“Everything about us comes from the land.” This powerful statement by an Indigenous leader expresses the core of an Indigenous worldview.
The Indigenous peoples spread across the provinces and territories represent a diverse array of cultures and traditions, full of complexities and distinct histories. There are three groups recognized as “aboriginal” in the Constitution Act of 1982, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
Canada has 634 First Nation communities, also known as “reserves”, with First Nation governments. First Nations are part of larger linguistic groups across the country with over 50 languages being spoken. The Métis originated in the 18th century when mixed offspring of Indian women and European fur traders established their own communities separate from those of Indians and Europeans. These communities were developed along the fur trade routes in the three Prairie provinces, as well as in parts of British Columbia, Ontario and the Northwest Territories. Descendants of the Thule people, the Inuit have occupied the Arctic land and waters from the Mackenzie Delta to the Labrador coast and from the Hudson’s Bay Coast to the islands of the High Arctic for more than four thousand years.
While these groups consist of vastly different peoples who have “different ways of being in the world,” Indigenous people share a worldview based on their relationship to the land. “It would be difficult, nay impossible,” says Brian Thom in his monumental research of the Coast Salish people, “to practise ritual bathing, to acquire spirit powers, to encounter stl’eluqum or to have respectful, direct relationships with non-humans such as rocks or transformed ancestors in the form of animals and trees without directly being on the land.”
Indigenous peoples have a profound respect for the land. Their cultures and traditions are deeply rooted in and shaped by distinctive places in their world. From an Indigenous perspective, land doesn’t belong to any one individual or people. Instead, humans belong to the land, and it provides an abundance of resources for everyone to share.
Because human existence depends on the earth and all other creatures, Indigenous peoples do not believe that humanity has dominion over the natural world. This belief is reflected in multiple Indigenous stories about creation, which express an equal respect for all aspects of creation, including the Creator, rocks, plants, animals, and humans. Everything carries spirit and knowledge and was created for the purpose of helping the whole of creation survive. Each living creature is treated with respect, because no one supreme being and no single energy holds power over everything else.
Likewise, in Indigenous cultures no single group of people is considered superior to others, and no single person has authority. People of all genders and ages are valued.
Women are held in high esteem as leaders and knowledge keepers. The existence of more than two genders is acknowledged, and all genders are considered equal. Many Indigenous cultures have traditionally respected people who embrace both feminine and masculine qualities.
Elders are highly respected and may attain their status as individuals of wisdom before even entering their senior years. They know the oral histories of their people and share knowledge of how to survive as a people. Education is one of the primary ways that Indigenous cultures maintain their worldview, and Elders use role modelling, storytelling, and experimentation to teach others.
Indigenous cultures value families, including extended family members, and at the centre are the children. Adults respect and listen to children, who are seen as sacred gifts from the Creator. Every child is born with unique offerings for the benefit of the people. With an emphasis on the three L’s of looking, listening, and learning, children are raised according to the values of what is known in some traditions as the sacred circle, which says that humans, nature, and the Creator are equal.
Traditions and ceremonies are critical in helping children develop physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Through a holistic approach they learn that they are interconnected with others and their surroundings. They are given freedom as well as appropriate responsibilities, and are encouraged to develop their gifts, sometimes in medicine or in leadership or spiritual guidance. Indigenous customs provide children with self-esteem and connectedness, empowering them to be healthy and independent.
Justice is a keystone to the existence of a harmonious society. In Indigenous cultures, justice is meant to restore the peace and bring healing and harmony to the community. Instead of being punished, an individual who is accused of doing something wrong is reconciled with their conscience and with the person or family that has been wronged. The responsibility for compensating the victim is shared by the offender’s family or clan. Indigenous people believe in holistic healing where every aspect of a person’s being is made whole—mind, body, heart, and spirit.
The Indigenous worldview is full of complexities and diversity. There is no single perspective that represents all Indigenous peoples’ way of being in the world. Yet there is a core that is rooted in Indigenous peoples’ relationship to the land. This worldview undergirds and sustains the vision and work of Through an Aboriginal Lens. It focuses on the collective, not just the individual; it sees people, not colour. It empowers us to provide those who seek healing and wholeness avenues for reconnecting with their core being and with their community.