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Transcript of indigenous perspectives
Melissa Nelson, Ph.D.
"descendants of the original inhabitants of lands now controlled by larger political systems in which they may have little influence" (Mary Pat Fisher,
Colonialism is the establishment and maintenance of colonies in one territory by people from another territory: sovereignty is claimed and expressed in social, cultural, and political structures
Inherent to colonialism is an unequal relationship between the colonists and the colonized
The Colonial Period refers to the historic period between the 15th and 20th centuries when the European Nation States established colonies across the world
Forced migration and land stolen
Banning of indigenous customs & religions
Children were taken from families and relocated
Native American population shrunk from 10 million to 2.4 million
Indigenous ritualists and healers were targeted as symbols of chaos; superstition; trickery
life(way) saving responses
Survival in life-threatening circumstances
Resistance to colonial regimes (both overt and subversive strategies)
Assimilation to the colonizing culture
Retrieval (a later reclaiming of original traditions)
Religious responses: (i) conversion (ii) syncretism (iii) preservation
PHI 3033 WEEKS 4 & 5
is a catchall "other" category that does not reflect the great diversity of First Peoples and cultures worldwide.
**for example, Australian aboriginal lifeways include over 500 different clan groups
Therefore, our objectives this module are both...
To explore the common and distinct problems affecting indigenous communities as a result of European colonialism and its aftermath, especially problems related to ecological and environmental degradation
To discover shared and distinct responses to these challenges and the unique ways that these cultures and societies relate to the natural world
However, this term does reflect the common experience of oppression and exploitation during and after European colonialism.
Indigenous peoples responded to European colonialism in a variety of ways. These strategies were often overlapping.
Globalization and development
Adverse effects of foreign aid and intervention
Ongoing eurocentrism in education and research
Oyster Catcher, Acrylic on canvas, 2008
“In nature, this unusual bird inhabits the sky but feeds and nests at the water’s edge. In its travels, the oyster catcher crosses the realms of earth, water, sky that make up the Haida universe. Because of its abilities in all these domains, it was a favorite helping spirit of shamans.”
(SAU, Abstract Impulse, 2013)
Eagle Giving Birth to Itself
, deerskin, wood, acrylic paint, 1992
Guud San Glans which means Eagle of The Dawn
traditional Haida artist lineage
Robert Davidson Sr.
Vancouver School of Art (predecessor to the Emily Carr University of Art and Design)
Art as spiritual specialization
Note the direct ancestral lineage and connections between Haida artists and shaman, and specific animals in the local biosphere. These connections are used to teach identity in the community, as well as preserve sacred knowledge about their environment and human beings' integration therein.
Davidson’s work is characterized by Haida cultural retrieval – rebirth as a Haida subject or knower or culture maker.
He calls the work that he does formline, although curators use the grammar of abstract art to name it. Formline uses two primary shapes or forms: u shape and the ovoid.
Art is understood as a spiritual vocation – as a translation of knowledge of the higher power.
There is no word for ‘art’ in the Haida language. It is rather a “visible language.” Using this language, learning its vocabulary then expands the grammar.
In the field of religious studies, syncretism refers to the conscious or unconscious fusing of religious traditions and practices. Religious and cultural fusion is a common characteristic of indigenous societies as they have both accommodated the colonizing culture in the interest of survival and, through acts of resistance and retrieval, saved or revived the original culture.
Robert Davidson's work is a contemporary example of just such acts of cultural fusion.
One thing to notice is how White's thesis regarding the significane of the natural world in indigenous world views (as distinct from a Christian worldview) comes alive in Guud San Glans' work and the work of the other authors, activists, and experts assigned for this week.
This concept is used by theorists to refer to the ways that contemporary cultural, socioeconomic, and governing systems still replicate and enforce power imbalances between former colonizers and formerly colonized peoples. Examples include...
**As you read the case studies this module, notice how these systems are still adversely affecting indigenous peoples and their environments.
As you are reading the case studies in the Gottlieb anthology, make notes on the following questions.
Name of the writer and the specific context they are addressing. Context refers not only to geographical location, but also the specific culture, lineage, tradition, etc.
Genre of the piece - In this class, we are looking at a variety of kinds of sources. These include art, literature, ritual, sacred narratives, organization mission statements, researcher accounts, philosophy, etc.
What is the specific problem they are addressing? What causes are they identifying? Possible solutions?
What message or teaching are they trying to impart? What strategies are they using to teach?
How do they define the relationship between culture and the natural world? How do they define the sacred?
Food sovereignty is an issue that ties together indigenous peoples' struggles for survival, the historical and contemporary impacts of colonial and neocolonial regimes, and the retrieval of traditional cultures as a mode of critique and a framework for more sustainable approaches to the natural world and human flourishing in it.
Links clan member, scholar, activist
Visit the artist's website at