analysis is helpful for understanding the loss of participation and presence to spirit(s) in greater detail. One of his fundamental premises is that “a culture that discovers what is alien to itself simultaneously manifests what it is in itself” (McGrane 1989, 1). He sees anthropology as an endeavor which is “fundamentally involved in the reproduction of Western society… It manifests and highlights that egocentric tendency of our Western mind to identify itself as separate from what it perceives as external to itself” (1989, 5). Using McGrane’s conceptualization we can break down the process of loss of participation or loss of initiation as follows:


— In the Renaissance (14th to 16th century) Christianity came between the European and the non-European; demonology determined that the Other, the fallen, was in need of naming, christening. Trances (and the concomitant healing practices) were seen as a practice which [P132] maintained the contact with demons and christianization meant the termination of such evil proceedings; killing or arrests of tribal members during ceremonies, the destruction or confiscation of artifacts (even during recent history, such as potlatch masks in Canada) are a result of this paradigm. The remaining old knowledge and practice are severely reduced during the three centuries of witchhunts, beginning around 1500. Much of the old knowledge is restricted to midwifery and herbalists. Indigenous cultural practices remain vital along “the margins” of Eurocentrism, particularly in the north and northeast (with the Baltic peoples and the Sámi people of the Arctic North the last be christianized).


— During the Enlightenment ignorance was the fundamental coordinate around which the understanding of the Other was constituted: indigenous peoples were living with the errors of superstitution. Trances and alternate modes of healing were seen as superstitious practices which could not provide any true help or serve a healthful function. The 17th and 18th century saw the beginning of colonization.


— The evolutionary thinking of the nineteenth century used the coordinate of time to understand natives as “primitives”, or as “fossilized developmental stage” from the prehistory of European civilizations. Thus trances were conceptualized as contemporary remnants of an outmoded, primitive human potential; their usefulness was seen as superceded by medical and other sciences. The 19th century saw the height of colonialism and imperialism. Dion-Buffalo and Mohawk (1994, 33) comment that “the psychological and social foundation of this period of conquest and colonization is found in the ability to coerce the peoples of the world to accept the rules by which European politics and ideologies claimed the power to determine what is legitimate about the human experience.” It is no coincidence that this was also the time in which evolutionary theories were first proposed. Epistemological and evolutionary thinking emerged out of the increasing split from the participation in the phenomena in order to understand and legitimize this dissociative logic of progress: Peoples participating in the phenomena become uncivilized with no possibility to discern truth because of insufficient dissociation. For example, Habermas (1997) makes this point clearly when he discusses the benefits and limitations of Cassirers The Theory of Symbolic Forms: It is the logic of progress and the process of civilization – Aufklärung, enlightenment – which destroys and needs to destroy the impact of participation in the phenomena, the presence to spirits, and the desire for a balanced, meaningful existence. Indigenous healing practices have been relegated to the realm of anecdotes, folklore, fairy tale, to be marginally investigated by Euro-Centered sciences outside of the major trajectory of Eurocentrism (see Kremer 1998 for details).


The process of Eurocentered progess and domination seems to impact indigenous peoples at this historical moment most significantly through a process which takes its analogy from the individual psychological process of projective identification (somebody is made to feel the shadow material of somebody else as if it were his or her own). The intra-Eurocentric denial of their own indigenous roots, the persecution of the Other in themselves (witchhunts, etc.), [P133] transforms the bloody and murderous colonizing forces into equally effective, albeit less physically lethal weapons: instead of killing people indigenous cultures get eradicated as natives begin to feel the bad feelings individuals constructed in Eurocentered fashion have about themselves; the devaluation of who they are pressures them to re-create themselves in the likeness of Eurocentered ideals. The ill feelings they have about themselves – expressed in the negligence of traditional ceremonies, pervasive alcoholism and violence, etc. – originated not from within themselves, but have their roots in the denial and projection of what Eurocentered minds have constructed as their “primitive,” “ignorant,” and “filthy” roots from which they have dissociated through the construction of so-called civilization, in contrast to the presumed savagery of their origins. Indigenous peoples carry the burden of the dissociative relationship of Eurocentered peoples to their own ancestries. They take on the such shadow material, as the following quote indicates:

Our stories help us to deal with shadow material individually and collectively; they connect the dark and the light sides of life. The predominant Eurocentered idea of goodness implies suppression and control of what is regarded as not good; this seems to be a behavioral pattern that can lead to genocide when taken to the extreme (when an extreme valuation of certain “good” traits is used as a way to scapegoat and then kill people who are seen as not sharing these traits). People of European descent are frequently surprised when their niceness is not experienced as such by Indians.  I feel this particular collective delusion of what a good human being is in the European sense has become part of our collective Native American delusions leading us to participate in our own genocide. It is an individualistic and profit-centered view of humans. By taking on this image that focuses so strongly on the light side we are led to the denial of genocide, since the Native American genocide is relegated to the shadow side of the good Western person. Consequently, we do not allow sufficient knowledge that genocide is still occurring, and that perhaps we are participating in it ourselves. This reminds me of our tribal children who have been attending Western schools since contact. There they are taught inferiority, linearity, and the objectification of the universe. They internalize this today, just as I did as a child. Growing up, the racism and the notion of humanity from the perspective of Western imperialism became a part of me. I took on the identity of a victim and lost my power. This is how I have taken on the collective shadow by identifying with the self-construction of the dominant culture. How can anyone really grieve when there is the delusion that genocide is not really occurring today? (Bastien 1999)

This process of internalized colonization continues to perpetrate cultural and even physical genocide. Another aspect of this process is captured in the following words by Silko (1977, 132):

They want us to believe all evil resides with white people. Then we will look no further to see what is really happening. They want us to separate ourselves from white people, to be ignorant and helpless as we watch our own destruction. But white people are only tools that the witchery manipulates.

[P134] It attempts to contain ossified, categorically identified remains of indigenous cultures in museums, universities, books, conferences – all endeavors that Vizenor identifies with the end of imagination or what has been called the nurturing conversation with all relations:

Traditional people imagine their social patterns and places on the earth, whereas anthropologists and historians invent tribal cultures and end mythic time. The differences between tribal imagination and social scientific invention are determined in world views: imagination is a state of being, a measure of personal courage; the invention of cultures is a material achievement through objective methodologies. To imagine the world is to be in the world; to invent the world with academic predicaments is to separate human experiences from the world, a secular transcendence and denial of chance and mortalities. (Vizenor 1984, 27)

Internalized colonization manifests also in ways other than alcoholism or violence:

They think the ceremonies must be performed exactly as they have always been done… That much is true… That much can be true also. But long ago when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began, if only in the aging of the yellow gourd rattle or the shrinking of the skin around the eagle’s claw, if only in the different voices from generation to generation, singing the chants. You see, in many ways, the  ceremonies have always been changing. … At one time, the ceremonies as they had been performed were enough for the way the world was then. But after the white  people came, elements in this world began to shift; and it became necessary to create  new ceremonies. … Things which don’t shift and grow are dead things. They are things the witchery people want. … That’s what the witchery is counting on: that we will cling to the ceremonies the way they were, and then their power will triumph, and the  people will be no more. (Silko 1977, 126)

It is only under the pressures of continuing genocide that ceremonial renewal finally may disappear, and that the definitions of what is traditional or indigenous may be remade in the images developed by anthropologists or the desperate rigid repetition of what are considered the final live aspects of a culture. However, whatever the temporary victories of genocide may be, renewal remains always possible as the land, even if abused, and the ancestors, even if neglected, continue to be present.



Contrasts in Healing Paradigms

The contrasts between indigenous healing paradigms and Eurocentered approaches can be made visible by looking at how each attempts to explain how healing happens. Within indigenous worldviews healing occurs within the narrative weave of the lived culture as it unfolds imaginatively from creation. Within the Eurocentered worldview healing is researched and understood within a paradigm of Truth, of cause and effect, singularity of [P135] story, and the objective records of experimental observations. This leads to two forms of inquiry which are qualitatively distinct.


The skeptical Eurocentered researcher would be primarily interested in the efficacy of Native American healing and would try to isolated the elements considered efficaceous or a necessary condition in healing ceremonies. Maybe the rattle or the drum or a particular herb or the temperature in the sweat lodge. The sympathetic researcher would also, in addition to this analytical approach, pay attention to the “set and setting” as it were, and would attempt to validate native approaches or find similarities, for example via psychotherapeutic approaches such as NLP (neurolinguistic programming) or Rogerian counseling, or via biochemical research of curative agents in herbs. The Eurocentered scientific approach commonly entails a stripping away of what is considered extraneous and the isolation of what is considered effective. Through this process it makes Other what is essential for native understandings.


Inquiry into native healing practices by way of what has been termed indigenous science, on the other hand, would begin with the culturally specific, ecologically and historically grounded indigenous understanding of friður or the “the good mind” (Colorado 1988), the balanced way of living in community on a particular land. Healing is needed when the “good mind” is out of balance, when the proper limits are exceeded; the cultural stories and myths then provide explanations. Indigenous healing practices then are based in a synthetic, integral approach to what is out of balance. Native science guides the healer to the point in the fabric where it is rent and where wholeness needs to be reèstablished. The ceremonies done are the precise knowledge and practice designed to create balance on all levels and from all levels (within the person on the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual levels, and by doing so on the level of spirits, community and nature which hold the individual); they are indigenous science. Their efficacy is established through the integrity and the wholeness of the healing ceremony.


The different motivations for understanding healing in the case of Eurocentered and indigenous sciences are of note: The researches of the native healer are done to increase the integrity and wholeness of the communal fabric and to benefit the individuals that are part of it. Eurocentered researches of native healing practices rarely seem to benefit the peoples researched directly, but they are a way to address the limitations of the western healing paradigm and to come to terms with events which Eurocentered scientists commonly consider anomalous, inexplicable or nonexistent; they are attempts to better an individualistic paradigm without fundamentally leaving or changing it.


Whether an image in a rock carving is perceived as symbol or as spirit marks the difference between indigenous knowing and Eurocentered knowing. The rock carvings in Bohuslän, South Sweden, for example contain extraordinary images from the Bronze Age northern European times. The Eurocentered mind understands them as an assemblage of symbols [P136] which represent certain beings which are significant in the world of the Old Norse and their ancestors; they are commonly seen as ‘symbols of healing’, or ‘symbols of initiation,’ where each piece of the rock carving stands for something else. This interpretation reflects the split in the dissociative Eurocentered mind: the different parts of the rock carving point to something which is elsewhere, outside of the representation. The participatory tribal mind relates entirely differently to the rock carving: The spirits are in the rock carvings, they are the rock carving. The making of the rock carving is the creation of the presence of these beings. The beings are not at all separate from what the carving looks like. Once the rock carving is there, they are there. And then they can be ceremonially honored and renewed by tracing the carving with red ochre or other pigments, by making offerings of amber, axes, etc. Blót, the Old Norse ceremonies of offering, bring rock carving spirits and the people present to each other. This simple distinction marks worlds of differences: Whether a rock carving is a symbol for something or whether it is a certain being indicates the consciousness process we are engaged in. In one case we have symbolic healing, in the other spirit heals. There is no simple technique which can bridge this difference. Each understanding reflects a different way of being in the world. There is no such thing as a simple switch from one to the other. Whether we use trances for symbolic work or to seek healing with and from spirit(s) is an indication of the consciousness and reality in which we are participating.


Jungian interpretations of rock carvings (or sandpaintings and other images), myths or healings do not reflect tribal mind. They reflect the process of the Eurocentered mind. Jungian psychology and related transpersonal approaches are certainly the closest to indigenous ways of being in that they validate the seminal importance of participation mystique and spiritual experiences. However, they are only accurate as long as they deal with the Eurocentered mind. There they can be very helpful. If such a psychology gets projected onto indigenous peoples, then grave misunderstandings result. What may be a good starting point for the Eurocentered mind means engaging the indigenous mind in a process of splitting and dissociation.


Within the western paradigm we pick an herb for its curative properties known to relieve a certain ailment. Herb collection is an entirely different event within an indigenous context. Here it is a ceremonial event which involves spirit and, especially the spirits of the plant to be collected. It is a participatory event with the plant relations which presupposes detailed knowledge, including knowledge of their language; it requires knowledge of cycles and the preparations necessary for gathering. It means understanding plants like any other intelligent people.

Prayer accompanies all plant use on the Navajo Reservation. … Plants are not picked randomly or wastefully. Rather, they are picked as needed, and then, no more than are necessary. An herbalist finds two of a particular species that she wishes to pick. To the largest and healthiest plant, she says a prayer and explains why she must pick its neighbor. [P137] An offering of shell, pollen, or other sacred material is deposited with the first plant. Then she picks what she needs. Afterward, the plant remains are buried with a final prayer. (Mayes & Lacy 1989, 2-3)

This is no longer the collection of an herb, but an engagement and appointment with spirit to help heal. What heals is more than the beneficial chemical ingredient in the herb.


Knowing the medical benefits of a sweat lodge purification or the effective chemical agents in an healing herb is certainly useful. But if this knowledge is not integrated into an indigenous science framework, then we fail to understand indigenous approaches to healing. If what we are doing is healing our Euro-centrically minded selves within the existing paradigm, then iatrogenic diseases which are an expression of the continuing dissociation; are the result (which is one of the reasons why natives are disturbed about the decontextualized use of their healing approaches). The correct technique used in a dissociated way is dangerous because it allows the appearance of a deeper healing that did not occur (individual benefits notwithstanding). Combining indigenous approaches with modern techniques on the basis of the story of excess and imbalance is not the same as integrating the knowledge from psychology and other sciences on the basis of indigenous beingknowing. If we are healing our indigenous selves through the remembrance of indigenous healing ways, then individual healing is also the healing of community and paradigm.



Decolonization as Initiation

Silko’s poetic evocation of the colonial process of Euro-centered thinking contains a crucial point: the most powerful creatrix of imbalance is not using shamanic accroutrements to wield her power, she uses words, a story. Her imbalancing is the story made of words that splits people more and more from participation, words developing a dissociative world view, where the fluid, participatory process of verbal descriptions turns into the categorical grasp of nouns attempting to wield control via reality definitions they create. This story has many names: we can call it the loss of participation; or the loss of the nurturing conversation with all our relations; or the shift from oral to written traditions; or the loss of sacred writing (rock carvings, runes, hieroglyphs, ideographic, etc.) to the linearity of alphabetical writing; or the change from sacred (cyclical, linear-cyclical, spiral) to linear secular time; or the rise of colonialism and imperialism; or the split of story into its aspects of history, personal story, scientific stories, and others; or the rise of patriarchy from its Indo-European roots to Euro-centrism; or the rise of Christianity; or the rise of the masculinized version of the evolutionary story. These and other vantage points provide ways of coming to terms with the story Silko tells so powerfully: creating imbalance by exceeding the proper limits, by focusing on certain elements at the expense of others (i.e., pathological dissociation).


[P138] When the competing workers of imbalance ask her to call the story back she shakes her head and answers: “It’s already turned loose. It’s already coming. It can’t be called back.” The story continues to be told the world over, and impacts every aspect of our lives, from the increasing dominance of the noun-oriented English language (most lately via the internet) to economic globalization. It is clear that the story has not been called back, and continues to dominate the majority of educational systems: more and more young citizens are unconsciously made willing participants and co-narrators in this story. If the story can’t be called back – what to do?


As we have seen in the brief discussions above, the story of imbalance and excess of proper limits was not told all of a sudden, but became more powerful over time as its addictive nature exerted a centrifugal force. The increasing literature on early human history and story attests to the various layers through which the telling has shapeshifted. Healing the story would mean peeling back through these layers, not merely for the advancement of the sciences, but to recover a quality of storytelling that is communal and participatory. Euro-centered thinking frequently misconstrues such endeavor as search of some sort of Eden or other paradisical original state of being (it is worthy of note that paradise has its roots in Greek paradeisos, a walled in garden or park, and related terms). Instead of linearly conceptualizing recovery as the reconstitution of a particular state or point of origin, I suggest that it is the reconstitution of a particular process or quality: the recovery of the indigenous quality of storytelling. Healing the imbalancing story of Euro-centrism means beginning to tell the story differently. The evocative power of the word is clearly understood by contemporary indigenous peoples, and it was just as clearly understood by the early Indo-European traditions (most obviously, perhaps, in the use of the Sanskrit mantras). Óðinn’s quest for the mead of mantic poetry, the search for the words of seeing, and his initiation into the sacred, healing use of runic letter carving share this understanding. The word story finds its root in Indo-European weid-, to see; here we find story connected with the wisdom of the prophet(ess) and seer(ess) (an element that, of course, continues to be present in the creativity of contemporary novels and their best authors).[6][6] The story cannot be called back, but it can be changed and told differently if we make ourselves whole again.


Telling a story in a participatory frame of mind instead of dissociated consciousness may sound simple enough. But just as the Indo-European healers of old needed to be able to be with spirit(s) in such a way that the entire cosmos was impacted, so does a different telling of the story change the cosmos we are living in. Changing the story is impacting the cosmos (as the cosmos impacts it). Instead of evoking and maintaining dissociation and splitting from an indigenous nurturing conversation, such telling would evoke participatory being. This is no small matter: it is the healing ceremony of the Euro-centered self, the [P139] reconstruction of who we are. Such an endeavor finds its parallel not in “a bandaid on a cut, but in heart surgery.” It is not a mere change in identity, but a foundational, qualitative shift in the process of how we construct our identities. This means we need to deconstruct ourselves as the beings we are so that there can be renewal from the creative source of our origins. While such healing clearly means the return, to use the language of the Old Norse, to the well of memory, Urðr, such remembrance is not for the indulgence of nostalgic or retro-romantic splits (dissociative endeavors indeed), but for the righting of the story for the future. Indeed, just like Óðinn, and other women and men before him, we need to be capable of transforming our selves so that we can drink oðrærir, the mead of in-spiration.The dissociated self commonly gets but very diluted sips from such powerful substance. Aspiring to drinking a higher percentage of mead means having our language fall apart so that the words of seeing can re-emerge, so that words can become in-spirited and healed, so that word, chant, and seeing are part of our lifeworld. And our language inevitably comes apart when we of Euro-centered mind confront the shadows that walk with us.


Placing ourselves (those of Eurocentered or Nordic-Germanic mind) at the creative source Ginnungagap is not possible as a direct, unmediated act, since we have divested ourselves from the self capable of getting there with immediacy. Recovering the self that can enter Ginnungagap, the maw of Miðgarðsormr, the world snake, means purifying ourselves from the self construction that is incapable of entering such a place, because dissociation disallows it to be present to the continuing reality of Urðr, Ginnungagap, Miðgarðsormr, oðrærir, and the other spiritual powers of the Norse universe of old. How this universe is to appear today will only become apparent to the self which has initiated itself into participating in its continuing creative, regenerative, and imaginative story. Putting ourselves into the presence of such powers of creation is only possible through the cathartic mediation of the grieving shudder over the story of imbalancing (“witchery”), the confrontation and ownership of the shadow material. As a consequence, what our story evokes may become different. Instead of the story of exceeding the proper limits, we create the possibility the contemporary celebration of indigenous healing stories even among peoples who like to contain their indigenous roots at a safe distance by putting them in museums, and various other reifying and distancing places.



Recovery of Indigenous Mind and Healing

The following poetic statement is modeled on Eddic poetry, particularly the rhetoric of the völva in Völuspá. It is an attempt to capture the change of the ages about that so many indigenous peoples talk about in a language appropriate to my own cultural background and ancestry. It also serves as an appropriate summary and evocation to what I have said about healing and cosmology. It is the voice of the seeress, the völva, speaking as she looks through the ages, from the past into the future.


[P140] I.

Heilir æsir!

Heilir ásynjur!

Heil sjá in fjölnyta fold!

Hail to the gods,

hail to the goddesses,

hail to the allgiving earth!

Mál ok mannvit

gefið okkr mærum tveim

ok læknishendr, meðan lifum!

Wisdom and lore,

as long as we live,

grant us, and healing hands! (from Sigrdrífumál)


I remember the giants who were born

at the beginning of time and

who reared me in former times.

I remember the Sámis who were born

at the beginning of time and

who reared me in former times.

I remember nine worlds beneath the earth,

nine giantesses,

and also the glorious tree of fate.


I remember towards the beginning of time

at the place where the giant Ymir lived,

there was neither sand nor sea, and no cool waves.

The earth did not exist at all,

nor heaven above:

only a yawning gap

and grass nowhere.


I remember when the sons of

grandfather and grandmother Bear

raised the lands,

they who made the great Middle World. (Free after Völuspá)


I remember the world of spirits,

I remember the world of giants,


the world of dwarves,


I remember the time when humankind was created.


I remember the three spirits

who found ash and elm

fragile and fateless.


I know an ash tree call Yggdrasill;

it is a tall tree

sprayed with white clay.

From there comes the dew

that dabbles the dales.

The evergreen tree towers above Urðr´s Well.


From the same place

come three knowledgeable maidens,

who emerge from the lake

that lies at the foot of the tree.

People call one Urðr,

the second Verðandi,

and the third Skuld;

they carved sacred markings

on pieces of wood.

They laid down the laws,

the fates of the people,

and chose life

for the children of humankind. (Free after Völuspá)



And I remember

the beginning of a new world age,

when the stars changed places,

and I remember

when the tree of life

[P141] was fastened to the new pole star.


Yes, I remember

the world of spirits of the previous world age,

but I also remember the new age

when spirits turned into symbols,

and humankind thus became more lonesome.

And I remember

that even spirits and ancestors

felt more lonesome.

I remember the age

when language was sacred,

when words brought spirits,

when language was filled with spiritual energy.

And then I saw

how language,

how words

lost their powers,

and how the husks remaining

helped humankind to forget

how they are woven

into the world.

And then I saw

how language and writing

helped humankind to forget

how they are


participants in everything

that surrounds them.

And then I saw them

looking at reality

from the outside.

And I saw how

language became poorer

and poorer,

and reality moved farther

and farther away.

And I saw humankind

greedily grabbing

what remained as reality,

and how they forgot to

evoke the world, and

to chant it into being.


And I remember how

human beings slowly forgot

what their medicine gifts were,

how they forgot their totems,

how they forgot their clans,

and how they forgot that

they all were related

as red, black, white, yellow and people of mixed color.

And I remember how they

struggled to reconstruct their

relationship and similarities

through abstract models,

because they had forgotten

the specificity of their relationships.

And I remember how they sought their

universal connections through more and more

abstract thoughts

in order to find each other again.


And I remember the age when Óðinn

was a shaman still, seiðkarl,

when he was called Óðr,

when he used the drum on Sámseyja and elsewhere, and

honored women.

Two ravens sat on his shoulders

helping his seeing.

And I remember the new age when Óðinn

took knowledge away from women

and began to reign as patriarch.


And I remember the new age

when human beings were reared

[P142] separated from their ancestors,

separated from their stories and histories,

separated from their places of power and spirit,

separated from the healing arts.

And I have seen how they forgot

that happiness depends

on initiations into the higher self

and the world of spirit.


I remember seeing lonely humans

in search of completion and wholeness,

even though their ancestors

stood right by them.

I remember seeing lonely humans

blinded by symbols

so that the spirits remained hidden.


And I remember human souls

roaming the collective unconscious without bearings,

unable to see their own guardian spirits.


And I remember human beings

delving deeply into psychology,

getting trapped on the personal side

of the gateway to spirit,

and when they would chance to encounter

a spirit

they would feel nothing but fear.



And I remember the times when the bridges

to spirit went up in flames and collapsed,

and the ancestor boats ceased

to shuttle across the milky way.


And I see now

how this world age

is coming to an end,

and that yet another

new age is about to begin.


And I see now

souls making the journey home

seeking the roots of their creation.

And I see how these souls

sit in ancestor boats

crossing the spirit bridges

purifying the abuses of the word “heil!”,

seeking healing for the innermost

of their cultures.

And I see humans

once again courageous enough

to sit at the center of their creation

for the sake of healing.


root meanings



healing holy



to the root


source of wholing

clay of healing


root memories

reaching into riches



returning home

returning from home




[P143] the good omen

from creation



from the fingers

of the woman of memory

white clay


over the body

wholesome clay



the human tree


at the root of healing

is the remembrance

of the center

is the celebration

of the center of our world


at the root of healing

is placing ourselves

at the center of our world

the place of balance


at the root of healing

is the celebration

of the original instructions

are the prayers

for our courage

to step into the maw of the snake


the abyss of creation

is the open mouth of the world snake


the snake holding our world

the snake creating our world

through the fire and ice of ginnungagap

created from her mouth


healing is the courage

to step into the simplicity

of creation

the simplicity

of the original instructions

instructions for balance


purifying the abuses of the word “heil!”,

seeking healing for the innermost

of their cultures.


And I see how the past

becomes hotter and hotter,

and how humans find the courage

to warm themselves

at the fires of their ancestors.

And I see how humankind

remembers the conversation

with all relations.


And I see how woman and man

are willing to be taken apart

and ask the fire to consume

their addictions to civilisation

and progress.

And I see how woman and man

deconstruct their modern identities

to become aware that they are still

interwoven with their fellow humans,

the plants, the animals, and the rocks.


And I see spirits

once again

stepping out

of symbols.


And I see humans


that not only they need nourishment,

but that their relations

need nourishment also.


[P144] And I see how humans

find their balance

in the great cycle

of nurturing

and being nurtured.


Heilir æsir!

Heilir ásynjur!

Heil sjá in fjölnyta fold!

Hail to the gods,

hail to the goddesses,

hail to the allgiving earth!

Mál ok mannvit

gefið okkr mærum tveim

ok læknishendr, meðan lifum!

Wisdom and lore,

as long as we live,

grant us, and healing hands! (from Sigrdrífumál)




Summarizing Table

The following table gives a visual display of the major distinctions I have talked about throughout this article. The terminology used below is defined in its narrative context above. It may help to recall the broad outlines that underlie the detailed discussions.




OPPOSING PAIR                                        THIRD PROCESS

good subject


bad subject


developing non-subject non-subject
unconscious participation breakdown of un-conscious participation regaining conscious participation conscious participation
singular Truth



multiple truths



re-contextualizing truths and Truth locally & historically locally & narratively contextualized truths and Truth
[P145] his-story






Story revealed as his-stories



recovering female aspects of stories; remembering multiformous gender identities multiply engendered stories: Freyja-Freyr, Nerthus-Njörðr, twins, metamorphoses, spirit marriages
objective reality



narrative realities



recovering ancestral narrative realities & anchoring them in present ecology & historical moment communally & locally anchored narrative realities
rationality recovery of reasonableness reasonableness reasonableness
imperial self non-imperial self re-connecting self connected self




intentional communities natural communities
progress progress (albeit  questioned in appearance) linearity struggling for balance balance
linearity variegated linearity cyclical linearity cyclical linearity
dissociation suffering from dissociation recovering participation participation




decolonization beside, outside & inside of colonization

[Chart by Jűrgen W. Kremer, inspired by Mohawk & Dion-Buffalo. From Kremer 1999, Bearing Obligations.]



[P146-148] References

Bastien, Betty. “The genocide of Native Americans: Denial, Shadow, and Recovery” (with Kremer, Norton, Rivers-Norton, and Vickers). In ReVisionI, Vol. 22, #1, 13-20 1999

Campbell, Joseph The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Bollingen. 1949.

Churchill, Ward. From a native son. Boston: South End. 1996.

Colorado, Apela. “Traditional knowledge leads to Ph.D. “ (Interview with Pamela Colorado and Jürgen Kremer, by Richard Simonelli). Winds of Change, 9, #4, 43-48. 1994.

Colorado, P. “Indigenous science.” In ReVision, 18(3): 6-10, 1996.

Colorado, P. “Bridging native and western science.” In Convergence, XXI, 2/3: 49-67, 1988.

De Vries, Jan. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Leiden: Brill. 1977.

Dion-Buffalo, Y. & J. Mohawk. ‘Throughts from an autochtonous center.’ Cultural Survival, Winter, 33-35. 1994.

Dumon, Dirk. 1993. Shamans of Tuva. Feature of BRT, Belgian Public Television. 1993.

Eiríks Saga Rauða In Íslendinga Sögur (CD-ROM). Reykjavík: Mál og menning. (Transl. by Gwyn Jones as Eirik the Red. Oxford: Oxford. 1961)

Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism. Princeton: Bollingen. 1951/1964

Evans, David (Ed.). Hávamál. London: Viking Society. 1986

Gimbutas, Marija. The living goddesses. Berkeley: University of California. 1999

Gimbutas, Marija. “An interview with Marija Gimbutas.” (With David Jay Brown & Rebecca McClen Novick). In Magical Blend, 13-20. No year given.

Gunn, Allen, Paula. Off the reservation. Boston: Beacon. 1998.

Habermas, Jürgen (1997),  Vom sinnlichen Eindruck zum symbolischen Ausdruck, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt/M, Germany

Haozous, B. (1994). Interviewed in The Native Americans, pt. 4, TBS.

Horn, Gabriel. Contemplations of a Primal Mind. Novato, CA: New World. 1996.

Kremer, Jürgen Werner. “Introduction.” In ReVision, Vol 18, #3, 2-5.

Kremer, Jürgen Werner. ‘The shadow of evolutionary thinking.’ In Ken Wilber in Dialogue, edited by

Donald Rothberg and Sean Kelly, 237-258. Wheaton, IL: Quest. 1998.

Lapena, Frank. ‘In Vision We Can Balance the World.’ In News from Native California, vol. 12, #2, 18-19. 1998.

Lincoln, Bruce. Myth, Cosmos, and Society. Boston, MA: Harvard. 1986.

Mayes, Vernon & Barbara Lacy. Nanise’. Tsaile: Navajo Community College. 1989.

McGrane, Bernard. Beyond anthropology. NY: Columbia. 1989.

Mohawk, John. ‘Indigenous Creation-Centered Spirituality’ (interview with Charlene Spretnak). In Creation, 16-18. September/October. No year given.

Pálsson, Hermann. Völuspá. Edinburgh: Lockharton. 1996.

Pentikäinen, Juha Y. Kalevala mythology (trans. R. Poom). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1989.

Pinkson, Tom Soloway. Flowers of Wiricuta. Mill Valley: Wakan. 1995.

Rig Veda (Transl. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty). NY: Penguin. 1981.

Sammallahti, Pekka. The Saami Languages. Karašjohka, Sápmi: Davvi Girji. 1998.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. NY: Penguin. 1977.

Sturluson, Snorri. Edda (trans. Faulkes). London: Everyman. 1987.

Tacitus. Germania (Transl. Herbert Benario). London:University of Oklahoma. 1967.

Terry, P. 1990. Poem of the Elder Edda. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Titchenell, Elsa-Brita. The masks of Odin. Pasadena, California: The Theosophical UP. 1985

Vajnštejn, S. I. “The Tuvan (Soyot) shaman’s drum and the ceremony of its ‘enlivening’.” InPopular beliefs and folklore tradition in Siberia (Ed. Dioszegi). Bloomington: Indiana University. 1968.

Vasilevič, G. M. “The acquisition of shamanistic ability among the Evenki (Tungus).” InPopular beliefs and folklore tradition in Siberia (Ed. Dioszegi). Bloomington: Indiana University. 1968.

Vitebsky, Piers. The shaman. NY: Little, Brown, and Co. 1995.

Vizenor, Gerald. Earthdivers: tribal narratives on mixed descent. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 1981.

Vizenor, Gerald. The people named the Chippewa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 1984.

Wasson, R. Gordon. Soma. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1968.


[1][1] The available sources on Siberian shamanism are not without serious problems, and need to be discussed in the context of the history of Soviet ethnography, etc.

[2][2] Titchenell translates ginnregin as Vaner, the older layer of Norse gods or spirits, relating Óðinn’s wisdom thus to the deepest and more clearly woman-centered base of Norse mythology (with Freyja as the great goddess and primal shamanic spirit).

[3][3] ‘Kvasir’ is an interesting word: It is connected to Norwegian kvase and Russian kvas, denoting the fermented berry drink created through the communal chewing of the berries which were then spat into a vat. The mead of the skalds, the Old Norse poets, is also known as kvasis dreyra, Kvasir’s blood (De Vries 1977). English ‘quash’ and German (dialectical) quatschen are related. The latter word leads me to surmise an interesting etymology for this word, which can also mean ‘to talk nonsense, to babble’: talk in-spirited by the mead, by kvase, was increasingly considered nonsense, as it became unintelligible as people lost their ongoing and ceremonial presence to the world of spirit(s) – what people claimed to come from that world was increasingly considered Quatsch or nonsense, while before it had been the wisdom of Kvasir. (Just as the seeresses of the Delphic oracle increasingly appeared to babble nonsense, thus “necessitating” the interpretation by men, and resulting in the patriarchal control of intercourse with spirits.)


[4][4] It is beyond the scope of this article to display the rich web of connections in its entirety. However, it is worth mentioning that the berry, especially in its form as elderberry (Hollunder) is also the sacred blood from the female spirit or goddess (Frau Holle), and that we find lines leading us back into the Nordic culture at the times of Old Europe (cf. Gimbutas 1999).

[5][5] Within the Euro-centered frame of mind exists a strong tendency to read words like “traditional” or “indigenous” in a reifying fashion, postulating some stable, Edenic original state. While such projections of unfullfilled needs and desires may be momentarily satisfying, they reinforce the dissociative movements of progress thinking and the projective identification with indigenous peoples (making them feel our own shadow material as if it was theirs). We have to understand that whatever we are capable of identifying as beginning, original, traditional, indigenous, etc. immediately is always already imbued with history, and, whatever we manage to recover of it, we have to understand as the imaginative stories of communal truths, and not categorical statements of absolute truths.

[6][6] The Indo-European root weid- is connected to story and wisdom, while the root skei- (to cut, split) is connected to the word conscious; knowledge is connected to the root gno-, which has narration and normal in its wake.

The Genocide of Native Americans: Denial, Shadow and Recovery (PDF)

The Genocide of Native Americans:
Denial, Shadow, and Recovery

A Conversation with
Betty Bastien,
Jürgen W. Kremer,
Jack Norton,
Jana Rivers-Norton,
Patricia Vickers

Published in:
ReVision, Summer 1999, Volume 22, Number 1, pp. 13 – 20
[Page numbers inserted below as P13 etc.]

[P13] Betty Bastien is a Blackfoot Indian from Alberta, Canada. She teaches at Red Crow Community College on the Blood Reserve in Alberta. Jack Norton is of Hupa (Northern California), Cherokee, and Dutch descent. He is a retired professor of Native American Studies from Humboldt State University, and is a recent apointee to the Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian History at the University of California, Riverside, and an Indian Education Consultant. Jana Rivers-Norton is an American of Swiss, German, and Celtic descent. She holds a Masters degree in English, has taught courses in literature and creativity at Humboldt State University, and is currently an adjunct faculty member at National University. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology at Saybrook Graduate School. Jack and Jana live in Southern California. Patricia Vickers is of Tsimshian (British Columbia) and English descent, and lives in British Columbia. She is a Ph.D. student at the University of Victoria and practices as clinical counsellor and mental health consultant in British Columbia. Jűrgen W. Kremer has been a settler in the US since 1982; his known ancestors are Germanic and Celtic from the Rhine Valley and the Baltic. He co-directed a graduate program for Traditional Knowledge, dedicated to the continuance and recovery of indigenous knowledge. He edited or co-edited ReVision issues on indigenous science, narrative explorations of culture, roots, and ancestry, healing and transformation, trance and healing, and culture and ways of knowing.

JÜRGEN: As an immigrant to this country I feel complicit with the continuing genocide and destruction of Native American tribes. My choice to be in this country makes me complicit even though I have no known ancestors from this continent — but I am participating in its ongoing history of genocide. This is what motivates me to facilitate a discussion on this important topic.

PATRICIA: One of the first things we need to address is our understanding of the word “shadow.” The term “negative energy” has also been used colloquially, although “energy” is more specific than “shadow.” A shadow is something that is cast when light shines on something. When I walk in the sunshine, my shadow is cast onto the ground. When I walk in the darkness, there is no shadow.

JACK AND JANA: For us the shadow is psychic energy that may take on negative qualities which manifest outward as acts of violence and fear when inner knowing and responsibility fail. Acts of genocide and oppression can be seen in this light. As psychic energy the shadow is a part of the human condition and exists in each of us as a potential psychic force.

PATRICIA: The reason that we are joined together as victim and victimizer is because we are human beings; “bad or evil energy,” or whatever one calls it, is separate from the one who is victimized and the one who victimizes. In Tsimshian belief, as I understand it, the negative energy is likened to an evil spirit that approaches us. We give it space or refuse it. We may know we are giving the negative energy space, or more often than not, we unconsciously choose to give it space. This unites both parties involved in the loss of an option that would facilitate goodness and life. Life involves this struggle with the “destructive energy.” Many aboriginal cultures share the belief that this energy exists here in the world and is separate from us as human beings. We have a responsibility to cleanse our hearts and spirits through dance, song, and ceremony that keep us “in the light”; keeping this responsibility of cleansing ourselves helps us to honor others. We are all struggling against negative energy and working toward balance and connection with our past, present, and future.

JANA: The American Holocaust (1992) by David E. Stannard provides an excellent analysis of the historical roots of the genocide of Native Americans from 1490 to 1890. At the heart of Stannard’s thesis is the claim that European cultures were obsessed with the annihilation of those individuals [P14] categorized as life-unworthy. An illustration of this type of thinking is the Christian concept of “Contemptus Mundi” or “contempt for the world” that gained prominence in Europe during the Middle Ages. It means that earthly existence, and hence the earth itself, is impure, suspect, and devoid of divine grace. Thus the flesh must be denied to rid the soul of earthly contamination in order to earn eternal bliss. Individuals associated with the earth (such as non-Christians, women, and the native populace of the Americas) needed to be subdued and converted, if not eliminated.

The genocide of Native Americans is especially marked by silence regarding the suffering endured by native peoples. Unlike the Jewish Holocaust, the genocide committed against the native peoples has not been acknowledged even though the historical facts clearly point to the genocidal intent enacted by the United States government and the private citizenry. Instead, native cultural groups are often denigrated or romanticized. Their demise is depicted and commemorated during many of America’s celebrations marking its success at colonization. This demise is linked to the collective American mythos of western dominance, and exalted under the principle of Manifest Destiny. In these facile assertions of national pride, which hide the price in native lives, Americans do not seem to comprehend their own complicity in the legacy of death and destruction.

For instance, the death of thousands of innocent native people is often depicted as “inevitable” or “necessary” for Western expansion (Rawls 1984) — an all too familiar concept of spatial superiority echoed in the Nazi doctrine of Lebensraumpolitik (Costo and Costo 1995). The native people, it is argued, were heathens, incapable of utilizing the vast stretches of fertile soil that beckoned to various European interests (Castillo 1978).

The contemporary impact of this genocide on native cultures remains horrific. Patterns of intergenerational dysfunction within native family systems have damaged the resolve of many to adhere to traditional values and religious practices. In addition, re-traumatization occurs when native people witness the disrespect and misguided perceptions exhibited by an insensitive and ignorant mainstream society regarding its own history.

JACK: Genocide is an assault on spirit. It is a disease of the human psyche, whether it is called an expression of the “collective shadow” or labeled otherwise. Yet even such a negative force can be transformed. If we recognize the shadow through our own commitments to change and transform, and through a sense of responsibility, we may become better human beings. It is important to take responsibility for one’s destiny.

For example, as America was celebrating its Bicentennial, I became energized as a Native American person to reflect upon thoughts that had accumulated all my life. My parents were products of Indian boarding schools. They were taken away from their parents, their loved ones, from family support systems and cultures, and put in Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas. My father was away from Hoopa, located in Northern California, his place of being and tradition, for eighteen long years before he came home. My mother who was Cherokee had come up from Oklahoma, and they met at Haskell. My family history was one of the factors which motivated me to look at California Indian history more deeply. I was amazed and outraged at what had happened and continues to happen in California. In 1976 I was galvanized to write a book entitled Genocide in Northwestern California (Norton 1979).

Since that time, I have tried to educate people about what happened in California. It is important to get the information out for all to see. The information has always been in the records of state and national legislatures as well as in the federal reports that were sent from California agencies to Washington. The information on the California genocide was also reported in the local newspapers.

For me personally, learning of the attacks upon the children was the most devastating aspect of facing the genocidal shadow. While testifying, for instance, on early California history in Siskiyou County, I related detailed information about the many massacres that took place. As I stood on the witness stand and began to cry, I could relate to the pain of the native people of those times. What, for example, would I do as a husband or father living in 1850 as my wife was raped or my child was sold into slavery? Worse yet: What would I do as an infant was picked up by the heels and its skull smashed against rocks? I was able to personalize the pain despite 150 years of elapsed history. I felt the sorrow and the attack upon innocence. California, for example, passed what was euphemistically called “The Act for the Governance and Protection of California Indians” in 1850, but most historians call it the Indian Slave Law (Heizer 1974). By that law Indian people could be sold into slavery for varying periods, usually from 20 to 25 years. Then in 1860, the California legislature made it easier for slave hunters, and by 1860 4,000 Indian children had been sold into slavery. Indians were also denied protection by the law. They could not bring any charges against a white person until the 1890s. In addition, thousands of Indian people were killed outright. Professional killing squads formed by citizen groups were funded by the state for the sole purpose of murdering Indian people. In fact, two of California’s governors, Peter Burnett and John McDougal, called for a war of extermination against the California Indians (Carranco and Beard 1963).

PATRICIA: You have mentioned that Native American genocide has arisen out of a long history of Eurocentered cultural processes. I believe that one of the main problems here is the departure from authentic spiritual belief, which has been and continues to be important amongst Tsimshian people. I was raised with the Christian teaching that the condition of the heart is vital to our well-being. [P15] And through my Tsimshian culture I have learned that it is crucial to keep my heart clean. The shadow needs to be confronted within my “self” first. I need to identify ways in which I am disrespectful or abusive to myself and others around me. When I speak rudely to my children or my partner, I need to make amends. When I am dealing with my negative energy in the moment, then I can face the shadow with “power” in society. I think it is important to acknowledge that the shadow already existed before European contact, and yet it certainly has increased in our communities through cultural oppression by those of European descent.

JANA: The impact of shadow material on American society is a complicated topic. Our sense of alienation and bewilderment regarding the condition of the American psyche is clearly visible in an obsessive need for possessions, material wealth, sexual gratification, and escapism. It seems as if American society is unable to integrate the personal aspects of the collective shadow due to delusional practices which are passed on to our children through family systems that in many ways train us to ignore inner authentic voices. In response, many of us strike out at our children, at the world, and one another, and therefore deny our own inner beauty and worth. Various forms of collective disease are masked, yet they materialize through various forms of acting out (racism, scapegoating, national chauvinism), and intrapsychically as shadow material, revealing itself in projection, avoidance, and refusal to face our own personal and planetary decline. Personal traumas lead to collective traumatization, and in turn, collective traumatization (oppression, repression, etc.) impacts personal trauma.

JACK: A crucial beginning in transforming the shadow is examining how children are treated, and how this treatment affects the way in which we feel about ourselves and others. Professor Sam Oliner, who is a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust and author of numerous sociological accounts of the Holocaust (S. Oliner 1991, S. Oliner and P. Oliner 1992, S. Oliner and Lee 1996) has often reiterated that the primary factor which determines whether individuals will become perpetrators, bystanders, or rescuers is their upbringing. If one is raised to respect life, choices concerning others are often guided by compassion. Those who are abused and neglected, however, are often ruled by hatred.

JANA: My heritage, for example, is German and Swiss. I remember visiting my grandfather who came directly from Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War II. He was a religious man and I always felt a certain spiritual affinity with him. However, he hated the Jews and would speak badly about them. I was puzzled and hurt by the contradiction that my grandfather represented and was determined to resolve any familial responsibility for the Holocaust. From what information I can gather, my family members were guilty of being bystanders, letting the atrocities occur, lacking the moral courage to stand against Nazi tyranny. I wrote a collection of short stories for my Masters thesis (Rivers-Norton 1991) on the genocide of native peoples in California, from the perspectives of perpetrator, bystander, rescuer, and survivor, in an attempt to understand the human condition through narrative. What motivates a people to attack another in such a cruel and inhumane way? What role did self-hatred play, as well as our own alienation from the planet? At that time I felt that by taking responsibility for genocidal acts, I was somehow transforming my own family system by disallowing the energy of the bystander to continue.

JÜRGEN: When I came to the US people usually responded to my feelings of shame and guilt about the Shoah by pointing out that I was born after the Second World War and therefore should not feel guilty. On the surface this made logical sense, but it was not what I was feeling in my body. It took me a long time to realize how the everyday complicity of “ordinary Germans” during the Nazi period had been communicated down to me, the way in which I “socially inherited” it, so to speak. It was during a fasting ceremony that I suddenly saw all the unspoken historical “stuff” that had been there as I was growing up, literally sitting with me every day at the dinner table while bombs were being fished out of the river in front of the house. It was this silence that made it impossible to discuss the Nazi paraphernalia that I found in the attics of the houses of my playmates as a child.

JANA: We seem to share a common need to resolve our own relationship to genocidal trauma, perhaps due to our shared Germanic heritage. Others, such as Dan Bar-On (1993), attempt to address the need to heal of descendants of those who experienced the Holocaust. His work involves both the descendants of Holocaust survivors and of Nazi perpetrators. It centers on the importance of reconciliation through addressing one’s own familial link to the Holocaust. The process Bar-On describes is arduous and at moments almost unbearable for those whose family members either survived or perished under Hitler ‘s rule; descendants met over a several month period to share the pain, anger, and outrage at the past through dialogue. For the descendants of the survivors, this process of retrieving banished memories which had been held psychically captive for years, became an overwhelming experience. At the same time, however, descendants of Nazi perpetrators had to face the truth about their own fathers, grandfathers, and countrymen, and had to be with often overwhelming shame and disbelief. Through the sharing of stories, one [P16] common thread surfaced: a pattern of silence between the generations was experienced by both survivors and perpetrators within their respective family systems. The survivors’ ancestors either refused to or could not speak about the atrocities because of the pain involved, and they did not want to burden children and grandchildren with their agony. For the descendants of perpetrators, the silence was of a different nature; their ancestors refused to speak either out of a deep sense of regret and guilt or because the original perpetrators felt that they had been falsely accused and denied any wrongdoing whatsoever. Bar-On’s work, utilizing what some psychologists refer to as narrative forms of healing, represents baby steps but healing steps nonetheless (Pennebaker, Glaser, and Kiecolt-Glaser 1988; Caruth 1995).

JÜRGEN: One of the things which has always struck me about the ways in which we address issues of genocide is that cultures are generally very inept at doing so. We don’t know how to promote social learning or grieving on a collective level. I grew up in Germany with the book The Inability to Grieve by Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich (1967). This title seems an apt phrase to describe the ongoing denial of Native American genocide in the U.S. and Canada. Areas such as personal wounding, family history, community history, politics, economics of land, racial ideologies, and the legal system are rarely brought together to develop a powerful and effective process for integrating something as overwhelming as the history of genocide of Native Americans. Of course, to raise the issue of how history is written and taught on this continent, is also to question the very construction of American, Canadian, and Mexican selves.

For me it seems crucial to connect the historical memory of genocide, striving for accuracy and completeness, with the personal wounds as they are carried by the survivors and those who are in one form or another complicit in the ongoing perpetration of genocide. I believe that Goldhagen’s (1996) book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, had such a dramatic effect in Germany because responsibility-taking and grieving had been insufficient. I remember reading the book when it first came out. Despite misgivings about some of his overgeneralizations, I had an immediate sense of recognition — he was describing an aspect of Nazi Germany that I had grown up with after the war, that had been passed on to me unconsciously. A split had been made in public consciousness between the “common citizen” who “happened” to live during the Third Reich, and the perpetrators who served as projective screens for all Nazi evils. In this way the complicity of the “common citizen” was never addressed and grieving was avoided. With the publication of Goldhagen’s book, such projection of “ordinary” citizens’ shadows was made so much more difficult, and continuing complicity in shadow maintenance had to be confronted. I believe that the denial of the current continuation of the genocide of Native Americans allows for an analogous split: whatever minute acknowledgment of the horrifying past is given furthers the denial of contemporary complicity.

In my view, all the theories, predictions, and fantasies about global consciousness, as well as the popular revival of shamanic approaches outside of their original contexts, require awareness of the cultural and physical genocide of indigenous peoples as a consequence of Indo-European history, and European history in particular. For me any of these ideologies or movements are not authentic if their awareness does not include what is currently going on with native peoples all over the world. Global consciousness, however we understand it, needs to make collective shadow work part of its process.

JACK: Today we have the opportunity to face the collective shadow by first acknowledging the truth about our history as Americans. Once that history has been acknowledged, once accountability is demonstrated, then it is necessary to take steps toward reconciliation. Americans can demonstrate a will for reconciliation and responsibility by demanding the return of Indian cultural artefacts, such as bones and regalia, which still belong to Indian people. A re-evaluation of the museum mentality is an opportunity for them to demonstrate their commitment to healing the consequences of genocide. (Even Hitler had plans to build a Jewish museum after the war.) Yet, the Indian people did not perish. Therefore we must be given the opportunity to determine what will be done with the remains of our ancestors, and what the proper use of other cultural items will be. A commitment to return Indian cultural items would greatly enhance healing and the setting aside of generations of bitterness and distrust. Most Indian people recognize when actions are taken that affirm decency and respect for Indian cultures. We cannot categorically blame all non-Indian people for the histories of the past. Yet, where in American history and where in California’s history has a process of collective accountability been evident? Who shall take the first step toward reconciliation?

BETTY: I believe that tribal people must begin to make sense of the recent past of colonialism and genocide based on their own tribal cultural paradigms. Power and strength can only come from one’s heart. Remaining within the framework of the dominant Eurocentered interpretations and Eurocentered educational systems means fostering an identity that is in final analysis dedicated to a world view aimed at the control of the natural and human world, rather than to an understanding of interconnection and living in relatedness. Accepting this framework means remaining dependent. So where do we go for solutions and interpretations?

My answer is: spirituality, ceremony, and traditional values, which lead us back to who we are concretely as indigenous people, who I am as a Nistiapi woman. “Nistiapi” can be translated as “Real People.” We are made real by the interconnections with all our relations. However, genocide, for those of us living in this world, will continue to affect the cosmic world balance. The difference [P17] between the abstracting, dissociating world of genocide and the concrete world of interrelationship of indigenous peoples is revealed when we acknowledge that every single participatory activity can counteract the effects of genocide. Indigenous people are finding balance through their traditional life based in relationship to each other, place, and the surrounding world.

JACK: When the miracle and beauty of life that comes from the spiritual realm is denied, then processes by which we perceive the world are limited or even distorted. A loss of innocence and wonder results. Any loss of respect for life is a tragic occurrence because it divides human beings into victims and victimizers. Victims have been brutalized. They have suffered injustices and betrayals. But a day comes when victims must find their own relationship to that betrayal and victimization. They have the choice between placing themselves within their own patterns of life, despite the things that have happened to them, and continuing to hate. This is a choice that can be made once conscious awareness of suffering surfaces. But humans need to be loved and cared for in order to gain such awareness (Miller 1988).

As a survivor of genocide, I have been fortunate for many reasons. I have come to realize that participation in the sacred ceremonies of my people is essential for maintaining a balance between the sacred and the profane. We Hupas of northwestern California, for example, still reside within our ancestral lands.

I am a spiritual dancer. I have purposefully sought responsibility and relationship to place. During our sacred ceremonies, the movement from profane to sacred is a time in which we re-create ourselves and our communities as the cosmos itself is re-created. In essence the Hupa are participating in the renewal and affirmation of the patterns of life by coming together as a community to stand upon sacred ground and ritualize our ancient connections to the earth. Living a profane existence tends to allow for the loss of the sacred — or our universal and essential relationship to creation. Once we lose sight of the sacredness of creation, we lose ourselves and may fall prey to evil.

JANA: When I first began to recover an embodied memory of the sacred potential of the earth, natural environments began to penetrate my personal awareness through a shift in energies that awakened in me a sense of inner knowing and connection to the land. As a displaced Indo-European, actively seeking my sacred roots to the earth, these realizations and revelations about the nature of reality and its interconnection were at first startling. But these experiences have demonstrated that the recovery of ancestral memory (e.g., cultural roots, indigenous teachings about land) is not impossible. In fact, it may be vital in the healing transformation of the shadow. This process, however, is not an easy task.

JÜRGEN: I use the term “recovery of indigenous mind” to label a process of coming to reality as late-coming settlers on these lands. Inherent is the memory that all peoples had at some point in history, a connected or participatory way of knowing and being. The process of remembrance has to include the painful process of confronting the horrifying aspects of American history as well as our disconnection from ancestral traditions and sacred places as the positive aspects of ancestry are recovered. Any aspect of this work is difficult to carry out, as is obvious from our discussion.

The confrontation with the reality and concreteness of genocide is particularly difficult. I find so often that the specific suffering of actual people is lost in discussions of genocide. Recently, I went to an exhibit of Pomo baskets from the turn of the century and earlier in Ukiah, California. I was appalled by the way the exhibition texts were obviously trying to be sensitive to the individuals whose pieces were on show, but included nothing about the destruction, killing, and suffering of the tribe. Only one small part of each basketmaker was permitted to be seen. The genocidal historical context in which these extraordinary baskets were created had been abstracted as if it had happened removed from actual people, and was not part of the relationship of basketmakers and the traders purchasing their baskets. Each of the Pomo basketmakers included in the exhibition had become decontextualized, thus facilitating idealization and romanticization in the spectators.

JANA: Jack and I recently went to the Museum of Tolerance, at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which is dedicated to the remembrance and the lived significance of the Jewish Holocaust as well as more current forms of social prejudice in the United States. It was terribly hard for me to be there and watch historical footage of innocent women and children being murdered during the Holocaust. Before me was the glaring testimony of my ancestors, whose eyes were filled with such coldness as they killed and maimed others. It affected me deeply. The tears seemed to flow involuntarily at the catastrophic loss. I also realized that we have an opportunity to reach out to each other no matter how wounded we are.

JACK: Being a California Indian and knowing that genocide against Indian people resulted in a death toll of 94% due to the consequences of violent contact and diseases, knowing that these diseases were at times introduced on purpose in order to decimate the native populace, knowing the entire history of California genocide, I was disappointed that the museum had no material addressing these issues. Building a Museum of Tolerance in downtown L.A. [P18] on native ancestral lands, without including the voice of the suffering that had occurred on this continent and within the state of California, is from my perspective a huge oversight.

A California mission, for example, could be constructed so that visitors could walk through a series of interactive displays and encounters with Native American victims, thus bringing historical data to life. Visitors could bear witness to the harshness of the Padres, the rape and brutality perpetrated against the Indian women and children, the shackled feet and hands, and a steadfast refusal to allow Indian ceremonials. For example, in 1771, when the mission San Gabriel was being built, a soldier molested an Indian woman. Her husband protested by firing an arrow at the soldier. The husband was shot and killed. His head was cut off and was placed on a pike outside of the mission walls (Phillips 1975) . This information is all well-documented and attests to the brutality of the mission system, and yet most of us do not know this history or perhaps refuse to acknowledge it.

I was impressed, however, at the Museum of Tolerance when each visitor was given a card with a picture of a Jewish child, together with a brief personal history. At the end of the display the card was inserted into a computer and a printout was generated telling the visitor whether or not the child had survived the Holocaust. The horror of the experience from the survivor’s perspective was a vital teaching tool that diluted any attempt to be rational or distant about what one was witnessing.

JANA: The work of Henry Krystal on massive psychological trauma (1968, 1988) immediately comes to mind. According to his research, as well as other more recent researchers such as Van Der Kolk, McFarlane, and Weisaeth (1997) and Herman (1997), genocide is often viewed within the psychological literature as the most devastating and debilitating form of traumatization, because it causes enormous physiological and psychic overload, shock, numbing, and grief. It involves the severe devastation caused by cultural destruction, enslavement, relocation, and massive loss of life.

Research suggests, however, that through a narrative process, through sharing the stories of suffering, individuals may begin to organize, structure, and integrate emotionally charged traumatic experiences and events (Krystal 1988, Pennebaker 1995). In contrast, efforts to suppress or silence thoughts and feelings of these experiences create continual and long lasting problems, which may in some instances be transmitted intergenerationally (Sigal and Weinfeld 1989). Some individuals, for example, who attempt to put trauma out of their minds only increase self-negating thoughts and gestures. Efforts to distract actually appear to increase the frequency, intensity, and number of external stimuli that will trigger a memory or re-enactment of trauma (Niederland 1968). If an individual’s voice of trauma is not heard or is discounted or ridiculed, or if one’s pain is not acknowledged, then isolation, fear, anxiety, and psychological disease may dramatically increase. The research, therefore, suggests that by telling the story of trauma and survival, the survivor creates both a relational dialectic with other human beings as well as an internal symbolic encounter between self and other (Tedeschi and Calhoun 1995; Pennebaker 1993; Bucci 1993)

PATRICIA: When I look at our responsibility as aboriginal people, I am simultaneously speaking to non-aboriginal people. However, it is not necessary to have non-aboriginal people’s acknowledgment of their ancestors’ wrongs in order for us aboriginal people to heal. Because we are raised to remember our responsibility we offer non-aboriginal people our knowledge of life and how we are connected, our knowledge of negative energy, cleansing, balance, and the privilege of life. Our cultures call us to this responsibility of teaching others what we have learned, and I am thankful for people like yourselves, as participants in this discussion, who are working to bring about this reconciliation and restitution.

BETTY: I believe a further question we need to ask ourselves as Native Americans is: How do we participate in our own genocide? And how does this participation show up in our everyday interactions and relationships?

Perhaps we can begin by facing our collective delusions. In every culture there is the idea of what makes a good human being, and it seems to me that the idea of “controlling” both others’ lives and nature is what makes a good person according to pervasive assumptions in the Western world of imperialism. With it comes an image of niceness and goodness that provides no easy place for shadow material. The expected social image of niceness and the good person require the suppression of shadow issues. From a native perspective such a person is not nice at all, because the not-so-nice shadow material is apparent and part of our daily experience. Our stories help us to deal with shadow material individually and collectively; they connect the dark and the light sides of life. The predominant Eurocentered idea of goodness implies suppression and control of what is regarded as not goot; this seems to be a behavioral pattern that can lead to genocide when taken to the extreme (when an extreme valuation of certain “good” traits is used as a way to scapegoat and then kill people who are seen as not sharing these traits). People of European descent are frequently surprised when their niceness is not experienced as such by Indians.

I feel that this particular collective delusion of what a good human being is in the European sense has become part of our collective Native American delusions leading us to participate in our own genocide. It is an individualistic and profit-centered view of humans. By taking on this image that focuses so strongly on the light side we are led to the denial of genocide, since the Native American genocide is relegated to the shadow side of the good Western person. Consequently, we do not allow sufficient knowledge that genocide is still occurring, and that perhaps we are participating in it ourselves. This reminds me of our tribal children who have been attending Western schools since contact. There they are taught inferiority, linearity, and the objectification of the universe. They internalize this today, just as I did as a child. Growing up, the racism and the notion of humanity from the perspective of Western imperialism became a part of me. I took on the identity of a victim [P19] and lost my power. This is how I have taken on the collective shadow by identifying with the self-construction of the dominant culture. How can anyone really grieve when there is the delusion that genocide is not really occurring today?

PATRICIA: Just recently here in British Columbia the Nisga’a treaty, the first treaty in British Columbia’s history, was initialed. The Nisga’a people have ratified the agreement. to give them jurisdiction over their own hereditary lands, something they have been working toward for over 100 years. The agreement is now going to the provincial government for debate by the elected representatives. As this act of meager restitution is being debated amongst the politicians, I am asking myself: What is important about this? Our losses are so great in comparison to what the treaty might offer. For example the Indian Act from the 1870s defined aboriginal people as wards of the government and no longer owners of territories that had belonged to our ancestors for thousands of years. The treaty gives the Nisga’a self-determination, which means they will no longer depend on the government to determine their affairs. But while the Nisga’a have been struggling for freedom, their resources are being depleted with government approval and their social well-being has being tended to by professionals who are not trained to deal with the overwhelming issues that have developed as a result of residential schools, and other attempts at cultural genocide by the provincial and federal governments.

My rage subsides as I sit in silence. The things that Betty, Jack, Jana, and Jűrgen have said come back to me. Our spirit and our heart are what is important. Those are the teachings that my mother encountered when she went to the Tsimshian village of Kitkala which is located on Dolphin Island on the Northwest coast of British Columbia. She encountered family feuds that were generations old, and negative energy, but what she passed on to me were the positive attribute of the Kitkatla people regarding spiritual balance and integrity. As I look to the elders to help us heal in the aboriginal communities on the Northwest coast of British Columbia, I am saddened. I am not without hope, but I feel and see the impact of genocide in the cloak of Indian Affairs attempts to assimilate aboriginal people. I see Indian day schools, residential schools, burning of ceremonial regalia, segregation, isolation, and land appropriation. At the same time, our people are on a slow journey to recover our collective soul. What is our part as individuals in this process of recovering our collective soul?

First, I think that it is important for those who are elected to federally imposed political positions in our villages or reserves to acknowledge ways in which we are now oppressing ourselves. How are we continuing the genocide? As we examine our own hearts as leaders and work toward the high standards our ancestors established, we will be able to ask ourselves questions such as: What are we doing to destroy the trust that we need in each other, our culture, and ourselves? And those of us who are providing services to our people, what are we doing to create positive change? The genocide of our culture is now being perpetuated by us in actions such as Band and Tribal employees favoring their family members when providing the current housing policies, employment, education benefits, and health needs. Or community members excluding specific families because of jealousy, envy, and even hatred. We have forgotten our traditional healing ways and have taken on the “us versus them” mentality when conflict occurs.

Secondly, we have forgotten that when violence occurs in our communities two mothers are saddened, the mother of the violated and the mother of the one who has violated. We have forgotten that when violence occurs there are two families and a community that need the sacred presence of healing. We must first look at ourselves and admit what we are doing to our brothers and sisters.

Thirdly, but not finally, we need to take responsibility for our actions. When we are wrong we need to admit it. If the wrongful action was in public, then there are traditional ways in which we as Tsimshians can make amends for our mistake. When we are willing to identify our oppressive actions, admit they are wrong, and bring about resolve and restitution in culturally appropriate ways, then we can move away from this place of oppression. When we manage to take responsibility for ourselves we will be able to climb out of, rise out of, walk out of this hell that has entrapped us and our ancestors. Then we have the opportunity to escape this energy that works only to consume all who participate in these acts of oppression. The colonists’ teachings categorized aboriginal people as inferior in their schooling, law, and religious teachings. It is our responsibility to forgive, and seek restitution through the treaty process, compensation, and negotiation with the governments, courts, and churches.

JACK: We must remember that all Indian societies, or more broadly all aboriginal societies, always managed to find the best possible means by which to live healthy and productive lives in a particular time and place They cultivated the land, built fish dams, and worked out means by which to express the values of society. The challenge is no different today. We must find those same elements, take that same responsibility, and find those means. For this we must first look at ourselves and know who we are. We need to find relationship to ourselves and to those around us — our families, our tribes, and the world around us. It is always that reciprocity and the interactions of all those elements that matter.

A good illustration of this process is what has happened recently among the Karuk people of Orleans, in northwestern California. There was a period of 100 years in which there were no strong religious ceremonies. Then in 1993 a group of young traditional people got together and said, “We know where the dance ground is.” There were also elders who knew where the dances used to be held. The land was still there, and the ceremonial dance grounds still existed. So the people of Orleans re-created the traditional sacred patterns of the Jump Dance ceremony. This has re-vitalized the culture and spiritual ways of knowing that have been dormant and neglected for years due to genocide, cultural hatred, and fear. One interesting aspect of the Karuk Jump Dance is that the dance makers have utilized a traditional healing ceremony to heal the pains and wounds of oppression and the consequences of genocide — making an ancient spiritual process vital for today.

[P20] References
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Radical Presence (PDF)

Radical Presence
Beyond pernicious identity politics and racialism

Jürgen W. Kremer
3383 Princeton Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
© 2002

[Published in ReVision vol. 24, #3, pp. 11-20.
Page numbers insert below in boldface.]

The burden of forgetting will worry their hearts.
(Rytcheu 1997, 242)
[P11] In the past I have used such words as “recovery of Indigenous mind” and “nurturing conversation” and “participatory or shamanic concourse” and “decolonization” to point to a particular consciousness practice or way of being present in the world or form of inquiry (Kremer 1997b). These terms point to a radical way of overcoming persistent identity politics and racialism as a consequence of historical wounds, supremacist thinking, collective amnesia, and the ensuing shadow material. For myself they implied the provocative, even outrageous, challenge to look at ancestral roots that were so obviously deeply marked by Nazi and Viking violence. Labels, such as “recovery of Indigenous mind,” can be a dangerous thing — whatever the initial clarification they may offer, they may just as easily turn out to be explosive or meaningless; discussants may wield them as mental swords trying to destroy each other’s careers; or they may become divorced from the live process to which they originally referred and this reification then turns “it” into something that may be “politically correct” — and then not. “Multiculturalism,” “white,” “traditional” or “Euro-centered” make this all too obvious. While we cannot do without labels entirely, what we can do is to use them lightly, maybe even with a sense of humor or irony. At worst “recovery of Indigenous mind” could be seen as a narrow path for true believers. Such quality of certainty would be as troubling as the certainty of dissociated, distancing objectivity that reflects the lostness of the white mind and soul. “Participatory or shamanic concourse” may always remain sufficiently obscure so as to be inured against such uses. What I am trying to point to is remembrance beyond the husks of identity modernity offers. And I would like to use words, labels, or concepts that admit to fluidity, that preserve the sense of the shifting ground our conjoining of reality and its interpretation always is.
The question I am asking myself is this: How can I imagine myself and my story outside the molds provided by the modern cultures I have been a part of? N. Scott Momaday has written that “we are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine, at least, completely, who and what and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined (1975, 96).” These words may have even greater urgency for those who have left their Indigenous roots long behind than for Native Americans. Paula Gunn Allen comments that “the way of the imagination is the way of continuity, circularity, completeness. The way of the intellect is the way of segmentation, discontinuity, linearity (1987, 563).” So, how can I use my intellect to imagine myself with place and time, yet outside the paradigmatic stamps that had brought me to adulthood? How can I develop a story of self in search of continuity and completeness? I am not sure what this measure of imagination all might mean, especially when I think that continuity also means the persistence of chance and such trickster figures as Loki and Till Eulenspiegel in my German background. What I am struggling with is an attempt to imagine my personhood as it has migrated between different places and through different times. Not as a linear list of segments, but an attempt at narrative continuity, however incomplete.
[P12] Presently I like the label “nurturing conversation” best for this process, because it carries an implicit modesty and mundaneness. I would prefer to say even more simply that presence in and through conversation is all this is. Such use of the word “conversation” is a paradox: From the perspective of presence and participation, from an Indigenous perspective as it were, its meaning is obvious and, in some sense, trivial. Yet, from the perspective of modernity and dissociation it desperately needs an epithet to indicate the quality that is not obvious to the contemporary modernist mind. Presence is nurturing, as a teacher who is present to a student is nurturing. Therefore the addition of the adjective “nurturing” seems appropriate as indicator of the quality I am trying to point to. The inspiration for this terminology came from the Andean group PRATEC which uses the phrase criar y dejarse criar, nurturing (raising) and letting oneself be nurtured, to describe the reciprocal activity of conversing with the world (Apffel-Marglin with PRATEC 1998). As I converse with other beings and presences I hope to nurture them and as I listen to them I may be nurtured — speaking and listening we give nourishment to each other as the conversation moves in its circles (among humans it shows itself in the flow of narrative realities). Of course, a conversation does not have to be verbal, and neither does it have to be serious — it can be in the exchange of food, in the dance movement, in the intake of air, in the rush of the waterfall, in the play of air currents in the bunch grass, in the song offered to the mountain, and in the melody brought down from high peaks on the wind. Conversations may be abstracting, serious, funny, witty, as if, ironic, tricky, long, short… Now I don’t like the label “nurturing conversation” quite as much anymore, since it only insufficiently covers the actions of the ceremonialist, the buffoon, the philosopher, the farmer, the writer, the scarab, the flintstone, and of so many other conversationalists. But I will use it for now, speaking it lightly, hoping that it will be read lightly.
So, what is this that I am trying to point to with this label and brief description? What practice does it require? It means that I make myself present to the current moment and to what went before, to present and past; it means to be present to the cycle of seasons, the celestial movements, the weather, the land, the past of the land, the plants and animals, and to fellow human beings; it means seeking a place in community, whether natural or intentional, where story, ceremony, cultural history, and individual history matter; it means the struggle to align rational, emotional, somatic, and spiritual senses, understandings, and meanings; it means remembering the stories of languages, the history each word carries; it means looking at shadow material and acknowledging and healing internal and external splits and denials. It means not just thinking about rights, but also obligations. It means discovering spirits in symbols and using metaphors to create the possibility of spiritual presence. And then there is the creative play of chance, vision, and insight, the movement of tricksters. Visionary narratives of this kind are boundaried by the land lived on, by the seasons, by the movement of animals, now seemingly chance, now predictable. Tradition, when alive, is mirror and inspiration, it challenges and is challenged as old vision rubs against new. This is something quite different from an asphyxiating traditionalism. Tradition is never singular, except in the minds of some mythologists or anthropologists; living tradition is always an agonistic play of contending interpretations. More than anything the practice I am trying to point to seems to mean listening and inner quieting, rather than speaking.
Such practice values the individual, yet needs to occur outside of an individualistic ideology. It is not a dis-course, but a con-course, a shamanic coming together in a circle in which truths are unfolded and refolded. Here communal reality creation is reviewed through talking as well as ritualistic embodiment. This circle has space for silence, humor, theater, dance, and all the other arts; scientific claims to truth need to rub shoulder with other aspects of human reality as they all struggle to align with each other. This is a practice of world creation and maintenance. Knowing is a practice of living. Living is the practice of knowing. Beingknowing. And evolving knowledge cannot find its point of alignment without vision. Truths cannot be achieved by means of the rational mind alone. The knowing of the body, the knowing of the heart, the knowing which comes from states of shifted awareness all need to inform agreed upon truths. Every consensus, temporary as it may be, has to withstand the challenges posed in verbal, rational discourse, yet such resolutions also have to withstand the challenges emerging from somatic, sexual, emotional, and spiritual experiences as the present embraces ancestral past, history, and ecological presence. Somatic knowing, intuition, and visionary insight need to see the light of the rational mind, while the mind needs to see the light that comes from other realms. Not an easy task at all. We will always remain challenged to reflect our resolutions, our truths in language, yet language is not the sole arbiter of truths in this process. This way we may appreciate scientific achievements not just abstractly or for the promise of their technological value, but by also connecting them to what our hearts know and what gender differences tell us. And we may appreciate them by connecting them to our somatic knowing and what they may look like in the face of visions across past and future generations. I would call this the practice of participation or the nurturing conversation. It is the work of preventing dissociation from various aspects of life and of healing splits that have occurred. Its opposite is normative dissociation, the socially enforced splits from aspects of life that are integral to Indigenous presence. The tragedy of the Western mind is the conviction that closure, Truth, and certainty are possible and desirable goals. Viewed [P13] from a distance this appears to be not only a loss of wonder, presence, and comedy, but an altogether ludicrous folly in view of the historical realities human beings have been engaged with. The overly serious questers for ultimate scientific truths are so often blinded and fail to recognize the comedy they are a part of (cf. Kremer 1992a,b).
Although the implications of these summarizing statements about the nurturing conversation can be read in a utopian vein, I am trying to talk about a humbling practice of conversation that struggles to honor and respect the right of individual beings, humans and others. Utopian visions may have been an inspiration to many on one occasion or another, yet, they have more than anything else spelled disaster and death in such dystopian forms as the search for the New World and manifest destiny, communism, or Nazism. Grand theories, utopian and otherwise, more likely reflect the end of a conversation in the mind of men desirous to impose their thoughts and obsessions than an opening to an evolving play of individual and collective narratives on a scale that humans can not only participate in with awareness, but can also enjoy. Such awareness and play would include the struggle with splits, denials, and shadow material. It seems improbable that the grand vision of a single individual or theory can correct the collective ills we are faced with. The individual practice of the conversation, however we understand it as unique individuals, seems to be an inevitable ingredient in the development of social engagement, community building, critical theory, and cultural exchange. Listening to ourselves and others patiently and with compassion and forgiveness seems to be mandatory. As human beings we seem to be terrifyingly unskilled in this. This is apparent whether we think of the history of racism, the Native American holocaust, and slavery in the U.S., the Shoah perpetrated by the Nazis, or even positive attempts, such as the various ways to deal with communist history in former East Bloc countries or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Amnesia always seems to be the most tempting route to deal with the shadows of history. I am not sure that there have been times when we were better at it, but I am sure that our present times require it desperately, maybe more than ever.
One could argue the case that we humans already have sufficient means in hand to address successfully our contemporary ills, such as environmental destruction, poverty, sexism, or the incredible number of children dying all over the world every day. Yet, we seem to fail to be committed to, or perhaps lack the psychological makeup and skills for utilizing the resources, the technologies, and the information we have at our fingertips to relieve the suffering and destruction that stares at us daily on tv, in the newspaper, and on the computer screen. It would be difficult to make the case that ecocide, children dying because of insufficient health care, the death penalty, lack of medical services, etc. are unavoidable in the face of all the riches, monetary, technological, and otherwise, we have available to us. We are constantly making choices as humans. Now that we can see so much of the world in an instant we are all complicit in the choices we are making. Complicity is the flip side of global awareness and interconnected knowing. Yet, within a particular framework of evolution and progress, within a particular understanding of the market, money, and commerce, the often disastrous results of such complicit choices seem inevitable consequences, a price that needs to be paid now in hopes that the situation will be remedied sooner or later. Whether it is the reluctance of the U.S. to empower a world court for crimes against humanity or the refusal (together with Canada, Japan, and others) to support the significant reduction of hot house gas emissions; whether it is in the refusal of rich nations to cease the exploitation of so-called Third World countries (where poverty, more than anything else, is the result of the destruction of ancient economic bases and the foreign exploitation of resources); whether it is the destruction of Indigenous languages and the increasing predominance of English through the worldwide web; whether it is the refusal of certain Christian organizations to cease missionizing Native peoples; whether it is the development of school curricula and testing procedures that re-create human beings as functional robots in front of the computer screen — all these are actions guided by choices that could be made differently. Obviously. So often we forget to question the framework within which choices are made.
However, the accelerated disappearance of animal and plant species, the increase in pollution, the continuing violence against Indigenous peoples, the frightening rate at which humans die because of war, starvation, and illness uncared for are simultaneously confronted by a wave of optimism that seems to see resolution of these ills in successful globalization and ever faster computer technology and information management. Fiber optics, the “evernet,” and other advances induce a new form of utopian thinking in which these technologies are expected to give rise to a new economy, not to produce smog, to give us access to unfathomable amounts of information in an instant, to abolish old job hierarchies, to make services location-independent, and to abolish the curse of alienation as people take charge of their destinies. Leisure, the arts, entertainment, friendship, creative pauses, and reflective thought may get drowned in all-encompassing economic activities that are done with ever greater efficiency (cf. Denby 2000). The success of these developments may create, with much greater universality than previously anticipated, the one-dimensional woman and man Herbert Marcuse (1964) talked about (and, indeed, the word “man” in One-Dimensional Man seems appropriate here given the male vision from which such human beings result). Doubtful as it seems, it is not altogether impossible that the potential inherent in such ongoing interconnectedness and instant transfer of information may also lead to the breakdown of national boundaries and age-old chauvinisms; to independence from work commute and hierarchical organizations; to a reduction in environmental destruction; to the preservation of endangered languages; and more. Paradoxically, the price for such developments may be the overarching success of the one-dimensional framework of American language based commercialism, the final success of a particular type of colonization of self, other, and world. Yet, all this is a matter of choice. The notion that progress can only be measured in terms [P14] of market value is the surrender of choice and responsibility. As long as profit remains the sole measuring rod for change and development we are participants in a one-dimensional paradigm that resists reflections upon its premises by invoking the specter of the loss of competitive edges.
Whatever incredible developments computer technology may be capable of, we still may want individuals who have the intellectual, moral, and emotional capacity to deal with the billions of bits per second arriving in their computer. What does it matter that I can download the Library of Congress or innumerable old movies in seconds or that I can nab countless tunes from the net if I don’t have any way to absorb these riches? What could be enrichment becomes mere noise and a certain number of bytes in the computer. What about cave painting from Ural mountains or the yoik of Sámi singers Mari Boine or Ulla Pirttijärvi in my computer if I can’t make myself present to them? What is the impact of information about persecutions and deaths in Chechnya, Iraq, Tibet, and elsewhere, if I don’t allow for the time to make myself present to such inhumanity? Yet, we could. We could at least try. And in that case things may slow down a bit and choice may enter as felt option. The increasing wealth of information available to more and more people still needs individuals to absorb, administer, use or enjoy it. Presence has the potential of developing alternatives to the one-dimensionality of the market, while lack of presence or normative dissociation increases the profit margin.
Our contemporary predicaments have prompted significant segments of the population in the U.S. and elsewhere to look for alternatives outside of the dominant frameworks. Buddhist meditation practices, Hindu rituals, mind altering substances, channeling, shamanic ceremonies, and intentional communities are among the avenues sought out. The interest in Indigenous peoples roams as the market place dictates which tribe and culture is presently sellable. It seems ever so easy to project nostalgically the lack and need of the culture we are a part of onto the tradition or teacher of choice. The resulting idealization and romanticization is ultimately self-defeating and may even be dangerous. It appears urgent and mandatory to learn from other traditions in these times, yet it seems crucial that we do so within a framework that is respectful of others and otherness and that does not impose implicit supremacist values. To do this without taking into account possible limitations, personal wounds of colleagues, friends, and teachers, or cultural shadow material would be folly. An even greater folly would result from the avoidance of one’s own personal and cultural shadow material, the catalyst for idealization and romantic projections. If people of white or Euro-centered mind, of whatever actual skin color they may be, are to engage in a conversation with fewer splits, then a painstaking conversation to recover aspects of self, culture, and history lost in personal and normative dissociative processes seems mandatory — and it is only then that the need for idealization may disappear and the other has a chance to appear as conversation partner. Real … denials … painful memories, and all — human.
The word Indian is not only a mistaken identification, but also a continuing signifier for the supremacist discourse of whiteness. As Gerald Vizenor and many others have pointed out, Indians were invented by the latecomers who could not see the Natives for who they were and are. Socialized as a white man in Germany it was Indians I had been trained to perceive. My idealizations of Native American people were initially fed by the romanticism the German writer Karl May infused in me as a child; Carlos Castaneda and others continued on grounds well prepared. Significantly, all these influences opened an avenue for my search for Indigenous knowledge, but they also made me susceptible to the impact of Indians acting out their traumas on my back or tempting me with essentialist or fundamentalist notions that perpetrate an unreflected authoritarianism (the seeds of fascism). Any survivor of genocide has to deal with the painful consequences of post-traumatic stress syndrome (or whatever else we might call it). When such suffering is not addressed, but acted out, alcoholism, family violence, sexual abuse, cruelty, deception, mistrust, unstable relationships, and other symptoms are the result. My idealizations have at times made it difficult to see these symptoms and I suffered from them in consequence. More importantly, they prevented me from true compassion and empathy, since I was not present in ways that could overcome the dynamics of victimry and tragic history. Racialism may rear its ugly head in any quarter. In consequence, while teaching, I have on occasion become party to cultural healing garnered at the price of divisive games of dominance rather than the appreciation of difference and the caring respect for different needs (nonetheless much healing happened in the midst of all of this). Part of my continuing challenge is to deal directly with romanticism, racism, and victimry when learning communities consist of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Idealization, in final analysis, is the persistence of shadow material and the refusal to engage with the reality of who we are in all our complexity.
This is, of course, a dynamic that is furthered by the New Age market and the mono-myth ideology developed by Joseph Campbell and others. Native peoples tell stories, not myths. Shamanic states of consciousness, at least in one sense, are subjective experiences beyond time; or encounters with eternity; or individual experiences of everpresent origins (Gebser 1985). When stories of such experiences are taken out of their historical Indigenous ceremonial context, then myths result. Dangerously, if these are further interpreted and decontextualized, as in Eliade’s (1963) in illo tempore, then we quickly get on the road to authoritarianism and fascism and the hypostasis of an individual altered state as social utopia easily birthes Iron Guards or brownshirts. Mythology is fundamentally the invention of white men that came to fruition in the middle of the 19th century when the emergent nation states were in need of defining epics akin to Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. At that time Elias Lönnrot created the Kalevala based on Karelian sung poems which later became the Finnish national epos. This represents maybe the clearest example of the invention and use of mythology in service of contemporary politics. It is important to [P15] remember that nation states are not natural communities, but, as the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has aptly pointed out, they are stressful and formed through stress. “Modern nations are not what traditional historians pretend they are, namely historic explanatory and originary communities; they are much more and fundamentally psycho-political suggestion bodies that have the character of artificial communities of stress. Thus they are of radically autoplastic nature, because they exist only to the extent that they arouse themselves, and they arouse themselves only to the extent that they tell themselves their reason for being in powerful fictive narratives and autosuggestive, stress-creating news” (Sloterdijk 1998, 44-45). Myths are the stressful creations of ethnographers as they take down the oral story and make it stop quivering as it reaches print. Nations supersede the intimate knowledge practices of tribal communities as abstraction and writing become increasingly important. The assumption that print is an evolutionary advance is ideological in view of the losses sustained in the abolishment of oral knowledge transmission. Yet, myths can be resuscitated at any time and return as stories.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote a dream story entitled Ragnarök, in which the gods make an unseemly appearance: ”Centuries of feral life of flight had atrophied that part of them that was human; the moon of Islam and the cross of Rome had been implacable with these fugitives. Beetling brows, yellowed teeth, the sparse beard of a mulatto or a Chinaman, and beastlike dewlaps were testaments to the degeneration of the Olympian line. The clothes they wore were not those of a decorous and honest poverty, but rather of the criminal luxury of the Underworld’s gambling dens and houses of ill repute. A carnation bled from a buttonhole; under a tight suitcoat one could discern the outline of a knife. Suddenly, we felt that they were playing their last trump, that they were cunning, ignorant, and cruel, like aged predators, and that if we allowed ourselves to be swayed by fear or pity, they would wind up destroying us. — We drew our heavy revolvers (suddenly in the dream there were revolvers) and exultantly killed the gods.” (Borges 1998, 322). Indeed, these gods (and goddesses) need to be killed, since their life is sustained by chauvinistic visions and colonial desires.
Carl Gustav Jung suggested that the Germans of the Third Reich were possessed by the god Wotan. Gods and goddesses are part of the paradigm of mythology — spirits make their appearance in Native stories. After all, the older word goð, on which the word god is based, was used by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturlusson to refer to spirits. It was abstracted, just as the Tungus word šaman became shaman, to serve the unfolding conversation of European peoples, a conversation dissociating and abstracting from the specifics of time and place. Maybe Borges’ dream story prefigures the possibility of killing the worn out contraptions gods and goddesses have become as Hitler and others have pressed them into their service. This then may make a different quality of spiritual presence possible. Maybe we need to draw our revolvers and exultantly and compassionately confront essentialist notions about life and world. Maybe this is the ragnarök that is ahead of us as the Great Year of 21,000 or so years changes (which may be the cosmic drama described in Old Norse poems like the Magical Ravenchant or Hrafnagaldr Óðins). This event refers to an astronomically observable event at the time of the completion of one cycle of the precession of the equinoxes: on the day of the winter solstice in 2012 the sun will be at the intersection of the ecliptic and the galactic equator, right in the v-shaped opening of the milky way (Kremer 2000b). What this rare conversational event may mean is for the interpretive work of the nurturing conversation to understand. We may story it in terms of ragnarök, a fateful spiritual moment in time (where we could say that the sun dips deep into urðrbrunnar, the well of memory, touching memory of old as the new Great Year begins); or the end of the Maya calendar (as the warrior twins descend down the Road to Xibalba, the black road to the place of fright, for renewal); or the Hopi prophecies (as the Pahana, “the white brother,” returns to contribute to the creation of balance in accordance with the original instructions). Or we may enter a Borgesian dream and work to purify ourselves of misguided utopian thinking, fundamentalist conceptions, and grand theories, thus seeking the play of unfolding narratives. The magic of that moment depends on the depth of human presence rather than any inevitable cataclysm or opening of the doors of heaven.
The proposition that a German connect with Indigenous roots is a difficult one. I have been exhorted to do so by Native American friends and colleagues on numerous occasions. The only way I could conceive of doing so was by painstakingly tracking the various historical changes and distortions of what might be called the layer of an Indigenous paradigm analogous to the wina·má·bakěya’ or Diné paradigm (the Pomo and Navajo people of the dominant discourse). I do not regard this dimly visible layer as ideal, not at all, however, I do think it mandatory that we give it greater presence in the awareness of the Eurocentered mind and that there are important paradigmatic matters we can learn from it. Simplistically, I distinguish three major historical layers to be worked through for the purposes of the connection with my own indigenous roots. The most recent layer is circumscribed by the Nazi abuse of Germanic mythology, with Richard Wagner as one of the important figures paving the way for Siegfried, Brünhilde, Wotan, Erda, and Walküren to be part of fascistic machinations. I associate the prior layer particularly with the Viking times, with the patriarchal and so frequently violent times of Óðinn, Sigurðr, Sigrdrifa, and Valkurjar (and the protagonists of Der Nibelunge Not). Beyond the Æsir layer of gods I can faintly see the Vanir spirits, maybe of megalithic times, the times of Freyja — a shamanic universe. To be sure, this is a rough outline; the knowledge we have about these traditions indicates complexities and the blurring of distinctions and connections. The fact that German prehistorians seem to have dealt insufficiently with the ways in which they made their subject matter a handmaiden of the Third Reich continues to stand in the way of a deeper understanding of the Old Europe of the more northern latitudes.
For me there is no presumption at all that Indigenous roots help us remember some ideal paradise from which retro-romantic minds can concoct yet another utopian system. But what I believe matters is the difference in paradigm [P16] between modernist thought and Indigenous paradigms. Here, it seems, the modern mind can learn something urgently needed for the future. Not dealing with the presence of Indigenous European roots and the history of distortions empowers romantic and nostalgic projections onto Native American and other tribal peoples. The “ecological Indian” and similar notions are birthed out of the perverse dynamic of idealization and an unconscious yearning to be Indian or some other Native on the one hand, and racism and Indian hating on the other. That we were all tribal at some point in history is trivial, what is not trivial is the lack of integration of tribal pasts and the resulting racist and genocidal machinations. Each tribe or people or nation has to deal with its history, including the history of whatever violence has or is occurring (whether slavery, cannibalism, clitorectomy, or whatever other atrocities). What remains stunning is the difference in scale and quality of the colonial violence (against women, nature, and Native peoples) that the modern Eurocentered mind has perpetrated; I fail to see something comparable in the violence among peoples engaged in what I have described as the struggle for conversational presence and balancing in a particular place and time.
Altered states of the shamanic kind come easy, in a sense. With the right know-how or for the right amount of dollars anybody can begin to explore alternate realities. The affirmation of such human potential is important, yet seems utterly insufficient as an isolated process. The shamanic work of Indigenous cultures is embedded in cultural practices akin to the nurturing conversation I have been talking about. Most such conversations have become fragmented and incomplete due to colonization and missionization, in places still vibrant, in others partially Christianized, in others almost folkloric remnants. Therefore the experience of alternate spiritual realities seems to require as prerequisite the experience of a specific alternate state of consciousness more difficult to attain than the shamanic state of consciousness taught in weekend workshops: compassionate presence to the various histories different peoples are a part of; empathic awareness of historical wounds and violations, of chauvinisms and white supremacy, of fractures and fissures in history as told by victors; listening presence on the land lived on. And compassionate presence to the ills that are being wrought today and that are part of all our lives. Prolonged presence to suffering seems to be a fail safe recipe for insanity since it is so prevalent all over the world. The difficulty of remaining present to such abundant pain and fear and anger is obvious. Just brief periods of intense awareness can drive me to despair, depression, anger, and other intense feeling.
What is at times seen as the classical shamanic initiation can be described as a process in which the initiand is entirely picked apart, down to each single bone, before being put back together. It seems to me that the contemporary shamanic initiation for people out of their Indigenous minds not only requires something of that sort, but also the prior dark night experience of our collective situation, past and present. Unless we allow ourselves to be picked apart by the monstrosities we have created in history we may not be able to re-create ourselves as human beings capable of a nurturing conversation without significant splits while holding those splits that seem inevitable for the moment in compassionate awareness. This I consider the healing of history and the washing of words. The spirits that lurk in the shadows are just as real as the spirit helpers a practitioner may wish to acquire. For me these issues became obvious as I was looking at the historical relationship between European and Indigenous peoples and as I was trying to understand what equitable knowledge exchange and a cross-cultural nurturing conversation might mean — I could not conceive of it without becoming present to the violent events of colonization, Christianization, genocide, and internalized colonization. And with it I had to acknowledge the state of consciousness, the normative dissociation, that enabled such global violence. This type of split seems to be the psychological ingredient necessary for the scale of violence we are faced with. Painful awareness of historical shadow material started a slow healing process.
The Chukchi writer Juri Rytcheu, in an article on The Future of Memory (1999), reports a conversation with the Inuit singer and dancer Nutetein, in which he told him that human beings are not merely to be measured in height and width, but also in terms of their depth of memory, since only that is what makes them spatially real, graspable, and visible. He continues: “Nutetein’s words admirably connect the human memory of tradition and cultural inheritance with the coming-to-consciousness of individuality and irrepeatability. Because a human being without roots and without acknowledgment of the ancestral cultural inheritance is — as Herbert Marcuse said previously — flat and one-dimensional, even if s/he claims to be a person of all the world cultures.”
I have undertaken a journey from origins in Germany to the recovery of the practice of the nurturing conversation, incomplete and flawed as it undoubtedly is. At first I had to deal with my conditioning as a German white man. This motivated the integration and transformation of the demons of the past. Work with Native American students demanded of me, I felt, that I become present not just to the colonial history of this continent, but also to the history of my ancestors that led to the paradigm enabling such global violence. At one point, while I was out in the desert fasting, the shoah was urgently present in my awareness. As part of confronting my feelings of shame I was trying to work through a story (Jewish poet Paul Celan’s Conversation in the mountains) and an Old Norse poem (Hrafnagaldr [P17] Óðins). My self sacrifice of food and dialogue with poetry and nature opened the vista to faint traces of cultural practices not immediately marked by structural violence and dissociation. While traveling in the arctic north of Sápmi I tried to be present to the shadow material that I carried as individual and as an individual representing a certain culture. I had to confront not only a history of colonization and missionization, but also of German occupation during World War II (Kremer 1998b). I have come to a place where I can envision spiritual and shamanic practice in a way that is also present to the violent history of the places of my settlement and the surrounding lands. For me the conduct of ceremonies provide an inspiration to see cultural and individual healing not as separate. To use images from the Old Norse literature: The fertilizing clay lifted from the well of memory need not become a folkloric or fairy tale image, but can be a shamanic vision that facilitates the presence of natural reason as people move in and out of trance, remember the fertile power of shadow material, and listen to different versions of origin stories. Indeed, history may speak then, in the way that the rill gurgles and the raven calls and the summer triangle sparkles overhead — and all of these may get listened to.
Undergoing the dismemberment by the demons of history is the recovery of the nurturing conversation. Occasional laughter at our follies, hypocrisies, and ludicrous grandiosities may be a useful additive to compassion and empathy in the struggle for more encompassing truthfulness. This may enable us not only to imagine how we might right historical wrongs, but also how we might use the powerful technology, the abundant resources, and the wealth of information in our hands for the benefit of individuals and communities. Shamanic initiation is the death of the self that we grew up to be and the rebirth of this self enlarged and changed by spiritual presences. Historically, people of Euro-centered mind generally have forced Native peoples to die as sovereign people engaged in their own and unique visionary nurturing conversation in the place they inhabited and, if they survived physically, forced them to be reborn as people of Euro-centered mind. The residential schools all over the American continent were the most obvious illustration of this genocidal violence; there the educational structure was designed to kill the Indian so that a person of European mind might live. Presently the challenge for people of white mind seems to be to die as the dissociated selves they have become and to be reborn as selves that can exercise not just their rationality but other neglected aspects of self experience. Thus they may re-awaken their potential to become present in the way of Indigenous peoples. This would increase the capacity to honor the multiple truths humans can create.
The problems our forebears were faced with are not the same challenges we have to answer to today. There is nothing simpler in earlier historical periods, just a different kind of complexity. Not reviewing the past amounts to the avoidance of complexity in service of the linearity enforced by market economy. If people who have left their Indigenous ancestry behind a long time ago want to re-enter such a framework they need to take account of the historical changes as well as the history that traces their split from the nurturing conversation. (Aboriginal peoples are confronted with similar issues in order to address the consequences of colonialism and genocide in a way that is self-affirmative and discontinues the victimization they have suffered.) In either case a creative and visionary and critical practice seems to be called for, not the folkloric or essentialist or fundamentalist re-creation of a world past. I would like to believe that this is what communities in their Indigenous or participatory mind have tried in the past when free of the threat of genocide, war, hunger, and similar overpowering dangers. The current ideological biases of much evolutionary thinking would like us to believe that such visionary self-actualization of self and community was uncommon among peoples frequently relegated either to pre-history or contemporary remainders of evolutionary stages considered long obsolete (cf. Kremer 1998a). While these communities or individuals probably rarely, if ever, have been ideal in the sense the romantic mind demands, they do provide a framework or images for a practice of being and knowing, an ontological and epistemological understanding that seems remarkably relevant today (beyond specific knowledge Indigenous peoples hold, such as the medicinal properties of herbs, ecological knowledge, etc.). All our dazzling computer technology seems to have increased actual work time in the U.S. rather than reduced it. Current technological developments hold the utopian promise that we may work always and forget about such diversions as leisure. Yet, peoples commonly labeled “hunters and gatherers” seem to have worked 3 – 15 hours per week — enough time to self-actualize with stories, crafts, ceremonies, love-making, ecstasies, etc. Abraham Maslow’s insights regarding self-actualization, so important in the field of humanistic psychology, thus appear as the remembrance of things past, but urgently needed for today.
We don’t need to share Bruce Chatwin’s enthusiasm and narcissistic idealization of “the nomadic alternative” in order to advocate freedom of movement. The movement of our ancestors seems to constitute a significant part of human history, whether in the form of the migration of the early Indo-Europeans into central and northern Europe; or the völkerwanderung of the European tribes (the Langobards, the Goths, and others); or the tribal movements in Africa; or the migration of the peoples known as Iroquois from what is now Mexico to their present location; or the Sámi peoples herding the reindeer on seasonal routes; or the movement of Warlpiri and other Aboriginal Australian peoples along their songlines. While some of us may prefer a sedentary life to nomadism or migration, the option of free motion, unconstrained by state powers should be there for everybody. Individuals and communities need to have the sovereign right for the visionary creation of their particular brand of conversation with the land they live and move on. Each place allows not just for one resolution of creative conversations with humans, animals, plants, stars, and spiritual presence, but for a variety of insightful solutions. The star constellation ursa major can be seen in many different [P18] ways and stories may give these particular stars different significance. The way Altair re-appears in the arctic north in the midst of winter to hail the return of the sun can give rise to a variety of ceremonies celebrating celestial movements and spirits. In so many cultures such narrative resolutions are balanced, or threatened, by the chaotic and disturbing presence of a trickster or clown figure. The resulting diversity of conversation can hold, integrate, digest, and even amuse itself about the facts empirical sciences are able to create, replicate, and apply. And such diversity of conversation can also integrate the positive values of the civil society that have largely arisen at the price of much human life, whether during the Nuremberg trials or on other occasions. Human rights, notions of egalitarianism, freedom, etc. can and need to be part of any nurturing conversation. The pejorative use of the word “tribalism” may point to areas of Indigenous discourse where indeed notions of traditionalism may be unduly restrictive or at odds with rights of the civic society — yet such finger pointing often simplistically seems to imply the inevitable superiority of the modern Euro-centered discourse while barring reflection upon its serious structural limitations. Each of these different discourses needs to find its own resolution for restrictions (mental, historic, economic, and otherwise) that may impede the visionary and creative unfolding of who we potentially can be as human beings. Equitable knowledge exchange is what is called for; otherwise mutual learning is impossible and exchanges are structured by implicit or explicit supremacist assumptions.
Gerald Vizenor has developed a discourse of sovereignty that transgresses beyond notions of inheritance and tenure of territory. In his discussions sovereignty appears as transmotion, as vision moving in imagination, as the substantive right of motion. “Sovereignty as motion and transmotion is heard and seen in oral presentations, the pleasures of native memories and stories, and understood in the values of human spiritual motion in languages. Sovereignty is transmotion and used here in most senses of the word motion; likewise, ideas and conditions of motion have a deferred meaning that reach, naturally, to other contexts of action, resistance, dissent, and political controversy. The sovereignty of motion means the ability and the vision to move in imagination and the substantive rights of motion in native communities” (1998, 182-3). He associates transmotion with natural reason, natural creation together with other creatures, and Native memories. Sovereignty of motion is described as mythic, material, visionary, the ethical presence of nature, and natural reason. I believe his descriptions question Eurocentered notions of sovereignty and challenge modern and postmodern discourses to reintegrate a dissociated past.
Umberto Eco (1998) has rightfully warned against the dangers of Ur-Fascism in New Age and related thinking. Yet, interest in the older traditions of Europe, her Indigenous knowledge, continues to be present. The increasing number of books of lesser and higher quality about Celtic, Norse, and other traditions attest to this. Calling for the suppression of this interest because of past fascistic abuses or contemporary fascistic tendencies is an insufficient response. After all, Wagner’s seductive sounds of Ur-Fascism continue to be played in opera houses around the world. We need to develop a discourse that is intelligent enough to take legitimate concerns, such as the possibility of Ur-Fascism, into account, yet recovers the potential of a nurturing, Indigenous conversation of European peoples. This would mean to develop a discourse, a nurturing conversation as it were, that critically turns European Indigenous thinking to deconstruct the limitations of modernist and postmodernist notions without resorting to a cult of traditionalism or irrationality, and without rejecting analytical criticism or values integral to civic societies, however imperfectly realized. Vizenor’s writing calls for a self-reflective response from within Euro-centered thinking.
While we can conduct the conversation I am speaking of as a retro-romantic endeavor that hearkens back to times imagined as ideal or desirable, we can also conduct it as visionary enterprise where the story, ceremony, and history of place and people can find a creative presence in contemporary times — real, not folklore or re-enactment; faithful to all that has occurred, not New Age fancy. True origins are never singular. The struggle for truthfulness needs to be unceasing, but skepticism of ever reaching complete truth equally needs to pervade each action, dream, performance, piece of writing, and ceremony. Seeking to understand our exact place in the weft and warp of the fateful lines created by the nornar from the auður, the riches, in the well of memory is necessary. Yet we should only do so by acknowledging our likely insufficiency for the task. Paradoxically, we may be destined to live up to our fate but incompletely. This makes the conversation a modest and humbling practice indeed.
At one point in my struggle to recover the connection with my roots I identified myself as “Teuton” or “Myrging.” I was standing in a circle of Native Americans who were affirming their presence amidst the projections and denials the dominant culture had foisted upon them. From the Native perspective such affirmation of ancestry seemed entirely natural (Kremer 1996c). But from a German perspective this identification may look anywhere from silly to nonsensical or ludicrous. I don’t think it was any of this. The labels Teuton and Myrging are as problematic as the label German, albeit for different reasons. Teuton provokes a connection with a memory not only of an unsavory part of German history, but also those parts of my ancestral history that are denied the presence that can heal the Karl May projections onto Native Americans of the desire for the mythic, the wild and natural, and communal connection. German is a label that is doubly problematic when applied to myself: First, I have crossed the boundaries between (at the time) the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America. After twenty years on the Native American continent I am neither German nor American, even though in both countries I can get away in either pose. My German upbringing is heavily coated with American experiences (as reflected in all my writing). Second, the label German is the figment of a particular nationalistic imagination and political construction that has little to do with the past or present possibility of Indigenous presence in the place I was born to; [P19] ultimately it is the shrinking of imagination into the essentialism of bloodline and heritage (Germany continues to determine citizenship predominantly by bloodline). That my bloodline could be considered pure is as much an accident of history, the chance encounters of my ancestors, as it is a particular way of constructing ancestral lines (and possibly the denial of Jewish heritage). It may be wise for Germans to remember that human beings were given blood by the trickster Loðurr or Loki, and a tricky affair it becomes when we forget such origins. The trickster has been in the blood since the earliest creation story we can associate with the Germanic peoples. During the Third Reich they forgot that the trickster has no stability, no center, no identity, just as blood is fluid and not stable, and is insufficient to provide originary identity. Loki — man, crossdresser and all — was too tricky for the German nation and they denied the trickiness of blood in consequence, just as its earliest history is now suspect and largely shunned. Fate is a never merely a bloodline, it is a creative vision that may limit itself as it enters blood and as blood enters vision. Thus I am neither German nor American and the Teuton or Myrging serves as a provocative and comic stand-in for a tribal figure whose absence has inflicted endless colonial violence onto Native peoples the world around.
Salman Rushdie, in discussing Günter Grass, describes the full migrant as a person who suffers, “traditionally, a triple disruption: he loses his place, he enters into an alien language, and he finds himself surrounded by beings whose social behaviour and codes are very unlike, and sometimes even offensive to, his own.” He then goes on to describe Grass’ life “as an act of migration, from an old self into a new one … The first dislocation, remember, is the loss of roots … The second dislocation is linguistic. And we know … of the effect of the Nazi period on the German language, of the need for the language to be rebuilt, pebble by pebble, from the wreckage; because a language in which evil finds so expressive a voice is a dangerous tongue … And the third disruption is social (1991, 277-278).”
I have migrated from what was then the Federal Republic of Germany to the U.S., I have become fluent in another language, and I have adjusted to new social codes, out of which the continuous denials of Native American presence and history may be the most offensive beside the unrelenting celebration of profit and money. My old self was rather safely moored to a critical, progressive modernist understanding of society and individual, nurtured through the student rebellion and activism of the late sixties and early seventies. I have begun a second migration from this self by deconstructing its modernist roots and the monstrosities of Nazi and other distortions, thus entering an imaginary borderland that, at first glance, appears out of place and time, but is defined by the concrete coordinates of collective shadow issues and the creative vision that arises from them in a specific place and time. Rushdie also wrote that “the very word metaphor, with its roots in the Greek words for bearing across, describes a sort of migration, the migration of ideas into images. Migrants — borne-across humans — are metaphorical beings in their very essence; and migration, seen as a metaphor, is everywhere around us (1991, 278).” As a metaphorical being I seek to evoke and vision myself in migratory motion across the boundaries and categories enforced by an attritive imagination. I seek to evoke and vision myself within a conversation where the tracks of history, shamanic imagination, natural cycles, and social conscience gather in nourishing creativity. Gerald Vizenor wrote, “the trick in seven words is to elude historicism, racial representations, and remain historical (1988, xi).” In our contemporary world so many people are migrants, people of mixed blood, culture, and tradition. The figure of the trickster giving humans blood may acquire new meaning.
So, here I stand on the place of my settlement, on Nomlaki land, where the people are absent to my German and American mind, yet present to the story my Teuton and Myrging mind tells and present to the stories the Vanir people, the pre-Indoeuropean people of the north, told. My presence arises not through the label Teuton or Myrging, it arises from lineages that emerged from Lithuania and the Alsace, from these border crossings that constitute my ancestral lines and from my own border crossings inside and outside. My presence arises from the boundary crossings of twinning, the androgynic and hermaphroditic exploration of memories in Waltoykewel and by the river Elbe. The Old Norse image of memory with the three women by the well spreading the white fluid of memory and destiny across the lands, with the guardian of the ages standing on top of the tree, has sexual connotations in the deepest sense of creativity. Reaching into memory to tell as complete a story as possible is creative and healing, re-generative. It celebrates the lifeforce we carry and the imaginative possibilities of our visionary presence boundaried by the cycles of the seasons and the flight of the raven. The observation of the black feathered bird is as important as its mythic counterpart Raven. The presence to Indian warriors, mission bells, digger pines means the double presence to scarlet red and brownish purple flowering plants and grayish-green pine trees as well as presence to the history of genocide with its creation of a tribal absence.
The three nornar, the fateful spirits of the Old Norse, weave destinies from thread that is spun from the sun and fastened to the moon hall. It is work that deals with the life giving force of the sun and the cycles of the moon as they reach into the spaces from which humans can envision themselves. These creations are nurtured by the imaginative act of the three women reaching into the well and providing lifeforce, auður, riches of memory. Selective memory throttles lifeforce. Digger pines need to be seen for what they were, what they have become, and what they can be. Germans need to be seen for what they were, what they have become, and what they can be. Teutons need to be seen for what they were, what they have become, and what they can be. The star Altair needs to be seen for what it was, what it has become, and what it can be. The Shift of the Ages needs to be seen for what it was in different stories, for what it has become in our understanding of these stories, and for what it may [P20] become as we deepen awareness. Our imagination is the horizon on which natural cycles, memories, plants, animals, and stars meet to create what may be generative and re-generative. The achievements of modernity may thus be part of our balancing act for the sake of the future. I no longer imagine myself as German or even as Myrging or Teuton. The idea I have of myself arises from the gap of gaps, the Old Norse gap ginnung, and the world snake, miðgarðsormr, holds me in the home that has never been my home as ravens fly overhead and bears flatten my tent.
I am a white man. White is short for “socialized into a Eurocentered frame of mind.” White is the name of forgetting. Forgetting so much of how we came to be where we are. I am a white man. Boxed into a box that likes to forget its name. I do not walk alone. Like other white men something walks with me. With me walks a shadow. Before me I project the shadow of forgetting where I came from. Behind me trails the shadow of the tears of native peoples. Below me I march on the shadow of the lands my peoples have raped. Above me looms the shadow of the spirits which I am blind to. All around me walks the shadow of domination, witchhunts, genocides, holocausts, sexism, racism. I do not walk alone. So, here I stand, with stories coursing through me as my imagination is fueled by memory and vision, as I am aware of Nomlaki presence, as I am aware of the stories of Germany and her tribal peoples. The vanishing Indian is a concoction of genocidal imagination. The Karl May Indian is the denial of the multiple and Indigenous origins of Germany. I move now, uphill and downhill, following the line of song, following the threads that are spaces laid out for me by the nornar, covered with white clay. White thread in my ear. Maybe like my ancestors when they offered reindeer outside of Hamburg. The white thread to the sun, a sign of self sacrifice to vision and imagination. I continue to move, uphill and downhill. White. And not. Humbled. Crossing boundaries. A metaphorical being. Modern and postmodern. Real. Remembering. Imagining.
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Colonization, Genocide, Missionization, and Racism Healing the Impact of on Indigenous Populations (PDF)

Healing the Impact of
Colonization, Genocide, Missionization, and Racism
on Indigenous Populations

Betty Bastien, Jürgen W. Kremer, Rauna Kuokkanen, and Patricia Vickers

Jürgen W. Kremer
3383 Princeton Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95405

© 2001
To be published in:
S. Krippner & T. McIntyre (Eds.), The impact of war trauma on civilian populations. NY: Greenwood Press. (At press.)

Violence, in an Indigenous context, stems from many sources, including the social sciences which wield “epistemic violence” (Spivak, 1990). Epistemic violence is a continuation of genocide. Genocide is balanced by survivance stories. Survivance is “the continuance of native stories, not a mere reaction, or a survivable name. Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy, and victimry” (Vizenor, 1999, p. vii).
The epistemic violence of the social science is represented by concepts like the “noble savage” and the “vanishing Native.” This chapter attempts to face the genocidal realities of Indigenous peoples, and the politics forced upon them, without succumbing to contemporary expressions of stories of the “vanishing Native.” Stories of survivance contain the greatest healing potential for Indigenous peoples.

Who Are the Indigenous Peoples? — Political Context

In the legal and political contexts, especially within the framework of international organizations such as the United Nations, Indigenous people often use the definition provided by the International Labor Organization convention: The term “Indigenous peoples” refers to

tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions (International Labor Organization, convention #169, 1989)

Frustrated in their attempts to work with nation-states, many Indigenous people have taken their concerns to the international level. In 1957, the International Labor Organization (ILO) adopted one of the first international instruments to recognize Indigenous issues, the Convention No. 107 on Indigenous Populations. In 1982, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established. The Working Group has provided a Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. So far, only a few of the articles have been adopted by the nation-states. As long as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples remains unadopted, the ILO Convention No.169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples from 1989 provides the strongest support for Indigenous rights internationally. The Convention states that Indigenous peoples have right “to control, to the extent possible, their own economic, social and cultural development” (article 8).
This chapter focuses on three examples that are taken from geographical areas where initial colonial violence has given way to other forms of violence:

1) The Sámi people of north Europe.
2) The Tsimshian people of the Canadian Northwest.
3) The Niisitapi in southern Alberta, Canada.

Genocide and Violence

Defining genocide
In 1946 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution stating that “Genocide is the denial of the right of existence to entire human groups” (Stannard, 1992, p. 279). Chrisjohn, Young, and Maraum (1994) discuss “ordinary genocide” as a form of genocide that is relevant for many Indigenous peoples:

“Ordinary genocide” is rarely, if at all, aimed at the total annihilation of the group; the purpose of the violence … is to destroy the marked category (a nation, a tribe, a religious sect) as a viable community. (p. 30)

Defining violence

The word violence means in its root “vital force.” In this sense we understand violence as the assertion of one’s vital force at the expense of another. This definition is a modification of Galtung who (1996, p. 4) distinguishes three forms of violence: direct, structural, and cultural. Direct violence refers to the brutality of murder, slavery, displacement and expropriation. Structural violence refers to the direct, everyday policies that impact the well-being of people. Cultural violence refers to racism. Epistemic violence (Spivak 1990, pp. 125-126) refers to a process whereby colonial and imperial practices impose certain European codes. Psychospiritual violence is another term we use to discuss the impact of genocidal policies.

The Process of Colonization

The indirect violence following direct violence can be seen in various dimensions. Economically it means the destruction of Indigenous self-sustaining economies and the imposition of market or socialist economies. Politically it means the destruction of traditional forms of governance. Legally it means that Indigenous oral law and historical rights are invalidated. Socially it means the destruction of rites of passage. Physically it means the exposure to contagious diseases. Intellectually it means the invalidation of the Indigenous paradigms and the dominance of an alien language. Spiritually it means the destruction of ceremonial knowledge. Psychologically, survivors of genocide show symptoms of post-traumatic stress symptom.

Colonial Violence Among the Sami

The Sámi are the Indigenous people of Sápmi which spans central Norway and Sweden through northern Finland to the Kola Peninsula of Russia. A rough estimate of the Sámi population is between 75,000 to 100,000. During the early Middle Ages, the surrounding kingdoms became interested in the land and natural resources of Sámiland.
Due to the competition, Sámiland became a war zone during the 12th and 13th centuries. By the end of the 13th century, Denmark and Novgorod had divided the Sámi area by a mutual treaty and in 1751, in the Treaty of Stroemstad, Norway and Sweden imposed the first foreign boundary on Sámiland. An individual Sámi was no longer able to own land, and grazing and hunting rights on the other side of the border were abolished.
The impact of colonization in Sápmi has various dimensions. Economically, colonialism has destroyed the local subsistence livelihoods of the Sámi. Mining, forestry, hydroelectric power plants, and tourism have put growing pressure on Sámi lifeways. The first churches in Sápmi were built in the 11th century and since then Christianity has gradually destroyed the Sámi world view by banning shamanic ceremonies, executing the noaidis (the Sámi shamans), burning and destroying the Sámi drums, and even banning the Sámi way of singing and communicating called yoiking.
Colonialism also gradually eroded the traditional Sámi system of education by imposing a compulsory school system. However, in many ways, the Sámi are in control of their own education through their own education councils. There is a Sámi College which trains Sámi teachers. In most places in the Sámi region, children are able to study the language at least a few hours per week.
In 1992, Sámi language acts in both Norway and Finland gave the Sámi the right to use their mother tongue when dealing with government agencies. In Sweden, the Sámi language is considered one of a number of minority languages. In Russia, there is no special law protecting the Sámi language. Of the four countries where the Sámi live, as of 2001 only Norway has ratified the ILO Convention No. 169 on the rights of Indigenous and tribal peoples. In Finland, a recent legal study demonstrated that the Sámi have had an official title to their land as late as in the early 20th century. This has led to a situation in which the state cannot ignore the ownership question any longer.
Considering the material conditions of most of the Sámi, an outsider could come to the conclusion that the Sámi are not colonized. In this sense, the colonial process has found its completion by ideologically cloaking its own violence. Internalized mental colonization has been so exhaustive that even though the Sámi have their own elected bodies, welfare system and some control over education, none of these are based on Sámi cultural. The Sámi movement of the 1960s and 1970s led to the establishment of Sámi parliaments, first in Finland in 1973, then in Norway in 1989 and in Sweden in 1993. The Sámi parliaments are not based on Sámi models of governance or their spiritual and cultural practices, and they do not have much decision making power even over issues directly concerning their own culture.
Spivak’s concept of epistemic violence provides probably the best understanding for this situation. The Sámi episteme, their knowledge system, has been replaced by colonial Scandinavian and other European systems to such an extent that it has created Sámi subjects with foreign worldviews. Even though a Sámi person may speak the language fluently, it may be used to express the worldview of the dominant culture. The survival of the Sámi language is not matched by the survival of the Sámi Indigenous worldview.
While the recognition of Sámi political issues has led to an improvement, this improvement may have been achieved at the price of the surrender of the Sámi episteme. Epistemic violence is a fact of Sámi reality and its makes colonial violence less visible. Structural violence is largely hidden from view as the structure imposed by the dominant societies has been accepted and is used.

Colonial Violence Among the Tsimshian and Niisitapi

“Cultural evolution” is a concept that has formed the philosophical basis for genocidal policies. Within this framework, Indigenous peoples are commonly seen as in need of development. The ideological rationale of colonization has been the presumed need to alter Indigenous people’s lifeways to a way of life considered “civilized.” Such civilization was to be achieved, first and foremost, through the process of Christianization. Despite the fact that today numerous anthropologists and archaeologists disavow it, cultural evolution continues to have an impact (assumptions cf. Kelly, 1995; Kremer, 1998).
The “Norwegianization” policy of 1879-1940 reflected the nationalism and social Darwinistic thinking of the times and regarded assimilation as the only way to bring “enlightenment” to the Sámi people. The current crisis in Indigenous identity formation has resulted in social science theories evolving that fundamentally continue practices of assimilation. Evolutionary thinking, in Nietzsche’s (1967) sense of “truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions,” has been the foundation of assimilation policies. It is this cognitive framework that created and perpetuates genocide.
The Canadian Indian Act of 1867 (Sec. 24 subsection 91 of British North American Act) had given the Canadian federal government exclusive control over Indigenous territories. The Royal Proclamation of 1873 strengthened the economic base of the dominant culture by establishing procedures for acquiring the lands occupied by Indigenous peoples. Although recognizing Indian title to lands not colonized, it outlined the beginning of an apartheid system. This gave rise to the 1885 policy, which forbade Indigenous people to leave the reserve. These acts gave the government exclusive control over economic activities.
Colonialism engenders dependency through legislation, destroys the traditional economic base, and enforces an alien education system. Colonialism denies people the capacity to make intelligent decisions based on cultural knowledge. Such knowledge was repressed by the Canadian legislation of the 1920s and 1930s. Legislation in 1920 made attendance compulsory for Indigenous people’s children, and, in 1930, non-compliance was legally defined as a criminal offense. These efforts characterized the spiritual and psychological violence that altered the worldviews of Indigenous people.
While residential schools were introducing the new imperialist culture that defined Indigenous peoples as “savages,” the newly formed colonial government of Canada had already introduced the Indian Act of 1867 declaring Indigenous peoples as wards of the government. Chief Joe Mathias (Mathias & Yabsley, 1991) defined the Indian Act as the conspiracy of suppression of Indian rights in Canada. While Indigenous children and youth were being conditioned by British imperialist values, the government of Canada was imposing a political structure in all Indigenous communities. All communities were redefined as reservations and reduced to smaller territories ignoring tribal history, land use, and understanding of landownership (cf. Wa & Uukw, 1989).
The federally imposed political body of Chief and Council ignores the traditional systems in Indigenous communities. All federal funding is relegated through this system creating a fertile environment for internalized oppression to flourish. The Tsimshian live on the northwest coast of British Columbia where their territory is divided between two areas. Having been banished to reserves, the Tsimshians are now struggling with internalized oppression in the attempt to find balance in a rapidly changing world.
The notion of cultural evolution, the rationalization of necessary progress, perpetuates violence through psychological control. Indigenous peoples have been described as “victims”. Victimry is a pose and dynamic that feeds the game governed by rules of dominance. The social sciences serve this ideology. The notion that the objectified self is the universal nature of humanity describes the process for the desacralization of Indigenous relationships within a universe that is premised on the concrete relationships of a harmonious nature. The detachment from these processes, as enforced by those who design the policies for Indigenous peoples, is the distinguishing mark of ordinary genocide.

Internalized Colonization In Residential Schools

The theoretical frameworks that are used in the perpetuation of psychospiritual violence can be found in the European epistemology. Theories of psychological development are freighted with assumptions that violate the essence of Indigenous peoples’ understanding of human nature. Such assumptions include: each human being has an isolated cognitive self that can best be understood through its components. This assumption underlies all manifestations of European life and constitutes violence to the holistic identity of Indigenous people. In psychospiritual violence the holistically constructed Indigenous self is forced to become the fragmented Western self.
These assumptions of the nature of humankind have allowed for the genocidal polices of residential schools. The residential school era was the most significant and comprehensive governmental effort, in cooperation with the churches, to alter the reality of Indigenous people. Chrisjohn, Young, and Maraum (1994) point out that, “in any intellectually honest appraisal, Indian Residential Schools were genocide” (p. 30). In these institutes the Tsimshain were systematically conditioned to believe that their ancestral ways were inferior to British ways of interpreting the world. When they returned to their communities they found themselves alienated. It is no surprise that addictions and family violence increased.

Post-traumatic stress symptoms
The consequences of the survival of the direct violence of genocide and of the subsequent structural and cultural violence can be interpreted in terms of what Western psychiatry calls “post-traumatic stress symptoms.” The statistics published in the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (Chrisjohn, Young, & Maraun, 1994) reveal dramatic figures. The rate for suicide among the total Indigenous population is 25.4 %, for family violence it is 36.4 %, for sexual abuse it is 24.5 %, and for rape it is 15%. Beahrs (1990) discusses post-traumatic stress disorders as follows:
PTSD is characterized by intrusive re-experiencing of the trauma, persistent avoiding of the trauma or numbing of responsiveness, and persisting symptoms of increased arousal. (Beahrs 1990 p. 15)
In a discussion about Native American genocide Rivers-Norton has pointed out that
Genocide is often viewed within the psychological literature as the most devastating and debilitating form of traumatization because it causes enormous physiological and psychic overload, shock, numbing, and grief. It involves the severe devastation caused by cultural destruction, enslavement, relocation, and massive loss of life. (Bastien, Kremer, Norton, Rivers-Norton, & Vickers, 1999, p. 18)

Cultural Affirmation and Healing Colonial Violence

Understanding the masks of violence
Within Northwest Coast art forms, the mask is a representation of a character’s or animal’s spirit. “Masks give form to thoughts. Masks are images that shine through us from the spirit world” (Steltzer & Davidson, 1994, p. 96). The dancer wearing a mask portrays the characteristics and behavior of the spirit the mask represents and in doing so becomes familiar with the function of that spirit. We can understand this process as the deconstruction or decolonization in Spivak’s (1990) sense: “The only things one really deconstructs are things into which one is intimately mired. It speaks you. You speak it” (p. 135). Naming the mask and knowing the song and dance of colonization is the process of deconstructing our present reality.
The Tsimshian have a societal structure that is matrilineally comprised of four Clans or pteex. Each clan has a number of houses or walp that has a head Chief with Chiefs of lesser rank. The hereditary names in each house or walp hold territories and rights to fishing and hunting within those territories. The Tsimshian societal structure contains methods to address conflicts, disputes, and violations as well as protocols for naming, rites of passage, marriage, and divorce; they also regulate inter-tribal relationships. Individuals within the clans and families were trained to implement the procedures to resolve and bring restitution to any challenging circumstances within village life. If there was an accidental death through carelessness, the family of the offending party is responsible for recounting the incident in a family meeting where they were responsible for giving gifts of restitution to the victim’s immediate family members. Once the victim’s family decided the gifts were sufficient, the incident was forgiven and the offending party was cleansed of their wrongdoings.

Four critical aspects in healing colonial violence
1) “Re-membering” acknowledges the destruction that colonization brought; it is identifying the impact of destruction with the willingness to let go of the blame. Each Indigenous nation on the northwest coast of British Columbia has a cleansing ceremony for the purpose of washing away grief and hatred to prepare for healing. The initial step in preparing for the cleansing and washing ceremony is to name the offense. “Research suggests that through a narrative process, through sharing the stories of suffering, individuals begin to organize, structure, and integrate emotionally charged traumatic experiences and events” (Bastien, Kremer, Norton, Rivers-Norton & Vickers, 1999, p. 18).
2) The re-connection with ancestral healing methods is another critical ingredient. Ancestral teachings have remained in the conscious and unconscious of Indigenous people despite the changes wrought by ongoing colonial and genocidal policies. For example, an individual may approach an Elder to ask how to wash away the shame and grief from the past. The individual may be advised to fast and bathe for four days all the time letting go of hatred and destructive energy that surfaces each day. This is called si ‘satxw in the Tsimshian language. Through the act of cleansing the individual practices awareness. This awareness is one where individuals observe their behaviors and beliefs following each to the root of behavior (Levine, 1979). Healing takes patience, requiring cultural support. Indigenous healing programs, such as NECHI (a Cree word meaning “friend”) in Canada, use Indigenous approaches combined with Western psychotherapy, in order to deal with issues of alcoholism.
3) The third crucial ingredient in healing the impact of colonization is through reaching out to others. Once one has learned to love and value one’s self, it is much easier to love and value one’s neighbor. Confronting oppression in communities requires education and a willingness to make relationships that respect self and others.
4) A fourth crucial ingredient in healing from colonial violence is the reconstruction of Indigenous concepts of community. By reconstructing Indigenous understandings of community we are able to restore our values and spirituality, not as something arbitrary and superficial limited to occasional prayer or song, but spirituality as our personal and daily relationship with the environment and our community (cf. Brascoupé, 2000, p. 415).

Reaffirmations of Cultural Knowledge
The pervasive impact of colonial violence needs to be healed not just on the individual but also on the cultural level. The self within its Indigenous cosmos is the necessary context for healing. At this point, our chapter turns full circle as we explain one particular Indigenous worldview. This is important in order to avoid psychologizing the ongoing structural and cultural violence to which Indigenous peoples are exposed. It also prepares our discussion of what non-Indigenous people working with Indigenous populations are to do. It gives an opportunity to retract the idealizing or discriminatory projections of the dominant cultures.
The example we give is an attempt to develop a curriculum based in Niisitapi epistemology and ontology. Niisitapi can literally be translated as Real People. They consist of the following tribes: Aamsskaaippiianii — South Peigan; Aapatuxsipiitani — North Peigan; Kainah — Blood/Many Chiefs; Siksika — Blackfoot. Early explorers estimated the population of the Blackfoot-speaking peoples to be 30,000 – 40,000 (McClintock, 1992, p. 5). At present, there are 8,840 members who occupy 535.6 square miles of reserve land. There are 3,072 members between the ages of 5 and 19 among the Kainah, but only 20 of these members are now fluent speakers (0.65 %).

Affirmation of the Niisitapi worldview
The Niisitapi self exists only in relationships. The self is intricately linked with the natural world. The process of knowing is founded upon an intricate web of kinship, the relationships of natural alliances. Knowledge is understood as a source of life, which strengthens the alliances among the cosmic and natural worlds. Knowledge is created and generated through interrelationships with natural alliances. The alliances among the Niisitapi are regenerative and renew the ecological balance of the world.
These alliances can be understood by examining the word po’nstaan, “the giving of gifts in ceremony.” The cultural meaning provides us with two natural laws: one, that the universe is cyclical and it works on the basis of reciprocity; two, reciprocity is founded upon the principle of “strengthening and supporting life,” niipaitapiiyssin. Po’nstann refers to what one is willing to give up in exchange for something sought or desired. The common usage refers to giving up aspects/orientations of one’s life in exchange for the rebirth of a way of life governed by responsibilities.
The second principle is the nature of truth — niitsii-issksiniip – “knowing.” Truth is the essential meaning of experience. This principle guides the process of knowing and the knowledge revealed as both are consistent with natural laws. These natural laws support the framework for the interpretation of experiences and are the keys to understanding the meaning of the sacredness of life. Understanding this worldview is crucial for anybody outside the culture attempting to understand the depth of genocide and the requirements for healing.

Niisitapi ontology
Education and socialization are guided by cultural orientations. In “seeking to understand life,” nipaitapiiyio’pi, and in “coming to knowing the source of life,” ihtisipaitaoiiyio’pi, the primary medium is through “transfer,” a’poomo’yiopi.
The method of inquiry among Niisitapi is entering into relationships and alliances with the spirit of knowledge. The way of coming to know is through participating with and experiencing the knowledge of the natural order. “Knowing,” issksiniip, is the active participation in relationship with the natural order. Knowing is “experiential,” omohtaanistsihsp. Knowing and knowledge are living entities, which, through relationships, live in the actions of the participants. In this case, reference can be made to “the way of life of the Niisitapi,” Niipaitapiiyssin, which encompasses the knowledge and wisdom.

Niisitapi epistemology
In the traditional context, knowledge is connecting with ihtisipaitaoiiyio’pi (spirit). Ihtisipaitaoiiyio’pi manifests through a sacred power, one that is pervasive and manifests through all of creation. This sacred power is gained in the “dream world” and is incorporated in to the everyday world of work and play (Harrod 1992). Knowledge and wisdom come through the ability to listen and hear the whispers of the wind, the teachings of the rock, the seasonal changes of weather, and by connecting with the animals and plants. Knowing and knowledge are the expression and manifestations of relationships that align with the natural order of the universe.
Knowledge or knowing is not directly transferable; it is gained through the alliances of interdependent relationships. Knowing is a process of “interpreting experiences with the alliances of the natural world,” isskskataksini/aisskskatakiop’i. This knowledge and understanding becomes a basis for effectively participating and functioning in society.
In summary, Niisitapi epistemology manifests in the “transfers,” a’poomo’yiopi, the theory of knowledge that all knowing comes from the source of life and through kinship alliances. It is through a complex web of relationships that Niisitapi “come to know.” Inherent in knowing is the responsibility of living the knowledge; and living the knowing is a fundamental aspect of identity and the source from which “self” emerges. These characteristics become the essential elements for interpreting the environment and for experiencing the world.

Niisitapi pedagogy
Transfer, a’poomo’yiopi, is a process of renewing the alliances of kinship relations. Transfers are found in ceremony. The ceremonies take the form in which a common sense of transformation and transcendence is experienced, and the people (Harrod, 1992, p. 67) share the meanings associated with the transfer. As long as the people retain their connection through their ceremonies, they will retain their transformational and transcendent ways of being through the renewal of their responsibilities as instructed in the original transfer from the sacred spiritual alliances.
Knowing comes with the participation and experience of alliances. Learning is a developmental process that involves an all-inclusive process of living life. Aatsimoyihskaani is a concept that addresses the inter-dependencies that are involved in the processes of coming to knowing. Knowing is through the “active participation with all the alliances of life,” kiipaitapisinnooni, and, subsequently, knowing is the living knowledge of these relationships.
Niisitapi language education is essential in the process of coming to understanding the alliances essential to participation in a balanced world. Language is spirit. Language is the medium for entering into the relationships forming the Niisitapi culture and society; it allows humans to define their reality and the social order in which they exist. The language is the expression of the natural alliances of Niisitapi and embodies the consciousness of the people. Language has the ability to distinguish and define humanity. In other words, language links “self” to the “universe” (Bastien, 1998).

Decolonization for people of the Euro-centered or “white” mind

Non-indigenous persons may wonder how they can be helpful in the healing of colonial genocidal violence. From an Indigenous perspective the primary need is dialogueing about epistemic violence. Confrontation with the history of genocide and colonization is urgent. Structural violence must be addressed. Persons who are working with Indigenous peoples should reflect critically on the context in which they are working, whether their work explicitly or implicitly is continueing colonial violence. Persons who are invited to work with Indigenous people need to work particularly on the unconscious forms of epistemic violence their mere presence may perpetrate. Helpers of European descent need to be willing to face the impact of Euro-centered dominance in their personal history and to talk openly about its dynamics with the willingness to work toward positive change.
The importance of awareness of the significant difference in self-construction cannot be stressed enough, as should be obvious from the preceding sections in this article. Working with Indigenous peoples in the process of decolonization means that people who are not Indigenous are willing to decolonize themselves and to confront their own historical Indigenous and ancestral origins (Kremer, 2000). This is a difficult task that goes to the core of reality. In this way there can be a gradual interruption of the cycle of genocidal violence.


In the process of healing colonial violence the fundamental step is to remember and affirm an Indigenous, culturally specific framework that provides the context for the consideration of educational, psychological, and other interventions. Use of Indigenous culturally available resources is a mandatory ingredient in any healing endeavor. The participation of Indigenous healers and Elders, both in education and psychological interventions is important. Use of Indigenous languages are invaluable, both as a means of cultural remembrance and affirmation as well as the expression of the Indigenous self. The narration of the experiences of genocidal violence holds tremendous healing potential both for individuals and communities. Witnessing the impact of past and present violence may lead to the release of generative visions that facilitate the remembrance of cultural knowledge, the celebration of relationships and alliances, the impact of Euro-centered knowledge on the basis of Indigenous paradigms, and the expression of Indigenous self and community not as retro-romantic folklore, but as viable, vital, and creative knowledge for future generations — sovereignty, in a sense, that transcends Euro-centered notions and deletes their epistemic and other violence.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Ingrid Washinawatok.[i]

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Cultural Genocide (PDF)

Cultural Genocide
by Jon Stewart and Peter Wiley

They came to this land in 600 B.C., fleeing the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. Led by the great Lehi, who spoke with God, they crossed the great waters and landed somewhere on the West Coast of the Americas, the new Promised Land.
Over the centuries this small band of Hebrews grew great in number. Their culture and religion flourished. They built magnificent temples and cities. So great was their piety and promise that the Son of God appeared before them, following his crucifixion, to teach the principles of Christianity. They were, and are,the Saints. But almost from the beginning they have been a sainthood divided. For the sons of Lehi went their separate ways. Nephi, devout and pure, became the leader of the Niphites, while his brother Laman lead his followers, the Lamanites, away from God. Thus, over centuries, the cleaved band of Hebrews warred and reconciled, sometimes reversing the roles of sinner and saint, down through the ages.
Until the fateful year A.D. 421. By then the Lamanites, through “abominations and loss of belief,” had been set apart by God from the Nephites by a curse: their skin had been turned brown, befitting their “dark and loathsome” character. The were “full of idleness” and “wild,” while the Nephites remained “light and delightsome” in the sight of God and man. But in this doomsday year the cursed Lamanites again turned on their lost brethren in a mighty war in which evil triumphed over good. The Nephites were destroyed to a man, or to single man, Moroni. It was for this last prophet of God’s people to collect the records of his race, inscribed on sacred plates of gold, and bury them in the Hill Cumorah until some far-off time when the true religion might be restored in “the latter days.”
The rest, of course, is history. The “latter days” arrived on September 22, 1827, when 21-year-old Joseph Smith of Palmyra, N.Y., having received instructions from the angel Moroni, dug up the plates, translated them, and presented the world with the Book of Mormon. Today the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (L.D.S.), commonly known as the Mormons, is the fastest-growing church in America. Its virtual control of Utah politics and its significant influence in Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and California would seem to make it a religious power without parallel in America. Its economic holdings, which would place it among the top 100 American corporations, make it the church with the greatest centralized wealth in the United States.
But for all the wealth and power, there remains a flaw–those “dark and loathsome” Lamanites, the lost brothers of centuries ago, whose descendants are today the native “Indians” of the Americas and the Pacific Islands. They have forgotten who they are, where they came from. They have taken up strange pantheist religions, and they remain desperately impoverished, uneducated to the wondrous opportunities for creating a reflection of God’s world on earth through corporate capitalism. But still they are brothers under that dark skin. They must be saved. They will be saved, by God.
It is hardly surprising that an obsession with Indians should characterize the doctrine of a church founded on the American frontier in the early nineteenth century. When Joseph Smith and his growing band of followers were driven progressively westward by religious and social persecution, the identity with the Indians as lost brothers served them in good stead. Church president Brigham Young, who followed Smith to the leadership and founded Salt Lake City, told a gathering of Utah legislators in 1854: “…independent of the question of exercising humanity towards so degraded and ignorant a race of people, it was manifestly more economical and less expensive to feed and clothe than to fight them.”
Telling the native peoples that “the Book of Mormon is a history of your people,” the Saints have recently launched a massive crusade to “save” their lost brothers. Today the church claims some 45,000 American Indians as Mormons. On the Navaho Reservation, the largest Indian reservation in America, church officials proudly boast that nearly 1 in 5 of the 150,000 Navaho are baptized Mormons. Recent missionary zeal in the South Pacific has netted more than 116,000 Polynesians to the Mormon rolls (they, also are considered descendants of the Lamanites) while a crusade among the Indians of Mexico and Central and South America has boosted membership from those Catholic strongholds to a half million. In America no church–save the rather informal Native American church of peyotism–is as visible, as powerful, and as entrenched on Indian lands as the Mormon church.
Why? Why should a basically Anglo-American church, whose vision is shaped by middle-class notions of the good life, be so obsessed with the remnants of a race of people that much of America has consigned to the history books? Church doctrine, certainly, plays a significant role. Indians are lost brothers, cursed and loathsome, perhaps, but nonetheless among the chosen.
Are there other motives? Perhaps. “Indian people are sitting on one-third of the low-sulfur strippable coal and sixty-five percent of the uranium supply in America,” says Gerald Wilkinson, a Cherokee and the director of the Albuquerque-based National Indian Youth Council since 1969. “Some people estimate that maybe one-quarter of the nation’s natural-energy resources are on Indian land.”
Bill Armstrong, the burly, cigar-chomping Anglo director of the Navaho Reservation’s Minerals Department, ticks off the numbers pertaining to Navaho land with nonchalant ease: 2 billion tons of coal under lease, 80 million barrels of oil, 25 million cubic feet of natural gas, from 75 to 80 million tons of uranium, $20 million a year in royalties.
Ironically, this resource-rich Indian land was once believed to be worthless, which is why the Indians were forced on these lands in the nineteenth century. It was only in the last few decades that the government and mining and energy corporations began to realize what had been given away. And curiously, it is only these same years that the Mormon church has revved up its great missionary machine to undertake again the destined task of saving the Indians.
That effort today is two-pronged, aimed at the Indians’ two greatest resources–Indian children and Indian land. On the one hand, thousands of young, white Mormon men, aged 18 to 21, roam the reservations in dark suits, ties, and close-cropped hair, spreading the Word and gathering up the Lamanite children for “placement” in white Mormon homes. On the other hand, a small and powerful clique of attorneys, officially tied to the Mormon church in Salt Lake, scour the canons of Indian law, significant parts of which the wrote, searching for ways to “extinguish” Indian land claims, thereby enriching themselves and paving the way for mineral development by corporations to which the church is tied financially. These same Mormon attorneys also represent, as general counsels, many of the Indian tribes in the Southwest, including the Hopi, the Ute, the Gosiute, Paiute, and Shoshoni.
Tom Luebben, a young white attorney in Albuquerque who used to work exclusively on Indian law cases, has confronted the Mormons on both fronts. He characterizes the “extinguishments” as “the biggest land transfer of the twentieth century.” The “placement program” for Indian children, he says is “nothing short of cultural genocide.”
“I’m a Nephite, and I’m also a Lamanite. I’m an Israelite.” The man of many identities is George Lee, 37, a full-blooded Navaho and the son of a medicine man. Today he is the highest-ranking Indian in the church hierarchy, a member of the Quorum of Seventy, the body that implements and administers the policies formulated by the Council of the twelve Apostles and the First Presidency. Lee’s climb to the top began in a humble if significant way: he was among the first batch of Indian children selected for placement in the white Mormon world. As such, he is routinely held up to Indian youth as the shining example of what Mormonism can do for the Lamanite.
Lee’s story is worth telling in some detail, because in many ways it is typical of the way the Mormon Placement Program is supposed to operate. One of a large family, Lee was raised on the reservation. His parents were both illiterate, “very traditional and very unexposed to the world. We lived off the land, had a herd of sheep. I was raised on prairie dogs [small rodents] and rattlesnakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The first six years of my life I ran around naked. Dad taught us the traditional ways, to get up early and pray facing the rising sun, and his prayers were long. We slept on a dirt floor on a sheepskin, no toilets, no electricity.
“And then one day an Anglo couple, traders who lived near us, came over and started talking to us about the Mormon church. Mom and Dad said we should not listen to these people, because they were trying to convert us to their ways. So, whenever they came around, we’d head for the hills,” George Lee recalls.
“So they tried another approach. Next time they came they brought sacks of canned goods, potatoes, and so on from the trading post. Mom and Dad liked that. And finally it came around to religion again. This man helped the government school twenty miles away, recruiting students and signing up the kids for the church they wanted to attend. He was not only a trader, but he was also a missionary for the L.D.S. [Latter Day Saints].”
Thus did George and his brother join the Mormon church and begin attending services at the church near the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) school. Two years later the trader showed up again and convinced George’s parents to place their sons in Mormon homes near Salt Lake City, 500 miles away.
“He took us as we were, torn T-shirts, worn-out Levi’s, no shoes. On the bus everyone was crying, all the kids, saying, ‘I want to go home; I want to go home.’ I cried till I fell asleep.”
In Provo, Utah, where the bus journey ended, ten-year-old George was picked up by is new foster parents, who immediately began his cultural transformation. He says he didn’t speak a word to them for two long months, though the showered him with gifts, new clothes, even a cowboy outfit.
“I had to make a complete transition from one way of life to another. I got sick a lot, because I wasn’t used to their food. Back home I never got sick; we were immune to disease. I had hives all over my body.”
But George was one of the lucky ones. He adjusted reasonably well, thanks in part to being an outstanding athlete. After high school he went on to Brigham Young University, did a two-year missionary stint back on the reservation, and took a doctorate in education. Then a few years ago, Church President Spencer Kimball, the “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” was told by God that it was time to put an Indian, specifically George Lee, into the hierarchy. Today George serves as executive administrator of 85 “stakes”–similar to dioceses–each representing from 2,000 to 6,000 Mormons.
Up to a point, Lee’s experience with the Mormon Placement Program is fairly typical. Each year since the early 1950s, hundreds and then thousands of Indian children between 8 and 18–mostly Navaho–are bussed from reservations as far away as Canada to live for nine months with a white, middle-class Mormon family and attend a white, small-town or suburban school. The foster families, who are carefully screened by the church, are concentrated in the Salt Lake City area and in Southern California (California now has close to a million Mormons, more than Utah). The children, but not their parents must be baptized Mormons. They are se-
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[res]ervations by missionaries and church leaders, and, as is often the case, by government social workers who happen to be Mormons. Those children who complete the program are encouraged to attend B.Y.U. and then to return to the reservations to take professional jobs in tribal government and continue church “prosyliting,” the Mormon word for proselytizing.
Church officials in Salt Lake City who are in charge of the placement program refused to talk to us. George Lee, the program’s most outstanding graduate, acknowledged that there have been criticisms of the program from Indians, “like the militant groups like AIM [American Indian Movement],” but they are “misinformed.” “They criticize the government, you know, for stealing all their land–they make a stink about every little thing.”
Lee contends that his own research shows that more placement kids get advanced degrees than do Indian kids in BIA or public schools, more go into the military, more get married, more attend church, and fewer end up on welfare. He also refutes the frequent criticism that Mormon placement is “cultural genocide.” “the placement program does not rob the Indian kids of their identity. In fact, it reinforces it.” Asked whether Indian kids brought up in placement homes undergo a change of skin color, as church president Kimball has claimed, Lee hesitates and then says:
“The Scriptures say, and I’ll just stick to the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus Christ himself said that the Lamanites will become white and delightsome if they live the gospel and keep the commandments. Yes…I agree with the prophet President Kimball. He’s our leader, and he receives revelations from the Lord; so I agree.” Has his own skin begun to change color? “I don’t worry about it. I’ve never looked upon myself as an Indian.”
George Lee, who has never looked upon himself as an Indian, insists that Mormon placement does not affect a child’s “Indianness.” A lot of Navaho disagree
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itants. Claudine Arthur, a Navaho government official and mother of three in the Navaho capital of Window Rock, Ariz., flares up when the subject is broached. “It’s dangerous,” she declares. “They want children who are emotionally stable, who come from decent, good homes. Those are the children they want to take off to their homes in Utah and brainwash for their own purposes. If they really believe that home and family is good, then they must believe that it’s best for children like these to be in their own homes with their own people. They say they don’t want kids from broken homes or kids who are having trouble in school. They want the bright, intelligent kids. I find that two-faced.”
Another Navaho official, who requested anonymity for fear he might lose his job, knows the placement program recruitment methods from long experience with having to sort out the tragedies. “When you look at the L.D.S. placements on a case-by-case basis, as I have, you see that they’re all families who are just barely subsisting on a salary. It’s not uncommon for a family with eight or nine kids to have to live on one minimum-wage salary or even less. It’s basically income that determines whether a child goes on placement. It’s very hard, especially for a single parent, to make that decision.”
His own 13-year-old son, he said, came to him last year and said that he’d been talking to the Mormon missionaries. “They told me we’d have lots of fun. We’d play volleyball and football, and I could have my own room if I go on placement. ‘Dad,’ he said, ‘can I go?’
“It’s very difficult to counter. There may have been a number of circumstances in my life when I would have said yes.”
What about the many rumors concerning Mormon “kidnappings” of Indian children? Do such kidnappings actually occur? “Kidnapping? Well, it all depends on what you mean by ‘kidnapping,'” he says. “Anyone who’s ever worked in social work knows that you can get anyone who’s in a corner to consent to anything, and lots of Indian families are very much in a corner.” Some Indian children, born to young, unwed mothers, he said, are signed over to Mormon families right after birth in the reservation’s Public Health Service Hospitals. “The Mormon doctors make the arrangements. It’s very hard to document, but I know of cases where it’s been done.”
Beyond the issue of the legality of some placements, critics cite some serious moral issues raised by the program. Joseph Jorgenson, a son of a prominent Mormon family and a professor of comparative culture at the University of California, Irvine, claims that in his experience many Mormon families have taken advantage of the program to supply free labor. “It was a form of work on demand,” says Jorgenson, who was once employed by the Ute tribe. “It’s a fine line between live-in help
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Those kids lived right on that fine line.”
While the most blatant abuses appear to have ceased in recent years, more subtle and long-term problems still exist. Dr. Martin Topper, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, studied a group of 25 Navaho children in the church’s placement program over a seven-year period. Topper found that the separation from family and tribe experienced by placement children resulted in “serious emotional stresses.”
The most wrenching experience, he found, occurs when the children have to return home to the reservation for summer recess. They then have to tear themselves away from the middle-class white world to which they’ve become accustomed and return to the poverty of the reservation and the realization that they will never be white but are destined to grow into Navaho adulthood and all that implies. Some students, he found, would try to change their reservation home into a typical Mormon home and to “convert or reaffirm the Mormon church membership of other household members. This activity was encouraged by the Mormon missionaries,” said Topper.
Others would fall into hysterical seizures and “severe identity conflicts.” Topper personally witnessed three such seizures in reservation homes during one summer: “The girls were highly agitated, hyperventilation, and often hallucinating… [They] pushed themselves to the opposite side of the beds on which they were lying [and] would begin to scream and yell that they were being murderously assaulted by the ghosts of dead Navahos or that their family members were turning into ghosts, which were beckoning them into the grave. They screamed and struggled furiously when approached and then fell briefly into unconsciousness. Their insecurity was enormous, and they were expressing a great deal of anger about having to accept a major identity change.”
So traumatic was the constant, yearly identity changes forced on the 25 placement children whom Topper studied that 23 of them dropped out of the program and returned permanently to the reservation before graduation from high school. The mounting criticism about the adoption and off-reservation placement of Indian children finally resulted in the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978. The law was designed, originally, to provide for careful supervision of all placement programs. Has it changed the Mormon Placement Program? “I wish it would, but the answer is no,” says the weary and disgruntled BIA social worker in Window Rock, who requested anonymity.
No sooner had the act been passed, he said, than his office received a memo from M.E. Seneca, acting deputy commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, stating that the church’s powerful Washington law firm, Wilkinson, Cragun, and Barker (which Seneca once worked for), was complaining that the act was being “misinterpreted” to the L.D.S. staff people on the reservation. “The L.D.S. program,” stated the memo, “is exempt” from the act. “Please have any misinterpretation corrected.”
How did the Mormon church escape the restrictions placed on virtually every other public and private program dealing with Indian adoption and placement? Our sources in the Indian Subcommittee of the Senate Interior Committee, which handled the legislation, claim that Wilkinson, Cragun, and Barker lobbied intensively on behalf of the church to change the initial bill, which would have put the Mormon placement program under greater government supervision. They were ably assisted in the effort by Utah Rep. Gunn McKay, brother of former church president David McKay. In fact, the language in the bill exempting the Mormon program “was adopted by the House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs at the specific request of the church…,” said a letter from Robert Barker to Seneca.
According to the BIA social worker, it is now up to Tribal Council to come up with a tribal policy that addresses the problems of the placement program. But there is a serious doubt that it will ever be enacted. Says a tribal official, “Mormons are tied into what is happening in the leadership of the tribe–both the council and the bureaucracy. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the tribal council is Mormon.” While that estimate is probably exaggerated, it is incontestable that Mormons are well represented in the council, and that many of them gained their political influence through the very program they will be asked to restrict–Mormon placement.
Said a Navaho woman who works in the tribal bureaucracy, “If the Dineh [the word for Navaho, meaning “the people”] doesn’t have a tribal policy [on placement], we won’t survive as a tribe. They will literally conquer the Indian people.”
Just as Mormon attorneys, legislators, and bureaucrats were able to rewrite the law that would have terminated the church’s program for expropriating Indian children, so did they manage to create the law that continues to terminate Indian lands. In fact, much of the history of U.S. government-Indian affairs in the Southwest over the last 50 years has, in very large measure, involved a handful of highly-placed Mormon attorneys and lawmakers and the still-growing legions of Mormons in both the federal Indian bureaucracy and the tribal governments themselves. Indeed, in many cases the BIA has literally served as an extension of the church.
The close relationship between the church and the government is most apparent in the recent history of what has happened to Indian land, which, besides children, is the Native Americans’ last great resource. Though once thought of as worthless, Indian land today is among the most highly valued real estate in the West, thanks to this nation’s voracious appetite for uranium, coal, oil and oil shale, tar sands, and the water required to mine and process those resources and to supply the ever-growing cities.
Despite Brigham Young’s paternal admonition that it was “less expensive to feed and clothe than to fight them,” there has never been a time when the Lamanites have been welcome in the new Zion of the Saints. True, the early Mormon settlers tried, with little success, to convert the neighboring Shoshoni, Bannock, and Ute–even experimenting with placing the reluctant heathens on church-owned farms. But for the most part, the fast-growing body of Saints in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake had no room for anybody who was not of the faith. In fact, in 1857 Brigham Young was able to marshall fully 1,100 Mormon militia to guard the mountain pass east of Salt Lake against a U.S. Army expedition, mounted by President Buchanan, which was seeking to install a non-Mormon governor over the Utah Territory. The territory, as far as the Saints were concerned, was a semi-independent kingdom.
By 1865 the Utah Indians battling both the Mormon militia and the U.S. Cavalry, had been defeated militarily, cut off from their traditional hunting grounds, and wracked by white man’s diseases. The chieftains signed a treaty with the government, negotiated in part by Mormons, in which they were forced to cede their vast landholdings in exchange for reservations in remote areas. The Ute, once the most feared warriors in the Rockies, were assigned to about 2 million acres of majestic but arid land in the Uinta Basin in the mountains of eastern Utah. In one generation they had been reduced to a few pathetic bands of stragglers, their number reduced from 4,500 to about 800. In roughly the same period, the Mormons–infused by a constant flow of new blood from England and Scandinavia–grew from about 50,000 to more than 110,000.
The residue of bitterness is still felt on the Ute reservation today. A young woman tribal employee in Fort Duchesne, the tribal headquarters, tells us that “a lot of things are not recorded in the histories you read. I remember my grandmother telling me about how her people, who lived in central Utah, would be invited to feasts by the Mormons. Then the Mormons would slip poison into the Ute’s food. There were lots of stories like that.” Fact or fantasy, such oral history may reveal more about the tone of Mormon-Indian relationships that do most written histories.
As the plows of the Mormon settlers overturned more and more soil, the original 2.5 million acres that had been granted to all the Ute bands dwindled to about 360,000 acres by the early twentieth century. Lost in their own land, the Ute died faster than their children could be born.
And so it continued until the 1930s, when President Roosevelt brought about an “Indian New Deal” under the leadership of Harold Ickes, secretary of the interior, and John Collier, who became commissioner of Indian affairs. Sincere and well-meaning for their time, they imposed on the Indian tribes the greatest gift they could conceive–formal, elected government.
For decades Washington did not know how to deal legally and officially with the various Indian bands. How could the U.S. government or, more to the point, certain U.S. corporations execute treaties, land leases, and mineral-exploration contracts with unelected leaders of informal, unofficial bands of Indians? This, in order for the tribes to reap the harvest of federal and corporate royalties, on the one hand, and in order for the government and the corporations to reap the Indian land and minerals, on the other hand, the New Deal bequeathed the wonders of elected, representative tribal government to the often reluctant tribes.
Despite the inherent ironies of the new benevolence in Washington, the period marked a turning point for the Ute, whose new BIA-approved government received $1.2 million for a million acres that had been appropriated for a national forest. Their future seemed assured, their land base slowly began to grow again, and for the first time in 80 years Ute births began to exceed the number of Ute deaths.
And then the second critical event of the twentieth century occurred for the Ute.The tribe hired young Ernest Wilkinson, an enterprising Mormon attorney whose Washington, D.C., law firm had gained a reputation for its expertise on Indian law issues and would go on to become an energetic official representative of the Mormon church. The tribe wanted Wilkinson to press its other land claims before the government.
Ernest Wilkinson proved so adept in his new role that he established a pattern that Indian-claims law still follows today. Before he could get on with the work of adjudicating Indian land claims–for he had his eyes on not only the Ute claim but also Indian lands throughout the country–Wilkinson had to engineer a neat little piece of legislation. Accordingly, the Indian Claims Commission Act, written in part by Wilkinson, was sponsored by Nevada Sen. Pat McCarren and Utah Sen. Arthur Watkins.
This law, perhaps the most disputed piece of Indian legislation ever passed, called for the creation of an Indian Claims Commission, which would rule on the legitimacy of tribal land claims, then set the date when the land was lost, and finally determine the amount owed the Indians for the lost land based on the value of the land at the time it was taken, which was in most instances anywhere from 50 to 100 years earlier than passage of the act.
Wilkinson would later boast in a letter to a Ute leader that “as your attorney, I spent considerable time assisting in the writing of that particular bill.” He would go on to call it “the biggest victory ever obtained by the Indians in Congress with respect to settling their claims against the government.”
The land claims law was, in fact, the biggest victory ever obtained by the government and by lawyers over the Indians. It was designed to end, once and for all, all legitimate Indian claims to traditional homelands. The claims would be “terminated,” not by the restoration of lands, as many Indians had been led to believe, but by allowing the government to “buy out” the claims using land prices that had prevailed several generations back. The law–dubbed the “Indian Lawyers Welfare Act” by its critics–also provided that tribal lawyers would receive settlement fees ranging from seven to ten percent of the total purchase price. Since settlements, even at nineteenth-century prices, often reached into the millions, the lawyers were highly motivated to encourage tribes to sue. According to one authoritative estimate, Indian-claims lawyers, virtually all white, have reaped at least $60 million by “selling off” Indian lands.
“It also became an incentive for lawyers to prove how much the Indians no longer owned,” said one lawyer familiar with the Ute case. “The more land the Indians lost, the more money the lawyers got.” At the heart of the controversy over the law was the stipulation that all settlements be made in cash. Time and again Indian leaders have stated that they never understood this provision of the act and that their lawyers, including the most prominent of the Mormon attorneys, led the to believe that by filing a land claim they stood a good chance of actually getting their lands back. Even today traditional Hopi, Paiute, Shoshoni, Gosiute, and others argue passionately that they never realized that in making a claim they were offering to sell their land. Ernest Wilkinson, who would go on to become head of B.Y.U. and one of the most respected and richest elders in the Mormon church before his death in 1978, represented each and every one of them.
In the first claims settlement, the Ute received $31 million for lost Colorado lands plus oil and gas lease royalties from leases that were worked out by the tribe’s Mormon attorneys. They were getting rich, or so it looked. But instead of contributing to tribal prosperity, the funds quickly resulted in widespread unrest among the various bands that occupied the Ute reservation.
Foremost among the causes of that unrest was a new piece of legislation introduced by Utah’s Senator Watkins, Wilkinson’s old Mormon ally. Watkins, following the lead of the claims act, was determined to carry the “termination policy” to its logical conclusion. Under the guise of freeing the Indians from the “yoke of federal supervision,” termination al la Watkins amounted to extermination. The new policy called for the end of all government services to Indians, the imposition of state jurisdiction over all Indian lands, the eventual sale of all Indian lands, and, in the meantime, the transfer of title to an appointed trustee.
In the end, the infamous Watkins policy “terminated” 20 tribes, bands, and remnants of tribes. Watkins would go on to become head of the Indian Claims Commission. Wilkinson’s partner, John Boyden, would soon succeed his mentor as on of the nation’s most controversial Indian land-claims attorneys.
Salt Lake City attorney Parker Nielson, who now represents the terminated mixed-bloods, says that Boyden was “not intentionally devious, but he had a very myopic view of Indians and their problems. He saw it as a problem of converting them to round-eyed Caucasians and particularly Mormon round-eyed Caucasians. That was the intention of [Watkin’s] termination policy, which he helped to design. It contributed to the urban Indian problem. It forced the Indians off the reservation and into the cities. I am told that Paiute (once terminated but recently restored to tribal status) are actually going out and committing suicide by walking under motor vehicles.” Nielson calls the whole affair “a cultural tragedy.”
Nielson’s view of Boyden closely corresponds to that of an official in the Department of the Interior who, after working with Boyden for five years on another Ute case, wrote in an official memorandum that the attorney is “first of all a Mormon, secondly, a very strong state’s advocate, and thirdly, an advocate for the Indian people.”
Boyden, who began his legal career as a U.S. attorney in Salt Lake city and later was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, soon left the Wilkinson firm to set up his own, known as Boyden, Kennedy, Romney.
Boyden and his son Steve continued to represent the Ute tribe until recently, when our old friend Martin Seneca from the BIA took over as a private attorney. In the early1970s, the tribal council launched a second effort to fire Boyden as general counsel for his part in negotiating a Ute water-rights deferral that would divert Ute water to Salt Lake City. The expanding city, led by the expanding church, needs the additional water if it is to continue to grow as a western energy center. The tribal council’s attempt to dump Boyden was rebuffed by the Department of the Interior’s solicitor in Utah, William McConkey, who overruled the tribe.
Ute water continues to be of paramount interest to the church, city, and state (which are inextricably interlocked), but it is not the only Ute resource coveted by Salt Lake. Oil and gas leases from the tribe currently bring in some $9 million a year to tribal coffers, and the reservation sits on some of the best shale oil land in the West, waiting patiently to be developed in the promised era of synfuels.
The Ute’s most significant gas leases were negotiated by Boyden with Mountain Fuel and Gas Supply, the largest gas supplier in Utah. Not surprising, it is also a firm in which the Mormon church has extensive interests and interlocks. The church’s first president, Nathan Eldon Tanner, the church’s leading business adviser and a former energy entrepreneur in his own right, sits on Mountain Fuel’s board of directors, as does church official and former CIA man Neal Maxwell. Maxwell, who is regarded as one of the most important figures in the next generation of church leadership, is also a member of Mountain Fuel’s executive committee. Mountain Fuel chairman B.Z. Kastler, in turn, reciprocates the favor by sitting on the boards of two church-owned corporations. According to our research among state legal documents held by the Utah Insurance Board, the five Mormon church-owned insurance companies alone control $1.5 million worth of Mountain Fuel. It is impossible to calculate how much more extensive the church’s financial stake in the company might be, since control of stock can be disguised in many perfectly legal ways and the church itself never reveals an iota of financial information.
Ute council chairwoman, Ruby Black (one of the few women ever to head an Indian tribe) was guarded on the subject of their attorney, as were virtually all the tribal leaders with whom we spoke on the record. “There were times when they tended to do things their way,” she says. “We told the Boyden firm not to go out and do things on their own. We said, ‘You sit back and take orders from the tribe now.'” Steve Boyden, she says, was “very loyal” to the tribe, despite tremendous pressure from Uinta Basin Mormon ranchers who called him everything from a “traitor to the faith” to a “Communist,” particularly since the tribe forced Boyden to press its claim for jurisdiction over all Ute in the Uinta Basin.
Our own retracing of the Wilkinson-Boyden trail lead us not only through the valleys of the Utah Ute, the Shoshoni, the Gosiute, and the Paiute but also south to the high red-rock mesas of northern Arizona to the very heartland of ancient America.
There, among the gentle Hopi, the direct descendants of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi (the Ancient Ones), we found the Mormon-Lamanite struggle written in high relief. The Hopi, befitting a tribe that has lived centuries on this continent, have a way of speaking of the distant past as though it were the immediate prelude to the present. Nothing is forgotten. Everything is interconnected. Add to this characteristic their intense religiosity, and it is not surprising that their relations with the Mormons past and present should so consume reservation life today.
“To the Hopi these sacred mountains were set up as a village plaza,” says Thomas Banyacya, pointing out the rock houses perched precariously on the razor edge of the mesa above us. The village is Old Oraibi, which, with nearby Shungopavy, is considered the oldest continuously occupied community in North America. Banyacya’s forefathers lived in this place as long as 1100 A.D. and perhaps 500 years before that.
As an official interpreter of the traditional Hopi leaders, known as the village kikmongwis, since 1948, Banyacya has come to know every detail of the long struggle waged by the Hopi. The last person he tried to tell his story to was President Carter, but the president had more pressing business, and Banyacya delivered to a Carter aide a detailed report on the Hopi problem commissioned by the traditional leaders.
The report he left was a remarkable 200-page history of the Hopi’s efforts to survive in the midst of an alien society that imposes its own rules and then breaks them with impunity, a history of struggles against government officials and Mormon attorneys who are determined to turn them into rich, law-abiding Americans, even if it kills them. The background of this struggle is a long history of government and white-settler encroachment on Hopi land. A prominent Mormon missionary, Jacob Hamlin, led a Mormon expedition to Hopi mesa tops more than 100 years ago, and the descendants of Mormon settlers still farm on surrounding lands that the Hopi claim as their own. In all, the Hopi have “lost” some 4 million acres of their ancestral lands.
By the late 1940s the BIA was very anxious to finally “extinguish” the Hopi land claims by paying out a monetary settlement so that the energy companies could get on with the work of mineral exploration. But before this could be done, the Hopi had to be made to elect a legal tribal council as well as hire a BIA-approved attorney. Previous efforts to establish a tribal council among the Hopi had met with repeated defeat, thanks to the traditional Hopi leaders, who clung to the nonelected theocratic form of government that had served the tribe well for more than 1,000 years.
Without a “representative” council nothing could happen. “It does not appear that leases acceptable to oil companies may be made under existing law unless the Hopi Indians will organize a tribal council…,” lamented one Interior Department official at the time.
Enter John Boyden. By 1950 Boyden was well connected, to say the least, among the Indian bureaucrats. As a U.S. attorney in Utah, he had handled Indian cases for more than ten years. With the FBI before that he had written a new criminal law code for the Navaho Reservation and had even sought the job of Indian commissioner. With this background, Boyden would have no difficulty in getting the government to sanction him as the Hopi’s claims attorney; all he had to do was get the Hopi to go along.
Since there was no tribal council to appoint him, the BIA decided that Boyden should go meet with the people of each of the Hopi villages, explain to them the meaning of the lands claim, and then conduct an election in each village. If a majority wanted him, he would be legally recognized as a Hopi attorney and would file the claim.
Boyden found only five “progressive” villages that would give him a hearing. Five other villages, populated by the “traditionals,” who opposed any monetary settlement, refused to even meet with him. Despite abysmally low voter turnouts even in the progressive villages that would admit him, the BIA concluded that “the people from the villages who favor the resolution represent the majority of the Hopi people.” John Boyden had won the election to tribal-claims attorney.
The traditional Hopi, outraged by the hiring of Boyden and the filing of the land claim, decided to file their own claim. They pressed the claims court for restoration of their entire ancestral lands, adding that “we cannot, by our tradition, accept coins or money for this land, but must persist in our prayers and words for repossession of the land itself to preserve the Hopi life.” The claim soon lapsed for want of any BIA-approved attorney to carry it to court. Despite the setback, the traditional Hopi have petitioned virtually every president and high BIA official over the last 30 years, demanding restoration of lands and refusing to accept any amount of money in settlement. In 1958 the traditional Hopi even met with traditional Ute, who were also fighting Boyden, and they jointly demanded that a federal grand jury conduct an investigation of Boyden’s activities. No such investigation was ever held.
The creation of a “representative” tribal council proved a long and arduous task for Boyden and the BIA. But by 1955 the commissioner of Indian affairs finally granted recognition to a group of nine progressive Hopi who claimed to constitute a tribal council. The eight other seats that make up the constitutional tribal council remained unfilled because traditional leaders refused to participate.
Six years later, and many more extralegal manipulations later, the new tribal council entered into its first mineral-lease agreement. As Boyden had predicted, the mineral leases would bring a steady flow of funds into the tribal coffers. Early oil leases in 1964 resulted in a reported $3 million. To show its gratitude, the tribal council, which Boyden had helped create, voted to pay its attorney a $1 million fee for his efforts. His prediction, made a decade earlier, that oil leases would eventually pay his fees, proved correct.
In 1966 the tribal council, guided by Boyden, signed a lease that entitled Peabody Coal to strip-mine 58,000 acres of the Black Mesa, a mining operation that would come to be known in the environmental movement as The Angel of Death. In the view of Banyacya and the traditionals, the council not only participated in the rape of their sacred land but also sold out the Hopi’s historic duty to protect the earth on behalf of the Great Spirit.
“We Hopis have to hold the land for the Great Spirit,” says Banyacya. “We cannot take money for it; the land cannot be sold.”
Clearly, the Hopi’s Mormon attorney was eminently successful in opposing the interests of the traditional Hopi. But how well does the Mormon church far in the Hopi nation in other respects, such as the saving of the Lamanite?
Not so bad, at least from a first glance. Down the road a piece from Banyacyas’s home is a modest frame house once owned by Wayne Sekaquaptewa, the editor of the local Hopi newspaper, who died shortly after we visited him. Except for the government, Wayne was the biggest employer on the reservation. He was also the most unabashedly Mormon of all Hopi, and viewed himself as a reincarnation of Jacob Hamlin, the nineteenth-century Mormon missionary to the Hopi. The Hopi religion, he wrote in an editorial, is not worth practicing and pursuing, it’s time to burn up the rest of our supposedly sacred altars and ritual parphernalia.”
Wayne was also a member of the Hopi’s most prominent Mormon family. His brother Abbot is chairman of the tribal council, while his brother Emory has served as executive director of the tribal council.
For a time, a decade ago, it looked as if the Mormon church were going to be as successful at gathering Hopi souls as Boyden was gathering Hopi mineral leases. The traditional leaders spoke darkly of a Mormon conspiracy to take over the reservation. Boyden was clearly in control of the council and its relations to the outside world. Steward Udall, a member of another politically prominent Mormon family, had direct interest in the Hopi and could make his interests felt as the secretary of the interior, who is ultimately responsible for all Indian affairs. In addition, the commissioner of Indian affairs was a Mormon, as were prominent local and national BIA officials. Everywhere a Hopi looked he saw Mormons, and they were inevitably in positions of great power.
Nonetheless, there is no evidence that the Mormons have won the hearts and minds of the Hopi people. Relatively few Hopi children enter the Mormon Child Placement Program, and even fewer remain in it long enough to become indoctrinated. While some Hopi claim that as much as 70 percent of the reservation has been baptized Mormon, most knowledgeable Hopi laugh at such a figure.
And, according to confidential sources within the tribal bureaucracy, distrust of John Boyden himself was beginning to grow in tribal government. Some of the council members, though they were progressives, were even beginning to talk seriously of hearing from at least one other law firm.
The matter was taken out of their hands when John Boyden died late in 1980, leaving his son Steve in charge of his lingering business and his old BIA Mormon friend Martin Seneca to take over the Ute account. But Boyden had won large cash settlements for the Gosiute and the Western Shoshoni, even though tribal leaders from both tribes fought long and bitter battles to fire him and get their lands back. And his firm won a contract from New Mexico’s Zuni tribe and was expected to file a claim that would lead to the extinguishment of another 6 million acres of Indian land, much of it already settled by Mormon ranchers.
The future? Boyden, Wilkinson, and Watkins have gone to their Mormon rewards with the angel Moroni. The church remains, and Tom Banyacya and America’s Indians remain. Two visions of life on earth, two intensely spiritual interpretations of the meaning and value of land and mankind, clashing down through the past and rumbling like distant thunder in the future.