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In this article, the author, establishes a knowledge set for Indigenous social work practice based on Indigenous wholistic theory. An overall framework using the circle is proposed and introduced followed by a more detailed and elaborated illustration using the four directions. The article identifies the need to articulate Indigenous wholistic theory and does so by employing a wholistic framework of the four directional circle. It then systematically moves around each direction, beginning in the east where a discussion of Spirit and Vision occurs. In the south a discussion of relationships, community and heart emerge. The western direction brings forth a discussion of the spirit of the ancestors and importance of Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous knowledge production. The northern direction articulates ideas surrounding healing and movements and actions that guide practice. Finally, the article begins with a discussion on all four directions together with a final examination of the center fire where all elements interconnect and intersect. Lastly, the article proclaims the existence of Indigenous wholistic theory as a necessary knowledge set for practice.
First Peoples Child & Family Review
An Interdisciplinary Journal Honoring the Voices, Perspectives and Knowledges of First
Peoples through Research, Critical Analyses, Stories, Standpoints and Media Reviews
Volume 5, Number 2, 2010,
Indigenous Wholistic Theory:
A Knowledge Set for Practice
Kathy Absolona
In this article, the author, establishes a knowledge set for
Indigenous social work practice based on Indigenous wholistic
theory. An overall framework using the circle is proposed and
introduced followed by a more detailed and elaborated illustration
using the four directions. The article identies the need to articulate
Indigenous wholistic theory and does so by employing a wholistic
framework of the four directional circle. It then systematically moves
around each direction, beginning in the east where a discussion of
Spirit and Vision occurs. In the south a discussion of relationships,
community and heart emerge. The western direction brings forth
a discussion of the spirit of the ancestors and importance of
Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous knowledge production.
The northern direction articulates ideas surrounding healing and
movements and actions that guide practice. Finally, the article
begins with a discussion on all four directions together with a nal
examination of the center re where all elements interconnect and
intersect. Lastly, the article proclaims the existence of Indigenous
wholistic theory as a necessary knowledge set for practice.
Keywords: Indigenous wholistic theory, social work practice,
theory, four directional circle, relationships, community, healing.
Questions or correspondence concerning this article may be
addressed to:
Kathy Absolon
519.884.0710 ext.5229
a Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University,
Waterloo, Ontario. Dr. Kathy Absolon is Anishinaabe kwe from Flying
Post First Nation and teaches in the Aboriginal Field of Study. She has
a background in Indigenous studies and Aboriginal social work practice.
Kathy teaches holistic healing practices and Indigenous holistic thought.
Her practice experience has been in working with individuals, families,
groups and communities within Indigenous contexts.
pp. 74-87
This article joins other recent and worthy publications
where authors advance Indigenous ways of knowing, being and
doing (Graveline, 2004; Hart, 2002; Nabigon, 2006; Poonwassie
& Charter, 2005; Sinclair, Hart, & Bruyere, 2009; Solomon
& Wane, 2005). As Indigenous practice increasingly becomes
asserted and expressed, we need to continue to articulate
elements of Indigenous wholistic theory that guides Indigenous
based social work practice.
Indigenous peoples have worldviews and means of
relating to the world. Stemming from this worldview comes
the understanding that ‘we are all related’. Indigenous theory is
rooted intimately within Indigenous epistemologies, worldviews,
cultures and traditions. Indigenous wholistic theory is wholistic
and multi-layered, which encompasses the spiritual, emotional,
mental and physical elements of being. We also acknowledge
our past, present and future. By that very nature, we must look
at the past and into our future and Indigenous theory factors in
seven generations past and the seven generations into the future.
It forms a framework to ‘indigenize’ our thoughts and actions
into active healing processes that simultaneously decolonize
and indigenize. And finally but not exclusively, I know that
Indigenous theory is earth based and derived from the teachings
of the land, sun, water, sky and all of Creation. Its’ methodologies
of practice integrate the natural teachers and elements of the
earth. Indigenous wholistic theory is an ancestral concept to
Indigenous people where,
Aboriginal people in Canada have ancient culture specific
philosophical foundations and practices, which continue
to provide them with guidance in everyday life. In their
healing process these imperatives provide guidance to
those who experience physical, psychological, emotional,
or spiritual distress – individually, in a family, or in a
community (Poonwassie & Charter, 2001, p. 63).
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010
Our work as wholistic practitioners is to remember and
reconnect with wholistic knowledges, pick up our bundles and
activate them again. Picking up our bundles means to relearn,
reclaim, pick up and own the teachings and practices that
emanate from wholistic theory and knowedge. It means to live
and practice minobimaadsiwin (a good life). In this article, a
wholistic framework organizes and presents the knowledge set for
Indigenous wholistic theory in Indigenous social work practice.
This article, in fact, stems from an earlier article I wrote
in 1993 called Healing as practice: Teachings from the Medicine
Wheel1, which I never formally published but was widely
requested and used. Within this article I use the terms
Indigenous and Anishinaabek as inclusive to all Aboriginal, First
Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. My use of the spelling wholi sm
indicates ‘whole’ as in wholistic, complete, balanced and circular.
First I present an overview. Second, I identify who I am. Lastly
I present initial tenets of Indigenous wholism with a wholistic
model and discussion.
This article is written for those that seek to understand a
wholistic perspective of practice from an Indigenous lens and
is organized using a wholistic paradigm of the four directions
circle which encompasses concepts such as cyclical, circular
and relational. Wholistic theory includes an intermixing and
consideration of time and space: the past, present, future;
directions and doorways of life; the ecology of creation such as
earth, sun, water and air and all their occupants; and values that
retain the balance and harmony of all of the above. My goal is
to highlight a knowledge set that informs Indigenous wholistic
theory for practice. This knowledge is based in oral traditions, is
sacred and can take years to understand and know. I feel limited
to fully and adequately articulate a complete portrait of the
elements of Indigenous theory. However, I encourage readers
to embrace opportunities to learn and follow-up with references
cited to develop their own knowledge set. The presented
framework does not delve into the specifics of each area of
knowledge because specific knowledge sets can be learning
processes in themselves. This knowledge set can be used to
guide practice and further practice lenses can be developed for
purposes of wholistic assessment, evaluation and treatment and
change; and may be applied at levels of self, individual, family,
community, organization and institution.
Who am I?
During my contemplations of writing this article I
wondered: Who am I to write such an article? An Indigenous
1 Absolon, Kathy (1993). Healing as Practice: Teachings from the
Medicine Wheel. A commissioned paper for the WUNSKA network,
Canadian Schools of Social Work. Unpublished manuscript.
worldview seeks that you identify yourself to the Spirit, the
people and the Spirit of the work you intend on doing and this
act establishes the beginning of respectful practice. As I send out
these words I can only do so from where I sit and from where
I am located (Monture-Angus, 1995). Through my sharing of
who I am I establish the parameters of what I may know and
not know. In doing so, readers can determine what fits for them
and what doesn’t. Before I send out this knowledge, I need to
share a bit on where this knowing comes from and who I am to
honor its’ source and to be accountable. We arrive at our place
of knowing because of our families, communities, Elders and
many other helpers. Our knowledge bundles develop over time
with experience, teachings, and reflections. Our genealogy of
knowledge is significant and we acknowledge who our teachers
are and where we received our teachings (Marsden, 2005).
What follows is a brief introduction to who I am as a prelude
and this is how we would traditionally begin.
First, in my language I announce my name, acknowledge my
nation, relatives and family because they taught me about living
on the land and life in the bush. Minogiizhigokwe n’dizhnakauz
(I am Shining Day Woman). Anishinaabekwe n’dow (I am an
Anishinaabe woman). Waubzhizhii n’dodem (I am Marten clan),
and Flying Post n’doonjibaaam (I come from Flying Post First
Nation). I am also Midewiwin and receive many of my teachings
from the Three Fires Society Midewiwin Lodge. For the past
twenty years I have a blended background of Indigenous based
wholistic healing practices along with some western social work
practice methods. Over the years many traditional mentors have
appeared on my path and at the community level. My Anishinaabe
relatives, Midewiwin and clan family continue to teach me to walk
in the beauty of our culture and ways. Consequently, my knowledge
bundle is both cultural Anishinaabe and western where I strive to
balance both worlds. However, I have been actively focusing on
my Anishinaabe culture and language which means learning my
language, teachings, songs, ceremonies, medicines and many other
aspects that our knowledge bundles entail. In part, my knowledge
is a summation of those who have crossed my path and took pity
on me enough to share their knowledge and wisdom. Finally, I am
grateful for all the spirits that guide and walk with me. They provide
the signs that let me know I am on the right path. Cur rently, I teach
at Wilfrid Laurier University in an MSW Aboriginal Field of Study
program where we employ wholistic knowledge and teachings on
a daily basis. We2 call this process Indigegogy whereby we teach
Indigenous theory and worldview using Indigenous pedagogy.
Lester Rigney (1999) called an Indigenous methodology
Indigenist, however in our Indigenous social work education
context we call it Indigegogy. Finally, I come from the land
and frequently return there as reference points for my work as
2 My colleague Malcolm Saulis tell us that the term was given to us by
Stan Wilson who coined what we do as Indigegogy.
© Kathy Absolon
an educator, researcher and practitioner. The teachings of the
Anishinaabe inform my worldview.
Indigenous wholistic theoretical orientation
Indigenous wholistic theory is whole, ecological, cyclical
and relational. The Medicine Wheel, Four Directions and
Circles have been used as an effective and appropriate means
and tools for develop healing strategies. They offer a multilevel
strategy that is circular in nature which has been practised for
thousands of years by our ancestors (Absolon, 1993; Graveline,
2004; Hart, 1996, 2002; Little Bear, 2000; Nabigon, 2006). The
following diagram of concentric circles represents a level of being
and illustrates the reciprocal interconnections of self, individual,
family, community, nation, society and creation. At the centre
is a tiny circle representing the Self. The next circle represents
family, then the community, then the nation, society and
outward to the ecology of creation. Inclusive to all the levels are
the infants, youth, young adults, adults and Elders. Each level of
being is affected by the historical, social, political and economic
and each layer has a spiritual, emotional, mental and physical
element. Indigenous wholism considers the connections and the
concept “we are all related” begins to make sense as we perceive
each aspect in relation to the whole. The dynamics of our
realities are created because of the relationships and experiences
of these interrelationships and interconnections. I use the
Medicine Wheel as a tool to depict Indigenous wholistic theory,
which helps us to understand our realities and experiences by
considering the influences of all elements of the whole on our
individual and collective being. This is just a beginning.
Understanding Indigenous peoples ex periences can initially
be understood within such a wholistic framework. The above
illustration illuminates that Indigenous peoples experiences can
be framed and contextualized within a historical, social, political
and economic framework. Such a wholistic framework provides
a concrete tool toward understanding the nature of balance,
harmony and ‘Bimaadisiwin’ – living a good life. It acknowledges
the factors that contribute toward achieving that sense of peace
and balance.
Imbalance is then determined to occur in the symptoms
that people identify which are typically called presenting
problems or issues. These presenting issues are initially
identified by people, families or communities who desire a
change toward peace and balance. Upon further consideration
of the elements of Indigenous wholism in problem definition we
need to consider factors that fuel imbalances among Indigenous
peoples’ lives. If Indigenous worldviews, traditions, values and
beliefs are foundational to living a good life, then the absence
or attack of Indigenous worldviews, traditions and identity
has created imbalance and dis-ease. Colonizing agents and
mechanisms of colonization such as residential schools, child
welfare authorities, social welfare traps, land dispossessions
etc… have all contributed to personal and familial imbalance
in many areas of functioning (Duran & Duran, 1995; Graveline,
2004; Hart, 2002; LaRoque, 1991; Nabigon, 2006). The
attempted domestication3 of Indigenous peoples via Indian Act
policies has contributed to disease and illness among the people.
Now the internalization of colonialism contributes to internal
violence and lateral oppression. As earth based and earth centred
peoples, a forced disconnection from our land would naturally
create imbalance and disease among the people. Our reactions
to these conditions are then understandable. Indigenous
peoples have been living and breathing oppressive conditions
for centuries now and undoubtedly the internalization of racism
and the need for community healing is apparent when,
Some of the greatest resistors to the recovery of Indigenous
knowledge are our own Native people who have
internalized the racism and now uncritically accept
ideologies of the dominant culture… Because of the
extent to which colonization has taken root, any efforts
to restore our traditional ways would have to be matched
with a strong community decolonization agenda. While
developing a critical consciousness aimed at understanding
precisely how colonialism has affected our health and
mindset, and thus how we might meaningfully challenge
that oppression, we can begin to reaffirm the richness and
3 I use the term domestication to coin what Paulo Freire in Pedagogy
of the Oppressed describes when colonizing forces attempt to acculturate
or assimilate Indigenous peoples. The treatment of Indigenous peoples by
the colonizer with the goal of acculturation is akin to the domestication of
Diagram 1:
Mental Realm
Economic Factors
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010, pp. 74-87
Indigenous Wholistic Theory: A Knowledge Set for Practice
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010
The following diagram is a more specific representation
illustrating theoretical underpinnings using the four directions
and spiritual, emotional, mental and physical elements. Within
each element are some specific theoretical factors that warrant
consideration in Indigenous based practice. There are many
more elements and this representation is by no means exhaustive.
Circle teachings are diverse and representations of such can look
different depending on the context, teacher and Nation. With
wisdom inherent in our traditional ways (Cavender
Wilson, 2004, p. 72).
I agree with Angela Cavender Wilson in that using and
applying Indigenous theory to practice requires a knowledge set
of the social and political policies and practices. At this juncture,
I become more specific in my presentation of Indigenous
wholistic theory.
Self and Center
Fire / Skhode
Collective work - healing
Methodologies of practice
Diversity within ...
Socio-economic analysis
Develop critiques
of mechanism of
Assert Indigenous
Knowledge of political
contexts of practice
Identity / Location
Cultural histories
Indigenous epistemology
Indigenous knowledge,
workdview & philosophy
Genealogy of knowledge
Kinship systems
Elders & protocols
Diagram 2:
© Kathy Absolon
that being said, the proposed theoretical framework requires a
dual knowledge set of Indigenous knowledge and anti-colonial
knowledge. Current theory must tackle colonial constructs
while asserting the power and role of Indigenous knowledge.
The chapter is now organized using the following circle as a
guide. Each direction is briefly introduced with teachings of
the nature of that doorway or direction as given to me by my
traditional teachers whom I am grateful to acknowledge (Herb
Nabigon, Bawdwayidung, Obaunisay, Medwayaushii and
many others). Grandfather Sun rises in the east and so we enter
into this discussion through the eastern door and follow the
directions to the south, west and north doorways. Each section
will discuss components of Indigenous wholistic theory relative
to each doorway. These directions are not mutually exclusive;
in fact, they interrelate, interconnect and are interdependent.
Any change or movement in one area will affect the whole.
The arrows in the diagram illustrate the interrelationships and
interdependence between all the components.
The discussion of each of the doorways is meant to guide
a wholistic knowledge set. The goal of this article is to present
an Indigenous wholistic theory for social work practice. It does
not present the specifics of Indigenous issues or concerns, but
presents a framework from which issues can be understood and
practice guided. This article advocates a knowledge set that is
based on the collective doorways of the whole circle – that is the
knowledge set that an Indigenous wholistic theory commands.
WAABINONG: In the East
The teachings from the sacred direction of the eastern
doorway, Waabinong, speak to us about new beginnings. The
sun rises in the east presenting us with a new day of life. With
each day we have new life and new gifts. Waabinong represents
Springtime and rebirth. The Eastern doorway brings forth
teachings of visioning, beginning and rebirth. Here is where
I present literature that deals with foundational principles
and issues. Visioning requires one to be able to see the past,
the present, and envision the future. Visioning denotes the
theoretical underpinnings and principles from which searching
for knowledge begins. Beginning denotes recognition that
Indigenous people are in a state of resurgence and revitalization
and at this time in our long history we are recovering, re-
emerging, and reclaiming our knowledge base. The context of
our past has vastly changed, yet we remain: We are Indigenous
and we carry our ancestors’ stories, teachings and knowledge.
Renewal of this doorway gifts us with the ability to experience
rebirth of the old into the new. In processes of renewal and
rebirth change is inevitable.
Aspects of Indigenous wholism that proceed through the
eastern doorway are spirit, identity and history. The role of
spirituality must be considered within healing practices and
processes (McCormick, 2005). Each and every being is a spirit
being and acknowledging one’s spirit begins with acknowledging
oneself. Spiritual knowledge entails awareness and understanding
of Aboriginal epistemology and a respectful consciousness of
the sacred world to Indigenous peoples. Indigenous wholism
implies a balance within all aspects and elements of the whole,
which is achieved through interconnections, interdependence
and interrelationships (Marsden, 2006). As Dawn Marsden
states, “If we know who we are, that all life is connected through
spirit, and if we learn how to live good lives, then by extension
we will act responsibly toward the creation of harmonious and
sustainable (healthy) relationships in this world” (Marsden,
Indigenous epistemologies, worldviews, methodologies
and frameworks must form the basis for our knowledge quests
and practice (Bishop, 1998; Cole, 2002; Duran & Duran, 2000;
Ermine, 1995; Fitznor, 2002; Kenny, 2000; Simpson, 2001;
Sinclair, 2003; Wilson, 2001). Within the essence of Indigenous
epistemology is spirituality and as Indigenous peoples our
responsibilities include: To honor our relations with all of
Creation; to follow our original instructions as orally passed
on; to continually relearn ceremonies, rituals, daily protocols;
to regenerate mutual relationships and not to replicate western
paradigms (Cole, 2002; Ermine, 1995). Spiritual considerations
occur within the guidelines and frameworks of our Creator and
we are to honor the knowledge we have. Spirituality is inherent
in Indigenous epistemology, which sees everything in relation
to Creation, the earth and recognizes that all life has spirit and
is sacred. Willie Ermine (1995) talks about the inner space and
inner knowing within Aboriginal epistemology. He identifies
the ways inner knowing is inherent in Aboriginal epistemology
in the following quote.
Those who seek to understand the reality of existence and
harmony with the environment by turning inward have a
different, incorporeal knowledge paradigm that might be
termed Aboriginal epistemology. Aboriginal people have
the responsibility and birthright to take and develop an
epistemology congruent with holism and the beneficial
transformation of total human knowledge. The way to
this affirmation is through our own Aboriginal sources
(Ermine, 1995, p. 103).
The doorway to the inner space, where the ancestral
knowledge sits, is through other realms via dreams, ceremonies,
vision quests and rituals. The ancestors are there waiting to share
their knowledge. The map to get there is in Indigenous knowledge
and more specifically within Aboriginal epistemology. The
published work of Indigenous scholars reveals that Indigenous
worldviews and ancestral knowledge are being carried forward
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010, pp. 74-87
Indigenous Wholistic Theory: A Knowledge Set for Practice
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010
into our future by asserting the role of Indigenous cultural
knowledge and history and second by critiquing and dismantling
colonizing knowledge and mechanisms of oppression. These
actions set the stage for visioning, beginning and renewal. Out of
renewal emerges a duality of knowledge, characterizing a cultural
discourse and a colonial discourse. Both must necessarily be
Within an Indigenous worldview, we believe we are Spirit
beings. As such, identifying who we are is the first protocol we
do before we begin any ceremony, speak or act. Some people
announce their Spirit names as they address the Spirit. Some
people announce their English name, clan and Nation. We
speak from our location and announce who we are, where we
come from and what our intentions are. In doing so, we are also
announcing who we are not and where we do not speak from.
Accountability and ethics of oral tradition is thus established and
the people now have the power and choice to receive your words
or actions. Within this specific doorway Indigenous wholism
implies that we attend to our positionality and locate ourselves
(Absolon & Willett, 2005; Monture-Angus, 1995). Inclusive to
location and positionality is identifying who you are, where you
come from and what your motives or intentions.
Waabinong, in the east, also implies knowing our history:
cultural and colonial. It calls upon a knowledge base of: the
history of colonization of Indigenous peoples in Canada and
its impact on Indigenous peoples’ cultures and traditions; the
oppression of Indigenous spirituality, ceremonies, songs, dances,
gatherings, naming and death ceremonies, and life teachings. It
calls for us to know that the suppression of Indigenous people’s
bundles and their “traditional Elders, keepers of knowledge were
deliberately murdered” (Colorado, 1988, p. 51). Sacred birch
bark scrolls, knowledge bundles and ceremonial objects were
confiscated, destroyed and outlawed. To understand the extent
of Indigenous peoples anger, grief, depression and loss one must
develop an awareness and understanding of the impact of having
ones culture, family, children, language and way of life attacked
over and over.
Indigenous scholars are calling for an ongoing critique
and deconstruction of colonial motives, theories and methods
(Absolon & Herbert, 1997; Duran & Duran, 1995, 2000;
Henderson, 2000b; LaRocque, 1991; Ross, 2005; Smith, 2000;
Talbot, 2002). Critical reflections and di scourse set a pathway for
decolonization and for freedom to be attained without replicating
or empowering colonialism and Eurocentric hegemony (Alfred,
2005). Decolonization presupposes a commitment to a critical
analysis of the existing unequal power structures, a rejection
of hegemonic belittling, and a commitment to consciousness
raising and politicization. Clearing the mind of colonial
constructs alone is not enough. Decolonization is the common
descriptor for unlearning out of racism and colonization
(Calliou, 2001; Fitznor, 2002; Graveline, 2004; Simpson, 2001;
Wa Thiong’o, 1986).
In summary, the theoretical elements of Indigenous
wholistic theory of Waabinong, the Eastern doorway are Spirit,
beginnings and history. Some key points from this doorway are:
• Beginning and rebirth
• Inclusion and respectful acknowledgement of Spirit
• Spirituality is connected to healing
• Establish your location and position yourself within your
practice as such
• Acknowledge your genealogy of knowledge
• Recognize the legitimacy of Indigenous epistemologies,
worldviews and knowledge
• Understand that Indigenous peoples have a culture history
that predates colonization.
• Identity: Understand the diversity within families,
individuals & communities
• Develop a knowledge set about the history of colonization
and the mechanisms of oppression.
ZHAAWNONG: In the South
The Southern doorway, Zhaawnong, encompasses the
emotional and relational realms. It brings forth teachings of life,
relationships, people and growth and will cover literature relating
to principles of reciprocity and relationships. Zhaawnong
brings the summer and renewal. This doorway addresses
issues of relationships, protocols, accountability, reciprocity
and community. Relationships can extend to humans, the
natural and spiritual world. For example, “Indigenous peoples
the world over follow the rhythm of the cosmos with distinct
relationships to the sun, moon, stars, animals, plants, sound,
wind, water, electrical and vibrational energy, thunder, lightning,
rain, all creatures of the land and water, the air, and the rhythm of
the land itself” (Solomon & Wane, 2005, p. 55). In Indigenous
contexts building and nurturing quality relations is integral to
living in a good way.
Kinship systems and their relationship connections are
recognized in the southern doorway. Leroy Little Bear (2000)
identifies the value of knowing that totality and wholeness exist
within the circle of kinship. He uses an analogy of four flower
petals to symbolize strength, sharing, honesty and kindness
in kinship relations. Further, he states that “the function of
Aboriginal values is to maintain the relationships that hold
creation together. If creation manifests itself in terms of cyclical
patterns and repetitions, then the maintenance and renewal
of those patterns is all-important” (Little Bear, 2000, p. 81).
© Kathy Absolon
Kinship systems serve to connect threads between individuals,
families and communities and extend beyond biology. For
example, kinship systems can be based on the clan system where
relationships and roles are determined by clan identity and
function (Benton-Banai, 1988). Families have tendencies to
adopt people and community members can relate to each other
as aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers or sisters without
the genetic basis for such ties. Our Cocomish and Shaumish
can be other Elders other than our biological ones. Families
and communities are broadly defined and are not limited to
genealogy or genetics.
Indigenous communities have immense strength and
resources from which kinship ties, healing and recovery,
wellness, survival and collectivity exist. The viability of
community relationships in social work practice cannot be
underestimated. Identifying community strengths in all areas of
prevention, intervention, rehabilitation, support and postvention
approaches will contribute to the development of grass roots,
community strengths approaches (Gone, 2004). Principles of
collaboration and empowerment ought to guide relationships
with community members such as engaging with local
community members in the planning and delivery of service.
From an Indigenous perspective the culture of a community
is where the heartbeat of that nation resides. Communities
are suffering in the colonial aftermath, hence their heartbeats
may be weak. Nevertheless, the heartbeat of a community is
in the people, which ought to influence methods of practice.
Community interests ought to be considered essential elements
of practice and community involvement fostered at all levels
of service delivery such as planning, visioning, brainstorming,
designing, creating, evaluating, assessing, intervening and
treating. In this sense, methodologies of practice will diversify
as community contexts vary from one community to the next.
Training for work with Indigenous communities ought to be
interdisciplinary and diverse community based methodologies
encouraged. Methods that foster community relationships and
collaborative processes include the teachings of the Medicine
Wheel, storytelling, sharing and teaching circles, community
participation and role modeling (Poonwassie & Charter, 2001).
Methods of practice ought to attend to supporting and fostering
healing relationships within self, family and community.
Elders are another cornerstone of Indigenous knowledge,
culture and heritage. Oral traditions, languages and historical
accounts would be lost without the wisdom, knowledge and
experience of Elders. Ethics of practice exist in the protocols in
working with the Elders and with traditional knowledge. Elder
protocols are varied depending on the nation and territory
and identifying reliable Elders will occur in consultation and
communication with community resource people. For example,
some people will offer tobacco, cloth or a small gift as a gesture
of reciprocity and gratitude. Elders are essential to learning and
teaching through mechanisms such as storytelling, ceremony,
songs, dances, and passing on teachings. Healing and wellness
programs often employ Elders to work with children, youth and
families. Community initiatives in Ontario such as Enaahtig
Healing Lodge and Learning Centre, Kii-Kee-Wan-Nii-Kaan
Southwest Regional Healing Lodge, Anishinaabe Health in
Toronto, Shawanaga Healing Centre, and Skaagamakwe Healing
Centre work with Elders in the delivery of programs and services.
There are many other examples across the country of programs
and services that recognize the role and contribution that Elders
can make to healing and wellness initiatives.
This doorway also calls for the development of a critical
understanding of the social context and conditions of issues such
as an understanding of family violence and abuse, alcoholism,
addictions, depression, grief and loss, disempowerment, suicide,
intergenerational trauma, lateral violence, and multigenerational
trauma. Angela Cavender Wilson states that:
When considering the phlethora of social problems facing
Indigenous communities today (including poverty, chemical
dependency, depression, suicide, family violence, and
disease), it is profoundly clear that these are the devastating
consequences of conquest and colonization. For Indigenous
nations, these problems were largely absent prior to European
and American invasion and destruction of everything to us. A
reaffirmation of Indigenous epistemological and ontological
foundations, then, in contemporary times offers a central
form of resistance to the colonial forces that have consistently
and methodically denigrated and silenced them (Cavender
Wilson, 2004, p. 70).
I believe that when practitioners continue to apply
psychotherapeutic approaches to practice that omit the social
and political contexts of Indigenous peoples realities than their
practice continues to pathologize, diminish and problematize
Indigenous peoples. I agree with Eduardo and Bonnie Duran
(1995) that the DSM ought to have a category recognizing
the post trauma affects of colonization and genocide. Further,
“those negative influences have resulted in the marginalization
and clientization of these groups in contemporary society”
(Poonwassie & Charter, 2001, p. 64). We must be careful to not
adopt theories and methods of practice that only pathologize
and problematize Indigenous clients without regard for the
broader socio-political issues and historical context.
In summary, the theoretical elements of Indigenous
wholistic theory of Zhaawnong, the Southern doorway
acknowledge the emotional aspects of the whole where
relationships and sociological contexts are understood. This
doorway specifically:
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010, pp. 74-87
Indigenous Wholistic Theory: A Knowledge Set for Practice
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010
• Calls for renewal at relational levels
• Attends to relationships
• Integrates understandings of diverse relationships
• Understands kinship systems as moving beyond genetics
• Identifies community strengths and resources,
• Collaborates with community to foster healing relationships
• Utilizes methods that support healthy relationship building
• Acknowledges the role and contribution of Elders and
protocols and
• Contextualizes issues within a socio-political analysis of
social problems facing Indigenous peoples today.
The Western doorway, Niingaabii’ong, brings forth
teachings of the ancestors, the mind and respect. It relates to
respect of knowledge and knowledge of creation. Niingaabii’ong
brings the Autumn and cleansing. It also calls for mental strength
and reason. Operationalizing respect in practice requires one
to step back and think wholistically and consider how all the
doorways specify and articulate the value of respect. Asserting
Indigenous knowledge as a tool for recovery from colonial
trauma and all its manifestations is acknowledged in this
doorway. It is evident that in Indigenous communities across the
land, a re-emergence of knowledge is occurring. Decolonizing
our minds in addition to establishing a critical discourse, theory
and practice based on Indigenous knowledge are acknowledged
by Niingaabii’ong.
Respect is a core principle from which Indigenous
methodologies ought to emerge (Absolon & Willett, 2004;
Archibald, 1993; Battiste & Henderson, 2000a; Fitznor, 1998;
Graveline, 2000; Gross, 2002; Kenny, 2000; McPherson &
Rabb, 2001; Sinclair, 2003; Wilson, 2003). Respect is a wholistic
value and can be applied and operationalized at all levels of
social work practice. To acknowledge and validate Indigenous
philosophies and worldviews is to practice respect. Gross
(2002) states that respect is in the Anishinaabe teachings of
Bimaadziwin, which loosely translates to mean ‘a good life’. The
life goal of the old Anishinaabe was to follow the Anishinaabe
teachings of Bimaadziwin, hence to strive toward living a good
life. We need to learn our teachings and apply these teachings
today to rebuild and recover from colonial trauma. I have heard
over and over how Indigenous people have been helped through
our own cultural mechanisms such as sweat lodge ceremonies,
healing ceremonies, sharing and talking circles, dances, songs
and other cultural pathways to wellness. Indigenous ways of
health and recovery remind people of the beauty of who we
are, where we come from and what we know. It builds healthy
esteem and confidence in our identity. It instills good feelings
about being Indigenous again and reconnects people to the
power of their identity. We must respect who we are, what we
know and where we come from. Our recovery and rediscovery
is imperative to our healing as a peoples.
The recovery of traditional knowledge is deeply intertwined
with the process of decolonization because for many of us it
is only through a consciously critical assessment of how the
historical process of colonization has systemically devalued
our Indigenous ways that we can begin to reverse the damage
wrought from those assaults. (Cavender Wilson, 2004, p. 72)
Respect calls upon us to look again, speculate, consider and
operationalize Indigenous knowledge as a source of healing and
recovery. In itself, though, Indigenous knowledge is massive,
complex and dynamic. Many of Indigenous scholars share
commonalities across the diversity of their nations regarding
Indigenous knowledge (Absolon, 1993; Battiste & Henderson,
2000b; Benton-Banai, 1988; Brant Castellano, 2000; Cajete,
2000; Colorado, 1988; Fitznor, 1998; Graveline, 2000; Gunn
Allen, 1986, 1991; Hart, 2002; Henderson, 2000a; Holmes,
2000; Kovach, 2005; Martin, 2002; Nabigon, 2006; Thomas,
2005). “There is a communal ideology and unique worldview
between and among the Indigenous peoples of the world. This
common thread is inherent in most indigenous cultures despite
the severity and sustained duration of the colonial impact …
(Solomon & Wane, 2005, p. 54). For example, Indigenous
knowledge is consistently referred to as wholistic. That i s a given.
Additionally, “most Aboriginal worldviews and languages are
formulated by experiencing an ecosystem” (Henderson, 2000a,
p. 259). Indigenous worldviews teach people to see themselves
humbly within a larger web or circle of life. It is both feminine
and masculine and acknowledges the roles of both men and
women. The Earth is feminine and the Sun is masculine – both
are necessary for life to exist. Men’s work and women’s work
may be different, but they are interdependent and contribute to
a healthy whole. Interrelationships and interdependence within
this circle create a consciousness of relationality within all of
Indigenous knowledge comes from ancestral teachings that
are spiritual and sacred in origin (Ermine, 1995). It exists in our
visions, dreams, ceremonies, songs, dances, and prayers. It is not
knowledge that comes solely from books. It is lived knowledge,
experiential knowledge and enacted knowledge. It is cyclical
and circular, and follows the natural laws of creation. Indigenous
knowledge is earth centered with ecology-based philosophies
derived out of respect for the harmony and balance within all living
beings of creation. Indigenous knowledge occupied itself with the
past, present and future. The past guides our present and in our
present we must consider the generations to come. Indigenous
© Kathy Absolon
knowledge lies in our stories and narratives and within our oral
traditions. It exists in our relationships to one another and to all
of creation. Indigenous knowledge exists in the animals, birds,
land, plants, trees and creation. Relationships among family and
kinship systems exist within human, spiritual, plant, and animal
realms. Indigenous knowledge systems consider all directions
of life: east, south, west, north, beneath, above and ground
levels. Life is considered sacred and all life forms are considered
to have a spirit. We manifest this knowledge in our humility in
offering thanks for life and in seeking life’s direction. Indigenous
knowledge has enabled Indigenous nations to live in harmony and
balance with the earth, without harm. Our ancestors have used
their knowledge to respect the laws of creation, while subsisting
on the land, since time immemorial. Thus, practice that is derived
from Indigenous knowledge would certainly entail methods that
demonstrate respect and reverence within these understandings.
Healing centers today, for example, have programs and services
reconnecting people to the land, plants, medicines and elements.
Youth programs venture outdoors where the natural world fosters
and participates in the healing and recovery needs of young adults.
Sitting by a fire is peaceful and water fosters a sense of serenity and
calmness. Earth’s elements are healing elements too.
Our ancestors sit in the Western doorway and when we
use spiritual protocols in our practices we are sending our
thoughts into the spirit world. The significance of ancestors
cannot be ignored. Many Indigenous people pay homage to the
ancestors and turn to sacred ceremonies to tap into and seek out
ancestral knowledge. Healers and medicine keepers work with
healing ceremonies and invoke the ancestors and use of sacred
medicines to facilitate healing practices. Recognition of the
ancestors implies an acknowledgement of the cycles of life and
death as natural life cycles. Funerals and burials involve teachings
of life and death, which facilitates the grieving process for family
and community. Indigenous communities have high incidences
of death and loss and our capacity to cope and survive such
tremendous losses is fostered through our ceremonies and
cultural understandings of life and death. Death and dying, grief
and loss are among common issues that confront Indigenous
people. Higher mortality rates plague Indigenous communities
and depression is often connected to unresolved grief and
trauma. Loss has been felt with loss of people and family
members, loss of language, culture, land, freedom, movement,
subsistence and livelihood. The losses are many and are vitally
important when considering issues of unresolved grief and loss.
Importantly though, Indigenous theory has teachings which
reflect understandings of life and death.
In contextualizing the loss of culture, language, traditions,
community, land, and family this doorway casts our attention
toward the political arena to further develop an understanding
of the politics of colonization and its impact on Indigeniety,
governance, livelihood, subsistence, freedom, land bases, and
living an Indigenous way of life. The extent to which assimilation
policies and oppressive tactics diminished Indigenous peoples
good life cannot be underestimated historically and currently.
We need to have a political analysis to understand why families
do not know their life cycle ceremonies or why children were
forced to attend residential schools. We need to understand the
lack of choice and free will and forced erosion of the culture
and language so that we do not perpetuate a ‘blaming the
victim’ stance in our practice. For example, while working at
the community level, I recall people blaming members in their
own community and negatively labeling them ‘Bill C-31ers’.
Their remarks indicated that they thought ‘Bill C-31ers’
were undeserving of their membership, housing and treaty
entitlements. Consequently, I engaged them in critical education
about the nature of Bill C-31 (an Indian Act amendment) and
the history of the Indian Act and sexism instituted in it. Many
of our people don’t have this knowledge set and so Indigenous
wholistic theory calls for practitioners to become critically
literate and critical educators to their clients to begin teaching
individuals, families and communities about the colonization of
Indigenous peoples on their own land. We must develop anti-
colonial practices and consider issues of power and oppression in
areas of health, social welfare, child welfare, justice, mental health ,
family and community services. In this sense, this doorway calls
for a power analysis and an understanding of power and social
constructions of health and illness.
In summary, the theoretical elements of Indigenous
wholistic theory of Niingaabii’ong, the Western doorway
acknowledge the mental aspects of the whole where reason and
respect are addressed. This doorway specifically:
• Recognizes ancestors, ancestral knowledge and power
• Acknowledge the mental aspects and power of knowledge
• Asserts and respects Indigenous knowledge and ways of
• Applies a critical analysis and knowledge of the political
contexts of practice
• Develops critiques of the mechanisms of colonialism
and engages in critical literacy and critical education with
Indigenous communities
• Is anti-colonial in practice and works to counter colonial
• Acknowledges the ancestors and cycles of life and death
The Northern doorway, Giiwedinong, brings forth
teachings of healing, doing and movement. In this realm the
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010, pp. 74-87
Indigenous Wholistic Theory: A Knowledge Set for Practice
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010
physical elements are acknowledged and physical action and
movement are located. Giiwedinong brings the Winter and
healing. When all the other three directions are in place, the
teachings of the Northern doorway are operationalized and it is
with consciousness of all the doorways that action occurs in a
conscious and healing way. Methods of practice are recognized
in this doorway as ‘doing’. As an example, I suggest the reader
locate a recent publication edited by Raven Sinclair, Michael
Hart and Gord Bruyere entitled Wicihitowin Aboriginal Social
Work in Canada (2009), which provides many excellent
contextual chapters on Indigenous based social work practice.
What we do is addressed in the northern doorway and winds
of change gift us with opportunities to heal. In practice, the
following quote poses good questions for consideration when
bringing forth healing practices.
In many Indigenous societies some of the questions they
are constantly asking are, How much of the sacred healing
practices can they share? Would these practices work out
of context? Is it possible to re-create rituals of healing
outside of the healers’ community? Each healing practice is
unique to the individual requiring healing and to the healer.
(Solomon & Wane, 2005, p. 53)
Some people will not discuss or share sacred healing
practices, but there are now common practices among
Indigenous peoples that are readily identified. Indigenous based
practices ought to recognize the disconnection that colonial
mechanism created and engage to reconnect people through
collective processes. Circle processes or circle talk was named
as a viable methods for working with Indigenous groups and
communities (Graveline, 2000; Hart, 1996; Steinhauser,
2001; TeHennepe, 1997; Weenie, 1998). I agree that, “[m]any
indigenes have growing interest in returning to their sacred
teachings and ceremonies and will continue to follow their
traditions to sustain themselves and to help the generations to
come” (Solomon & Wane, 2005, p. 53). ‘Protocols’, ‘circles’, and
‘sharing’ are common Indigenous practices that bring people
together for sharing, learning and healing. Circles processes
counter the isolation and alienation that many Indigenous
people experience in relation to the issues and concerns they
face. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know until
exposed to knowledge and experiences of others. Only when fed
with accurate information can we develop in our understanding
and knowledge. The following story was told to me by one of my
mentors and has helped create an understanding of patience and
care within the healing journey:
Once there was a starving human without food or water,
alone on a raft for a long, long time – salt water surrounded
the raft and was undrinkable. More time passed and this
person is one day discovered by another human who is
able to recognize the thirst and hunger and not be afraid
of it. This human offers the diseased, sickly and starving
person a dropper of water - not a whole meal but only a
slight drop of water. Slowly the human absorbs the drop
and then is given another drop. A few drops of water turn
into a dropper of water over time. The dropper of water is
tolerable and digestible; a full meal would not be. In time,
that dehydrated person is able to drink more and more
and more. And over time this human begins to acquire an
appetite and over time develops an incredible hunger and
yearning to be fed: the dropper is no longer enough. The
hunger and yearning become the drive for more food…
and is ready to digest food…
Learning about our truths and sharing collective pains
is a process that occurs in time. Sitting in many sacred circles
(women’s circles and mixed gender circles), through listening
and listening, and sharing and dialoguing as we fed each other
droppers of water taught me about patience and acceptance.
Our thirst and yearning for knowledge is quenched through the
listening to others’ stories and experiences and drawing on our
collective strengths. Acquiring the knowledge and understanding
is a life long journey and circle processes provide a culturally
congruent means. Our feast therefore is a series of “droppers of
water” through conversations and dialogues, and not the eating
of one large meal. Healing is fostered, friendships develop and
relationships between the people are restored. Within the circle
process many formats have been shared in terms of amount of
people and length. Michael Hart (2002) has researched and
worked with circles for many years and his book Seeking Mino-
pimatisiwin is a good resource. Additionally, I would add that
methods of gathering people together are varied, but one thing
for sure is that food is central to any successful gathering. Feeding
people in a loving and good way will fuel a positive environment
and nurture optimistic feelings. Rod McCormick (2005)
presents a worthy chapter where Indigenous practices toward a
healing path are summarized. He identifies the healing path and
outlines the role of “spirituality in healing, the role of nature, the
role of cleansing, the role of culture in healing, the model of the
circle and Medicine Wheel, the concept of balance, the role of
connection, and the role of ceremony in healing” (p. 293-294). It
explains healing approaches and prac tices that utilize Indigenous
methods while integrating concepts such as connection, balance,
nature and wholism. His chapter is useful because he links these
approaches to counselling and therapy with individuals, groups
and communities. Indigenous healing processes are identified as
wholistic, multifaceted and diverse where sharing is facilitated in
through a variety of paths.
I had the privilege, at a young age, of being a student of
traditional teachers and was given teachings to live, practice
© Kathy Absolon
and share. I also had the privilege of growing up in the bush. I
acknowledge these privileges because of the institutional racism
that severed many First Nations’ from their inherent right to
the traditions and values of our many cultures. All Indigenous
people, I believe should have their teachings with them. My
responsibility has been to internalize the teachings into who
I am and honour them in the way I live. I cannot lose them or
have them stolen - they exist as a part of me - in my mind, my
body and my spirit and heart. For these tremendous gifts I am
most grateful. Relearning the cultural teachings, worldview
and philosophies of my people has been my personal and
professional methodology of practice. Committing to relearning
our culture and language as a methodology for emancipatory
and liberating practice is now essential to my life and work. If I
am able to offer Indigenous people something, I want it to be
based within Anishinaabe epistemology.
Diversity is another concept of this doorway and actions of
practice ought to reflect the diverse manifestations of colonialism
and internalized colonialism. People have diverse experiences
and not all Indigenous people aspire to be traditional or have
traditional knowledge. Indigenous people are also Christian and
traditional or neither. Some people are assimilated into Canadian
society and like it that way. Indigenous people are diverse in their
linguistics, lifestyles, culture and way of life. Families are diverse
and communities are diverse. Community governance structures
can be diverse and the operations of programs may reflect
cultural and organizational diversity. Communities may vary in
their priorities, goals and objectives. Land bases are diverse and
livelihoods will also be diverse. Nations across Canada are very
diverse as are the linguistic groupings. Programming that might
work in one community may not be appropriate for another
because of the unique conditions and situations that exist within
communities. Distinct community based strategies will require
specific considerations relative to each community.
Additionally, economic conditions among Indigenous
people are diverse, though there is a prevalence of poverty
and low socio-economic status. The high incidences of
unemployment and the poor housing conditions continue
(Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). Some communities
struggle with poor qualities of drinking water and sewage
systems. The physical conditions under which some Indigenous
people exist are deplorable. A socio economic analysis of
poverty, unemployment, housing, homelessness and other
consequences of the economic marginalization of a peoples in
a colonial and racist society is required to refute any notion that
Indigenous people are poor because of stereotypical notions of
being lazy, drunk or stupid. One need only look at the peasant
farming policies in the prairies in the late 1800’s to realize the
governments agenda was to maintain Indigenous people as
the working poor and did so by creating glass ceilings on profit
margins in farming (Carter, 1990). Because of racism, oppressive
Federal policies, fiscal erosions, and reneging on fiduciary
responsibilities, Indigenous people have retained sub-standard
economic status. Understanding the economics of Indigenous
peoples lives requires a structural economic analysis. This
understanding will foster a compassionate lens from which you
perceive the people and their conditions. I believe this analysis
prevents a blaming the victim and redirects the problem to the
institutions and structures.
In summary, the theoretical elements of Indigenous
wholistic theory of Giiwedinong, the Northern doorway
acknowledge the physical aspects of the whole where methods
of practice and action are. This doorway specifically:
• Recognizes the healing in being and doing
• Calls for action and movement
• Acknowledges the collective work
• Addresses methodologies of practice from Indigenous
frameworks such as sharing or teaching circles, ceremonies,
use of nature, and process oriented action
• Healing as a restoration of balance using tools such as the
Medicine Wheel
• The diversity within Indigenous contexts
• Encourages a socio-economic analysis to contemporary
The center shkode (fire) is where the fire exists and
where all four doorways intersect and interrelate. The center is
where balance and harmony exist when all aspects are living in
harmony and balance. The center fire could also represent Self
in relation to all else. It is the essence of self and the manifestation
of the whole. In summary, the Center Fire represents a coming
together of all four directions and Willie Ermine (1995) tells us
more about this center fire of the Self:
Aboriginal epistemology is grounded in the self, the spirit,
the unknown. Understanding of the universe must be
grounded in the spirit. Knowledge must be sought through
the stream of the inner space in unison with all instruments
of knowing and conditions that make individuals receptive
to knowing. Ultimately it was in the self that Aboriginal
people discovered great resources for coming to grips
with life’s mysteries. It was in the self that the richest
source of information could be found by delving into the
metaphysical and the nature and origin of knowledge.
Aboriginal epistemology speaks of pondering great
mysteries that lie not further than the self. (p. 108)
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Indigenous Wholistic Theory: A Knowledge Set for Practice
First Peoples Child & Family Review, Volume 5, Number 2, 2010
The center represents the fire of life where all directions
meet and locates the teachings of integration, balance,
interconnections, and holism. The center also represents the
Self - the essence of the cumulative aspects of self: the spirit,
heart, mind and body. Utilizing a wholistic analysis enables
practitioners to better understand people in their whole context
as the center really represents the cumulative aspects of all four
Each doorway in isolation from the others is insufficient.
All doorways are interdependent, interconnected and make up
the collective whole. An Indigenous wholistic theory of practice
considers all four doorways and their elements. For example,
an Indigenous worldview effects how people see themselves
in relation to their community and themselves. Recognizing
cultural knowledge implies the existence of methods of healing
and practice that have been exercised and applied in Indigenous
contexts. Wholistic practice means to honour the balance and
respect all the directions in programming, policy and practice. For
example: create programs that feed the spirit (using medicines of
sweetgrass, sage, tobacco and cedar; ceremonies and circle format),
the emotions (the internalized inferiority, fear, shame, anger, pain
and self-hate), the mind (educating First Nations workers and
shareholders4 about the authentic history, the nature of their own
experience, decolonizing our minds and unlearning racism, and
dealing with our internalized racism and inferiority), and the body
(addressing the symptoms of racism that First Nations people,
workers and leaders carry with them as baggage that result in low
self-esteem, substance and personal abuse, family violence and
Indigenous knowledge is a lived knowledge meaning that
you must practice what you know and be what you do. There is no
distinction between living and working. Indigenous knowledge
is a way of life. For Indigenous helpers to continue to develop
their knowledge and understanding into practice they must be
provided with opportunities to learn. Professional development
for Indigenous helpers means those helpers need to be
supported to attend ceremonies and traditional venues so they
can learn how to pick up their knowledge bundles. Traditional
knowledge is transmitted and passed on at ceremonies and that
is where we learn the teachings and protocols.
Workers need to be aware of Indigenous peoples’ contexts
and within Indigenous contexts is where capacity is developed.
Community based education directed at capacity building and
critical education fosters peoples’ abilities to control their own
needs and program directions. Building a solid foundation for
4 I learnt of this term at Kii-Kee-Wan-Nii-Kaan Healing Lodge where
the term shareholder was used in lieu of client as shareholders indicated
that people have a stake & investment in their own wellness where their
wellness journey is a mutual process. I liked the application of the term
any initiative is paramount to its success. Any community based
initiative ought to have an anti-colonial agenda coupled with an
affirmation and presence of Indigenous ways of knowing, being
and doing. Staff education will, in part, address an authentic
movement of healing and will begin to truly reflect Indigenous
wholism in practice. Professional development is also about
cultural development and a commitment to providing cultural
teachings and language lessons empowers helpers in their
own identity and knowledge set. In essence, practice and
programming based on Indigenous theory ought to support
workers to be strong and healthy in terms of clear minds, strong
spirits, healthy bodies and healing hearts. A genuine and real
movement addresses and deals with the internalized oppression
of First Nations peoples. It also includes and addresses symbolic
components of culture and spirituality in a complementary
fashion and in way that strengthens and heals our spirit, bodies,
and heart.
This article was set forth to present an Indigenous wholistic
theory as a knowledge set for practice. I utilized the concepts
of concentric circles and four directions. As I travelled around
the circle I discussed some elements related to each direction
eventually leading to the place where all components intersect.
Indigenous wholistic theory is cyclical, circular and wholistic.
Oral traditions were typically the venue for transmitting such
knowledge. Utilizing visuals is one method to try to lift the
words and concepts off the page. Ironically, Indigenous theory
is not something one can acquire vicariously or by reading
a book. It is a living phenomenon. This representation of
Indigenous wholistic theory can be elaborated upon much
further. My hope is to convey a theory that is based on the
culture and traditions of Indigenous worldviews; is anti-colonial
in its perspective; is wholistic and cyclical; and is ecologically
derived. Spiritual and natural laws direct the protocols from
which these methodologies are derived. Understanding and
learning Indigenous wholistic theory is simultaneously simple
and complex. It is both fluid and concrete. B’maadisiwin is the
good life we strive for and the Creator gave us all that we need to
heal ourselves wholistically. Indigenous ways of knowing, being
and doing have worked for our ancestors and can be translated
into contemporary contexts. Our nations are not bankrupt. We
have the spirit of our ancestors and strength of knowledge and
theory that has a capability to heal ourselves, our families, our
communities, nations and the earth. Indigenous wholistic theory
is a theory for balance, harmony and B’maadisiwin. Chi’miigwech.
All my relations!
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© Kathy Absolon
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© Kathy Absolon
... Traditional frameworks are struggling to guarantee the desired conservation outcomes. [16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31] People engage with the environment in various ways, formally through organisation structures or legislation and informally through day-to-day interactions. In every humannature interaction, culture represents a key component in shaping and reshaping a cultural landscape and the dynamics that form it. ...
... The relationship between culture and nature is particularly evident in sacred landscapes, where natural elements and specific ecosystems are assigned importance [21]. The sacred is inherent in Indigenous epistemology, recognising that "all life has spirit and is sacred" [31]. It combines the animate, inanimate, the individual, and the community and locates them in time and space [32,33] as part of an overarching cosmic order. ...
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Indigenous Communities residing inside or next to autochthonal forests conserved them through governance frameworks that invoked traditional sacral law and reverence for their resource commons. More recently, however, the link between communities and forest conservation has been mired by dynamics of dispossession and displacement. Through a qualitative case study approach, using key informant interviews, transect walks, focus groups, and interviews, the researchers explore the conservation dynamics in Loita, in the South of Kenya, specifically looking at the sacred Enaimina Enkiyio forest. The study evaluated how the Loita community has challenged two state initiatives predicating conservation efforts and mobilised the sacred to conserve their resource commons. It combines a social-ecological approach with social innovation theory, spiritual geography, cultural studies and literature on indigenous knowledge systems, looking at, among others, sacred values attributed to places, nature–culture relationships, and value and belief systems and rituals. The findings point to the embeddedness of the forest resource in the way of life of the Loita Maasai and the appropriation of the ritual/sacred element as a framework to negotiate and mediate access, use, and conservation outcomes. The Loita community is grappling with and responding to the pressures exerted by various forces on the Loita Enaimina Enkiyio in socially innovative ways, as exemplified in the conservation efforts by the Ilkimpa Community Conservation Association (ICCA). It leverages aspects of the sacred in negotiating its claims over the Enaimina Enkiyio forest, showing that community-driven initiatives present alternative approaches capable of maintaining the connection between communities and their resource commons by integrating the sacred in this connection.
... Indigenous holistic theory (IHT) is a multi-faceted framework grounded in traditional cultural knowledge that emphasizes Indigenous world views, cultures, and traditions with a focus on the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical elements of health and wellness (Absolon, 2010). Applying an IHT approach to historical trauma interventions among Two-Spirit and Indigenous lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (2S/LGBTQ+) Elders offers a pathway to understanding the population while helping to inform more culturally responsive health promotion efforts that will lead to wellness in later life. ...
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Introduction: Indigenous holistic theory (IHT) is a multi-faceted framework grounded in traditional cultural knowledge that emphasizes Indigenous world views, cultures, and traditions with a focus on the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical elements of health and wellness (Absolon, 2010). Objective: To describe the role of historical trauma and health-related behaviours among Two-Spirit and Indigenous lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (2S/LGBTQ+) Elders and how the emergence of IHT and its guiding constructs could work to inform culturally responsive interventions for the study population. Method: IHT constructs were applied to historical trauma intervention tailoring among Indigenous 2S/LGBTQ+ Elders, including a relevant theoretical model. Results: Applying the IHT framework to Indigenous 2S/LGBTQ+ Elder interventions could be an effective pathway for understanding the population while helping to inform more culturally responsive health promotion efforts that will lead to wellness in later life. Discussion/Conclusion: The paper concludes with a discussion of how IHT helps to advance our knowledge about addressing historical trauma most responsively, along with future research recommendations.
... The connection to nature, invoking a sense of connection, speaks to how indigenous people have viewed their relationship with the natural world and may connect to something even less quantifiable: a sense of meaning (Castleden et al., 2009;Romm, 2015;Absolon, 2020). It has been highlighted that many people in the modern world while being more connected than ever, feel fragmented (Mathews, 2003), disconnected and alone (Kushlev et al., 2017). ...
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This research aims to explore the role of nature therapy guides in successfully leading nature-based experiences and, through that effort, allowing their clients to achieve their mental health and well-being goals. Understanding the role a nature therapy guide plays can, in turn, aid policymakers, individuals and communities in promoting positive mental health and well-being outcomes, supporting conservation efforts, and improving access to nature experiences. Here a nature therapy guide is defined as a trained professional who helps individuals or groups connect with nature to promote mental health and well-being. Nature therapy guides may have a variety of backgrounds, including naturalists, ecologists, psychologists, or healthcare professionals, with most of which completing some form of nature therapy qualification. Nature therapy guides may work in a variety of settings, such as parks, forests, beaches, or gardens, and may tailor their approach to different populations, such as children, adults, or seniors. They may also incorporate elements of ecotherapy, which emphasises the connection between human well-being and the health of the natural environment. To this end, this research answers two interrelated research questions. Firstly what motivations have guides found that bring the general public (i.e., clients) to them and, in turn,
Informative abstract:This chapter addresses the need for indigenizing the social work education curriculum. This is long overdue because, traditionally, social work students receive an education entrenched in European history and Eurocentric values. This narrow education limits students to only practicing dominant society norms when they become professional social workers. Even Indigenous individuals who study social work at Western universities primarily receive an education steeped in the dominant Western paradigm. Lacking knowledge outside these norms has historically caused harm to Indigenous people. Historically and to some degree today, social work with Indigenous people and communities has stressed assimilation as opposed to empowerment and social justice. In addition, this chapter provides strategies to aid in indigenizing the social work curriculum. This is both necessary and achievable, as social work educators are ideally situated to teach how the principles of cultural competence and social justice can be applied to work with Indigenous people. Teaching about the root causes of structural inequities that exist in today’s society and found in many Native populations can facilitate an understanding of the need to work for social justice with Native people. Significantly, this aspect of a social work student’s education can provide an alternative to the Western Eurocentric perspectives of history and culture while at the same time recognizing the aspects of the helping philosophies that are compatible with Indigenous ways of knowing and being.
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La mise en œuvre des appels à l’action de la Commission de vérité et réconciliation (CVR) du Canada est un défi pour des directions d’écoles autochtones où collaborent des enseignants allochtones et des enseignants autochtones. Ce contexte implique une réflexion constante sur les moyens à entreprendre pour réaliser ces actions. Dans le cadre d’une recherche qualitative exploratoire au sein de ces écoles, 23 directions scolaires ont été rencontrées. À la suite de ces rencontres, pour les besoins de la présente contribution, un témoignage a été retenu et livré en récit; il portait plus particulièrement sur la mise en place d’actions qui favorisent la création de ponts entre les acteurs dans le contexte de la publication du rapport de la CVR. Pour des Autochtones, le récit constitue un mode de communication et une pratique pédagogique, lequel fait appel à la narration d’expériences, à des connaissances, à des croyances, à des valeurs, etc. Dans le présent article, nous rapportons ce récit, qui comporte précisément des pistes d’action, des pratiques et des expériences, racontées comme autant d’apprentissages bénéfiques, desquels émergent plusieurs analyses. Les réflexions partagées permettent d’avancer dans cette voie de la réconciliation et de la décolonisation de l’éducation au sein même des écoles autochtones.
Aim: Cultural appreciation is found within the arts, psychology, counseling, health disciplines, and education. Currently, in the literature, there is not a strong link between cultural appreciation, nursing, and Indigenous people. The aim of this concept analysis is to analyze the concept of cultural appreciation for nurse educators, nurse researchers, and nurse leaders to apply to culturally appreciate Indigenous people within their geographical areas which can result in meeting their wholistic care needs. Design: This concept analysis of cultural appreciation uses Walker & Avant's (2019) approach to define cultural appreciation, antecedents, empirical referents, and consequences. Results: The antecedents of cultural appreciation are cultural appropriation, oppression, cultural prejudice, privilege, and lack of knowledge to integrate the wholistic health of Indigenous people into practice, education, and research. The defining attributes of cultural appreciation are awareness, knowledge acquisition, and desire. The consequence of cultural appreciation is wholistic care of Indigenous people as defined by their ways of knowing and being. Conclusion: The concept analysis of cultural appreciation integrates Indigenous wholistic health beliefs and ways of knowing and being that can advance holistic nursing knowledge for nurses, educators, and researchers.
In this article issues around research methodology specific to Aboriginal people will be discussed. A brief historical analysis lays a foundation for the need for unique research methodologies as it pertains to Aboriginal people both as researched and researcher. Contemporary critiques by Aboriginal writers and communities will be presented in relation to the limitations and effects of Euro-western research methods. Finally, the authors will discuss issues, possibilities and responsibilities around conducting research as Aboriginal researchers.
Wicihitowin is the first Canadian social work book written by First Nations, Inuit and Metis authors who are educators at schools of social work across Canada. The book begins by presenting foundational theoretical perspectives that develop an understanding of the history of colonization and theories of decolonization and Indigenist social work. It goes on to explore issues and aspects of social work practice with Indigenous people to assist educators, researchers, students and practitioners to create effective and respectful approaches to social work with diverse populations. Traditional Indigenous knowledge that challenges and transforms the basis of social work with Indigenous and other peoples comprises a third section of the book. Wicihitowin concludes with an eye to the future, which the authors hope will continue to promote the innovations and creativity presented in this groundbreaking work.