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Can Indigenous Beliefs Save the Contemporary World?

Indigenous beliefs and ceremonies are continuously renewed, and persist among many tribal communities. Can those beliefs save the contemporary world?

Many people, including many indigenous people, think indigenous worldviews are an archaic part of the past and have no bearing on present-day life and issues. However, indigenous beliefs and ceremonies are continuously renewed, and persist among many tribal communities.

The persistence of indigenous understandings of the world is no accident. Indigenous knowledge, wisdom, and moral teachings are bound with the creation teachings of the culture and nation. Indigenous knowledge is seen as sacred teachings, which the tribal community and individuals carry out through ceremonies, and through individual and national actions.

In many traditions, as among the Hopi, if the teachings and ceremonies are not carried out properly then the world will be destroyed, both physically and figuratively. In the Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo traditions, one world might be destroyed, but it is not the end of universe, but rather the beginning of a new transformation to a world where their is more moral balance and conformity to the original instructions.

In many indigenous teachings, the world’s movement is a contest for moral balance and understanding toward greater unity, and realization of the moral and human balance and harmony within the cosmic order comprised of all the nations of beings and powers in the universe.

One reason that indigenous nations have survived the onslaught of 500 years of hostile colonialism is because indigenous nations believe they have a moral and sacred reason for being, and have significant sacred tasks to realize as individuals and nations within the great plan and order of the universe. The wisdom of the elders and countless generations of nations and human beings are upheld in the cultural teachings of indigenous nations. There are technical and philosophical solutions to many human and national issues inherent within tribal teachings. These teachings sustain nations and individuals in the present-world, and offer goals and values that have great significance for addressing the contemporary world’s problems.

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The most well known solution is probably environmental degradation. Many people of the world have become modernized, secular, materialistic, and self-centered, which has led to harmful over exploitation of food, resources, and natural sources of materials and energy. Indigenous worldviews teach that people must have respect for the resources of the world, they are gifts from the creator, and must be used with the view toward maintaining long-term, indefinite, sustainability. Some indigenous nations, like the Iroquois Confederacy, say that the consensual and egalitarian forms of democracy found in the United States and in many places around the world, have their roots found within indigenous political traditions.

Less well understood, however, are the indigenous understandings of nation and respect for national uniqueness and the embracing of national traditions everywhere in the world. Peace and order are central themes in indigenous cultures, as among the Iroquois Great Peace. The perspective of respect, understanding, tolerance, and support for cultural and national uniqueness, creates a holistic and inclusive way of understanding human diversity.

Present-day conceptions of race, ethnicity, and nationality are inherently divisive, a war of all against all, and do not provide a philosophical basis for future national and international peace.

At the 2013 World Peace and Prayer Day gatherings at the Santa Ynez Chumash reservation, Arvol Looking Horse said, “Whoever has wronged you, you need to forgive them so you can heal and grow.” One theme of the gathering was “All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer.” Through respect for the cultural and religions of each nation, human diversity is upheld, celebrated, sustained, and included in the future vision of world. Indigenous nations, usually left out of visions of nationality, ethnicity, or race, are included and respected in a world that can establish a peace necessary to meet the collective environmental, political, and economic challenges of the entire planet.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse at the World Peace and Prayer Day held June 21 in California.