Cultural Significates

Cultural Significates

Culture – or philosophy and manner of living – is the challenge. Indians saw Mother Earth as the source of life, nurturing everything for mutual benefit, and seeing all aspects of land, sky, earth, and water as being alive, interdependent, and deserving of respect as “relatives.” Europeans saw “resources,” including human beings, as commodities to support a personal style of life.

Europeans wanted to conquer Mother Nature; Indians petitioned her for friendship. Europeans had only monarchs and feudal systems as their models of government in which the king or queen, with the support of the Christian church, ruled with unchallenged power. Indians practiced democracy across the land, personified by the fact that in almost all nations, chiefs had no power of enforcement and relied on the people to solve differences through discussion and other traditions.

Throughout United States and Canadian history –  and currently – these perspectives compete for influence.


Two Plus Two or Why Indians Flunk

Beverly Slapin

girlAll right, class, let’s see who knows what two plus two is. Yes, Doris?

I have a question. Two plus two what?

Two plus two anything.

I don’t understand.

OK, Doris. I’ll explain it to you. You have two apples and you get two more. How many do you have?

Where would I get two more?

From a tree.

Why would I pick two apples if I already have two?

Never mind. You have two apples and someone gives you two more.

Why would someone give me two more, if she could give them to someone who’s hungry?

Doris, it’s just an example.

An example of what?

Let’s try again – you have two apples and you find two more. Now how many do you have?

Who lost them?


Well, if I ate one, and gave away the other three, I’d have none left, but I could always get some more if I got hungry from that tree you were talking about before.

Doris, this is your last chance – you have two, uh, buffalo, and you get two more. Now how many do you have?

It depends. How many are cows and how many are bulls, and is any of the cows pregnant?

It’s hopeless! You Indians have absolutely no grasp of abstractions!


Slapin, B., & Seale, D. (Eds). (1992). Through Indian eyes. The native experience in books for children. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers. Pg 29.

NB: Sustainable learning reflects cultural significance of context and relevance for learner.

Medicine Wheel

medwheelThe medicine wheel is an ancient symbol used by almost all the original people of North and South America. There are many different ways that this basic concept is expressed including the following examples:

  • Directions East, South, West, North
  • Colors Yellow, Red, Black, White
  • People Yellow, Red, Black, White
  • Sacred plants Tobacco, Cedar, Sage, Sweet grass
  • Age Child, Youth, Adult, Elder
  • Human Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, Mental
  • Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
  • Elements Fire, Earth, Water, Air
  • Teachers Eagle, Deer/Mouse, Black Bear/Turtle, Buffalo

These components may vary geographically and ecologically but remain consistently within the structural form. The medicine wheel is a symbolic tool that helps us see the interconnectedness of our being with the rest of creation. The mystery of all endings is found in the birth of all beginnings. There is no ending to the journey of the four directions. Human capacity is infinite.

Condensed from Four Worlds Development Project, The Sacred Tree, 1985.