^ Blackfoot sacred lands

The order of priority in the ancient native way had been:

1) The great community or cosmos (interpreted as territory)
2) The environment (within the cosmos)
3) The nation (within the environment)
4) The clan/band (within the nation)
5) The family (within the band)
6) The self (within the family)

This essay will point to the considerable difficulties inherent in maintaining the elements necessary to any authentic Native American spiritual awareness in relation to one’s surroundings and oneself.

To begin, there requires an intimate understanding of a living cosmos. To know a living cosmos requires a unique relationship to environment, commonly misconceived as a relationship solely to the land. It’s actually much bigger than this. To have some beginning idea of this cosmos, one must surrender any thought of ‘I’ and ‘me’ because ‘you’ cannot exist in this cosmos as an individual entity. Without the cosmos, you don’t exist. Within the cosmos, you cannot exist as an individual. This is because all of the cosmos is integrated. In the ancient Native American way, your cosmos is reflected (interpreted) as a territory where all is a single organism made up of inter-dependent parts, including every individual, and not only persons but every individual of every species, and what’s more, every stone and tree, down to each individual blade of grass.

The Blackfeet had their cosmos. The Blackfeet neighbors, whether Cree, Sioux, Crow, Cheyenne, Salish, or Shoshone, had their cosmos, each its’ own functioning universe with unique cosmology, within this concept. This had been the template on which Native American spiritual understanding had functioned; at the macro-level. To have a relationship to, and within, this cosmos, required a functional understanding of attending cosmology, that can be interpreted as laws immutably tied to the physical environment sustained within this cosmos. MOST IMPORTANTLY, this cosmos is its’ own self-conceptualizing, aware, seeing entity, a feeling or sentient being; in and of itself. “YOU” are ultimately unimportant to this cosmos -except- you were to know your place within this cosmos and that is the point of the cosmology.

Per example of this, I will point to the work of Karl Schlesier where he noted the Chiricahua Apache precursor people had “asked the spirit of the land to accept them” when migrating into those lands they were subsequently ‘discovered’ to inhabit; by encroaching European culture.

The original indigenous tradition required an aware, seeing, sentient being or ‘cosmos’ accept those who would inhabit it; and to accomplish this integration had little to with exploiting environment and everything to do with finding a niche contributing to the cosmos health. Finding this ‘place’ for an entire people determines whether you have a successful spiritual life and we are still a long ways from discussing the spiritual life of any individual person, or the bottom of the hierarchy.

Already, the implications are quite profound; not only would those of European cultural heritage be far removed from authentic Native American spiritual experience, but so would many who actually believe they are Native American .. because cosmology had been embedded in the native languages and those languages’ stories. It would be the case in every instance where a tribal people had lost their language, they had also lost their cosmology and authentic relationship to their cosmos.

Moreover, every tribal council applying the Western culture’s economic principles of exploiting resources is removed from their own cosmos and cosmology. It’s not just ‘White people’ these days. How it came to this is not the subject of these essays; the point is to go to the facts on the ground in the present. In the next essay we will go to the environment and the fact from an ancient indigenous perspective, a cosmos doesn’t care whether your skin is Red or White. The road to health in any living cosmos would be equally challenging for both.


Cosmos & Cosmology Cross-cultural encroachment (1)

Cosmos & Environment Cross-Cultural encroachment (2)

Cosmos & The Nation Cross-cultural encroachment (3)

Cosmos & The Clan Cross-cultural encroachment (4)

Cosmos & The Family Cross-cultural encroachment (5)

Cosmos & The Self Cross-cultural encroachment (6)

Cosmos & Consciousness Cross-cultural encroachment (7)

Cosmos & Consciousness (notes)


Life in Indian Country Essay collection