Tag Archives: Vine Deloria

Power and Place Equal Personality (PDF)

Power and Place Equal Personality

Vine Deloria, Jr.
American Indian Studies
University of Arizona, Tucson

Western science resolves itself into certain “laws” which describe the natural world . These laws are makeshift descriptions of the manner in which physical reality appears to operate, but they are often regarded by Western scientists as inviolable. Phenomena that fall outside the prescribed patterns of behavior are said to be “anomalies,” which can be disregarded when explaining how the physical universe functions. Eventually, of course, the Western scientist must deal with the so-called anomalies. These phenomena form an increasingly large body of knowledge and facts which cannot be explained using the acceptable paradigm into which the rest of scientific knowledge is deposited.

American Indian knowledge of the world does not suffer this structural handicap While tribal peoples did not have a detailed conception of the whole planet in the sense that Western scientists presently do, they did have a very accurate knowledge of the lands they inhabited and the plants, animals, and other life forms that shared their environment. It is also becoming increasingly clear that they had a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the heavens, with their own set of constellations and stories.

Emphasis on the Particular
The boundaries of American Indian knowledge were those of respect, not of orthodoxy. For instance, certain stories about the stars could not be told when the constellations in question were overhead. Some other kinds of stories involving animals, plants, and spirits could only be told at a particular time of year or in a specific place. There were no anomalies because Indian retained the ability to wonder at the behavior of nature, and they remembered even the most abstruse things with the hope that one day their relationship to existing knowledge would become clear.

The key to understanding Indian knowledge of the world is to remember that the emphasis was on the particular, not on general laws and explanations of how things worked. Consequently, when we hear the elders tell about things, we must remember that they are basically reporting on their experiences or on the experiences of their elders. Indians as a rule do not try to bring existing bits of knowledge into categories and rubrics which can be used to do further investigation and experimentation with nature. The Indian system requires a prodigious memory and a willingness to remain humble in spite of one’s great knowledge.

Keeping the particular in mind as the ultimate reference point of Indian knowledge, we can pass into a discussion of some of the principles of the Indian forms of knowledge. Here power an place are dominant concepts—power being the living energy that inhabits and/or composes the universe, and place being the relationship of things to each other. It is much easier, in discussing Indian principles, to put these basic ideas into a simple equation: Power and place produce personality. This equation simply means that the universe is alive, but it also contains within it the very important suggestion that the universe is personal and, therefore, must be approached in a personal manner. And this insight holds true because Indians are interested in the particular, which of necessity must be personal and incapable of expansion and projection to hold true universally.

The personal nature of the universe demands that each and every entity in it seek and sustain personal relationships. Here, the Indian theory of relativity is much more comprehensive than the corresponding theory articulated by Einstein and his fellow scientists. The broader Indian idea of relationship, in a universe very personal and particular, suggests that all relationships have a moral content. For that reason, Indian knowledge of the universe was never separated from other sacred knowledge about ultimate spiritual realities.

The spiritual aspect of knowledge about the world taught the people that relationships must not be left incomplete. There are many stories about how the world came to be, and the common themes running through them are the completion of relationships and the determination of how this world should function. Such tales seem far removed from the considerations fo science, particularly as Indian students are taught science in today’s universities. However, when the tribal concepts are translated into scientific language, they make a good deal of sense. Completing the relationship focuses the individual’s attention on the results of his or her actions. Thus, the Indian people were concerned about the products of what they did, and they sought to anticipate and consider all possible effects of their actions.

And on Appropriateness
The corresponding question faced by American Indians when contemplating action is whether or not the proposed action is appropriate. Appropriate includes the moral dimension of respect for the part of nature that will be used or affected in our action. Thus, killing an animal or catching a fish involved paying respect to the species and the individual animal or fish which such action had disturbed. Harvesting plants also involved paying respect to the plants. These actions were necessary because of the recognition that the universe was built upon consecutive and cooperative relationships that had to be maintained.

We can view this different perspective in yet another way that will speak more directly to Indian students studying Western science. Very early, at least beginning with Greek speculation on the nature of the world, the Western peoples seem to have accepted a strange binary system of reasoning in which things are compared primarily according to their size.

American Indians seem to have considered this kind of thinking at one time because there ar tribal stories which compare humans to various animals. The stories always emphasized that while humans cannot see as well as the hawk, they can see; they are not as strong as the bear, but they are strong; not as fast as the deer, but they can run; and so forth. However, when these comparisons are carefully analyzed, one finds that both physical and psychological characteristics are described.

When using plants as both medicines and foods, Indians were very careful to use the plant appropriately. By maintaining the integrity of the plant within the relationship, Indians discovered many important facts about the natural world which non-Indians only came upon later. The Senecas, for example, knew that corn, squash, and beans were the three Sisters of the Earth, and because they had a place in the world and were compatible spirits, the Indians always planted them together. Only recently have non-Indians, after decades of laboratory research, discovered that the three plants make a natural nitrogen cycle that keeps land fertile and productive.

Plants, because they have their own life cycle, taught Indians about time. George Will and George Hyde, in their book Corn Among the Indians of the Upper Missouri point out that it was the practice of the agricultural tribes to plant their corn, hoe it a few times, and then depart for the western mountains on their summer buffalo hunt. When a certain plant in the west began to change its color, the hunters knew it was time to return home to harvest their corn. This knowledge about corn and the manner in which its growth cycle correlated with that of plants of the mountains some 500 miles away was very sophisticated and involved the idea of time as something more complex than mere chronology.

Star Knowledge
Much Indian knowledge involved the technique of reproducing the cosmos in miniature and invoking spiritual change which would be followed by physical change. Hardly a tribe exists which did not construct its dwellings after some particular model fo the universe. The principle involved was that whatever is above must be reflected below. This principle enabled the people to correlate their actions with the larger movements of the universe.

Star knowledge was among the most secretive and sophisticated of all the information that Indians possessed. Today, archeoastronomers are finding all kinds of correlations between Indian practices and modern astronomical knowledge. Very complex star maps painted on buckskin hides or chiseled on canyon walls give evidence that Indians were astute observers of the heavens. A good deal of Indian star knowledge continues to exist, but religious prohibitions and restrictions continue to limit the propagation of this information.

The Principle of Correlation
Star knowledge gives us an additional principle of Indian information gathering That principle is correspondence, or correlation. Being interested in the psychological behavior of things i the world and attributing personality to all things, Indians began to observe and remember how and when things happened together. The result was that they made connections between things that had no sequential relationships. There was, consequently, no firm belief in cause and effect, which plays such an important role in Western science and thinking. But Indians were well aware that when a certain sequence of things began, certain other elements or events would als occur.

A kind of predictability was present in Indian knowledge of the natural world. Many ceremonies that are used to find things, heal, or predict the future rely upon this kind of correlation between and among entities in the world. The so-called medicine powers and medicine bundles represented this kind of correlative understanding of how different things were related to each other. Correlation is responsible, for example, for designating the bear as a medicine animal, owls as forecasting death or illness, and snakes as anticipating thunderstorms.

This kind of knowledge is both tribal- and environmental-specific. In diagnosing illness, for example, medicine men might search for the cause of sickness by questioning their patients on a variety of apparently unrelated experiences. They would be searching for that linkages which experience had taught them existed in these situations. Here again, there was considerable emphasis on the heavens. One need only examine the admonitions of different tribes with respect to shooting stars, different configurations of the moon, eclipses, and unusual cloud formations to understand how correlational knowledge provided unique ways of adjusting to the natural world.

A More Realistic Knowledge
The acknowledgment that power and place produce personality means not only that the natural world is personal but that its perceived relationships are always ethical. Fr that reason, Indian accumulation of information is directly opposed to the Western scientific method of investigation, because it is primarily observation. Indians look for messages in nature, but they do not force nature to perform functions which it does not naturally do.

The Indian method of observation produces a more realistic knowledge in the sense that, given the anticipated customary course of events, the Indian knowledge can predict what will probably occur. Western science seeks to harness nature to perform certain tasks. But there are limited resources in the natural world, and artificial and wasteful use depletes the resources more rapidly than would otherwise occur naturally.

Indian students can expect to have a certain amount of difficulty in adjusting to the scientific way of doing things. They will most certainly miss the Indian concern with ethical questions and the sense of being personally involved in the functioning of the natural world. But they can overcome this feeling and bring to science a great variety of insights about the world derived from their own tribal backgrounds and traditions.

By adopting the old Indian concern what the products of actions, students can get a much better perspective on what they are doing and how best to accomplish their goals. By maintaining a continuing respect for the beliefs and practices of their tribes, students can begin to see th world through the eyes of their ancestors and translate the best knowledge o the world into acceptable modern scientific terminology.

Most important, however, are the contributions being made by American Indian scientists. With their expertise, we can better frame our own ethical and religious concerns and make more constructive choices in the use of existing Indian physical and human resources. It is this linkage between science and the community that we must nurture and encourage.

American Indian Metaphysics (PDF)

American Indian Metaphysics
Vine Deloria, Jr.
American Indian Studies
University of Arizona, Tucson

For many centuries, whites scorned the knowledge of American Indians, regarding whatever the people said as gross savage superstition and insisting that their own view of the world, a complex mixture of folklore, religious doctrine, and Greek natural science, was the highest intellectual achievement of our species. This posture of arrogance produced some classic chapters in the history of the western hemisphere: Ponce de Leon wandering around the southeastern United States vainly searching for the Fountain of Youth, Swedish immigrants on the Delaware River importing food for thirty years because they could not grow anything in this country, and the Donner party resorting to cannibalism because of their fear of the local Indians.

In recent years, there has been an awakening to the fact that Indian tribes possessed considerable knowledge about the natural world. Unfortunately, much of this appreciation has come too late for anyone, white or Indian, to recapture some of the most important information on lands, plants, and animals of the continent. In a parallel but unrelated development, Indian religious traditions are now of major interest to whites whose own religious traditions have either vanished or been swamped in reactionary fundamentalism Fluctuating between a recognition of practical knowledge about the world possessed by Indians and outright admiration for their sense of the religious is unsettling and nonproductive; it does not attribute to Indians any consistency, nor does it suggest that their views of the natural world and religious reality had any more correspondence and compatibility than do western religion snd its science. Instead of talking of an Indian “science” or even a Indian “religion,” we should focus our attention on the metaphysics possessed by most American Indian tribes and derive from this central perspective the information and beliefs which naturally flowed from it.

Metaphysics has had a difficult time regaining its intellectual respectability in western circles. Its conclusions were greatly abused by generations of Europeans who committed what Alfred North Whitehead called the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” which is to say that, after they reached the conclusions to which their premises had led them, they came to believe they had accurately described ultimate reality. Metaphysics need not bear the burden of its past, however, if we understand it as simply that set of first principles which we must possess in order to make sense of the world in which we live. In this sense, the Indian knowledge of the natural world, of the human world, and of whatever realities exist beyond our senses has a consistency which far surpasses anything devised by western civilization.

The best description of the Indian metaphysics was the realization that the world, and all its possible experiences, constituted a social reality, a fabric of life in which everything had the possibility of intimate knowing relationships because, ultimately, everything was related. This world was a unified world, a far cry from the disjointed and sterile world painted by western science. Even though we can translate the realities of that world into concepts familiar to us from the western scientific context, such as space, time, and energy, the Indian world can be said to consist of two basic experiential dimensions which, taken together, provided a sufficient means of making sense of the world. These tow concepts were place and power, perhaps better defined as spiritual power of life force. Familiarity with the personality of objects and entities of the natural world enabled Indians to discern immediately where each living being had its proper place and what kinds of experiences that place allowed, encouraged, and suggested.

Western scientists frequently suggest that the Indian way of looking at the world lacked precision because it was not capable of nor interested in mathematical descriptions of nature. But, as Carl Jung pointed out with respect to the so-called primitive mind, once a person knew the places of things, a mere glance was sufficient to replace counting and, in most instances, was more accurate. The Indian mind was considerably more interested in learning the psychological characteristics of things than in describing their morphological structure. Hence, in some instances when defining common personality traits which men and animals shared,the Indian seemed to be talking nonsense. Today, as western science edges ever closer to acknowledging the intangible, spiritual quality of matter and the intelligence of animals, the Indian view appears increasingly more sophisticated.

Indian students today are confronted with a monolith of western science when they leave the reservation to attend college. In most introductory courses, their culture and traditions are derided as mere remnants of a superstitious, stone-age mentality which could not understand or distinguish between the simplest of propositions. Additionally, they are taught that science is an objective and precise task performed by specialists who carefully weigh the propositions which come before them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Western science traditionally represents the consensus of the established scientists who almost always reject new ideas out of hand. Much of the progress made by western science has been made by amateurs and martyrs who have been derided and cursed in their lifetime, only to be canonized by a new generation which has learned to accept the smallest of changes with more grace than their fathers and teachers.

Indian students are further misled by outrageous claims made by science which suggest that the various fields of inquiry, if taken together, represent the sum total of humand knowledge. In fact, almost all of western science is reductionist in nature and seeks to force natural experience and knowledge into predetermined categories which ultimately fail to describe or explain anything. The whole process of science is that of finding common denominators which can describe large amounts of data in the most general terms, rejecting anything which refuses easy classification as “anomalous,” existing outside the generally accepted labels and, therefore, not to be given standing or serious attention. This way of gathering information about the world–and ourselves–is, of course, absurd.

One of the most painful experiences for American Indian students is to come into conflict with the teachings of science which purport to explain phenomena already explained by tribal knowledge and tradition. The assumption of the western educational system is that information dispensed by colleges is always correct, and the beliefs or teachings of the tribe are always wrong. Rarely is this the case. The teachings of the tribe are almost always more complete, but they are oriented toward a far greater understanding of reality than is scientific knowledge. And precise tribal knowledge almost always has a better predictability factor than does modern science, which generally operates in sophisticated tautologies that seek only to confirm preexisting identities.

We live in and industrial, technological world in which a knowledge of science is often the key to employment and many times is essential in understanding how the larger society views and uses the natural world–including, unfortunately, people and animals. Western science has no moral basis and is entirely incapable of resolving human problems except by the device of making humans act more and more like machines. Therefore, Indian students, as they study science and engineering, should take time and make the effort to regain a firm knowledge of traditional tribal lore. Even if many of the stories seem impossible under existing scientific explanation of phenomena, Indian students should not easily discard what their tribes have traditionally believed. There is most assuredly a profound knowledge present in many things which the tribes have preserved.

Richard Ford’s article on “Science in Native America” is a good representative piece recognizing the knowledge of Indians. It fairly surveys the various aspects of knowledge which Indians had and gives reasonable explanations of some of the ways in which our ancestors understood natural phenomena. Considering the present state of things, it is important for scholars such as Ford to begin to help us break the ice of ignorance and neglect which has been thrust upon our traditions for nearly half a millennium. Without the voices of respected white scholars, there is little chance that we can get sufficient attention from the scientific establishment in order to plead our own case. But we must remember that every article which attempts to discuss this problem should be understood as a call for each of us to enter into the exchange of knowledge. In this sense, Ford calls us, as Native Americans, to become more truly scientific–to offer our knowledge to the larger benefit of our species.

Fire & Ice: Natives, Alcohol and Spirituality, a Northern Health Paradigm (PDF)

Fire & Ice: Natives, Alcohol and Spirituality, a Northern Health Paradigm

Pamela Colorado, Ph.D.
Faculty of Social Welfare
University of Calgary
4401 University Drive
Lethbridge, Alberta

The Language Between the Cultures
Native and non-native interaction is powerfully and intricately interwoven with western science. Native alcoholism and the way it has been addressed provides insight to this complex phenomena and illuminates the possibility of global sobriety. From initial contact to contemporary times, the scientific view of the Indian has evolved through stages. Each stage has dramatically impacted the lives of both peoples.
Stage One, Scientific Racism
Scientific inquiry and literature on American Indians was born in the scientific racism of the nineteenth century. This doctrine replaced the word, “nation” with the word, “race” and assumed that moral qualities of people were positively correlated with physical characteristics; further, that all humanity could be divided into superior and inferior stocks (Berkhofer, 1978).
Typical of his time, Leslie Scott (1891) wrote an article entitled, “Indian” Diseases as Aids to Pacific Northwest Settlement” in which he States:

…Wherever went the white man’s appetites and wares went also his afflications which multiplied manifold in the savage habitat. Indians in the white man’s clothing, in his houses, in his liquor drinking, were like the cultures of malignant germs which the scientist multiplies in his laboratory…. throughout the entire West the Indians were victims, but perhaps nowhere else so badly as in the Pacific Northwest; and nowhere else were the results so good for the whites….

Thus, scientific arguments provided a rationale and a justification for the genocide and ruthless appropriation of Indian lands. Political rhetoric of the early 1800’s which was filled with optimism for the human race and the improvability of humankind gave way in 1850 to a strident “pessimism for inferior races and a belief in ineradicable racial weakness” (Horsman, 1975). In a popular work of the mid 1800’s phrenologist Combe argued that comparison of the heads of American Indians and Blacks demonstrated that Indian intellect was weaker but pride stronger therefore Blacks…

…were able to appreciate the superior moral and intellectual powers of the European race, and are content in some measure to live under their guidance.
The Indian on the contrary has refused to profit, to any great extent by the arts of literature of the Europeans and has always preferred death to servitude.

Bailey, who wrote as late as 1922, codified the scientific racist paradigm when he stated:

“From the statistics which relate to the two so-called primitive races, the African and the American Indian, it appears that the primitive could not under any present circumstances attain the average intelligence of cultured races. This appears to be so, not because there is any detailed information as to the potentiality of the primitive mind but because mental deficiency is so profuse that their average intelligence must be inferior to that of average European intelligence.”

Because Native alcoholism was understood to be a function of inferior biological stock, the treatment was death or near death. This view, turned on Native medicine and healers was examplified in a letter written in 1892 by Mrs. Willard, Christian Missionary who wrote:

It is here….I would speak of the Kling-get (Tlingit) fiend, the medicine man, and beg of those in authority to cause his extermination. His incantations should be held a crime and his uncut hair, his touch of power, should be shaved clean to his head; the whipping post and work under guard on public improvements would be better than a prison….(Dauenhauer, 1980)

These scientific “proofs” continued to assert innate Indian inferiority and establish complete confidence in ultimate Indian disappearance. In fact, scientific racism marched hand in hand with expansionists who at the close of the 19th century had exterminated more than twenty-five million Indian people!

Survivors of this “paradigm” became subject to the emerging cultural anthropological paradigm – at its worse a covert form of scientific racism and at its best, a harbinger of the golden age in Indian policy.

Cultural Anthropology, the Second View
In the birth of ethnography and cultural anthropology (beginning in the last part of the 19th century) the raciology and the evolutionism of scientific racism was repudiated. Boasian scholars such as Swanton, and later, Kroeber, espoused the idea of culture to explain the diversity of lifestyles of humankind. The cultural anthropological school separated biological heredity from the social transmission of culture, challenging previous work in the field.

Using empirical methodology, Boasian scholars stressed the import of replacing evolutionary history of Natives with actual history. They were convinced that tribal change, including alcoholism, happened more as a result of diffusion among tribes from a unilinear sequence of modifications in cultural perceptions and practices presumed by evolutionists.

This shift in thought produced dramatically different research. Radin (1972) wrote:

“the relationship of conquered to conqueror is important to both. Up to the present, all attempts that have been made to understand them, or to come to any reasonable adjustments with them have met with signal failure, and this failure is in most instances due to the scientific accredited theories of the innate inferiority of primitive man…”

Drawing on this earlier thinking, Lemert (1954) studied Haida and other Northwest tribes. His research indicated that alcoholism was not a function of race; that greatest drunkeness occurred when tribes were intensely involved in fur trade. Lemert argued that anomie, interclan rivalry and cultural conservatism were the most appropriate way to view Northwest Native alcoholism.

Lemert’s findings were typical of those in the flowering of cultural anthropology in the 1950’s. From this time forward, any discussion of Native alcoholism would include “culture”. The word “primitive” was no longer used to refer to Alaska Natives; empiricism became the method and major theories of deviance and social control became the philosophical underpinnings of future research.

The Sociocultural Model – A Third View of Native Alcoholism
The activism of American Indians, the Civil Rights Movement and the growth of the human sciences brought national attention and funds to the problem of alcoholism among Native people. The field exploded, producing more studies in a single decade than in the preceding fifty years. (Bates, 1980) More than half the literature continued to be anthropological (Leland, 1970) but the sociocultural model was emerging. This model,

derives from the view…that human behavior is the complex resultant of any interplay of biological and historical factors including interactions among systems that can be distinguished as those of the culture, the society and the individual…” (Berkhofer, 1970)

The contribution of the sociocultural model include: freeing Natives from the “ethnographic present” of anthropological research. No longer were Native people frozen in time. The model led to awareness that the effects of ethanol include social, economic, historical and cultural factors as well as chemical, physical and biological factors. Using history as a methodological tool, socio-cultural theorists have shown how attitudes, values and ways of drinking have changed in various ways and at different rates in many cultures. (Heath, 1980) Finally, this multi-disciplinary approach of the sociocultural model showed a propensity to get within the society being studied, to see history and life from the view of the people being studied.

The application of this science looked different from previous models. Psychiatrists and physicians including Bergman (1971) and Pascarosa (1976) participated in traditional Indian ceremonies and reported that Native science or way of coming to knowledge was efficacious, rigorous and humane. Native alcoholism and health sciences united. Alcoholism was viewed as a medical problem properly treated with technology. Publicly funded community programs struggled to integrate Western and Native healing techniques.

A second significant event that occurred was the emergence of the first generation of college educated Native scientists. This small group used the sociocultural model to talk with non-Native people about Native issues. Their work looked to external forces – historical, economic and political, as causative agents of Indian problems. The work was concerned with continuity, tended to be highly descriptive and combined realistic and spiritual themes.

The New Empiricism, a Fourth Model
Early sociocultural research produced a wealth of descriptive and explanatory studies but few claims were made for scientific rigor (Heath, 1980) and the need for definitive studies pushed empiricism to the fore (Nobel, 1976). The nascent cross-cultural scientific exchange was effectively halted as the study of “Native People” moved toward the harder sciences.

As a result of the new more rigorous and robust scientific empiricism, fundamental issues were raised regarding previous work. First scientists recognized that Native social problems are a complex phenomenon about which little is known; second, data collection and interpretation problems presented manifold problems and finally, the appropriateness of theoretical models was called into question.

“…it is not clear that the disease we call alcoholism is the same in both white and Indian societies or even that there is one unified pathology we call alcoholism. Those indicators, both behavioral and physiological, which have been used to diagnose alcoholism in the White society have been found to be determined in part by sociocultural factors. The behavioral indicators have been most frequently used to diagnose the presence of alcoholism in Indian populations. Since the association between these behaviors and either a physiological predispositions to drink has not been demonstrated, there must be an effort on the part of clinically oriented researchers to observe and measure the causative agents of alcoholism more directly if, in fact, this is possible…” (Nobel, 1976)

Lacking a precise definition or clear understanding of the variety of Native cultures meant that the new empiricism was confounded in its earliest efforts. And the increasing reliance on sophisticated analysis produced a new set of problems:

“There is a growing concern about where quantitative techniques are carrying us…our data manipulation techniques are carrying us…our data manipulation techniques have become increasingly complete mathematically sophisticated and governed by strict assumption, but, paradoxically, our interpretive frameworks which make such data meaningful have grown looser, more open ended, fluid and contingent…there seems to be rather widespread skepticism surrounding the ability of conventional data collection techniques to produce data that do not distort, do violence to, otherwise falsely portray the phenomena such methods seek to reveal…” (Van Mannen, 1979).

Thus, in the early 1980’s alcohol research and the science that guided the research were again in search of a paradigm that would work. Van Mannen observed:

“…there is something of a quiet reconstruction going on in the social sciences…There has come of age that significant realization that the people we study (and often seek to assist) have a form of life, a culture that is their own and if we wish to understand…we must first be able to both appreciate and describe their culture…”

Toward a New Paradigm
The sterility that characterized the findings of much of the “New Empiricism”, triggered a movement back towards holistic and qualitative research in Native alcoholism. Theories of Paulo Freire, South American educator, and research by UNESCO prompted researchers to look at culture in a very different way. Freire observed:

Research is a cultural action, if it has a humanist character, it is eminently dialogical and dialectical. In culture based research, “MEN DO NOT ACT ON OTHER MEN AS OBJECTS”.

Freire concluded that research should not be

“our research on you, but rather a research project in which, together, in dialogue, we will come to know each other better and the reality in which we find ourselves so that we can more effectively transform that reality”.

For the first time scientists began to recognize that Native people have a voice, and by extension, a way of knowing or science. Methodologies and approaches have evolved from this recognition. Popular writer, Milam, typifies the movement towards synthesis. While arguing for medical dominance of the filed he nevertheless recognizes that the “ism” in alcoholism necessarily involves a human or family system not merely the alcoholic. Participatory research, systems theory and family therapy all focus on relationships, development and the strengths of an existing system.

In Canada application of Native science has sparked a fire in Indian alcohol treatment. Tache a small reserve in British Columbia has used its mobile treatment model to move from 100% alcoholism to 95% sobriety. According to Maggie Hogson, Director of Nechi Training Institute, the spark has now jumped over to Alberta and other parts of Canada. The key to this phenomenal success lies in a careful integration of western treatment methodology and Native traditional ways.

These methods complement, native science and offer the possibility of intercultural scientific exchange. Native Alcohol work, usually the unwelcome relative to “harder” science, may draw on its theoretical underpinnings of wholism to assume leadership in the new pardigmatic shift. The firs step is to ask Native People, what is Indian science?


“…This is what Raven did for us…The shelter is the tree…”

Indian science, often understood through the tree, is holistic. Through spiritual processes it synthesizes or gathers information from the mental, physical, social and cultural/historical realms. Like a tree the roots of Native science go deep into the history, body and blood of the land. The tree collects, stores and exchanges energy. It breathes with the winds, which tumble and churn through greenery exquisitely fashioned to purify, codify and imprint life in successive concentric rings – the generations. Why and how the tree does this is a mystery but the Indian observes the tree to emulate, complement and understand his/her relationship to this beautiful, life-enhancing process.

The Meaning of Science
To the Indian, the tree is the first spirit or person on Earth. Indeed, the tree which oxygenated Earth’s atmosphere, is the precursor to our human existence. Because of its antiquity it is a respected Elder but the greatest power of Native Science lies in the reasons behind the trees existence.

When discussing the origins of the tree Chief Donawaak, Tlinget Elder says:

“This is where stories begin, there is no story before this…When Raven spirit and Black Raven are working on this land, they put coves in it where you can come in when it’s blowing – a place where you can come ashore.

My Great Grandfather who told this story to me said – the cove is where you’re going to be safe. If you pass that harbour you’re not going to go very far…you will tip over or drown. But if you come to the cove you will be safe. This is what Raven did for us. The shelter is the tree. You could get under the tree and stay there overnight. All this is what the Raven did…(Colorado, 1985)

From these words we see that Native science has a sacral basis and that its teachings are grounded in the natural world. The Navajo and the Natural World are one; he expresses that unity this way:

The foundation, you have to know your roots, where you are coming from. It is understood that we all come from God, God created us. But you have to understand in your own Indian way, where your roots are. You see a tree that is weak, about to give up. Sometimes you find people like that. Why is that tree just barely making it. Because the roots are not strong. If the roots are solid and strong, then you see the tree is strong and pretty. It can withstand cold, hot weather and winds. The human, has to have those roots because we are growing too. The Great Spirit put us here with nature. We have to understand the nature. That is why we understand how an animal behaves. That is why we have to talk to them. We don’t pray to them, we talk to them because they breathe the same air we do. We are put here with them. We are also a part of the plant life. We are always growing, we have to have strong roots. (Colorado, 1985)

Indeed all of life can be understood from the tree.

…just after the earths crust was formed Raven (the Creator) made the tree. Why did he make this tree? He made it to shelter us. Even before Raven broke light on the World, people took shelter from the tree. And after he broke light, look what your sitting on, what’s above you, it comes from the tree.

And that’s where the Tlingit gets his canoe, his house, his clothes – everything. The Raven put it there for him (the people).

And look, what’s growing under that tree? The grass. In the spring the Bear comes down to eat that grass and the wolf, the moose and the mountain goat. All these things, they come. And the berries, growing there – salal, salmonberry, huckleberry and beneath them, the plants, the medicine. All that, it comes from the tree… (Colorado, 1985)

So the roots and their functions form the basis of Native scientific methodology. Seeking truth and coming to knowledge necessitates studying the cycles, relationships and connections between things. Indeed a law of Native science requires that we look ahead seven generations when making decisions!

Principles of Native Science

Laws and standards govern Native science just as they do western science. In an Indian way, Bear who is the North, represents knowledge, healing and comfort. The Bear is also fierce, his claims are non-negotiable. Western Science understands Bear in terms of rigor, reliability, and validity.

In the spring Bear marks his territory on the tree. Stretching as far as possible, Bear uses his claws to score the tree. Other bears, passing by are challenged to meet this standard. If they cannot reach the mark they leave the territory. For the Native scientist the tree is not merely science but science interwoven inseparably with life. We meet the mark or die. Like the Bear passing through, no one watches us; the science relies on utmost integrity.

Native science assumes its character through power and peace. Vine Deloria (1986) noted Lakota scholar discusses its principles:

Here power and place are dominant concepts–power being the living energy that inhabits and/or composes the universe, and place being the relationship of things to each other…put into a simple equation: Power and place produce personality. This equation simply means that the universe is alive, but it also contains within it the very important suggestion that the universe is personal and, therefore, must be approached in a personal manner…The personal nature of the universe demands that each and every entity in it seek and sustain personal relationships. Here, the Indian theory of relativity is much more comprehensive than the corresponding theory articulated by Einstein and his fellow scientists. The broader Indian idea of relationship, in a universe very personal and particular, suggests that all relationships have a moral content. For that reason, Indian knowledge of the universe was never separated from other sacred knowledge about ultimate spiritual realities. The spiritual aspect of knowledge about the world taught the people that relationships must not be left incomplete. There are many stories about how the world came to be, and the common themes running through them are the completion of relationships and the determination of how this world should function.

Deloria notes that there is no single Native science, each tribe or Nation follows ways specific to a locale. However, the tree and the Bear are nearly universal. From South America to the Arctic, the tree and all that it implies has been guiding and shaping the thought of Native people since the dawn of humanity. Those who follow this natural science do so in search of balance, harmony or peace with all living relations. Iroquois call this SKANAGOAH.

The Goal of Indian Science
Skanagoah, literally interpreted as “great peace”, is the term used to describe the still, electrifying awareness one experiences in the deep woods. This feeling or state of balance is at the heart of the universe and is the spirit of Native science. For the western educated audience, the notion of a tree with spirit is a difficult concept to grasp. The English language classifies reality into animate and inanimate objects, with most things falling into the inanimate classification. Native languages do not make the same distinction. As Deloria says, the universe is alive. Therefore, to see a Native speaking with a tree does not carry the message of mental instability, on the contrary, this is a scientist engaged in research!

Put another way, western thought may accede that all natural things are imbued with energy. Much like the electromotive force in a capacitor, the force of the energy is transmitted without there being a direct flow of energy. If you had a piece of wire, electricity would travel from one end to the other uninterrupted. But if you put a capacitor in the line, the force is transmitted from one side to the other without there being a direct flow of electricity form one side to the other. This is how energy is transferred from tree to tree to tree to person without there being a direct flow of energy. The spiritual energy of a tree isn’t transmitted directly but rather its life force is felt. Like a capacitor, the thickness of the dielectric, the physical distance between the person and the tree, is not important; the exchange still occurs.

This exchange suggest that human beings play a vital part in Skanagoah. Western thought teaches the value of the specialist, especially to the masses who are mostly generalists. In an Indian way, we may think of the Bear as a specialist, indeed, if I compete with the Bear in his own environment and on his terms, there is no way I can match his proficiency. But the generalist, in this case, human beings determine the continuance of Bear’s habitat. We are related, we are all one, life and death, good and bad, we are all one. The Indian acknowledges this and so discovers the most liberating aspect of Native science; LIFE RENEWS and all things which support life are renewable.

The struggle through Native alcoholism has repeatedly brought two peoples together. Let us hope that the fire of sobriety sparked in northern communities, spreads south and our sciences lead the way.

The Bear Has Made His Mark…
Can you Reach It?