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Recovering Our Indigenous Mind
by Paula Noel, PhD candidate
Paula Noel

The indigenous mind is a way of knowing and being which brings us into balance with all of our relations -- air, earth, wind, sun, moon, all humans, our Ancestors, all creatures and all spirits. Recovering our indigenous mind means remembering our ancestral connections for the future; healing the split in mind and spirit that isolates us from our original source of knowledge and tradition; resolving the shadow issues of modernity in our culture and in our environment; resuming an ancient way of knowledge exchange among different traditions from different continents; finding the place in a learning community where we seek balance and harmony with self, community, all beings and history.

Recovering our indigenous mind brings together individuals from various cultural and racial backgrounds. It is about engaging in a serious, deep and personal process in the reclamation of our indigenous consciousness. Although each person's process of recovery is unique, certain key elements must be addressed in order to facilitate learning and change. When we come together to address these issues and support one another, healing begins.

We engage in individual and collective ancestral research; an ongoing critique of the dominant culture, particularly as it allows ways of knowing, racism, and the history of colonialism; exploration and honoring of dreaming as a vehicle for remembering; support from traditional peoples through teaching, ceremony, and community; travel to sacred sites to seek guidance for and instructions on our recovery work; and prayer and ceremony as vehicles of transformation

Without any context, it is very easy for me and anyone else in the "remembering" to get lost. I understand that I am born western for a reason. The more I recover my indigenous and decolonize my western, what is revealed to me is that I am already operating out of a place of balance. It is a remembering, then a grieving, then a gaining of knowledge and understanding. The western mind plays its part, so that I do not "lose my marbles." Everything has context. Being western is the context for remembering the indigenous mind, and the indigenous mind is the context for decolonizing the western. With remembering cultural identity, the western mind slowly reveals itself as an illusion.

I have learned from the concepts of the indigenous mind that mapped within our DNA is a natural cycle. We have a way of relating to the stars and planets that is indigenous to our identity. The more we tap into natural time cycles specific to our indigenous identity, the more that is remembered, and the more that is remembered, the more it is healed. The grieving process can then begin, the grief of being disconnected from this natural cycle.

I don't feel that I can truly connect with the natural cycle from any cosmology other than the one that is indigenous to this physical body. For me to take on another culture's cosmology, I feel, is continuing the appropriation of indigenous knowledge and is perpetuating the cycles of colonization. This is where I have learned to be careful. It has been very easy for me to incorporate different cultures into my spiritual life. The Aborigines of Australia are the culture I related to the most. When I read about their Dreamtime, I said to myself, "I am home." But for me to go to that culture as a western European and take on their knowledge and ways of tradition is appropriating their culture.

Because I am a European, I will never truly know what it means to be Aboriginal, to participate in the Dreamtime from the standpoint of an Australian Aborigine -- simply because I am not an Australian Aborigine. I do know that I can look at these cultures as a reflection into my own. They help me to remember my own traditional ways of knowing, because my people have been colonized and have colonized, there is a huge piece of me and my cultural identity missing. The other traditions help me to remember my own and urge me to return home.

I feel that embracing the ideas and paradigm of the culture one is interested in is tricky when we embrace it from a western place. We embrace it with the English language. So are we truly embracing it? If we have not recovered our indigenous minds, how can we even come close to thinking that we can understand another person's culture, unless we are from that culture, live in that culture and speak that culture's language? Without speaking the language fluently, how can we as Europeans embrace another culture's cosmology? Because many of the words of another culture are translated into English, how can we have any sense of the paradigm at all?

I can speak for myself as a European-American recovering my indigenous mind and decolonizing my western mind. The origins of my existence, my thoughts and my perceptions come from the Ancestors who walked before me, from the land that dreamed them and from creator of creation. In an Irish cultural context, the Great Mother Goddess Danu, gave birth to all that is in her cauldron. I am only the spice in the soup of creation. These questions all lie within the cosmology of my European ancestors, particularly pertaining to the Irish in my case. The Ancestors answer all of these western questions, as I heal myself to a place of listening and hearing their voices again. I can tell you that being able to hear the answers is challenging road.

I will never be able to "walk like an Egyptian." I can only move and walk in the likeness of what it is that I am representing. I cannot represent anything other than what I am. At times it has been difficult to wear this European-American robe, simply because of what needs to be confronted in wearing these clothes. I can appropriate the other culture, let's say the Australian Aborigines. I can wear their clothes, speak their language, sing their songs and participate in their ceremonies. Even if I do all of these things, I will still be seen as a European appropriating the Aboriginal culture, I remain the colonizer and perpetuate colonization.

I feel that every path we take is healing, which from my experience I have learned, eventually leads us home. Now that I am at home embracing my cultural identity, what I sought out in other cultures, I now see in my own. If there is going to be healing There has to be remembering And then grieving So that there can be forgiving There has to be knowledge and understanding. - Sinead O'Connor "Famine"

Paula NoŽl, Ph.D. is a recent graduate of the Integral Studies Traditional Knowledge Degree at CIIS. She lives locally in Portland writing articles and is translating her dissertation into a book. She can be reached at: 503.285.7011, email: