Values | Ruth A. Myers Center for Indigenous Education
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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: demonstrate an understanding of the American Indian values system.
This outcome includes:
- defining American Indian values.
- understanding how American Indian values are manifested by the individual, the family, the community and the government.
- understanding that the basic American Indian value is respect.
All students should learn that American Indians had and continue to have a distinct value system, the center of which is respect for the Creator, elders, family, community, Mother Earth and land. Respect is manifested through such behaviors as practicing traditions, learning language, listening, cooperating, honoring elders, non–interference, showing patience and tolerance, acceptance, humor, humility, gratitude and respect for all living things. The study of the American Indian value system will assist students in examining their own values and related behaviors.
Cultural Content/American Indian World View American Indian cultural values are based on the spiritual belief system and oral teachings. Cultural values are ideals and establish cultural norms.
Teacher Background Information
It is the belief of the Anishinabe and Dakota people that the value system of the people was sent by the Creator through oral teachings and tradition. Waynaboozhoo (Nanaboozoo) and Unktomi were sent to the people to teach them how to live and how to behave. Their stories continue to be passed from generation to generation. Other tribes were also sent beings to teach them. One of the most well–known is Coyote, who came to the many tribes. Certain values are considered to be characteristic of specific American Indian tribes. This does not mean that all persons belonging to that tribe would display behavior that reflects those values, but rather that the culture as a whole ascribes to that value system. Generally the adherence to the value system can be described as a continuum ranging from those very traditional American Indians who behave completely according to the cultural value system to those American Indians who have become acculturated into the value system of the majority society. Sometimes American Indians adhere to traditional values that conflict with the predominant values of Euro–American society.
Some of those values and their associated behaviors are described in this section. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list or description of all the values of American Indian tribes. The value system is too complex to be described in the form of lists and description.
Central to all the values of the traditional belief system is respect. The belief system of the Anishinabe and the Dakota place respect at the center of the value system. One must respect the Creator, Mother Earth, elders, family and community. If a person respects the Creator, Mother Earth, elders, family and community, then the other values and their associated behaviors will follow.
Respect for all Living Things
Having respect for the Creator, Mother Earth, elders, family and community, teaches one to respect all living things. This respect extends from the earth itself to animals, plants and all people. American Indians value nature. All parts of creation are seen as related and all have a special purpose in the order of things. All living things depend on each other for survival. Adults make an offering before taking animals or plant materials and take only what is needed. Children are also taught to take care of all living beings and to learn lessons for behavior from the world around them.
Respect for the Land
"It is not man who owns the land; it is land that owns the man. And we, the Anishanabeg, were placed on this land. From beginning to end it nourishes us: it quenches our thirst, it shelters us, and we follow the order of its seasons. It gives us freedom to come and go according to its nature and its extent ñ great freedom when the extent is large, less freedom when it is small. And when we die we are buried within the land that outlives us all. We belong to the land by birth, by need, and by affection. And no man may presume to own the land. Only the tribe can do that."
–from Ojibwe Ceremonies by Basil Johnston
Children are taught to respect Mother Earth and not to abuse the land. Having respect for Mother Earth strengthens the connection of American Indians to the land, particularly the land of one´s own tribe. It is out of respect for the land and what the land represents to the people that has led tribal governments to try to buy back as much of the original land holdings as possible. This effort is a high priority of most tribal governments. Tribal governments often include a department of natural resources. The tribes also spend high proportions of tribal funds for services to the people of the community. The range of services may vary from community to community but the commitment exists in all tribes.
Respect for elders, family and the community leads one to value noninterference and to behave in a way that does not interfere in the choices of others. Adults will go to great lengths to respect the choices of other people without interference. Parenting styles are often a result of the high value placed on non–interference. This can be mistaken for over permissiveness or lack of discipline since children are allowed to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes without scolding.
American Indians have deep respect for the age, knowledge and wisdom of the elders. They value the counsel of the elders and the grandmother in American Indian tradition is the first teacher of the children. Tribal governments have recognized this value through providing of services to the elders. Tribes provide for special housing units for the elders and elders receive such services as transportation for shopping, church and medical appointments, as well as elder nutrition programs. The community as a whole pays special attention to elders by recognizing them at special events.
Community organizations often have a designated position on committees for elder representatives. Adults in the community will often drop in to visit the elders, include them in family celebrations and keep them involved in community activities. Adults in the community will provide for the elders by bringing a portion of their gifts, such as deer meat, wild rice, syrup and fish. Children imitate this behavior. Many communities continue to teach young people that the first deer harvested is shared with the community, particularly the elders.
Gratitude plays an important part in the lives of the people. Gratitude and generosity are reciprocal values. The obligation to share comes from the gratitude one offers the Creator for the gifts one has been given. An example of this is that communities often have powwows for the wild rice harvest or other special events to give thanks. Some American Indians have a feast at the beginning of each harvest, such as the first syrup, fish, berries, deer and wild rice. Children are taught the importance of gratitude at an early age. Miigwech (thank you) is a word known by all Anishinabe children and adults. Pidamiya is the Dakota word for thank you.
Generosity and sharing are important parts of the cultural value system of the people. Communities demonstrate this concept through the giveaways that often occur at community powwows. The response of a tribal community during a family crisis such as accident or death is very generous.
Adults continue to share traditional gifts. Hunters share with extended family, elders and families known to be in need. Other traditional people often share wild rice or maple syrup with extended family members living in urban areas who do not have access to these gifts. Children are taught to share belongings to such an extent that in schools some children share everything they have. American Indian children may think that majority children have been taught in the same way.
The value of generosity and sharing insures the survival of the group. Sharing takes place not only among family members who live together but also among the extended family which includes many relatives and sometimes the community.
Courage and bravery were and are expected behaviors. They take many forms from the courage and bravery demonstrated by warriors to coping with day–to–day struggles. In today´s world it is expected that children, family members and adults in the work place continue to demonstrate these behaviors. American Indians believe courage and bravery are necessary to insure survival of the group.
Honor is given to the elders in the community as well as those individuals who demonstrate high levels of adherence to tribal values.
Honor can be bestowed in many ways:
- Awarding leadership roles
- Being given an eagle feather
- Having a feast in honor of an individual
- Having a song dedicated for an individual
A well–known practice is the honor dance at a powwow or the veteran´s dance which is done at most powwows. An honor dance is a way the community thanks an individual for a special service or achievement.
The veterans´ dance honors all military veterans, especially those who have served in combat. The dance called "The 49", while a social dance, is for the purpose of remembering veterans. It is expected that people who have been honored in one of these ways accept the honor with humility.
Humility reflects a basic American Indian value. It is one´s responsibility to preserve the safety and well–being of the community and tribe by placing the needs of the community before one´s own. A person does not place oneself above others regardless of job, possessions, accomplishments or abilities. Individuals are encouraged to be humble.
Humor in American Indian culture is a vital part of all social situations. Humor helps to insure group cohesiveness and equality and to cope with the sorrow and hardships of life. Sometimes the humor between and among American Indian students which is expressed by teasing is misunderstood. Teasing is often used to affirm values and remind children and peers of appropriate behavior. Parents, extended family members and other adults in the community may use teasing as a behavior management strategy with children. Humor also denotes acceptance within the group. According to a White Earth tribal member and Ojibwe language teacher. "You don´t laugh at someone until they laugh at themselves, then you laugh with them." American Indian humor is not limited to structured jokes. Humor can be found everywhere.
American Indian culture reflects the value of cooperation. Cooperation helps to insure harmony and balance in the world. Cooperation is demonstrated in hunting, fishing and gathering activities which traditionally required the cooperation of the total community. Today, in some communities the rice harvest is not begun until the elders have said the rice is ready. Even then specific times and days are established and tribal members are expected to follow these guidelines in a cooperative manner. Other seasonal activities require the same levels of community cooperation.
In early American Indian democracies decisions were made by consensus of tribal members rather than by the process of majority rule. The consensus model of decision making requires that all persons be treated with respect and given the time necessary to express their concerns and opinions. An issue is not considered final until all persons have spoken and can abide by the group´s decision. Today many tribal governments and other American Indian organizations reflect this value.
Basil Johnston includes this description of deliberations in Ojibway Ceremonies "There was a heavy silence after Mishi–Waub–Kaikaik sat down. Not only were his fellow chiefs deferent to each other´s opinions, but they guarded their individual integrity. Moreover, the matter they had to discuss was both unfamiliar and weighty. Only after a long delay did the next speaker in the circle of chiefs and councilors rise to responds. For three days the chiefs sat in council, looking into the question from different angles. There was no debate. Instead, the speakers sought illumination through mutual inquiry. Spokesmen prefaced their words with remarks like: "I have yet another understanding..." And new interpretations were acknowledged with words such as: "Our brother has provided us with an idea..." or "The Great Spirit has given me to understand..." One by one, family by family, band by band, the visitors left the council. All promised to give the matter further consideration before the fall, when they would be summoned to treat with the White Man."
American Indian traditions place a value on patience and tolerance. Tribal elders display great patience when teaching children and are tolerant of the pace at which they learn. It is considered respectful to listen patiently when others are speaking and to give others the time they need to express their thoughts. This value includes the disposition of being nonjudgmental. Patience and tolerance include the skill of careful observation. It is important to know when certain activities should occur. It is through observing the seasons, the weather, the other beings, and all aspects of the environment that one is able to live in harmony and balance.
American Indians place a high value on the equality and acceptance of all people. Individuals are not placed above others and are accepted for who they are. Their abilities are not generally compared with those of others. American Indians also value the autonomy of individuals. Persons are seen as having dignity in their own right and capable of making their own decisions. All children are valued, accepted and nurtured unconditionally.
American Indians value work and productive activity. A person has the responsibility to provide for one´s family and extended family, to nurture the children and to contribute to the well–being of the tribe/community. In today´s world, those responsibilities are carried out in the workplace in addition to practicing the old ways. The work a person does is valued as a means of carrying out responsibility to family and community, rather than working for the sake of working. A person is valued for being rather than doing. It is important to do one´s share. People at every age level have important work to do. There are no menial jobs; all work is equal and one should do one´s best.
Implications for the Classroom
All educators should be aware of these particular values if American Indian children are in the classroom. Some of the children´s behaviors may reflect a value system different from what the teacher is accustomed to and may lead to a judgment that a student has learning difficulties or behavioral issues when, in fact, the child´s behavior may simply reflect a different value system.
Students may also behave in different ways in different circumstances. Many American Indian people are bi–cultural in that they display the behaviors associated with the majority society when it is situation appropriate and display the cultural behaviors when among American Indians. Students may just be learning how to behave in a bi–cultural manner and teachers should be understanding of the conflicts which learners may be experiencing. Middle School students may experience a particular difficulty since it is an age when young people want to be like their peers while they are trying to establish their racial/cultural identity.
Students are learning to walk in two worlds. In order to live in two different worlds the American Indian students learn the values of the majority population as behaviors and skills but do not necessarily internalize that value system. This dual approach is necessary for survival.