EDITOR’S NOTE: This article on “Shifting Worldviews and Indigenous Empowerment” is the last in a 4-part series to deconstruct the Western, settler-colonial worldview and to #ResurrectEloheh.
Worldviews are not immutable, but they are difficult to change because they are “caught more than taught.” But as much as possible, they may also be taught.
Worldviews are primarily taught through what I call, “bad narratives.” Bad narratives uphold the fallacies listed above. As I stated earlier, perhaps the best way to correct a bad narrative is to provide a better, more true narrative.
Today, it is Indigenous people, women, people of color, the poor, the marginalized and other oppressed peoples, who are able to offer up a better, more true narrative than those for whom the West has justified as heroes in pursuit of capitalistic and imperialistic goals.
The Western worldview has not only helped to destroy tribes, nations, and whole people groups, but it is destroying the earth itself. In the Pacific Northwest, the area in which I live, this destructive worldview was obvious from first contact.
In the early days of the fur trappers in the Pacific Northwest, my wife’s people group, the Shoshone, inhabited much of Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, and parts of Montana. They made their living primarily by hunting big game such as deer, antelope, bison, and bighorn sheep. In the early part of the 19th century, fur companies from Britain, the United States, and Canada began sending out fur trappers and establishing forts as centers for business. As these Europeans traveled the Indian trails and followed rivers and streams, the Shoshone (and other Indians) could not believe what they saw. The malicious destruction of big game for no other reason but sport was inconceivable to the Shoshone and other tribal peoples who, themselves, depended on nature’s abundance for their survival. But for the Westerners, as long as there were animals left to kill, they would kill them all the day long and leave the majority of the meat to rot on the prairie. The Shoshone and other tribes understood the disruption and knew, if left unchecked, eventually such practices would lead to starvation. Their attacks on the newcomers were most often simply to preserve their own survival.
This same pattern was repeated in various forms throughout history and regardless of geographic location. However, due to the hubris of the Westerners, only false narratives were constructed framing the Indigenous peoples as blood-thirsty, homicidal savages. The tribes became the bane of the settler’s reports simply for trying to ensure their own survival. In the words of Major James Mcloughlin, “I have never known an Indian to kill a game animal that he did not require for his needs. And I have known few white hunters to stop while there was game to kill.” The same wonton attitude toward our natural environment still exists today in the Western worldview.
There appears to be a correlation between treating nature as the “other” and treating people in a similar manner. These practices, effectively stemming from what we would later call “white supremacy,” began with the earliest explorers and pilgrims in the Americas and in most parts of the world.
One local Northwest example is that of a fur trapper, Jim Beckwourth, who recorded his party taking 488 Bannock Indian scalps in one day, of all ages and genders, leaving not one man, woman, or child alive. Beckwourth, wrongly assumed, he had wiped out the whole Bannock tribe. This pattern of the destruction of Indigenous peoples has been repeated both before and after Beckwourth all over the world. When Indigenous people resist their own destruction, subjugation, or the theft of their lands, they are considered to be a problem.
Those who oppress others create narratives that justify their own actions, and these narratives become myths which inform the worldview of the colonizer. The attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples naturally incited resistance and retaliation. The West and the Western Church must own its horrible participation in the history of genocide of various people groups, attempted genocide on the community of creation, the oppression of women, etc.
Time for restoring our place on earth is running out.
Today, all creation is demonstrating that the enemy of the Western worldview is more formidable than the Indigenous tribes, and this enemy does not discriminate between the innocent and the guilty. The Western worldview and its pattern of destruction has created so much damage that it has caused the earth herself to fight back — to defend herself from humanity and from all the current damage taking place on earth, in the waters, and in the skies. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and forest fires are all increasing in frequency and severity because humans, who up until recently have been only tertiary consumers of energy, are now the primary consumers.
In order to save herself, the earth must destroy those who are attempting to destroy her. What I believe we are witnessing is our Mother Earth “spitting out her inhabitants,” similar to what is described in Leviticus 18:25. This complete imbalance must be corrected quickly and drastically. This is where the earth wisdom and people wisdom of Indigenous peoples is so needed.
Indigenous people of the world offer traditional knowledge and wisdom that have helped to sustain them on the earth for untold millennia. I am reminded that we are all Indigenous from somewhere, at some point in history, but much of the insight that was gained in the past has been lost. Among many Indigenous peoples of the world, this insight in still intact. We must avail ourselves to it before this gift to humanity is eventually lost to the planet. Not only should Indigenous peoples be shown “special care,” but they must be restored to become the West’s primary teachers.
Most of the capital which the West — including the Church — now possesses, comes as a result of the oppression and attempted destruction of Indigenous peoples. The debt owed to Indigenous peoples not only includes “special care” but empowerment to positions of authority. The concern now goes well beyond Indigenous sovereignty, restitution, and restoration, as fundamental as these issues are, and without which makes the process meaningless. Indigenous peoples must be placed in positions of decision-making when it comes to securing humanity’s privilege as the primary caretakers of the earth and in helping to solve the other problems humanity faces.
Randy Woodley and his wife Edith are co-sustainers of Eloheh/Eagle’s Wings, www.eloheh.org in Oregon. He has written several books including Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. The Woodleys are currently campaigning to “Resurrect Eloheh” so they can purchase land in the American Southwest for the new Eloheh Farm, an Indigenous learning center and spiritual community. Please consider supporting their efforts at www.gofundme.com/ResurrectEloheh.