From reservations to rap, and back

In the traditional world view of most native peoples, humans, nature and the universe form a single entity which comprises both the visible and invisible worlds.   This view has been shifting as North American native peoples transition to life outside reservations.

The world is round, and it orbits the sun in the Milky Way galaxy. The sun shines in the daytime, and the moon comes out at night. This is more or less the extent to which different understandings of the world agree. World views change from one population to the next. McDonnell-Douglas Chair, Academy of Finland Fellow, Professor of American Studies Rani-Henrik Andersson explains how North American native peoples see the world.

"In many ways, native peoples have a world view that is very different from our familiar European understanding. While there are as many world views as there are native tribes, they all share the idea that part of the universe exists beyond human comprehension."

Andersson has studied native languages and points out that the Lakota, for example, have no specific word for religion, drawing no hard and fast boundary between the supernatural and the natural. In their philosophy, the visible and invisible worlds form a seamless whole, and humans are just one part of nature in it.

The traditional world view of a number of North American native peoples has been changing, however, as they move from reservations to cities in search of employment. In this transition, the world view they inherited has been blending with other surrounding world views and religions.

Most people view this cultural mixing as a natural development, and see no conflict in people rushing from a sweat lodge ceremony to a Catholic mass where they pray to Jesus Christ. Of course, some of those who wish to maintain their traditions may shun the schools and religions of the "white man".

"In any case, native cultures are becoming stronger. Many schools on reservations teach native languages, which is considered important to maintaining the culture," Andersson explains.

In general, the future of native peoples seems brighter than it did a few decades ago. From the 2000s onwards, younger generations have begun to emphasise their native background and have adopted traditional "Indian" surnames, such as Braveheart. Rap videos made by members of the native community circulate in social media, fostering cultural identity and reminding young people that if they do not themselves work to improve their situation, no one else will do it for them.

What does Andersson believe is the most important thing we could learn from the Native American world view? The first thing he mentions is equality. In a traditional community, no one tries to amass a vast fortune, and everything is equally distributed among members of the group.

All in all, the time spent among native tribes has expanded Andersson’s own world view. He no longer believes that there is a single "truth" about the world, at least that any one person could dictate.

"Maybe politicians could keep this in mind. There are so many different ways to see the world," Andersson summarises.

In March and April 2015, researchers and other experts will take us on journeys into different world views. Read more about the New World View science programme and join the conversation (#maailmankuva).

New World View 16 March – 12 April 2015

Think Corner