[Editor’s note: The GTEC Board of Directors opens each meeting with words regarding our relationship with Indigenous people so that we might improve our side of that relationship. The following was given at the February, 2022 meeting by Dr. Thyer.]

European settlers have long noticed differences in ways of thinking and knowing in comparison to the Indigenous peoples on these unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples (specifically the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples) where GTEC has it’s roots. We have differences in our Worldviews.

Worldview may be defined as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint” (Merriam-Webster dictionary)(See Footnote 1), or “a person’s way of thinking about and understanding life, which depends on their beliefs and attitudes” (Oxford dictionary)(See Footnote 2).

Leroy Little Bear of the Blackfoot Nation or Confederacy says: “a worldview is a set of beliefs and values that are honoured and withheld by a number of people. A worldview includes how the person or group interacts with the world around them, including land, animals, and people.”

Recognizing these differences in how we see and interact with the world might help us to better understand Indigenous cultures, to communicate more respectfully with Indigenous peoples and to move us closer to reconciliation and cultural harmony. We might better appreciate the differences in philosophy, values and customs between Western and Indigenous peoples.

Below is a list of several differences in worldviews between the Western mindset and Indigenous mindset. These worldviews are generalizations and vary from one First Nation to another, and will certainly vary from one individual to another.

This set of 8 differences in worldviews(See Footnote 3) is drawn directly from the Indigenous Corporate Training centre website, founded by Bob Joseph of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples.

  1. Indigenous peoples society is spiritually orientated, with systems based on belief and in a spiritual world. Western worldview is based on science and is skeptical, requiring proof as a basis of belief.
  2. Indigenous worldview maintains there can be many truths and that these truths are dependent upon individual experiences. Western worldview maintains there is only one truth, which is based on science or Western style law.
  3. Indigenous society operates in a state of relatedness, in which everything and everyone is related. There is real belief that people, objects and the environment are all connected. This connectedness is reinforced in their law, kinship and spirituality. In addition, identity comes from connections. Western society tends to be much more compartmentalized, and is becoming increasingly more so.
  4. Indigenous worldview sees the land as sacred and usually given by a creator or a supreme being. In contrast, Western worldview sees the land and its resources as being available for development and extraction for the benefit of humans.
  5. For Indigenous peoples, time is non-linear, and is circular and cyclical in nature. Time is measured in cyclical events and the seasons are central to this cyclical concept. For Western peoples, time is usually linearly structured and future orientated. The framework of months, years, and days etc reinforces the linear structure.
  6. For Indigenous peoples, feeling comfortable is measured by the quality of your relationships with people. For Western people, feeling comfortable is related to how successful you feel you have been in achieving your goals.
  7. Indigenous worldview sees human beings as not the most important in the world, and view other living and non-living beings more equally. In contrast, Western worldview sees human beings are most important in the world, “at the top of pyramid.”
  8. In Indigenous society, amassing wealth is important for the good of the community whereas in Western society, amassing wealth is for personal gain.

Another difference in worldview expressed in various writings and spoken teachings is that Indigenous peoples will often make important decisions with a long view, considering the decisions in the context of several generations previously as well as the impacts for several generations ahead. Western peoples tend to make decisions that will impact the next quarter, the next year, or the next election cycle (or perhaps the next Olympic cycle!).

A deeper dive into these world views will help each of us with our own cultural competency, and may also help us with Two Eyed Seeing. “Etuaptmumk” (Two Eyed Seeing) is a concept described by Albert Marshall, a Mi’kmaw elder, in which we try understand and bring together the best of the Indigenous and Western ways(See Footnote 4).

Footnote 1 – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/worldview (Back)

Footnote 2 – https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/world-view (Back)

Footnote 3 – https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/indigenous-peoples-worldviews-vs-western-worldviews (Back)

Footnote 4 – http://www.integrativescience.ca/uploads/files/2010June-Marshall-Bartlett-Integrative-Science-Two-Eyed-Seeing-environment-Mi’kmaq.pdf (Back)

About the Author

Linda is a Vancouver based physician and member of the GTEC Board of Directors with longstanding interests in the health impacts of the climate crisis.