First Nations thought leader says old way of thinking is the new way forward

Leroy Little Bear calls on modern world to adopt Blackfoot metaphysics at Congress 2016

Author

Jennifer Allford

In his Big Thinking keynote address at Congress 2016, Leroy Little Bear, long-time advocate for First Nations education and former director of the Native American Program at Harvard University,  encouraged the audience to adopt Blackfoot cultural metaphysics, a way of thinking that developed from unique relationships to land, the ecosystem and the observable cosmos over a thousand generations in the northern plains.

In his keynote address, Leroy Little Bear asked the audience to adopt Blackfoot cultural metaphysics

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

With a lively speech that touched on Neanderthals, the Age of Reason and quantum physics, Leroy Little Bear challenged the audience to consider adopting Blackfoot metaphysics — a way of thinking that developed from unique relationships to land, the ecosystem and the observable cosmos over a thousand generations in the northern plains — during the Congress 2016 Big Thinking Speaker Series at the Rozsa Centre’s Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall Wednesday.

Little Bear founded the Native American Studies Department at the University of Lethbridge, chaired the department for 21 years and went on to become the founding director of the Native American Program at Harvard University. He was born and raised on the Blood Indian Reserve (Kainai First Nation) near Lethbridge.

“Over Canada’s history, we’ve rarely stopped to consider who we are and where we’re going as a nation,” said Little Bear, who attended a residential school, adding that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is “finally causing people to stop and think.”

'Native science is about sustainability'

“TRC has given us opportunity to stop and reflect: What are the metaphysics of our schools?”

During the colonization of North American natives, the Age of Reason and rational inquiry were in “full bloom,” said Little Bear. Native science, based on wholeness, spirituality, life, and energy waves was totally discounted because there was “no room for anything that cannot be measured. Western science is about exploration. Native science is about sustainability.” 

These days, he said, instead of understanding things, we just process them. Little Bear pondered whether our present metaphysics is advancing our species or leading us to “follow in the footsteps of the Neanderthals.” 

Blackfoot metaphysics is waiting in the wings

He briefly compared Blackfoot metaphysics with quantum physics — the former being holistic and observational and the latter reductionist and experimental. Little Bear closed his remarks by suggesting our schools are veering further away from the pursuit of knowledge and that “Blackfoot metaphysics is waiting in the wings.”

While answering several questions from the audience, Little Bear suggested learning Blackfoot to further renewal with native peoples.

“The best way of changing ways of thinking is to change ways of thought,” he told the audience. “Changing the language and thinking in a new language is the best way to accomplish this notion of renewal.”

Little Bear was also asked about the significance of dreams for First Nations.

“In western thought, we limit ourselves and our reality to the state of awakeness,” he says. “In Blackfoot culture, we draw from a much broader spectrum of information. Dreams are part of our actual experience so dreams are not left out. We don’t limit ourselves to that state of awakeness. Blackfoot thought is wide open.”

More than 8,000 scholars in more than 70 disciplines are attending Congress 2016, Canada's largest academic conference, now underway at the University of Calgary from May 28 to June 3.