The Wisdom of Indigenous Traditions


  The Wisdom of Indigenous Traditions

This blog post is not about native cultures in general, but about the wisdom they have to offer. That wisdom may come from an Inuit elder, a Cherokee storyteller, or an Amazonian shaman. It can be passed down verbally and through storytelling or handed down in written form such as the I Ching or The Book of Mormon.

In this blog post, we will explore the value and truth found in ancient traditions by looking at examples from Japan to Africa and beyond.

The idea of a "traditional" society is often misunderstood. Traditional societies are not static. Many, if not most, have changed over time and adapted to changing circumstances. In some countries, traditional values and lifestyles are still the norm in certain regions or among specific groups.

Today we see all sorts of changes in traditional societies – from slum areas of urban cities to the revitalization of predominantly tribal areas by returning ex-patriot communities. It can be difficult for some Westerners to understand or even grasp the significance of a traditional lifestyle and what it meant for their ancestors while living in that society. Yet, for a traditional people, traditional values are essential to survival.

While living in an environment that was traditionally their own, people developed their own values and way of life. For the most part, this way of life was sustainable and beneficial for them – and it still is today. Even when all else would have been changed by civilization, they maintained their society's structure in which everything was connected to everything else. This emphasis on connection has helped them survive changes in their environment and challenges from others who felt they owned the land. They learned how to live in modern society while remembering how to behave as they once did in a traditional society. Through surviving modern civilization and the changes that came with it, they are able to teach us about our own modern culture.

The "otherness" of traditional societies might make some people nervous. Many natives have had a history of being forced into reservations or exploited for their lands or labor. Stereotypes abound and cultural sensitivity has not been part of the mainstream values in our culture. While many native cultures do not agree with the way they have been treated by society, we can respect them as noble cultures with valuable wisdom that needs to be remembered and treasured. We may not want to follow their example in every aspect, but there is much wisdom in them.

Many people today are searching for the meaning of life and looking to spiritual or religious beliefs to find that meaning. We hear of concepts such as karma, reincarnation, and environmentalism that can be found in many traditional societies. Modern people may scoff at the idea that they should follow a native practice because it is "native", but there can be great value in learning from a tribal elder.

We will take a look at some examples of traditional cultures around the world and what values we can learn from them. The next time you are out hiking, try to stop your mind from wandering and listen to what the wind has to say. It always speaks wisdom.

Inuit – or Eskimo – people live in areas of the northern hemisphere where it is cold and little light reaches the earth during winter days. Their values are about living in harmony with nature while doing what they need to do to survive. They have not forgotten who they are or why they are here. Even when they have been forced into modern society, remnants of their culture can be found in their artwork, stories, and respect for nature. Many Inuits have had contact with Western civilization for hundreds of years but still preserve their cultural identity. Their outlook on life has much to teach us about how to live a good life on this planet.

Traditional Inuit culture has changed over time, but many aspects are still prevalent today. They have not forgotten who they are or where they came from. The Arctic is changing rapidly as climate change draws out the climate that was once cold and wintery. Even so, knowing the value of nature and traditional ways of life will help elders adapt to this future that may be warmer than they prefer.

South America – and the Andes – has a long history that predates European settlers. It is one of the few places where many native cultures are still in tact despite centuries of colonization and exploitation by Europeans and their descendants. The Incas were an advanced civilization that did not destroy their environment. They had a great respect for nature and they lived in harmony with it. The Inca way of life values family, community and reciprocity among its citizens.

The native peoples of South America still practice many of the traditions that have been passed down to them from ancient times. As they make the transition from one culture to another, these traditions help them remember who they are as a people and where they came from. Even in modern society, many aspects of Andean culture have survived – like weaving textiles by hand or making traditional crafts. This shows us the value of these practices even if we choose not to follow them.

North America – and the great plains and mountains that cover the continent – has a rich history and many native cultures still exist. It is one of the few places in the world where many different cultures live in close proximity. The indigenous people of North America have adapted to their environment while maintaining their cultural identity and values. They have tried to live as they always have as best they can, but some changes are inevitable in this modern society that surrounds them. This has not stopped them from living what they believe is a good life or from connecting with each other only an hour's walk away.

Native American tribal culture values family, community and reciprocity among its citizens. Many native people have had to learn new ways to adapt to the modern world and still practice their old ways. Some tribes are trying to find a balance that will allow them to survive while following the path laid out for them by their ancestors. No matter what, traditional tribes show us that it is possible to live in modern society while retaining traditional values.

Asia – and South East Asia – has a long and rich history that predates European settlement. It is one of the few places where many native cultures are still in tact despite centuries of colonization and exploitation by Europeans and their descendants. Tribal culture values family, community and reciprocity among its citizens.


Traditional societies are different from our own, but much can be learned by observing their ways of life. Their values may not always fit with modern culture, but we can take what we need from them and leave the rest behind. Our world is changing very rapidly, and it may not resemble the planet that we have been living on for thousands of years. The Inuits rely on the ice to hunt seals and fish, but global warming is bringing an end to that. It may not stop them from adapting to this changing environment and finding a way to survive, just like their ancestors did thousands of years ago. Some places will disappear as the climate changes but others will remain.

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