7/21 — Why Making Vital Distinctions Between Indigenous and Dominant Worldviews is Not a “Binary Thinking Problem”, and In Fact Could Save us From Extinction

Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows)

Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows)

Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows)

During President Clinton’s election, the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” was coined. It should have been “It’s the worldview, stupid.” When Obama used “Change we can believe in” for his slogan, I told him, without a worldview change things will stay the same.”

Joseph Ohayon

Better understood as “what is” (fact) and “what ought to be” (value), the fact/value distinction is the thin line between what is truth and what is right.

Charlie Tronolone

The Indigenous worldview is non-binary and action based, meaning that Indigenous people are concerned with the products of their actions upon the web of relationships in which they live.

Vine Deloria, Jr. (22)

The ambiguity, conflict and tension that we are experiencing at all levels of modern life reflect our inability to come to terms with a dysfunctional cosmology, a cosmology that can no longer sustain us at any level.

Gregory Cajete (302)

To effectively work toward our highest potentiality to re-balance life systems and build mutually supportive relationships, we must start with investigated our worldviews. Starting with the work of the pioneering social anthropologist, Robert Redfield, and continuing today in scholarly discussions about “worldview,” this piece continues with the assertion that we can place most cultures, religions, and philosophies under one of two currently operational worldviews. Whether one ascribes to this idea or not, a growing number of educators and global leaders point out vital distinctions between generalized Indigenous and dominant worldviews when considering the existential crises facing us all. They discuss in-common precepts shared by the incredible diversity of beliefs under each worldviews, usually advancing the proven survival and happiness advantages of the Indigenous understandings that guided us for most of human history. The goal of the worldview reflection is to consider re-embracing our original nature-based ways of understanding and being in the world. The comparisons allow for rethinking assumptions in many contexts and acting to mitigate such existential challenges as climate change, deforestation, loss of clean water, extinction rates, inequality, racism, genocide, pandemics, and unhappiness.

Unfortunately, a common response to calls for such worldview reflection is to dismiss the comparison and advocacy as a false dichotomy. Some do so defensively, in support of their dominant worldview. Many react in accord with years of anti-Indigenous educational and cultural hegemony. Another group rejects it as the “either-or” thinking. They correctly believe that such “truth binaries,” where one belief is position as better than the other, can lead to hierarch-based violence or injustice.  I sympathize with this group and agree that overly rigid binaries like “win-lose,” “right-wrong,” and “us-them” ignore the complexity and interconnectedness of life. However, I hope to show how rejecting the two -worldview binary out of hand reflects the dominant binary-oriented worldview. Such dismissal also reveals the difficulty of understanding it without having experienced the Indigenous worldview’s emphasis on seeking complementarity between all such pairings. Ignoring this possibility with the claim that such worldview reflection is just another “dangerous binary” thwarts possibilities for transformation. It also stifles the effectiveness of authentic decolonization efforts, which a growing number of intellectuals and activists support. In this piece I attempt to explain why critical reflection and praxis relating to this binary worldview analysis is a vital task for world leaders and educators who truly understand our plight and wish to work toward rebalancing life systems.

Author’s Definition of the Two Main Terms

Worldview: For the purposes of this article, “worldview” refers to our foundational assumptions about the nature of being- who we are, why we are and how we should live. It influences every aspect of the culture in which individuals share the essential components of the worldview, regardless of opposing tensions. Worldview presupposes the natural relationship between humans, nature and spirit.. Stemming from German philosophical considerations of how one might “view” such a relationship, the visual emphasis misses the intuitive sensing, listening, and being orientation of Indigenous kincentrism (Four Arrows & Narvaez, 2021). A growing number of scholars are discussing worldview primarily as more than culture, religion, philosophy or other beliefs. Moreover, they refer to importance differences between all of them in terms of “dominant, western-based ones and traditional Indigenous ones. This does not mean that there are not exceptions in modern times. Some Indigenous cultures and individuals have begun to adopt precepts under the generalized dominant one that fueled colonization. Some individuals and cultures under dominant worldview hegemony have also operate according to the Indigenous precepts. However, broadly speaking, the distinctions are valid and define most institutions and social practices according to which of the two worldviews are primary.

Binary Thinking: Binary structure exists throughout nature, although nature is an interconnected whole. Though quantum physics seems ultimately to be about interconnectedness also, it employs binaries in the study of energy in electrons and other particles. Binary equations are also useful in other conceptual realms, such as subatomic theory, computer science and mathematics. Although more complex, right left-brain binary and “dominance” of one or the other is a functional language in neuroscience and neuropsychology. Humans use binary thinking constantly, such as when referring to night or day, hot or cold, in or out, etc. Binary thinking is is sometimes life-saving.  

This said, binary thinking is also understand as a source of oppressive hierarchy and unnecessary polarization. Contemporary Western philosophers are critical of rigid or oversimplified polarities. Eastern mystics see dualism (same as binary thinking) as a barrier to achieving the one universal consciousness. Despite the rhetoric about binaries being too “black or white,” western culture operates largely according to rigid, problematic binaries. Colonization is based on them. As Tezenlo Thong writes in her 2009 dissertation about the Indigenous Naga Culture, “A Clash of Worldviews, “The missionaries saw the Nagas and their culture through the lens of binary oppositions, such as ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’, ‘Christians’ and ‘pagans/heathens’ or ‘light’ and ‘darkness’(141). Most traditional Indigenous cultures, however, live according to a worldview that encourages the pursuit of complementary dualism in seemingly opposing pairs. Hillary S. Webb writes about this in describing the yanantin worldview of Indigenous Andean thought as “a belief that the polarities of existence (such as male/female, dark/light, inner/outer) are interdependent and essential parts of a harmonious whole” (2012, backcover).


There are many notable researchers who write about the vital importance of critical and metacognitive worldview reflection. I offer one quote that summarizes most of them. It comes from  philosophy professor, Christine Daigle, and from Liette Vasseur, the UNESCO Chair of Community Sustainability. They write: “Changing our mindsets and worldviews is the most urgent course of action we must undertake to avoid the inevitable.”

There are also a growing number of prominent thinkers who assert that the Indigenous worldview, in particular, can serve to help mitigate many of our world problems. David Suzuki, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, Darcia Narvaez, Noam Chomsky, Meg Wheatley, Thom Hartmann, John Pilger, and the late Edgar Mitchell are just a few of the non-Indigenous individuals so saying. I also include the 450 scientists who authored the United Nation’s biodiversity report (Four Arrows, The Nation). None seem have a “binary thinking problem” with contrasting generally shared precepts between the dominant and Indigenous worldviews, nor with emphasizing advantages of the latter. I venture to say all are well aware of potential dangers that can manifest from either-or positioning of pairs.

I propose this is because leaders who are speaking out about the benefits of our original nature-based ways of being in the world have had some form of transformative experience with it. As a result, they use the two-world binary with the understanding that the Indigenous worldview is significantly more able to prevent the binary problems. By learning to embrace it, they realize it to be a way to mitigate the oppression, inequality and violence that often stems from dualism that is running rampant throughout the world. They use the binary as Indigenous sustainability leaders are doing to protect Earth’s remaining biodiversity. It is not a coincidence most biodiversity on planet earth today exists because it still controlled by Indigenous cultures who have not yet fully lost touch with our original worldview

One reason the social/ecological justice scholars (especially those that leave out “ecological” when referring to the topic) may be hostile of the two-worldview comparison is because they do not see Indigenous worldviews themselves as potentially transformative. Perhaps, as I mention earlier, this is because one must experience the Indigenous worldview to know it. McPherson and Rabb write that we can best understand it as “transformative philosophy” (158). They continue: “Only after experiencing the worldview can we understand Indigenous principles of interconnectedness and reciprocity (160)…The incommensurability problem between Western worldviews and Indigenous worldviews comes from the difficulty for descendants of Western European civilization to come to grips with Indigenous traditional knowledges” (162). 

Such experience is not exactly at one’s finger tips. Moreover, owing to the anti-Indian hegemony of the past several hundred years, relatively few seek it. If experiencing the Indigenous worldview is a requirement for embracing it, we may face a catch-22 situation. In other words, we ignore or reject the worldview comparisons for addressing problems blamed on the dominant worldview because of our blind adherence to it. This said, integral leaderships and holistic educators are all about transformative, collaborative and experiential learning. All transformative learning requires both metacognitive work and praxis. Study the worldview chart at the end and imagine all the ways the “theory” of the contrasting pairs can be contextualized, visualized meditatively, and analyzed critically, all the while seeking possible complementarity between the two worldview precepts you have selected to engage. From the experience, transformation may be at the tip of your finger tips.

 This strategic combination is what the decolonization movement asks us to do. If we reject the worldview binary, we in effect are rejecting decolonization. De-colonization essentially means re-imagining a pre-colonization world. The term infers a pre-colonization way of being in the world. If we say the era of modern colonialism began on the Iberian peninsula and on the island of what is now Haiti, then what existed before were cultures that possessed a nature-based, egalitarian worldview (which I refer to as the Indigenous worldview).  Thus anyone who uses the term, “decolonization,” can logically allow for the importance of favoring the worldview that has been under assault for more than 500 years. Unfortunately, with the two-worldview analysis being a relatively new idea in the world, one constantly suppressed by hegemony, even the most ardent decolonizing activists often falls his or her dominant worldview pitfalls. can prevent the most passionate supporters of decolonization from avoiding its pitfalls An example of this complex problem relates to the new HBO four-part series, Exterminate All the Brutes

I watched this film and listened to its creator, Raoul Peck, speaking in several interview sessions with notable people, including historian Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, the author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. My take-away is that, like Dunbar-Ortiz’s book and Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report that exposes the horrors of boarding schools, the documentary does a remarkable and vital job, making it difficult for viewers to remain in denial of the tragic colonial histories of “civilization.” However, it does little to nothing to explain the white supremacy and colonization he exposes. Nor does he refer to the resultant destruction of life on Earth in general. Peck repeatedly says in his interviews that his goal is to get people to recognize the continuing consequences of the history he reveals by courageously discussing the reasons it happened and what solutions are possible. Dunbar-Ortiz’s focus seems to be focused exclusively on the tragic history of colonization.

That the loss of a very different worldview was not explicitly mentioned in the documentary nor in the interviews I watched was a frustration. Please don’t get me wrong. It is important for more people to realize the truth about what settler colonialism and the most holistic-minded leaders often do not realize. Just as the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Report exposed the horrors of boarding schools, the true history of our continuing colonialism must be understood to stop repeating it. However, more people may know about this history than Peck imagines, whereas too few have engaged in what was lost and what can be regained for the sake of future generations. To expect people with a dominant worldview will come up with it in the discussions he wants to happen is naïve at best.

Even worse than not talking about the worldview that was more life sustaining in the series is the choice of the title for the documentary, “Exterminate all the Brutes.” The original phrase comes from Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, Heart of Darkness. In it, a white missionary tries to bring civilization to the Indigenous people of Africa. Eventually, corrupted and worn down by the “savages” at the end of the book, he scribbles a note exclaiming “exterminate all the brutes!” Most dictionaries define “brute” as meaning non-human or beneath human. In the Indigenous worldview, non-humans are equal to or greater than humans. Thus to unquestioningly borrow a term, regardless of its accuracy in defining white supremacy and genocide, that tends to accept such anthropocentrism unquestioningly, is an act of colonization itself. That so doing was probably unconscious merely reflects the danger, and the importance, of going deeper into worldview analysis. A worldview that begins hierarchy with human supremacy easily succumbs to white supremacy. 

Michael Lackey writes about the phrase used for Peck’s documentary title. “Kurtz’s decision to use the word “brutes” is important” (33). He goes on to explain that the missionary character in the book “can endorse genocide with emotional, psychological and spiritual impunity” because most people have reservations about killing humans but not about killing animals. Literature critics have mixed interpretations about Conrad’s message in Heart of Darkness. Some say that Conrad and this book spoke against colonization. At least one also referred to him as a racist. “Conrad saw and condemned the evil of imperial exploitation but was strangely unaware of the racism on which it sharpened its iron tooth” (Achebe, p. 261). In any case, use of the phrase in 2021 undermines the ultimate goal of decolonization that Peck and his co-authors are promoting. What logic emerges from such uncritical acceptance of the dominant worldview precept that gives sentience and equal value only to human beings? Is it possible that the human-non-human binary at the core of our dominant worldview is the beginning of the hierarchy anti-binary folks want to prevent? In other words, without awareness of the Indigenous worldview’s emphasis on non duality and its complexities, watching the documentary’s “brutal” history and accepting the unchallenged title could be a step in the opposite direction that Peck intended. Even in 1899 it is possible that Conrad may have been trying to expose the false dichotomy of nature versus humanity. Peck’s epic and poetic series, as important is it may be, seems to accept it. As a result, the binary of colonists and those colonists continues to exist without the benefit of seeking interconnected realities via the worldview precepts informing the two sides.

Four Specific Reasons Why Critical Reflection on the “Two Worldviews Binary” is Useful

Reason #1: The two-worldview binary is a substantial way to historically, intuitively and scientifically offer a practical and a metaphysical tool for addressing our most pressing world problems.

My concern expressed earlier about Raoul Peck’s unchallenged title for his documentary on the history of colonialism reveals the prevalence of what has become a human versus nature binary. I suggest that using binaries carefully, with complementarity in mind, can be helpful for survival. The importance of binary choices such as whether to go swimming in the crocodile-infested lagoon or not or if it is wise to wait until the train passes before crossing the tracks are seldom arguable. They are a matter of survival. Once one begins the reflection on the worldview binary, it does not take long to see choices relevant to survival. One can look at good research to realize that under the Indigenous worldview before colonization, pollution of waterways, depletion of oceans, deforestation, and extinction rates were not prevalent for reasons relating to worldview. Precolonial histories are not necessary to give evidence for this. Studies have shown how when governments return stolen land back to Indigenous cultures; land restoration occurs rapidly. Although there are too many examples to list here, it is not a coincidence that 80% of biodiversity on Earth exists on 20% of the land managed under the umbrella of place-based knowledge and Indigenous worldview (National Geographic). In addition to historical verification, one can look at the science. The most extensive study on biodiversity ever done is the 2019 United Nations Biodiversity Report. Conducted by 450 environmental scientists from 50 countries looking at 15,000 peer-reviewed papers, they concluded that Indigenous worldview is a primary consideration for future transformations (The Nation).

There is also an intuitive confirmation possible with worldview reflection. Take a moment to look at some of the contrasting generalized worldview precepts in the chart accompanying this article. Choose a few that relate to the anthropocentrism that may be killing us, an invisible force that guides most dominant cultures and their institutions. Then meditate on the Indigenous option and its possible applications. Do you believe that Earth is an unloving “it?” as differentiated by the idea, it is “living and loving?” What does it feel like to practice animism and truly attribute spirit and sentience to plants and ants? Do you feel that social laws are more important than the laws of nature when addressing the causes of climate change or extinction rates? What might you imagine or do to see or help others see that nature as benevolent instead of dangerous? Remember, the goal is not to blindly accept or reject one worldview precept or the other. Even survival-related binary choices require some prior experiential or intuitive reflection. 

Of course, one must recognize that the human versus nature binary is genuinely prevalent. Many scholars have made such connections. For example, consider the following abstract of Professor Yrjo Haila for her article in the peer-reviewed journal, Biology and Philosophy.

It is commonly accepted that the western view of humanity’s place in nature is dominated by a dualistic opposition between nature and culture. Historically this has arisen from externalization of nature in both productive and cognitive practices; instances of such externalization have become generalized. I think the dualism can be decomposed by identifying dominant elements in each particular instantiation and showing that their strict separation evaporates under close scrutiny. The philosophical challenge this perspective presents is to substitute concrete socioecological analysis for foundational metaphysics. A review of major interpretations of the history of the dualism in Western thought indicates that the legacy is more multi-stranded than is usually admitted…Nevertheless, the foundational metaphysics needs to be challenged, primarily because of its paralyzing effect on environmental philosophy (158).

Reason #2: The two-worldview binary automatically requires holistic analysis of multiple components, which is a requirement for seeking complementarity between apparent opposites.

Outside of situations when choices must be made instantly, such as whether to cross a street when a bus is charging toward your crossing point, we can usually avoid a binary problem and find an appropriate complementary relationship via an honest examination of values and contexts. Such analysis is an important goal when contemplating the worldview precepts on the chart below. Looking at body-mind-spirit aspects will still not lead to absolutes. The best we can hope for is probabilities that one side of the binary or the other is more healthful or helpful in different contexts. Persuasive language and alleged facts alone are insufficient. “Guilty or not guilty” decisions in jurisprudence illustrate this in many courtrooms. However, under the dominant worldview, jurisprudence is about punishing perpetrators in one way or the others. Outcomes are binary outcomes. In the Indigenous worldview, bringing parties back into the community is the goal in conflict resolution decisions. The circle of blame is extended, in fact, to the whole community from the outset. Holistic thinking about past, present, and future interconnections dominates the discussions.

Since most individuals who oppose the two-worldview binary are on the “left” side of the polarized political divide, I offer an example of why seeking complementarity is ultimately about a more holistic worldview. Liberals and conservatives tend to see “capitalism or social responsibility” as a binary. Both sides have seen the binary through the lens of our dominant worldview. Although differing in degrees, both tend to embrace materialism, hierarchy, individualism, deception, and competition as being about superiority (See worldview precept #9 on chart.) No matter how philosophical one is about binary thinking, the political arguments generally become uncomfortably oppositional and unhealthy. However, when honest worldview reflection allows for recognizing and embracing the concept of oneness and the importance of seeking complementarity, the opposing points of view become a starting point for open exploration, truth-seeking, and ultimately choices that serve all.  

Admittedly, what I am suggesting here is not an easy path. If fully operating under the dominant worldview, one cannot engage in a holistic analysis of multiple components to seek complementarity. Nonetheless, holistic leaders and educators, and education have, or could have, the tools to inspire such thinking. I attempted, with some success, to invite such engagement between myself and a perceived philosophical/political enemy. Focusing on the binary mentioned above between capitalism and social responsibility, I invited Dr. Walter Block to co-author a book with me that has been published with the title, Differing Worldviews in Higher EducationTwo Scholars Argue Cooperatively About Justice Education (2011). Walter is the Harold E. Writh Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the School of Business at Loyola, New Orleans. Having disagreed with just about everything he has written, I invited him to co-author a book with me. The goal I proposed was for us to seek to understand one another in an effort to find some complementarity in our polarized positions.

The process was not easy in that I wanted to debate his various positions. I wanted to prove him wrong and show him how dangerous his position was in my mind. My wife had to remind me once in a while of my “cooperative argumentation” mandate. Although the dominant and Indigenous worldview differences were obvious, we did not talk about worldview per se. We just tried to understand one another’s particular opinions about social-ecological justice issues. So when he told me, “Of course, only humans have intrinsic value. Everything else on earth is for the utilization of human beings” (p. 56), I only asked him specifics about his ideas for privatizing “resources” such as whales. In truth, we found little complementarity between our positions, but we did find it in our relationship with one another and are still friends. We also found some common ground, and each of us modified a position or two. Not everyone thought these positives were worthwhile. When I gave a copy of my book to my friend and author of The Color Purple, Alice Walker, she threw it in the waste can and exclaimed that I was in bed with the devil. I do see her point, but overall I’m afraid I have to disagree. A decade later, people still write me who read the book saying that the discussion transformed their position.

Reason #3: Comparing the two worldview precepts can counter the increasing hegemony in our post-truth cultures.

I am just returning to the computer to write after watching today’s (May 17th) DemocracyNow coverage of the Israeli attacks on Gaza. To hear President Biden say it is an appropriate “proportional” response.” Anyone watching the live films will quickly see this as inaccurate. Nor is the attack an initial response to missiles fired into Israel from Palestine. The video being shown of rockets fired by Hamas have been proven by Reuters Fact Check to be of rockets fired in Syria in 2018 (May 13, 2021). Biden’s comments are but one example of how lies in support of the positions of people in power, whether Trump or Biden, go forward with remarkable impunity. How does this relate to the two-worldview binary? Acceptance of what people in power tell us, whether revealed by actual believing or complacent inaction, relates to several of the un-investigated contrasting worldview precepts. For example, consider the following from the worldview chart:

#1- Rigid hierarchy as generally practiced in dominant cultures compared to non-hierarchical social systems or reverse dominance as practiced by most Indigenous ones.

#2- Fear-based thoughts and behaviors, compared to courage and fearless trust in the universe.

#13- Truth claims as absolute versus truth seen as multifaceted

#20- Acceptance of authoritarianism considered in light of a general resistance to authoritarianism

#22- Dualistic thinking instead of seeking complementary duality

#31- Conflict resolution with revenge and punishment compared to conflict resolution as a return to community

Looking at the context, while seriously considering the wisdom of the Indigenous worldview and the contribution of the dominant worldview on the horror of the air strikes, opens doors that are generally closed because of our deep worldview assumptions.

Reason #4: Hypnosis phenomenon and religious experience that creates or maintain our destructive habits can be mitigated by metacognitive worldview reflection for corrective transformations.

Hypnosis is a natural process most creatures use. During times of stress, they become hyper-receptive to communication signals from trusted authority figures. For people, we become hyper-suggestible to the words of perceived authority, especially when we are afraid. However, a more hypnotic effect results from the redundancy of our automatic acceptance of superiority even when Fear is absent. In traditional pre-contact Indigenous cultures, people used their understanding of natural hypnosis to avoid misdirection from others. They also used it to enhance positive potentiality and for trance-based healing. Ceremony is one way this was intentionally done. In contrast, under the dominant worldview, where many religions refer to hypnosis as evil, people are often hypnotized in ceremony without self-directed intentionality. I find it difficult to explain the human destruction of life systems without considering the hypnotic phenomenon. I devised a mnemonic, CAT-FAWN, to help individuals use metacognitive worldview reflection and trance-based learning to discover the source of our destructive behaviors and transformational learning. Briefly, CAT stands for hypnosis (Concentration-activated Transformation). It can lead to positive or negative outcomes. FAWN stands for Fear, Authority, Words, and Nature, with the use of binary generalizations that contrast Indigenous and dominant worldviews. For example, in the Indigenous worldview, Fear is generally an opportunity for practicing a virtue (after fight or flight responses are activated), such as generosity, courage, patience, humility, fortitude, honesty. The highest authority is reflections on lived experience with recognition of life’s interconnectedness. Words are sacred vibrations. (Indigenous languages are verb-based and tend to allow for complexity much easier than the more recent European, noun-based languages.) Nature is the ultimate law, the teacher, of which we are intrinsically connected. I leave it to the reader to determine the dominant ways of understanding these four concepts and how they contrast, a beginning perhaps to implementing the message of this article.

Spiritual traditions about being interconnected with all of life also have an unconscious foundation hypnotically related to our mythology, our origin stories. Howard Teich’s book, Solar Light, Lunar Light (2012), reveals how twin-hero stories throughout the world always represented complementary binaries, with one twin being solar (aggressive, direct) and the other lunar (reflective, passive). He explains that before we humans departed from our nature-based worldview, stories about the twins reflected the partnership. For example, in one story, the Navajo solar twin, Monster Slayer, and his lunar twin, Child Born of the Water want to get past a long-armed monster. The solar boy is confident he can kill the monster, representing one of the potential negative dispositions inside of all of us, such as jealousy, greed, etc. But the lunar twin disagrees and recommends singing to the monster. After some discussion, they agree to sing and, the monster, never having been treated this way, lets them pass. In a world dominated by the solar emphasis, Monster Slayer would have ridiculed his brother out of hand as is the dominant worldview. They wounded the monster, who would have then retaliated with terror. Teich refers to stories told in dominant worldview cultures where the solar twin kills the lunar twin, or the lunar twin becomes unimportant in the culture, such Cain and Able, Romulus and Remus, Jacob and Esau, Hercules and Iphecules, etc. Our myths express a culture’s worldview. They also are power guides for how we choose to be in the world. Even if we do not remember the specific story, it is replicated one way or the other in most of the stories we tell until we pause and reflect on the hypnosis and the worldview as a usable binary.

Ryan E. Long reminds us in his article, “The Good, Bad and Ugly of Binary Thinking” (2015), “Binary logic helps us decide, often in split seconds, between: fight or flight in a dark alley, taking one fork in the ski slope or another, one moral decision as opposed to another in our relationships” (Long, R.E., 2015, np). Perhaps we are at that moment in time when we must use the two-worldview binary to decide quickly between extinction or otherwise.  

Common Dominant Worldview ManifestationsCommon Indigenous Worldview Manifestations
1. Rigid HierarchyNon-hierarchical
2. Fear-based thoughts and behaviorsCourage and fearless trust in the universe
3. Living without strong social purposeSocially purposeful life
4. Focus on self and personal gainEmphasis on community welfare
5. Rigid and discriminatory gender stereotypesRespect for various gender roles and fluidity
6. MaterialisticNon-materialistic
7. Earth as an unloving “it”Earth and all systems as living and loving
8. More head than heartEmphasis on heart over head
9. Competition to feel superiorCompetition to develop positive potential
10. Lacking empathyEmpathetic
11. AnthropocentricAnimistic and bio-centric
12. Words used to deceIve self or othersWords as sacred, truthfulness as essential
13. Truth claims as absoluteTruth seen as multifaceted, accepting mysterious
14. Rigid boundaries and fragmented systemsFlexible boundaries and interconnected systems
15. Unfamiliarity with alternative consciousnessRegular use of alternative consciousness
16. Disbelief in spiritual energiesRecognition of spiritual energies
17. Disregard for holistic interconnectednessEmphasis on holistic interconnectedness
18. Minimal contact with othersHigh interpersonal engagement, touching
19. Acceptance of authoritarianismResistance to authoritarianism
20. Time as linearTime as cyclical
21. Dualistic thinkingSeeking complementary duality
22. Acceptance of injusticeIntolerance of injustice
23. Emphasis on rightsEmphasis on responsibility
24. Aggression as highest expression of courageGenerosity as highest expression of courage
25. Ceremony as rote formalityCeremony as life-sustaining
26. Learning as didacticLearning as experiential and collaborative
27. Trance as dangerous or stemming from evilTrance-based learning as helpful and natural
28. Human nature as corrupt or evilHuman nature as good but malleable
29. Humor used infrequently for copingHumor as essential for coping
30. Conflict resolution with revenge, punishmentConflict resolution as return to community
31. Learning is fragmented and theoreticalLearning is holistic and place based
32. Minimal emphasis on personal vitalityPersonal vitality is essential
33. Social laws of society are primaryLaws of Nature are primary
34. Self-knowledge not highest priorityHolistic Self-knowledge is most important
35. Autonomy sought in behalf of selfAutonomy sought to better serve others
36. Nature as dangerous or utilitarian onlyNature as benevolent and relational
37. Other-than-human beings are not sentientAll life forms are sentient
38. Low respect for womenHigh respect for women
39. Rejection of diverse gender identityAcceptance of diverse gender identity
40. Linear thinkingNon-linear thinking
  • From Four Arrows. The Red Road: Linking Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives to Indigenous Worldview. Peter Lang, 2019.


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About the Author

Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows), aka Donald Trent Jacobs, Ph.D., Ed.D. Born in Missouri in 1946, Four Arrows is Irish, Tsalagi and a made relative of the Oglala Lakota Medicine Horse Tiospaye.  Before his current position as professor at Fielding Graduate University, he served as Director of Education at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation where he fulfilled his Sun Dance Vows. With doctoral degrees in Health Psychology and in Curriculum and Instruction (with a cognate in Indigenous worldview), he has authored twenty acclaimed books and numerous invited chapters and articles. Co-founder of Veterans for Peace chapter 100 in Northern Arizona and recipient of the Martin Springer Institute Award for Moral Courage, he was selected by the Alternative Education Resource Organization as one of “27 visionaries in education” for their text Turning Points. His book, Teaching Truly: A Curriculum to Indigenize Mainstream Education was listed as one of 20  books of all time for progressive education by the Chicago Wisdom Project. Among his hobbies he plays handball and stand-up paddle board surfs. He was first alternate for the U.S. Equestrian Endurance team for the 1996 Olympics (using a mustang that he captured and trained), and is a world champion “old time piano player.” For more, visit

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