Race and Ethnic Relations
POLICING SLAVES SINCE THE 1600’S: WHITE SUPREMACY, SLAVERY, AND MODERN US POLICE DEPARTMENTS
Fourth Wourld War
Historically Socially Constructed Criteria for Racial Identity
Charles Mills --Blackness Visible
The United States has a nonideal racial system, with rules that are occasionally less than clear- cut hence we may experience difficulty when the criteria conflict.
Appearance is the generally (but not always) reliable visible manifestation of a deeper essence that is taken to inhere in ancestry...before the advent of genetics attempts were made to ascertain membership on the basis of such characteristics as skin color, skull measurement, and hair texture.
In the U.S. Racial system, at least for whites and blacks, ancestry is usually taken as both necessary and sufficient for racial membership. (Elsewhere---in some Latin American Countries, for example---appearance is more important, so that siblings of different colors may be assigned to different races despite their identical genealogy.)
Self-Awareness of Ancestry
What categories do we know about our ancestors historically.
Public Awareness of Ancestry
Unless one remains in a small community where one's genealogy is known to all---one's ancestral racial status may be on record but not generally known.
Traditional racial theory sees culture as an emanation of "biological race", so that one's "real" biological self is always immanent within the borrowed clothes of the alien culture. Hence, one should embrace the culture associated with their race and failure to do so makes one racially inauthentic.
In the racial systems we are considering here experience is part of the core of what it is to be a member of a particular race. Thus, in the U.S., we think of whiteness as being associated with the experience of racial privilege and of blackness as being associated with the experience of racial oppression.
What one sees oneself as---needs to be conceptually separated from self-awareness of ancestry, for one may refuse to recognize the validity of this criterion for racial membership.
Adapted from"Blackness Visible" by Charles Mills
If You Think About It, You Will See That It Is True
By Vine Deloria Jr
This article is exerpted from his paper viewing "The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science".
The movement toward a "science of wholeness" depends in large measure on the ability of philosophers and scientific thinkers to move beyond their comfortable and presently accepted categories of arranging and interpreting data -- to glimpse and grasp new unities of experience and knowledge. In order to do this, we must first ask fundamental questions about the goals of science. Do we wish to predict or describe? At what level do we wish to do either of these things? What does it mean to have knowledge that is applicable to the world around us and to have it arranged in a systematic manner? What systems are applicable to the different kinds of data derived at the different levels at which scientific inquiry can be conducted? How is data derived from a causative-dominated methodology to be combined with insights or information created by simple observation or intuitive visions?
Some Western thinkers have recently begun to examine the knowledge and insights which non-Western peoples had about the natural world. Part of this movement: is a popular fad which romanticizes the primitive and his relationship to his pristine environment, but part is also a sincere attempt to reach out and gain new insights and perspectives. Even with the flexible scientific paradigm of relativity and indeterminacy, there are strong indications that we have reached a dead end in many sciences and perhaps need new insights derived from other sources. So why not tribal knowledge?
Most recent efforts have been limited to gathering specific information: plant knowledge, fishing practices, forms of pottery making, and irrigation and forest management burning techniques. In psychoanalysis, the Jungians are exploring similarities between Western archetypal figures and tribal legends and folk-heroes. More recent efforts have been made to gain knowledge of the use of plants which have certain curative powers. Jurisprudence is examining new kinds of mediation techniques and different victim compensation theories for minor offenses to replace retribution as the theoretical basis for criminal law, thereby even modifying the concept of the social contract itself. Many approaches are being taken to incorporate tribal values and knowledge into Western thought systems, but as yet no systematic comparison of tribal and scientific knowledge of the natural world has been made.
One reason that scientists examine non-Western knowledge on an ad hoc basis is the persistent belief held by Western intellectuals that non-Western peoples represent an earlier stage of their own cultural evolution -- often that tribal cultures represent failed efforts to understand the natural world (the Incas had wheels, why didn't they make cars?). Non-Western knowledge is believed to originate from primitive efforts to explain a mysterious universe. In this view, the alleged failure of primitive/tribal man to control nature mechanically is evidence of his ignorance and his inability to conceive of abstract general principles and concepts. Tribal methodologies for gathering information are believed to be "pre-scientific" in the sense that they are pre-causal and incapable of objective symbolic thought. This belief, as we shall see, is a dreadful stereotypical reading of the knowledge of non-Western peoples, and wholly incorrect.
In fact, tribal peoples are as systematic and philosophical as Western scientists in their efforts to understand the world around them. They simply use other kinds of data and have goals other than determining the mechanical functioning of things. A good way to determine the relevance of tribal knowledge and illustrate its potential for providing insights for the present body of scientific knowledge is to examine some of the knowledge of a particular tribe and discuss what they knew and how they gathered this information. I would like to take a few selections from a historical report on the philosophy of the Western Teton Sioux to illustrate my points.
The Indian Perspective
In late August of 1919, A.M. Beede, a missionary on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, sent Melvin Gilmore, the Curator of the State Historical Society, a manuscript which discussed the beliefs of the Western Teton Sioux. This paper is regarded as an early and accurate account of the knowledge of the Western Sioux and Chippewa Indians. Beede's discussions with the Indians reveal their basic attitude regarding the knowledge they possessed and their response to the scientific knowledge which Beede and his friend Harry Boise discussed with them. The conversations have a startlingly modem ring to them. Beede wrote:
The Western Sioux believed that each being a rock for instance, is an actual community of persons with ample locomotion among themselves, and such locomotion not regarded as circumscribed or restricted, save as the maker (oicage) of the whole gives to each species his own sphere. And, they reasoned, this limitation is merely in body (tancan), the mind, intelligence, and spirit of each is privileged to range, through and blend with totality by gaining a right attitude toward Woniya (Spirit)....( 1)
And, I should have said, the fact of a rock, or any object, being a community of locomotive persons, was based on, or concomitant with, the belief that not a few of their people actually had the ability to see into and through a rock discerning its make-up, similarly as we look into a community or grove of trees. I have known many Indians believing they possessed this ability-and not regarding it as anything remarkable -- and there was no occasion for doubting their sincerity....( 2)
Of course, the history of any people contains mythology (which is, perhaps, not quite so simple or invaluable as many a `scientist' might assume), but is such a mythology composed entirely of myths added one to another, or is there beneath all and through all and in all an all-compelling something unexplained by our `scientific' `force and energy' which the Western Sioux thought of, sincerely claimed to know of, as Woniya (Spirit)? It does not bother the old Indians to understand, in an elementary way, what we mean by `the modern scientific attitude'....( 3)
There is no difficulty in leading an old Teton Sioux Indian to understand the `scientific' attitude, and that the processes that give rise to phenomena may be more and more known by man and may be, to some extent, controlled by man, and that in this way the forces of nature may become a mainspring of progress in the individual and in the human race. The idea of atoms and electrons is easy and pleasing to an old Indian, and he grasps the idea of chemistry. Such things make ready contact with his previous observation and thinking....( 4)
In the Turtle Mountains, North Dakota, Harry Boise...was with me eight months. At his request I allowed him to teach the old Chippewa and Cree Indians there the modern scientific attitude with its view of things....The chief among his pupils was old Sakan'ku Skonk (Rising Sun)....But Rising Sun, speaking the conclusion of all, pronounced the scientific view' inadequate. Not bad, or untrue, but inadequate to explain, among many other things, how man is to find and know a road along which be wishes and chooses to make this said progress unless the Great Manitoo by his spirit guides the mind of man, keeping human beings just and generous and hospitable.( 5) (Emphasis added.)
The Similarity of Conclusions
These passages give something of the flavor of the knowledge of the old Indians, people who had known the life of freedom before they were confined to the reservations and subjected to Western religious and educational systems. Substitute "energy" for "spirit" in some of these passages, and we have a modem theory of energy/matter. But the similarity, although profound, hides a deeper truth which we must examine. For these two groups, the old Indians and the modem scientists, reach their conclusions in entirely different ways, using data that are completely incompatible if placed together.
The old Indians, as Rising Sun noted, were interested in finding the proper moral and ethical road upon which human beings should walk. All knowledge, if it is to be useful, was directed toward that goal. Absent in this approach was the idea that knowledge existed apart from human beings and their communities, and could stand alone for "its own sake". In the Indian conception, it was impossible that there could be abstract propositions that could be used to explore the structure of the physical world. Knowledge was derived from individual and communal experiences in daily life, in keen observation of the environment, and in interpretive messages which they received from spirits in ceremonies, visions and dreams.
In formulating their understanding of the world, Indians did not discard any experience. Everything had to be included in the spectrum of knowledge and related to what was already known. Since the general propositions which informed the people about the world were the product of generations of tradition and experience, people accepted on faith what they had not experienced, with the hope that during their lifetime they would come to understand.
The Nebraska poet John Neihardt interviewed Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux medicine man, about the beliefs and practices of the old days. During their conversations, Black Elk told Neihardt how the Sioux received the sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, the central religious object of the Plains Indians. The story involved the appearance of a woman who instructed the people in moral, social, and religious standards and showed them how to communicate with the higher powers through the use of the pipe in ceremonies. After finishing his story, Black Elk paused, was silent for a time, and said:
This they tell, and whether it happened so or not, I do not know; but if you think about it, you can see that it is true.( 6)
This is not only a statement of faith: It is a principle of epistemological method.
If the Western Sioux obtained their knowledge by accepting everything they experienced as grist for the mill, Western science has drawn its conclusions by excluding the kinds of data which the Western Sioux cherished. Western science holds that ideas, concepts, and experiences must be clearly stated, and be capable of replication in an experimental setting by an objective observer. Any bit of data or body of knowledge that does not meet this standard is suspect or rejected out of hand. Thus most emotional experiences of human beings are discarded as unsuitable for the scientific enterprise, or are pushed to the periphery of respectability and grudgingly given a bit of status.
Science further limits itself by insisting that all data fall within the reigning interpretive paradigm of the time. According to Thomas Kuhn, a paradigm primarily enables scientists to classify data and verify whether or not it falls within the acceptable mode of interpretation. One of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm, Kuhn explains,
is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to have solutions. To a great extent these are the only problems that the community will admit as scientific or encourage its members to undertake. Other problems, including many that had previously been standard, are rejected as metaphysical as the concern of another discipline or sometimes as just too problematic to be worth the time.( 7)
If science works within this severely restricted arena in which statements have such limited validity, how can we have faith that it is presenting to us anything remotely approaching a reliable knowledge about the world? And why do scientists, knowing these limitations, act so dogmatically about what they know?
Scientific knowledge also has the problem of internal politics, in which prominent scholars can force acceptance or rejection of theories based on wholly extraneous considerations, often a matter of personal preference or the desire for professional status. New research on the relationship between Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, for example, shows that it is quite possible that Darwin simply stole Wallace's idea of natural selection and had the right political connections within the English scientific establishment to make good his theft.8 Such revelations would indicate that there is considerable reason to be skeptical about the findings of Western science, since it excludes a substantial amount of data and allows cliques to determine what is acceptable theory and doctrine.
But how do we explain the Indian perspective on knowledge, which saw no need to engage in the process of developing interpretive frameworks, producing many anomalies, creating ad-hoc theories, and finally formulating new explanations? How do Indians handle anomalies, for there surely must have been anomalies in a worldview of such relative simplicity.
Indians believed that everything that humans experience has value and instructs us in some aspect of life. The fundamental premise is that we cannot "mis-experience" anything; we can only misinterpret what we experience. Therefore, in some instances we can experience something entirely new, and so we must be alert and try not to classify things too quickly. The world is constantly creating itself because everything is alive and making choices which determine the future. There cannot be such a thing as an anomaly in this kind of framework: Some things are accepted because there is value in the very mystery they represent.
Since, in the Indian system, all data must be considered, the task is to find the proper pattern of interpretation for the great variety of ordinary and extraordinary experiences we have. Ordinary and extraordinary must come together in one coherent comprehensive storyline. Sometimes this narrative will deal with human behavior and sometimes with the behavior of higher powers. But it will have a point to it and will always represent a direction of future growth. Finally, with the wisdom which old age brings, there will be time for reflection and the discovery of unsuspected relationships which make themselves manifest in consciousness and so come to be understood.
The Moral Universe
The real interest of the old Indians was not to discover the abstract structure of physical reality but rather to find the proper road along which, for the duration of a person's life, individuals were supposed to walk. This colorful image of the road suggests that the universe is a moral universe. That is to say, that there is a proper way to live in the universe: there is a content to every action, behavior, and belief. The sum total of our life experiences has a reality. There is a direction to the universe, empirically exemplified in the physical growth cycles of childhood, youth and old age, with the corresponding responsibility of every entity to enjoy life, fulfill itself, and increase in wisdom and the spiritual development of personality. Nothing has incidental meaning and there are no coincidences.
The wise person will realize his or her own limitations and act with some degree of humility until he or she has sufficient knowledge to act with confidence. Every bit of information must be related to the general framework of moral interpretation since it is personal to them and their community. No body of knowledge exists for its own sake outside the moral framework of understanding. We are, in the truest sense possible, creators or co-creators with the higher powers, and what we do has immediate importance for the rest of the universe.
This attitude extends to data and experiences far beyond the immediate physical environment, including the stars, other worlds and galaxies, the other higher and lower planes of existence and the places of higher and lower spiritual activities. If many Indian legends appear to be geocentric, to be restricted to the conditions existing on this Earth, it is because they are formulated in this manner to make the transmission of information easier. But there are many accounts of people traveling to other worlds, of people becoming birds and animals, living with them, and experiencing the great variety of possible modes of existence.
In the moral universe all activities, events, and entities are related, and consequently it does not matter what kind of existence an entity enjoys, for the responsibility is always there for it to participate in the continuing creation of reality.
What the Western Sioux sought was the moral content of entities and relationships; they tried to understand their role and function in the natural world, and to come to an understanding, often revealed by the entities themselves, of the actual physical composition of things. Coming from the opposite ends of the spectrum of knowledge and methodology -- the Indian representing perhaps the extreme of subjectivity and the Western scientist the extreme of objectivity -- these views suggest a middle meeting-ground where contradictions can possibly be resolved. But the content of whatever configuration may exist in the middle would seem to be, following the Western Sioux and Plato, a knowledge of the physical universe arranged or understood in such a manner as to call forth some form of moral response.
This conclusion is anathema to most scientists, whose fear (well-justified considering the history of warfare between sacred and secular forces in Western civilization) is that if such ethical dimensions are admitted, it would once again allow ecclesiastical authorities to gain control of social and political institutions and so prevent or inhibit investigative scientific activities. Thus introducing purpose and morality suggests for many people the existence of a higher entity which can become an object of worship and thereafter a source of continuing social conflict.
In fact, the old Indians did not see a specific higher personality who demanded worship and adoration in the manner in which we find deity portrayed in the traditions of the Near East. Rather they saw and experienced personality in every aspect of the universe and called it "Woniya" (Spirit), looking to it for guidance in a manner quite similar to Socrates obeying his "daemon".
I do not believe this perspective is pantheistic in the traditional sense that frightens scientists and religious peoples alike. Even those tribes who projected from the experiences of birds, animals and plants and personified these experiences did not make any particular entity a deity alone and apart from everything else. Most of the tribes were content to stop their description with a simple affirmation of the existence of Spirit. The Sioux, in fact, simply said the "Great Mysterious". Only later, when Christian missionaries attempted to link Sioux traditions to their own religious systems, did this mysterious presence begin to take on human forms and demand a groveling, flattering kind of worship.
The Structure of the Tribal Universe
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.
The purpose of such an arrangement was to be certain that all known aspects of something would be included in the information that people possessed and considered when making decisions and reaching conclusions. There were, therefore, almost limitless ways of describing snow, rain, wind or other natural phenomena, since each particular manifestation of the general concept needed to be described accurately and placed properly within a spectrum of the possibilities of realization. Indian languages, and the Dakota/Lakota language which the Western Sioux used, had a very large vocabulary which enabled people to be specific in remembering and describing the ways that a concept could be realized within human experience.
In the rest of this section, we will try to unravel some aspects of the Sioux circle of knowledge, and make a list of the most important components of the Indian universe. Other interpreters of the Sioux worldview may differ considerably in the emphasis they place on certain concepts. I feel certain, however, that these principles would emerge if a consensus of the interpreters was achieved.
- The Universe is Alive
It cannot be argued that the universe is moral or has a moral purpose without simultaneously maintaining that the universe is alive. The old Indians had no problem with this concept because they experienced life in everything, and there was no reason to suppose that the continuum of life was not universal. The belief in a living universe raises hackles among many scientists today because it raises the spectre of subjectivity and calls to mind the religious perspective, in which the universe is seen as divine. On the other hand, within the Western religions, the idea of the "living universe" is often dismissed as "merely pantheism", as if labeling a belief could thereby explain it.
Recent controversy over the living universe has been particularized within science in the debate over the "Gaia Hypothesis", which I consider in detail in the final section of this article (see A Re-examination of the Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science( 9)). James Lovelock and a bevy of colleagues, admirers, and followers have raised the question of whether it is helpful to view the planet as a living organism.10 But the debate has often centered on false arguments, with both the advocates and opponents of the theory restricting the definition of "life" to reactive organic phenomena that are observed primarily in the higher organisms.
Traditional Indians are quite amused to see this revival of the debate over whether or not the planet is alive. Long ago in ceremonies and visions Indians came to experience this truth. The practical criterion that is always cited to demonstrate its validity is the easily observable fact that the Earth nurtures smaller forms of life -- people, plants, birds, animals, rivers, valleys and continents. For Indians, both speculation and analogy end at this point. To go further and attribute a plenitude of familiar human characteristics to the Earth is unwarranted. It would cast the planet in the restricted clothing of lesser beings, and we would not be able to gain insights and knowledge about the real essence of the Earth.
Nor was there any reason to suppose that other forms of life did not have the same basic intelligence as humans. The Sioux, as well as other tribes, interpreted the scheme of life as leading eventually to the production of human beings. Unlike Western religion and philosophy, however, the fact that man had been the final product of the purposeful life force did not make him the crown of creation. Coming last, humans beings were the "younger brothers" of the other life forms and therefore had to learn everything from these creatures. Thus human activities resembled bird and animal behavior in many ways and brought the unity of conscious life to an objective consistency.
This idea that everything in the universe is alive, and that the universe itself is alive, is knowledge as useful as anything that Western science has discovered or hypothesized. When understood and made operative by serious and sensitive individuals, it is as reliable a means of making predictions as anything suggested by mathematical formulas or projected by computer programs. There are, however, substantial differences in the manner in which predictions are made. Because the universe is alive, there is choice for all things and the future is always indeterminate. Consequently predictions are based on the knowledge of the "character" of an entity. Statements about how an entity will behave have almost the same probabilities as the educated speculations made at the sub-atomic level in physics.
Here the Indian knowledge has an edge over Western scientific knowledge. A truly wise and gifted individual can appear to "cause" things to happen because that person can participate in the emerging event in a way that rarely occurs in Western science. Thus it is that people are said to have "powers", which is another way of saying that their understanding of natural process and their ability to enter into events is highly developed and sophisticated.
The living universe requires mutual respect among its members and this suggests that a strong sense of individual identity and self is a dominant characteristic of the world as we know it.11 The willingness of entities to allow others to fulfill themselves, and the refusal of any entity to intrude thoughtlessly on another, must be the operative principle of this universe.12 Consequently self-knowledge and self-discipline are high values of behavior. Only by allowing innovation by every entity can the universe move forward and create the future. This creative participation is always personal and has an aspect of novelty.
Respect in the American Indian context does not mean the worship of other forms of life, but involves two attitudes. One attitude is the acceptance of self-discipline by humans and their communities to act responsibly toward other forms of life. The other attitude is to seek to establish communications and covenants with other forms of life on a mutually agreeable basis. Developing responsible self-discipline is not difficult, but it cannot be done in a society in which equality is perceived as sameness and conformity. Sitting Bull, looking with disdain at the white man's educational style, remarked that "it is not necessary that eagles be crows." We would do well to cast a critical glance at our ideas and expectations of democracy, brotherhood, and equality in the light of the demand for self-discipline.
We want to have certain benefits from the physical world. In seeking something for ourselves, we must recognize that obtaining what we want at the expense of other forms of life or of the Earth itself is short-sighted and disrupts the balance which the whole fabric of life requires. Instead of the predatory jungle which the Anglo-Saxon imagination conjures up to analogize life, in which the most powerful swallows up the weak and unprotected, life is better understood as a tapestry or symphony in which each player has a specific part or role to play. We must be in our proper place and we must play our role at the appropriate moment. Mutual respect in many ways is a function of a strong sense of personal and communal identity, and it is significant that most of the tribes described themselves as "the people", a distinct group with clearly defined values and patterns of behavior.
The idea of the covenant, clearly articulated in the Old Testament theology of the prophets, is an early and important concept for tribal peoples. Stories explaining how the people came to hunt the buffalo, how the salmon came to be the major food supply, how bird feathers were incorporated into ceremonial costumes and medicine bundles, all derive from early interspecies communications in which other forms of life agreed to allow themselves to be used in ceremonial and economic ways. A covenant places responsibilities on both parties and provides a means of healing any breach in the relationship.
Thus it was that while Indians hunted and fished wild game, they made it a rule that unless they were starving and needed food for survival, they would not take the animals and birds until these creatures had enjoyed a full family life and reproduced their kind. Even today when taking eagles, the Apaches restrict the hunt to late summer or autumn to ensure that the eagles have the chance to mate, raise a family and go through the major cycles of life experiences.
- Everything is Related
A living universe within which events and actions have moral content necessarily suggests that all things are related. Not only is everything related, but it also participates in the moral content of events, so responsibility for maintaining the harmony of life falls equally on all creatures. This principle of relatedness appears most often in the religious realm in the phrase "All My Relatives" which is used as an opening invocation and closing benediction for ceremonies. "All My Relatives", believed by many people, including many Indians, to be a merely devout religious sentiment, also has a secular purpose which is to remind us of our responsibility to respect life and to fulfill our covenantal duties. But few people understand that the phrase also describes the epistemology of the Indian worldview, providing the methodological basis for the gathering of information about the world.
Western science uses various methods for determining its truths. One of the most common methods is the experimental application of previously derived theories to new kinds of phenomena and the subsequent verification or modification of the theory. But modem science is interested primarily in the physical world and its structure, the search for the ultimate material constituent of the physical universe having been a constant quest since Democritus developed his theory of the atom.
American Indians, understanding that the universe consisted of living entities, were interested in learning how other forms of life behaved, for they saw that every entity had a personality and could exercise a measure of free will and choice. Consequently Indian people carefully observed phenomena in order to determine what relationships existed between and among the various "peoples" of the world. Their understanding of relationships provided the Indians with the knowledge necessary to live comfortably in the physical world, and to not unduly intrude into the lives of other creatures.
If we could imagine a world in which human concerns were not the primary value, and we observed nature in the old Indians' way, we would observe a plant (or a bird or animal) for a prolonged period of time. We would note what time of year the plant began to grow and green out; when it blossomed; when it bore fruit; how many fruits or seeds it produced; what animals and birds ate the fruit and when during the maturation process they appeared; what colors its leaves and fruits took on during the various parts of the growing season; whether it shed its leaves and needles and what birds and animals made use of them; and many other kinds of behavior of the plant. From these observations we would come to understand both the plant and its life stages. By remembering the birds and animals who made use of the plant -- and when they did so during the calendar year and when in terms of their own growth cycles -- we would have a reasonable idea of how useful the plant would be for us.
This knowledge, however, would still be general and would need further refining. At certain times some men and women would receive, either in dreams or in visions, very precise knowledge on other ways in which the plant could be used by humans -- information which could not have been obtained through experiment or trial and error use. Some knowledge was so precise that it might only be needed once in a human lifetime.13 And of course tribes often shared their knowledge of plants or even traded medicinal plants back and forth across large distances so that the knowledge of plants took on an encyclopedic aspect.
- All Relationships are Historical
Part of the experience of life is the passage of time, the fact of personal growth, and the understanding of oneself produced by reflective memory processes. Since the universe was known by the Indians to be alive, it followed that all entities had some memory and enjoyed the experience of the passage of time. Thus relationships were understood as enduring in time and were characterized by the same kinds of disruptive historic events as we see in human history. All covenants wore out and changes seemed to occur in the same way as they do in human experience. Thus plants might gather together for a long time but then suddenly disappear, beginning to grow in different areas or adapting themselves to new lands and climatic conditions. We call this kind of change evolution today, but the old Indians did not see it that way. They knew that any changes that occurred were already inherent in the creature, or within its potentiality for change -- a possibility which some Western scienti sts are now beginning to accept.
Knowledge of the historical relationships can be exceedingly useful in modem science in providing guidance for ecological restoration projects. The appearance or disappearance of a certain plant can be used to predict similar behavior by related plants and animals. We must note, however, that the relationships established by the Indians are personal relationships between and among other forms of life, and therefore they do not necessarily follow the definitions established by Western scientific systems of classifications. Thus the characteristics that modem botanists and biologists use to define species and genera are not comparable in many respects to the Indian classification by personality types. A good judgment of the accuracy of Indian knowledge and Western scientific knowledge might be made by allowing Indians and scientists to restore similar tracts of land according to different conceptions of what kinds of life can be sustained on the land.
- Space Determines the Nature of Relationships
Although the preliminary discussion of the living universe has emphasized spiritual/personality values, the idea that everything is related has definite space/time relevance. Here perhaps we begin to speak mysteriously and vaguely when we try to explain concepts. For most forms of life there appears to be a definite pattern of spatial existence. With plants it is not difficult to see that they are restricted to certain locations, although in fact they can move if they so desire. Most locations of plants can be easily explained by reference to soil, climate, and availability of water. But many medicine men spoke of the places which the various entities were destined to occupy, and of the beginning of a world age as a time when everything was in its proper place. Some of the language appears to be quasi-Aristotelian in that they attributed a sense of purpose to an entity without having evidence of it. But since each entity has a set of relationships with other entities, all of th ese relationships were established in a particular geometric pattern and manifested themselves in spatial arrangements. Thus people became concerned when a plant or animal was found in a place where it should not be.
There were basically three major manifestations of space in the Sioux universe: the ceremonial directions; the sacred places which define meaning for the life around them; and the particular place which each species, including particular groups of humans, comes to occupy and live in.
1) The Ceremonial Directions: These were the most abstract expression of the idea of space. Each entity, and by extension each place, was the center of the universe -- thinking which fits well with scientific relativity theory. In ceremonies the object was to draw into participation all the powerful elements of the cosmos. So the sacred pipe was offered to the four directions, to the sky and the earth, and acknowledgment was made that at every ceremonial the center of the ritual action is the seventh direction -- which is the "here and now". Since distance was not regarded as a meaningful obstacle when spiritual powers were invoked, each ceremony began with a representation of the whole cosmos, whether it was a vision quest pit, a sweat lodge, the bowl of the pipe itself, or a Sun Dance arbor.
The object of ceremonial is to make whole again what has now become disassociated and chaotic. In order to accomplish this goal, all possible elements of the universe must be brought within a harmony; sacrifices must be made to heal the injuries of each party, and a new beginning must be made.
Some observers are correct when they describe a ceremony as "world-renewing", since the object of ceremony is to cleanse the participants and offer them a new beginning. But they are wrong when they interpret renewal as simply symbolic in the Western sense of representation. Without the four directions, in the Sioux understanding, the world would not have its physical structure; sky and earth are necessary for human and animal existence, and the center itself represents all possible times taking place simultaneously. In practical terms relationships are renewed and restored and must be conducted in accordance with the structure of the human universe of the directions once again.
- 2) Sacred Places: The Sioux also understood the Earth to have special places of power and significance and these places were regarded as sacred in the sense that they required respect and human self-discipline. The Black Hills, for example, were sacred because they were at the center of the Sioux universe (as represented by Bear Butte on the eastern edge of the hills) and because they were set aside by the higher powers as a sanctuary for the birds and animals(14). Scattered in many different locations throughout the Sioux lands were certain other places where revelations had been given to the people or they had experienced a spiritual presence.
- 3) Particular Places: Finally there was the idea that particular places were designed for particular species, and, in human terms, for particular peoples. Long ago, even before kinship relations were established, a Sioux man had a dream about the great island hill(15) towards which the people were supposed to migrate. In the course of tribal history, the people wandered through the southeastern United States, into Pennsylvania and west toward the Great Lakes, until finally they came to the Black Hills where they were destined to live. After finding the proper place, migrations ceased and the people took on ceremonial duties for particular locations.
The importance of finding the proper living space is illustrated by plants and animals. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, tribes would share a river and catch salmon at a bewildering variety of locations, from the mouth of the river to the final spawning grounds. Since the chemistry of the salmon was changing as the fish went upstream, different ways of preserving the catch were used at each location. Each place determined the various life forms it would support and these creatures then worked cooperatively at their chosen location.
The implications for Western science of the idea of a special place are tremendous. Knowing the sets of relationships between the various plants and animals enables one to predict what kinds of species will be present in a healthy environment, and so failure to locate a species in a particular location will alert people about the condition of the place. Within that place, however, one will also find the most precise examples of species since the place itself affects things.
- Time Determines the Meaning of Relationships
Time is a complicated concept in a living universe. The basic pattern seems to be that of growth processes, which is to say that time has qualitative packets of quanta that are regulated by the amount of time it takes an organism or entity to complete a step in maturation. Thus all entities are regulated by the seasons, and their interaction has a superior season of its own which encompasses their relationship and has a moral purpose. Tribes broke human patterns down into several steps: pre-birth, babies, children, youth, adults, mature adults, and elders.16 The idea of the "seven generations" was commonly used by the Plains tribes to describe the relationships existing within a genetic family. If a family was respectable and responsible, its members would be granted old age and a person could live long enough to see and know his great-grandparents and his great-grand children. Thus generations, and not decades, were the measure of human life.
Since there was interspecies communication between humans and other forms of life, people also became aware of larger cycles of time which can be described as the time jointly shared by all forms of life within a geographical area. This time line seems to have been dominated by the idea of vocation and/or the idea of the fullness of time. In some undetermined manner, the universe had a direction to it: Every entity had a part to play in the creation of the future, and human beings had a special vocation in which they initiated, at the proper time, new relationships and events.
In the experience of the Vision Quest, people were given the basic outlines of their lives, but not specific predictions as to when, in chronological time, certain events might occur. During the ceremonial experiences, as the years passed, humans would be told when and how the larger cosmic time was moving, and would at times be urged to hurry -- or counseled to wait until conditions were right for them to play their particular role.
There was a profound sense of determinacy within this aspect of time, but there was also flexibility, so that sequences of action which people knew were to take place did not necessarily have to occur in a manner that people understood or could anticipate. This sense of a determined sequence of specific future actions was seen as evidence that the Earth was a living being and that smaller entities were her children and subject to the larger motions of the universe.
On more everyday levels, there was the recognition that over a long period of time human behavior itself changed as the people perceived, or had revealed to them through ceremonials, the occasional behavior of other life forms which indicated the depth of power contained within them. So, in general, it was recognized that not all information is available to us immediately; some things may simply come into being during the course of time.
Medicine men taught that plants and animals do not become extinct -- they go away and do not come back until the location is being treated properly. This belief is being verified today in ecological restoration projects. Lands abused for generations, if treated properly and with respect, will see a flowering of plants which once lived there and which were believed to be extinct, and the birds and animals related to those plants will return. It is worth noting that the plants return first, then the animals, and finally the birds. (Thus antelope have returned to some portions of the Dakota plains but prairie chickens have still not made a complete return.)
Western science is committed to the doctrine of evolution and consequently sees changes in plants, birds, and animals as responding to the passage of time and changes in the environment. While science cannot adequately explain the mechanism of evolution, it regards changes as permanent. The Sioux traditional people say that the important thing is the spirit of the creature; that it can and does change aspect of its physical shape in order to deal with change, but that basically it remains the same entity. Since the Indian interest, is in the spirit or soul of the other creature and not in its morphology, some substitutions can be made in ceremonial objects providing the substituted materials have the same spiritual relationship to people that the former objects had.
In outlining the Sioux knowledge of the physical universe, and attempting to demonstrate the principles which govern it, we are able to see new applications and interpretation of our existing knowledge. We are also able to reach out and begin to bring emotion and logic back together again-this synthesis is necessary if we are to make sense of our world and our experiences.
1. A. McG. Beede, "Western Sioux Cosmology", unpublished paper in the North Dakota State Historical records, Bismarck, and the Newberry Library, Chicago, p 3.
2. Ibid. p 4.
3. Ibid. pp 5-6.
4. Ibid. p 6.
5. Ibid. pp 6-7.
6. John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks (University of Nebraska Press, 1972) p 4.
7. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962) p 37.
8. See, for example, Barbara Beddall, "Wallace, Darwin, and the Theory of Natural Selection" in Journal of The History of Biology, No. 1, 1968. Also, John L. Brooks, Extinction and the Origin of Organic Diversity, (Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dec. 1972).
9. Willis Harman, A Re-examination of the Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (IONS Research Report, 1992).
10. Readers should consult especially: James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia (W. W. Norton, 1988); Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (Oxford University Press, 1979).
11. The strong sense of personal identity among the Indians can be exemplified by the frequent changing of names to keep track of the change in the personality as the individual went through life. Most Indians had several names by which they were called, each giving specific information on their talents or accomplishments. Within the family, people would refer to each other by kinship terms in order not to interfere with personality growth and to remind themselves of family responsibilities. Some Indians who did not want to shame their most personal name used secular names to sign treaties which they believed the United States would not keep.
12. Densmore records the explanation of Eagle Shield of the Crow Owner Society of the Teton Sioux regarding the self-discipline of the Indians on this point:
- 13. The Lummi Indians who live near the Canadian border in Washington state have a Rain Dance. It seems ludicrous for people who live in a virtual rainforest to have a rain dance. This dance is used on those rare occasions when it snows so hard that the houses are buried in snow and the people cannot get out of them. The rain melts the snow and rescues the people.
- 14. See note 12.
- 15. John Neihardt, "When The Tree Flowered" in Why the Island Hill Was Sacred (University of Nebraska Press, 1970).
- 16. Indians placed considerable emphasis on the pre-birth stage of life, believing that it influenced everything else. Charles Eastman recounted the Indian attitude in his book The Soul of the Indian (Houghton Mifflin, 1911) explaining:
From the moment of her recognition of the fact of conception to the end of the second year of life, which was the ordinary duration of lactation, it was supposed by us that the mother's spiritual influence counted for most. Her attitude and secret meditations must be such as to instill into the receptive soul of the unborn child the love of the "Great Mystery" and a sense of brotherhood with all creatures. Silence and isolation are the rule of life for the expectant mother. She wanders prayerful in the stillness of great woods, or on the bosom of the untrodden prairie, and to her poetic mind the imminent birth of her child prefigures the advent of a masterman -- a hero, or the mother of heroes -- a thought conceived in the virgin breast of primeval nature, and dreamed out in a hush that is only broken by the sighing of the pine tree or the thrilling orchestra of a distant waterfall. (pp 28-29).
17. Roman Nose, the great Cheyenne Dos Soldier warrior, was told that he would be invincible unless he had touched metal before he went into battle, since the metal in his body would then attract bullets. In one fight with the cavalry he deliberately rode three times across the whole line of cavalry in order to encourage them to fire at him and heat their guns. He was not wounded. At Beecher's Island, asked to lead the third charge against the Colorado Volunteers, he knew he would be killed because he had eaten food given to him with a metal spoon. The basic outlines of his life were already given to him in the Vision Quest. But he had a choice when his death would occur if it was to be in battle-and he deliberately chose to end it on behalf of his warriors at Beecher's Island.
Vine Deloria Jr. holds a Master of Sacred Theology degree from Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Colorado School of Law. He is the author of 14 books and over 160 articles, book introductions and chapters.
Vine Deloria's ideas on making traditional native ideas accessible to contemporary Western scientists will be addressed in IONS' forthcoming book A Re-examination of the Metaphysical Foundations of Modem Science (available in early 1994). For a photocopy of the full paper from which this article was drawn, "The Conversation with Modem Science", send a self-addressed envelope to the Institute of Noetic Sciences, care of Nola Lewis.
Article copyright Institute of Noetic Sciences.
By Vine, Jr. Deloria