Native Americans and Values

November is National American Indian Heritage Month and it’s the perfect time to reflect upon the values that native people have contributed to mainstream society. Although these values are deeply rooted in native culture, it may be surprising to learn that they are the foundation for many of the mainstream beliefs held today.

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Here are four examples:

1) Respect for Nature – at the heart of the conservationist (people who care about the environment)  movement is a respect for nature that has its roots in native people’s deep respect for the earth. They understood that people must use earth’s resources wisely so they can be enjoyed by generations to come. Native people practiced this belief by taking only what they needed from the earth.

2) Inclusion – to Native American people, life is represented by the circle. In the circle, there is room for everybody. No one is first, no one is last; everyone is equal. Each person is seen as having something unique to contribute to the whole. This equality is even more important today when you combine this with respect for nature. Everyone and every country must learn to share Earth’s natural resources while new energy sources are developed. This equality must also be accepted for all citizen of the United States. Tolerance and diplomacy (accepting differences and moving beyond them) are important values for a more peaceful world.

When Pilgrims and Colonists first came to America, native people welcomed them with open arms. They saw beyond facial differences and recognized the humanity that binds all people as one race—the human race. If Americans are to survive the environmental challenges of today, they must accept differences and work together toward the common good.

The founding fathers borrowed this value from the Native American tribes (Iroquois, Tuscaroras, Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas). It became the basis for the U.S. Constitution and the belief in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The founding fathers were inspired by the participatory democracy of the tribes which was the first of its kind. The tribes had a track record for serving the best interests of the people.

3) Child Stewardship –Native American parenting says that it is the parents’ job not to harm a child or try to make him or her into something other they are. Their job is to help the child become the best that they can be. This belief is reflected in the way people study development of children today.  Laura Ramirez says, “it is the adults who learned to bring their unique strengths to the table as kids who will possess the ingenuity and confidence required to create a better world.” Ramirez believes that one way to solve the problems of today is to raise children to develop their strengths, so they will use them to make unique contributions to society.

4) Vision Quest – A vision quest is when a young native American child is taken to a far away place and left to fend for themselves for a few days. They are supposed to discover their own purpose in life during this time. The Native American’s believed that when the child learns their purpose, their life will be led with meaning and satisfaction. The child will grow to be an adult who makes a lasting contribution to the world. The quest to lead a purposeful life which many adults seek to do comes directly from this practice. Both the individual and society will benefit from someone who contributes to the world through doing something that they love.

Adapted from Freshare.net's 4 Ancient Native American Values that Inspire Mainstream Culture