Indigenous Cultures in the Modern World

Tim Black Audio, Conversations, Perspectives, Psychology Leave a Comment

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A published author in the areas of trauma, group counseling, and applied Integral theory in counseling ethics engages Ken Wilber on why it’s so difficult to find Integrally-minded individuals in the indigenous peoples of his native British Colombia—an issue experienced globally, but expressed here as deep interest and care for those living in a modern Canada.

Over the last two years and as a regular faculty member at the University of Victoria, Tim has been part of an advisory group involved in an innovative and collaborative project to create a graduate-level Aboriginal counseling program founded on Aboriginal ways of knowing, and on Aboriginal pedagogy and with an appreciation of the undeniable impact of colonialization on the First Nations of the province of British Columbia and Canada as a whole. What he’s taken on personally is the task of bringing an Integral Approach to this socially-significant exploration.

“First Nations” is a Canadian term of ethnicity which refers to the indigenous, Aboriginal peoples of what is now Canada. Extremely conscious of being an “outsider” to First Nations’ culture, Tim, a white Western male, wanted to learn as much as he could directly from First Nations individuals as possible. He has learned an enormous amount from the contemporary generations of First Nations peoples, and yet he has yet to find a First Nations individual who could converse in an Integral fashion. The entire reason for this conversation between Tim and Ken revolves around a very simple question: “Why can’t I find an Integral First Nations person to talk to?”

Needless to say, this is a very, very sensitive issue. All of North America has been historically subject to the forces of European colonialization, at times extremely destructive and traumatizing, and those influences of course continue, and dominate, to this day. So how is one to proceed? Even the thought of applying an Integral Approach to the state of indigenous cultures in Canada (or anywhere else) could be considered an expression of just more colonialistic impulses—but this raises an even more delicate issue.

As Ken relates, research has consistently shown that individuals cross-culturally develop through the same basic deep structures of human consciousness, whether in a modern society or an aboriginal one, with wildly different surface structures coloring the expression of the same basic impulse. The reason these deep structures appear to arise universally is because each new level of development is simply the ability to take more perspectives on any given occasion (from egocentric-I, to ethnocentric-us, to worldcentric-all of us, to Kosmocentric-all sentient beings). It’s actually very simple: how many other perspectives does one take into account when making any kind of a decision? Just one’s own? All the people in one’s own tribe? All of the tribes in one’s immediate vicinity? An entire nation of tribes? All the tribes in the world? Think of the word “tribe” as representing any set of attributes that separates one group of people from another, because this growth-scale applies to all of us. How many tribes do you recognize, respect, and take into account in your day-to-day life?

But mere recognition and respect is not enough. The pluralistic (postmodern, green) level of development excels in doing just that, by making all cultural modes of existence fundamentally equal. This is a truly noble impulse, but it misses the fact that different cultural modes, and the individuals within those cultures, exist at different levels of development depending on the number of perspectives held in mind while deciding on a course of action. An Integral Approach, and an Integral level of development, consciously holds this truth in mind, which is an extraordinary resource when confronting real-world issues.

One of the most agonizing—and seemingly intractable—problems facing numerous modern nations is their relationship with their indigenous populations. Australia, South Africa, the United States, and Canada, among many others, have been handed this challenge—often with heartbreaking results. In some ways, the collision that occurred as the first Europeans set foot on the Americas is still playing out today on American reservations and in American inner city slums. To paraphrase Einstein, the problems created at one level must be resolved by solutions devised from the next; with that in mind, what insights might integral have to offer?

The evidence of the problem, as Tim Black describes it, is abundantly clear. Elders among the tribes of British Columbia are pleading for a return to the traditional practices and values; but young people are too busy surfing the Internet or watching MTV to pay much attention. That toothpaste, Ken Wilber says, is not going back in the tube.

Unfortunately, the cure, as offered from the green/pluralistic altitude, is as bad as the sickness! Green is quite literally at war with orange/rational (as Ken points out, the grievance is actually, more often than not, with amber/mythic). In a classic pre-trans fallacy, anything non-orange is considered good; anything orange is not. The Western Enlightenment—which abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote—is despised. And everything pre-orange (i.e. premodern), is mandated to stay in place. The performative contradiction (“all statements are relative, except, umm, this one…”) shows up everywhere. As Ken points out, this is about the most patronizing approach one could possibly take.

From an integral point of view, it is incredibly instructive to look back at how these problems emerged in the first place. European tribes formed nation-states, garnering technology to the point that they landed on American shores, for the sake of God, gold, and glory, gunpowder in hand. The indigenous populations of the Americas were on the same developmental path—as Ken points out, the Iroquois tribe had begun to form a nation of tribes, complete with a constitution. That another, slightly more advanced worldview was imposed upon them is a case of good news and bad news. The good news: the new worldspace was, in fact, somewhat more expansive. The bad news: indigenous cultures were never allowed to make this leap on their own, in a way that honored their journey.

Some of the most powerful insights of Ken’s AQAL (“All Quadrants, All Levels”) approach are seen in the relationships between the quadrants. The Lower-Right Quadrant is the single largest determinant of Upper-Left average mode of consciousness. At this point, the “bar” in the lower right quadrant is informational—perhaps two full stages above the aboriginal worldspace. To deny anyone the benefits of these advances would hardly be of service. The challenge is how to incorporate them in the unique journey indigenous people find themselves on.

The rear-view mirror offers some insight into how to skillfully move forward. Keeping in mind that individuals and societies move through a series of developmental altitudes—offering increasingly expansive perspectives—and states—extending wakefulness into deeper states of consciousness (gross to subtle to causal to nondual), this universal human journey, as well as its particular starting point, must be honored. As mentioned, indigenous cultures were never given the chance to continue on the trajectory they held prior to the influx of European structures. They are essentially held in place at a red/magic to amber/mythic altitude, and at a subtle spirituality. These cultures will be honored not keeping them in place, but by allowing them to identify elements in their red and amber structures from which their orange structure can be built. Their spirituality will be honored by allowing them to build on the shamanic tradition, extending its reach from the subtle into the causal.

Integral aims to synthesize all of the world’s perspectives—premodern, modern, and postmodern—as well as to heal the agonizing wounds that exist between these major cultural blocks, wounds that cut all the way to the deepest heart of the human condition. This discussion is a wonderful example of how this synthesis is beginning to take place in the real world, and we are extremely excited to have you join us in this important and provocative discussion!

This is a conversation deeply relevant to our modern day and age, where the clash of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern ways of being can be heard on every continent of our shared blue-green orb called Earth.

Image by David Frank [+view gallery]

Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.

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