Five days ago, I found a psychological diagram attached to a dropped hand-out for the truth and reconciliation process for creating healthy selves in adults who had suffered personal or cultural violence during Canada’s residential school program, which was intended to erase indigenous political issues in Canada by removing indigenous languages and cultures, including attachment to land and place. The diagram was a black and white variation of this famous pyramid:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
It works on this principle: you need to sustain your body; only then can you look after your security; only then can you love and build community; only then can you receive positive reinforcement and find pride; only then can you actualize a particular technology within your body, called a self, which directs this step-by-step program and internalizes exterior cultural and environmental forces.
I was struck by how colonial this process is, and how it is, in itself, a form of de-indiginization. After all, it contains a hierarchy, in which having a “self” is given priority, on this hierarchy:
- Food and shelter. These are”resources” taken from the environment (which is not on the chart).
- Safety, security, and so forth. These are things separated from the environment and from the environment of other people competing, seemingly violently, for the same “resources”.
- Love, family and community. These are things built within safety, which is separated from the environment, which remains as a competitive, violent source of “resources.”
- Esteem, honour, praise, worth. These are things built out of family or social life, which is built within safety, which is separated from the environment, which remains as a competitive, violent source of “resources.”
- Self Actualization. This is a integrated, interiorized representation of the entire pyramid, which makes this ladder of competition and protection into a self-standing process, both supporting society and independent of it.
Nothing could be more “US American” in the world. In Indigenous identity, the very premise of this hierarchy is not present, because identity and environment are one. That means that there are no resources, that safety and food, or community and earth, or praise and shelter, and so on, are not separate as they are on this list, but are all present at once in a unity, which is not “the self,” actualized or otherwise. Sort of like this:
Toad Hanging Out
… or this Native American image of all that:
There is no hierarchy here. The diagram shows four different forms of the same energy, which is the energy at the centre of the wheel, or this (for example):
Thule Reeds and Kayak Waves
Houses, mats, food, sources of feminine power, vital trade goods, and important energy for many other living forms of energy, such as loons and dragonflies and beavers and trout.
In comparison to that, all that this …
… can do is to replace indigenous identity with a social code, for use in interacting with a non-indigenous culture that forms abstract patterns and divisions in place of unities. And that is the colonization project in a nutshell. It has some use in a power-oriented society based on certain classes of privilege, but at the very least the image could include a foundational step, called Earth Needs. At best, it should be a circle, with the understanding that humans are part of their environment, are formed in response to it, and that all points of self, from 1 to 5 on this chart, are always present, although always formed by what comes through from the “previous” level. If the levels are barriers, or doorways, then only what can pass through barriers or doorways can pass and be available for the next level. If the transfers are points of unity instead, then what can pass through unity will be available for the next energization. If all transfers transfer unity, then 5 won’t be self-actualization but world actualization, instead of the actualized self living inside a 5-walled fortress, in a world it has a part in only by “taking” and owning. I’m sorry, but we can do better, by giving not taking, along a unified flow between spirit, body, mind and emotion, from one to the next, within unity. Like our sister, Siya?
Who gives. Who we know as the sound of children moving through her and accepting this gift, among birds and deer and bees. Who we care for so we can give her to them, and them to her, for their training. These children who bring us berries on her behalf. Berries which bring us into the afternoon summer sun:
World actualization, earth actualization, valley actualization or indigenous actualization would all help sustain us in our earth. This…
…does not. We should put it in a museum.