Coming from authoritarian cultures (Russia-German Catholic) I’m familiar with repression, control, and conflict. At the same time, my experience of intense family love in the midst of our troubled war-torn inheritance (my part of our extended family narrowly escaped Stalin’s genocide and the war in Europe) has me searching for resolution. Long in revolt against injustice, and although I work for peace, I see my default settings of rage and opposition activated by extreme wildfires, the rising heat, survival urgency, escalating conflict, and everyone’s distress. I felt I was losing it.
So it was a great relief to happen on The Principles of Tsawalk: An Indigenous Approach to Global Crisis (UBC Press, 2011). Coming to understand polarity and diversity as part of the indivisible whole of creation, not just terrible mistakes, eases the emotional and spiritual stress of conflict.
Umeek—E. Richard Atleo—traditional Chief of the Nuu Cha Nulth Nation at Ahousat, near Vancouver Island, analyzes the origin of the misunderstandings between settlers and indigenous peoples. Through story and oral history, Dr. Atleo details the traditional lifeways of his people; how contact changes us all; and how both societies can grow toward harmony.
“In a view of reality described as tsawalk (one), relationships are qua (that which is). The ancient Nuu Chah Nulth assumed an interrelationship between all life forms – humans, plants and animals. Relationships are. Accordingly, social, political, economic, constitutional, environmental, and philosophical issues can be addressed under the single theme of interrelationships, across all dimensions of reality – the material and the non-material, the visible and the invisible. As a consequence, certain words in the text, such as “polarity”, “spiritual”, “numinous” and “belief” are placed within the view of reality described as tsawalk – one. These definitions offer a Nuu Chah Nulth perspective on the nature of reality in that all questions of existence, being, and knowing, regardless of seeming contradictions, are considered to be tsawalk – one and inseparable. They are interrelated and interconnected” (Preface)
As I understand it, our work in life is to develop ourselves to create harmony, guided by three principles. Recognition is respect for each other, for all life—and for ourselves. Consent is “defined by a range of behaviour that is mutually agreeable and reciprocal within a society” (p94). Continuity is understanding that given their relation to the Creator, “all life forms have value and all are to be allowed to continue to live sustainably because of this value” (p117).
Integrating this indigenous understanding that All is One, relationships are, with the scientific reductionist approach which looks at each phenomenon separately, moves these polarized cultures toward harmony, bringing new ways of dealing with the global crisis—together.
Dr. Atleo mentions the recent discovery of plasma—scientific theory ‘proving’ All is One. Among the many indicators of growing harmony, I see also: the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; recognizing ecosystems as legal entities; the growing understanding that indigenous lifeways are central to easing climate crisis; and the increasing energy for reconciliation.
After 40 years working in support of Indigenous Nations, teaching school and living on reserve, learning from Indigenous mentors, I still struggle to fathom the Respect evident in all community relations, so alien is it to my culture. Dr. Atleo’s work gives new depth to my understanding: it’s sacred Respect, for all life. Consent and Continuity present new challenges. If a child of authoritarianism can assimilate this collective matriarchal spirit; become as a humble “insignificant leaf” in the face of creation; reconcile polarities and diversity in my relations and in my work for the world: this is clearly a lifetime labour of love.
(Umeek’s opening page:)
Yaa?akmis is a word
Kindled by the explosion of creation
Yaa?akmis is Qua
That which is