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Westerners Need Indigenous Worldviews to Survive

Many indigenous peoples not only walk in two worlds, but two faiths; and Westerners may need to turn to indigenous worldviews to help recover the earth.

One often hears the expression that Indigenous Peoples are walking in two worlds. This expression implies that Indian people have an interpretation of history and community that is their own. At the same time, Indigenous Peoples are subject to an alternative interpretation of the world, or of reality, by nation states and their communities who have different rules, norms, values, governments and religious traditions. Indigenous Peoples usually do not convert completely to major religions, and often accept the religious or social views of other peoples.

Indians are tolerant of the unique ceremonies of other Indian peoples, and often will participate in multi-national religious ceremonies and activities. American Indians believe their own tribal religions are best, but respect and often participate in the ceremonies of other peoples. Many Indigenous Peoples have adopted Christian teachings, but at the same time honor traditional teachings, only of many ways they are walking in two worlds. Elders often say such multiple religious beliefs are fine, since there are multiple paths to the sacred. Sometimes they counsel that a person should not confuse the teachings. Keep each teaching within its own context and meaning.


Multiculturalism, multiple worldviews, multiple cosmic visions, or even multi-verses are thought more appropriate in reality than the view of a single universe. A difficulty with the many legitimate worldviews position is that breaks down any single reality. If there are multiple interpretations than is any one of them right? This is a question in many Indian nations where other non-Indian religious and worldviews are available. Through history Indians have been strongly encouraged to accept Western worldviews, and to abandon Indian worldviews.

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Some world religions, secular modern cultural forms of belief, teach that the world will be a progressively better place and there will be a better world at the end of history. In Christianity, one’s soul will be saved and continue to live ever after, by adherence a Christian views that the real world is in the next world, and this world is a sinful and temporary place. Indigenous worldviews generally do not try to convert others, but accept that the beliefs and ceremonies of people’s ways that are given by the Creator and are therefore appropriate. Respect and appreciation of other people’s worldviews and religions is a general feature of Indian relations with other people and their differing worldviews.

Vine Deloria Jr. wrote that he did not believe in multiple worlds, and argued there was only one world. By this he meant there may be many interpretations of the world, but people are living together in one world. Recent Western philosophers make similar arguments. Western culture has a strong tradition of two worlds divided into the ideal-shadow, heaven-earth, or other worldliness-this worldliness.

During the middle ages, church philosophers discussed the two worlds thesis. The belief in salvation in the next world or other-worldliness, makes people less conscious of preserving and honoring the earth. In contrast, Indigenous Peoples had strong beliefs about honoring, preserving, respecting Mother Earth or this-worldliness. Western civilization, with its intense motivations to dominate and control the earth, leads to values favoring accumulation of wealth, market maximization, extraction of minerals and carbon fuels, over rationalization of life. If left to its own devices, perhaps Western Civilization’s endpoint is materialism, destruction of the earth, and self-destructive nihilism.

The earth preserving responsibilities of Indigenous Peoples are needed. Many Christians will not alter their beliefs about the significance of the next world. At the same time Westerners and modernists should adopt a more optimistic view toward earthly preservation and valuation. Indigenous worldviews contain thousands of years of ancient wisdom about how to live on the earth. High priority should be given to loving the earth, preserving the earth, honoring the earth, and developing technologies that benefit people, but also protect the earth. The earth must become a central value for everyone.