In a Rational World, Can Tribal Knowledge Lead Us Into the Future?

In a Rational World, Can Tribal Knowledge Lead Us Into the Future?

Tribal knowledge could be the key to understanding earth and global climate change

By Duane Champagne | August 31, 2017

The goals and values of Indigenous Peoples stress that the world is full of give and take. Life is a great gift. One has a role to play in community and society. Individuals seek to find that role or life purpose and to fulfill one’s given task. Ceremonies are often about seeking personal and tribal understandings and directions. The world is full of meaning and purpose, although people are not gifted with a complete understanding of the future or present. Tribal knowledge is made up of ceremonial interpretations and human experiences. Elders collect knowledge on their long life journeys and pass information onto other generations.

Each nation, and each person, has a purpose or role to play. The way of the world, however, is not known to humans. The universe has direction and purpose, but each nation or person only comprehends and can affect a part of the whole. This view is something like the Big Bang Theory, where the universe is rushing through space in all directions, but we do not know why or what will happen in the end. We as persons and nations are along for the ride. The force and direction of the universe may be what many Indigenous Peoples called the Great Spirit. The powers and forces of the universe are beyond knowledge and power of people, and therefore people and nations should always be humble and forgiving in life.

A cultural theme within contemporary modernism is the increasing rationality of the world. Markets are favored, in part, because markets are efficient, productive, and profitable ways to distribute goods. Science brings greater understanding of the organization and activities within nature. Science dominates over religion and culture. Culture and being are subordinated to the requirements of efficiency. Religion and culture are preferably separated from government and economic decision-making.

In Western tradition, the earth is made up of raw material waiting for transformation into a product useful to humans. A major purpose is the transformation and control of the world for political and economic domination. The earth, full of wild and useless beings, needs to be transformed into objects that serve the goals and purposes of humans and nations. Making heaven on earth is a deep underlying cultural goal in Western nations. Heaven, where all human needs and wants are satisfied, is a central goal and purpose for people and of history. History marks the realization of creating heaven on earth. The achievement of utopia, or heaven on earth, will be reward of progress and rationality at the end of history. Humans at the end of history will be the center of the universe and in control of the earth’s resources. The heavy emphasis on material goals in life lead to a world bereft of enchantment or cultural interpretation.

In recent years, because of the increasing apparentness of global environmental change, people have become aware of the need to understand the earth as a complex, interrelated place where humans and nations play a negative role. However, the mere understanding that humans have been neglecting the world, and need to change their environmental habits, is not enough. Such a position remains entirely within the rationality worldview, and does not give enough attention to holistic, philosophical, and culturally-based understandings.

Rational methods created the current environmental crisis. And perhaps one could generalize to other aspects of the over rationality of the present world in terms of race, ethnic, national, and terrorist conflicts. Fighting rationality with rationality may not produce the culturally and philosophically meaningful solutions that may be required. Here is where the wisdom of the ancients and tribal knowledge about how to live and the purposes and goals of life and nations may usefully enter into any discussion of where do we go from here.