Monday, August 5, 2013

Niita'pitapiik! Be Fully Human!

When a young psychologist named Abraham Maslow visited the Siksika Reserve here in Southern Alberta in 1938, he noticed that White businessmen in the neighboring town of Glechien behaved extremely racist toward Indians who visited their stores. Maslow asked some of the elders about this, and what they told him was, “Ah, Maatomaitapitapiiyaa” (yes, they have yet to become fully human). This was the harshest statement that Maslow was able to record from residents of Siksika, speaking of other people either inside their community or out. And their refusal to put others down in order to boost their own egos would become one of the most defining traits among those Maslow would later call ‘self-actualized’ people. In fact, the normative personality in the community of Siksika became his primary model for self-actualization. He estimated that as much as 85-90% of the residents had this quality of psychological health that might only occur in 5% of mainstream Western society. Maslow would spend the rest of his career trying to figure out what kind of social environment is needed to produce full humans.

I have thoroughly researched the influence that the Siksika community had on Abraham Maslow, because I think it’s a very important story, since the ideas that were generated from this experience eventually changed the face of American psychology, education, childrearing, and business management. In the final analysis though, I think Maslow missed some important things that were staring him in the face the whole while. One really key factor that never figured into his models for developmental needs is connection to place. Because he himself was an immigrant, a mover, it never dawned on him that maybe the reason people at Siksika were so ego-secure, yet unwilling to put others down, was that they were conscious of the fact that all of their ancestors had lived right there, that they were all closely related themselves, like a big extended family, that their children’s children would still live there, and that though individuals might spend a few years here and there, almost all would eventually return to the community, so that the people you know today will be those you will live with for the rest of your life. 

This connection to place/ big-family is extremely important, and much overlooked.  Western society has precisely the opposite training, a conditioning for disconnection. At a very young age, in the mainstream, you already know that the kids you’re ‘best friends’ with at school will have different life paths than you. What are you going to be when you grow up? The answer is not supposed to be, “A more complete human being.” Even year-to-year, the system ensures that you are moving between places and people, that you’ll have different teachers, go to different schools, be in classrooms with different age-mates. You are discouraged from making tight bonds. Close friends in a class together will be separated, because their alliance and their visiting is considered to be a disruption. By the time you’re in high-school, you can’t wait for it to be done, and then you’ll never have to see these people again.  After that, you go to work, and there make relationships with all new groups of strangers. But it’s very well understood that these relationships are likely to be temporary. As soon as you don’t like the work, or your boss doesn’t like your contributions, then the relationship is broken, and you don’t deal with those people again. Children are separated from parents and family, and from those of other ages. The working-age people are separated from children and senior citizens. And all of the relationships are disposable, even marriages. Yes, relationships do develop and change, just like anything else, but it is not a universal experience that you can just part ways. In an indigenous community, in a tribe, the people you are here with today will always be here in your life, in whatever changed capacity. The school kids in my community have teachers who are their aunts and uncles. And nobody identifies by profession, “I am a this or that.” You say who your relatives are when you’re introducing yourself. In this scenario, doesn’t it make good sense not to talk shit about each other, be competitive, and build identity and ego in negative opposition to each other?

Being completely immersed in the mainstream, Maslow couldn’t see this, even though I think it’s crucial for completing any model of what it takes to become fully human, enlightened, self-actualized, etc. I also think this is the necessary key for hosting true diversity. Mainstream America believes that it is currently diverse simply because it is a melting-pot of people from cultures from all around the world. But in my opinion, all of these factions have become simply micro-cultures to the homogenous mainstream that is now fairly global in scope, thanks to the empire’s ongoing colonization/ conversion efforts. Every indigenous society ever encountered identified themselves to the colonizers originally as The Humans. Who are you? We’re The Human Beings. And then they had the shit terrorized out of them until they were willing to claim some other identity. Really consider this though. If we can work on identifying ourselves as Human Beings again, that’s an identity that is defined in opposition not to other people, but to other species. And we don’t have to look down on those other species. In fact, most real Human Beings hold the other species in highest respect.  If we can identify as a Human Being – instead of a race, or color, or occupation, or class, or whatever – and we develop a strong kinship-based connection to place, then we’ll have the recipe for true diversity, because other Human Beings in other places will naturally have their own ways, relative to the ecology of the places they live. And we won’t feel we need to compete with them, calling them down, in order to feel good about ourselves.

Of course, we have been compelled so far off this path, and rendered so confused as a result, that I don’t know if we’ll ever witness many full humans in our midst again. 

1 comment:

  1. This was an amazing post. I plan on reading it over again. One of my favorite books is from Maslow, "Toward a Psychology of Being." I even saw that you had some lectures on him and that was surprising to me. You made some very important statements about how we are encouraged not to build long term relationships & things like that. This is a truth that I see that society has purposefully arranged that I see very interesting.


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