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Harmony & Balance
Ruth A. Myers Center for Indigenous Education
Required Profile of Learning
To achieve a diploma a student must show an appropriate level of achievement in each of the following elements.
Understand what they read, hear and see. Comprehending, interpreting, and evaluating information received through reading, listening, and viewing.
Write and speak effectively. Writing and speaking in English clearly for academic, technical, and personal purposes with a variety of audiences.
Gather and use information. Applying methods of inquiry needed to conduct research, draw conclusions, and communicate and apply findings.
Understand interactions between people, their world and their cultures. Understanding how principles of interaction and interdependence affect physical and social situations.
Make informed decisions. Applying informed decision–making processes to promote personal growth and the well–being of society.
Know how to manage a household or business. Understanding the effective management of resources in a household, business, community, and government.
Students will be able to: illustrate how the process to achieve harmony and balance plays a vital role in American Indian philosophy and in the daily lives of American Indians.
This outcome includes:
- recognizing the American Indian belief in the interrelatedness and connectedness to/with all living things.
- realizing the role of elders in preserving and teaching the beliefs and values.
- understanding that the concept of harmony and balance exists in many aspects of life – for example: science, health, economics, family life, social issues.
- describing the ways in which "Western Civilization" interrupted and disrupted the process of harmony and balance for American Indians.
The health and well–being of both humans and wildlife are dependent upon the quality of the natural environment. All forms of life are interdependent and the use or misuse of one will affect others. It is important for students to study the practices of American Indians who have traditionally understood the balance of nature and who believe all life must be treated with reverence and respect.
The wellness of the individual results largely from a balance of physical, emotional and mental health. The well–being and stability of a family is enhanced by seeking harmony and balance. Similar statements can apply to society as a whole, social issues as well as economic issues. As students seek ways to solve problems on personal as well as societal levels, it is advantageous for them to have access to philosophies and ideas that are relevant. This will enable students to apply informed decision–making processes to promote healthy lifestyles, social well–being and stewardship of the environment.
Cultural Content/American Indian World View
While American Indian cultures exhibit rich tribal diversity, one theme which is woven throughout American Indian oral traditions, ceremonies, and spiritual beliefs is that of harmony and balance. American Indian philosophy expresses the idea that spiritual well being depends on living in harmony with all beings, including human, animal, plant and the physical world.
Teacher Background Information
The theme of harmony and balance permeates American Indian spiritual philosophy. This theme is based upon the belief that all of nature was created for a purpose, that all are relatives, that all depend on each other in a web of interrelationship, and that human wellbeing depends on maintaining harmony with all of creation. These beliefs contrast with many of the premises and values of Western civilization. As Western philosophy was carried out in the Americas, it came to be based on the belief that Western European civilization had a "manifest destiny" to conquer others and dominate over them. Western philosophy also includes a belief in human progress. Inherent in this idea is the notion that agents of Western civilization had the right to exploit nature for their own benefit. They were not disturbed that their wholesale exploitation of nature was upsetting the harmony and delicate balance that exists between all of creation, or what ecologists would later call "the ecosystem." For them, plants, animals and minerals were resources, lifeless objects meant to be used by human beings. They were not seen as living beings to be shown respect.
These differing philosophies can be seen in Western vs. American Indian approaches to science. To understand the natural world, scientists dissect things. They seek to understand entities by reducing them down to their smallest parts. The American Indian approach is holistic. The natural world is observed by looking for relationships between various things. Vine Deloria, Jr., scholar, author and member of Standing Rock Sioux illustrated this approach in recounting how the Yankton Sioux, knew when it was time to return from the buffalo hunt to their cornfields to harvest the crop. They observed that corn and milkweed mature at nearly the same rate. By observing the maturing milkweed, they knew exactly when to return to their village cornfields. This holistic world view is also demonstrated in the traditions of the Anishinabeg (Ojibwe/Chippewa). As winter came to a close, they watched for the appearance of the crow to signal the running of maple sap, and a return to the maple sugar groves.
American Indian spiritual beliefs extend the concept of harmony and balance to the individual. A person is valued as whole when the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional selves exist in harmony. American Indians often use the symbol of the circle to express this idea. The circle reminds people of the importance of living as a whole person. A person suffering from mental or physical illness is believed to be out of harmony with the many facets of self. Traditional American Indian healers have the knowledge to help restore this person to health by bringing all that represents the self back into balance. Well–being in American Indian family life is also understood in terms of harmony and balance. A family who lives in harmony functions as a unit with each family member contributing to the whole. Family elders are significant in this regard because it is the elders who teach family and tribal traditions to the young and emulate strength of the family. Mutual respect, rather than power over others, is the guiding principle of healthy family life.
The idea that well–being depends on harmony and balance within the individual, between family members, within the human community, and between all of creation has been expressed in American Indian songs and poetry for centuries:
"Grandfather Great Spirit, fill us with the light. Give us the strength to understand and eyes to see. Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live."
– from Dakota prayer quoted in The Gift is Rich by E. Russell Carter
"Mita–Kuyapi–Owasin" – "All My Relatives"