Politics and Humanism in Malawi: Wonderful Mkhutche

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was located on Malawi24 and Africa Press.


By: Chisomo Phiri 

Political scientist and writer Wonderful Mkhutche has written a book on humanism and politics in Malawi which he says will help people understand how issues of humanism affect politics.

Speaking in an interview, Mkhutche said the book, ‘Humanism and Politics Short Essays’, seeks to provide deep understanding on how politics affects humanism and in turn how the humanism affects politics so as for people to grow in religious beliefs and at the same time practicing politics well in the societies.

“Through this book, I want to do two things. First of all, help the readers understand how issues of humanism affect politics and vice versa. Secondly, to provide alternative ways on how best to grow in spiritual life as well as practice politics in a good manner,” said Mkhutche.

Mkhutche said the book is currently receiving positive feedbacks from readers who say it is a helpful book that will transform people’s lives politically and spiritually.

“It is quite interesting that people are now appreciating this book saying it is a very important book in life. To me this is an achievement and I feel myself to be a great of today and tomorrow. No matter how it gets to me, this is an achievement and the work of spreading knowledge and ideas is now on track”, he said.

The writer further said there were so many challenges that were chocking him in his journey of coming up with the book but he still never gave up. One challenge he mentioned was how to manage his other duties and at the same time concentrate on the book.

“Another challenge was about generating ideas on humanism topics since this is uncommon thing in Malawi and many people oppose them. You have to take time to present ideas that can persuade readers,”, he said.

Mkhutche then said government needs to promote reading culture by giving an opportunity to budding writers to have space in book promotions and publications saying this is an expensive task to be done by the writers alone.

Comment on the book, Edgar Kapiza Bayani said the book is a very important book if one wants to understand politics and humanism in Malawi. The ‘Humanism and Politics Short Essays’book will be launched this month at Mzuzu University in Mzuzu. Apart from ‘ Humanism and Politics in Malawi” book, Mkhutche has also written other several books including a biography of musician Lucius Banda


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of:  http://malawi24.com/2021/11/15/political-scientist-mkhutche-writes-book-on-humanism-and-politics-in-malawi/
  2. http://malawi24.com/2021/11/15/political-scientist-mkhutche-writes-book-on-humanism-and-politics-in-malawi/
  3. https://mkhutchewonderful.wordpress.com/author/mkhutche/
  4. https://www.humanism.scot/what-we-do/policy-campaigns/malawi/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Henry Beissel Poetry Reading

Saturday, December 11, 2021 at 4:00 PM EST

With the financial assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Writers’ Union of Canada, Humanist Ottawa hosts this afternoon selected readings from the works of Henry Beissel, award-winning poet, playwright, essayist, translator and editor. Henry is a past winner of the Ottawa Book Award for his book of poetry, “Footprints of Dark Energy”.

The title poem of this collection takes us on an epic journey across past and present historical events and through spaces defined by the natural sciences, as it explores the challenges of being human in these troubled times. It is accompanied by a gathering of shorter poems that confront the dark forces in our world as they struggle for the light at the end of the tunnel. In stark imagery, these poems turn words into music to celebrate the anguish and the glory of being alive.

Henry Beissel is author/editor of 44 published books. Among his 22 collections of poetry are his epic “Seasons of Blood” and the lyrical “Stones to Harvest” as well as his celebration of Canada in “Cantos North” and the 364 haiku in “What if Zen Gardens …”. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Arlette Francière, the artist and literary translator.

Register in advance for this meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUqc-isqTMqG9SJkkLWOIGiZ-sAHsoNSjqf

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Humanism In The Digital Age: The Urban Contribution Online Conference

Critical thinking about the social impacts of technology is becoming urgent, particularly in a scenario of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and algorithmic automation. Global digitalisation continues to widen the inequality gap as well as the digital divide, as digitalisation is not happening equally all over the world.

The event aims to explore how to build a digital transition that does not leave anyone behind, protects and reinforces human rights in the digital age, and places both people and the planet at the centre of the technological deployment.

It will assemble top-leading thinkers and doers who will discuss, identify, and address the challenges our societies are facing from a human-centred technological perspective, through themes such as Digital Inclusion, Ethical Artificial Intelligence and Digital rights.

When
Monday, November 15th
9:30 h – 18:30 h CET

Where
Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Barcelona.

REGISTRATION

The event will take place in Barcelona on November 15th and it will also be streamed online. Please select below the registration option you prefer. Registration for the in person and online modalities is free.

All sessions will have simultaneous translation in Spanish, Catalan and English.

In case you have already registered and need to do a modification, please click on ‘View/Edit your registration’.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation…

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes around humanism…or science fiction….or robots….you already know who Isaac Asimov is. We don’t need to tell you that.

We probably also don’t need to tell you much about the Foundation books. We do need to tell you that there’s a new TV series based on those books. The shows AppleTV website says the show is “Based on the award-winning novels by Isaac Asimov, Foundation chronicles a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire.”

Oh…and also “Cerebral sci-fi drama has diversity and some violence.” What an interesting combination of traits that seemed necessary to advertise.

The show premiered on September 24, 2021 and appears to encompass ten episodes in the first season. How much of Asimov’s original vision and humanism will survive in this big-budget television film version? It’s very difficult to tell at this time. What we can say is the makers have an excellent (ahem) foundation to build upon.

Foundation 2021 New TV Show - 2021/2022 TV Series Premiere ...

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy ofhttps://www.mentalfloss.com/article/54343/12-predictions-isaac-asimov-made-about-2014-1964
  2. https://tv.apple.com/us/show/foundation/umc.cmc.5983fipzqbicvrve6jdfep4x3

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

The Medicine Wheel Revisited: Reflections on Indigenization in Counseling and Education

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was located on SAGE Open, an open-access publishing source. Dr. Robertson has kindly provided a brief opening paragraph for HumanistFreedoms.com. (Note that bold features are ours and may not coincide with any emphasis that Dr. Robertson might prefer.)


The Medicine Wheel Revisited: Reflections on Indigenization in Counseling and Education

By : Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson

Enlightenment humanism seeks universal values common to the human condition. For example, in humanism the dignity of the person is valued regardless of the race, creed, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity or geographic location of that person. Similarly, empirical scientific truth will apply to all individuals, irrespective of divinely given alternate “realities” that are subjectively held. In this article I argue that the methods of science and reason that makes such a naturalistic understanding possible are compatible with traditional aboriginal worldviews, but that each culture must ground the Enlightenment to its traditions for that culture to participate equally in the scientific revolution. I call this process of adapting new technologies to local cultures “indigenization.” I recommend a secular approach to indigenization relating modern conceptual thought to traditional cultures in a way that is consistent with traditional constructs. In this article, I use the ancient medicine wheels found on the Great Plains of North America to illustrate how this could be done.

This article is peer reviewed and was first published by SAGE Open as “open access.” It may be referenced: Robertson, LH. (2021) The Medicine Wheel Revisited: reflections on indigenization in counselling and education, Sage Open, 11(2) 1-11 DOI: 10.1177/21582440211015202


Abstract

Indigenization involves relating traditional cultures to modern methods, concepts, and science to facilitate their use by those populations. Despite attempts to indigenize both the practice of counseling and the content of educational curricula, mental health and educational deficits in Amerindian communities have remained. This article suggests indigenization in the North American context is often based on a reified view of culture that discounts naturalistic and scientific approaches, and that this dynamic inhibits progressive cultural change at institutional and community levels. A secular approach to indigenization is proposed that relates modern conceptual thought to traditional cultures in a way that is consistent with traditional constructs. The medicine wheel, traditional to North American Great Plains cultures, is applied to counseling to illustrate how concepts found in aboriginal cultures could inform modern practice with wider applications to curriculum development. Related tensions involving interpretations of aboriginal spiritualities and modernity are discussed.


As Director of Lifeskills for the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina, Canada, during the 1980s, I would be asked, “Why do we (aboriginal people1) always have to become more like them (non-aboriginal people), why can’t they become more like us?” While modern North American cultures are constituted by the histories of their constituent peoples, including those aboriginal to the continent,2 these students were actually voicing alienation from a modern educational system that emphasizes mathematics, logical constancy, and chronological time delineated behavior—skills that were not indigenous to Canadian hunter-gathering societies. Attempts to rectify such alienation have included calls for the indigenization of curricula that are pictured as “western” or “European” (Barman et al., 1986; Louie et al., 2017).

Counseling is also pictured as Euro-American and unsupportive of aboriginal cultural traditions (McCormick, 1996; Poonwassie & Charter, 2001; Sojonky, 2010) with the result that some aboriginal students are unwilling to see nonnative counselors (Dolan, 1995). Indigenization in this context is a process whereby an imported psychology is transformed in ways that are appropriate to the local culture (Adair, 2006).3 Indigenization may be understood as the appropriation of technologies, practices, or systems of conceptual thought in ways that accord with the receiving culture.

Swidler (1986) redefined culture as excluding change to technology and material artifacts while including “beliefs, ritual practices, art forms, and ceremonies, as well as informal cultural practices such as language, gossip, stories, and rituals of daily life” (p. 273). Although technologies and artifacts per se may not be part of culture, the ways that they are used and interpretive significance given them would be. In this article, cultures are held to be fluid concepts consisting of generally shared experiences or generic representations that may be called cultural schemas common to populations linked by tradition (Quinn, 2011). As counseling and education can effect change in the mental schemas held by clients and students, the acquisition of the knowledge, attitudes, and skills required by them to participate successfully in modern economies will inevitably lead to change in their family and community cultures. The alternate view that cultures are defined entities as opposed to fluid concepts leads to at least two important corollaries: (a) a person could have incompletely or inadequately learned a culture with which he or she identifies or is otherwise assigned making that person a less worthy representative; and (b) speakers from a defined culture may make knowledge claims that are at variance with those made by speakers from other cultures but are nonetheless of greater truth for the represented cultural group. Representative of this perspective on culture, a peer reviewer of an earlier version of this manuscript asked whether the author was aboriginal and writing from an indigenous perspective. Had I identified as a person with aboriginal ancestry, I could still have been accused, under this paradigm, of not taking an “aboriginal perspective.” Such a static and defined view of culture is similar to a religiously held dogma in that deviations from a prescribed belief system are proscribed.

The goal of this article is to suggest a paradigm of dynamic cultural change compatible with secular enlightenment that is rooted in cultures indigenous to North America. Using the concept of the medicine wheel as a metaphor for traditional cultural knowledge generally, it is argued that the practice of indigenization in counseling and curriculum development will contribute to progressive change. World views based on a static or essentialist view of culture, it will be argued, have impeded participation in the modern economy by aboriginal peoples.4 It is suggested that historical and interpretive factors used in advancing the essentialist view are in need of reexamination. We begin by establishing a case for such a reframe.

Stalled Education: Colonization and “Indian Control”

Education is an important value in human cultures. Goulet and Goulet (2014) identified three forms of the teaching-learning process conceptualized in the indigenous Cree language: “kiskinaumegahin (teaching another), kiskinaumasowin (teaching oneself), and kiskinaumatowin (teaching each other)” (p. 65). While teaching as a profession was necessitated by the increased complexities of modern civilization and falls within the rubric of “teaching another,” the introduction of such education to students aboriginal to Canada had disastrous consequences. The Canadian government contracted with five churches to provide education with the goal of assimilating indigenous students into the colonial economy5 with the churches responsible for operating costs. The churches planned to cover these costs by generating income through industrial production. For example, schools on the Canadian prairies typically taught farming and animal husbandry with students providing manual labor half days. When these “industrial schools” failed to generate sufficient revenues, many students suffered from malnutrition and dis- ease. Furthermore, examples of physical and sexual abuse Indian Residential Schools were widespread (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006; Barman et al., 1986). While such experiences contributed to a negative view of education among many indigenous people, it is important to also consider that this view was not universally held. When the Canadian government attempted to end the residential school program in 1969,6 the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) successfully lobbied to keep the schools open in their province. Hired by FSIN as part of this process, educational consultants Robertson and Redman (1988) were told the Indian residential school system was to be maintained because (a) the quality of residential school education was considered superior to that offered by on-reserve day schools and (b) the schools effectively provided an alternative to the apprehension of children in dysfunctional families by child welfare agencies.7

Schools have also been viewed as a vehicle for cultural preservation. In a 1972 policy document, the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) declared, “The present school system is culturally alien to native students . . . School curricula in federal and provincial/territorial schools should recognize Indian culture, values, customs, languages and the Indian contribution to Canadian development” (“Indian control of Indian education,” 1972, p. 9). Prototypically, the Plains Indians Cultural Survival School was established in Calgary, Canada, with 50% of its curriculum consisting of cultural components, including “bustle-making, hide-tanning, drumming, Indian dances, native languages, tepee-making and visits with native elders” (Friesen, 1983, p. 54). This model emphasizing indigenous cultural restoration coupled with local control at primary, secondary, technical and university levels has been replicated across Canada.

This level of indigenization did not result in improved academic achievement. Richards (2014) found that aboriginal students have a significantly higher incompletion rate in band-run reserve-based secondary schools (58%) than in provincial schools (30%). Those who do graduate may not have the literacy skills implied by their grade level. During my experience as an educational psychologist with a northern community college servicing a largely (80%) aboriginal population, I found that graduates of band-run schools often obtained scores 3 to 7 years below grade level on standardized tests of reading and mathematical achievement. A study of Grade 3, 6, and 9 Albertans found that 50% of aboriginal students were not achieving at grade level (Richards & Scott, 2009).

This educational achievement gap cannot be totally attributed to shortfalls in funding. In their comparative study, Richards and Scott (2009) found that federal funding for First Nations schools exceeded the average per student funding provided by provincial governments by more than $4,000 CAD.8 The achievement gap in education could be partly explained by conflicting expectations between educational authorities and local communities. At the university level, Robertson et al. (2015) documented examples of indigenous students whose educational success was considered secondary to the culturally sanctioned demands of their families. Students in counseling described themselves as “caught between two worlds” with the implication that their formal education was considered secondary in one of those worlds.

Another explanation for the education gap between aboriginal, particularly Amerindian, and non-aboriginal students is that the increase in aboriginal cultural content has brought with it a concomitant assumption that traditional “aboriginal ways of knowing” are equivalent to modern conceptual thought. But as Widdowson and Howard (2013) warned, “Because hunting and gathering/horticultural societies lack a culture of literacy, incorporating aboriginal traditions will not facilitate the values, skills, and attitudes that aboriginal people will need to obtain a scientific understanding of the world” (p. 303).9 As a considerable body of research emphasizes the necessity for cultural grounding in learning (Banks, 2001; Hutcheon, 1999; Petersson et al., 2007), a suggestion that cultural teaching may retard learning requires further examination.

Anyone bereft of culture would not have the constructs, the mental scaffolds, upon which to organize and understand experience. Indeed, such a person would not have the language to describe that experience. This is not how cultural loss is usually presented. A more essentialized view is that culture is a “thing” that exists independent of a body of people but can be possessed by them (Waldram, 2004). In such a view, modern science and mathematics may be presented as European, colonialist, or “western.” However, extending the definition used by Swidler (1986), modern conceptual thoughts, especially as found in science and advanced mathematics such as statistics, are not, in themselves, cultural, thus freeing each culture to appropriate scientific, mathematical, and concomitant critical thinking abilities in the course of their own evolution. The evolution of Euro-American cultures from their medieval roots included (a) scientific discoveries rendering old faith-based teachings obsolete and (b) cross-cultural contact contributing to a globalization of their (Euro-American) world view. As a result of this evolution, any school curriculum that taught a geocentric model of the universe or the inherent superiority of European races would not be tolerated. Nonetheless, a continuity of descent marks this education as “European” to students within the Euro- American tradition. The indigenization of curricula within Amerindian traditions requires a similar descent, and such a cultural descent has also been recommended in counseling (Chandler & Lalonde, 1998; Poonwassie & Charter, 2001).

The use of multisensory presentations, democratization of grading, and the use of oral storytelling has been commended as representing indigenization of methodologies in the Canadian context (Louie et al., 2017). All of these techniques had been previously commended by non-aboriginal educators in non-aboriginal settings (McCown et al., 1996; Nelson & Michaelis, 1980; Postman & Weingartner, 1969); therefore, the marker of aboriginality could not have been found in the method but in the content. The development of active listening and critical thinking skills may be enhanced by cross-cultural content grounded in the student’s own culture, but if the purpose of teaching cultural content is to inculcate the student in a particular belief system or worldview, then that would serve to thwart the development of such critical thinking abilities.

While the reification of culture may have the effect of closing minds to new knowledge, it is also possible to view education as a process of opening minds to new possibilities with debates about culture and multiculturalism at the heart of education as a meaningful project (Robertson et al., 2020). If we view all cultures as aggregates evolved from historical and contemporary appropriation, then each participant in the cultural project becomes an authorized speaker capable of investing in culture in creative ways with applications dependent on context and purpose. Under this paradigm, education has the potential to be transformative (Robertson & Conrad, 2016) with individual self-definition enhanced and expanded from a menu of possibilities of increasing size and scope.

Ethical Issues in Education and Counseling Associated With Cultural Reification

While it has been suggested that education and mental health gaps facing Amerindian peoples in Canada may be attributed to cultural insensitivity and even racism on the part of providers (Barman et al., 1986; Chandler & Lalonde, 1998; Louie et al., 2017), a lack of receptivity to services perceived as “western” or “Euro-Canadian” by indigenous students may also explain such deficiencies. It is argued here that the reification of a set of beliefs about aboriginal spirituality creates resistance to learning modern concepts and that such reification is counterproductive in a quest for cultural continuity. In this example, the Medicine Wheel, as a sacred and unvarying ontological dictum is unhelpful, but the medicine wheel concept as an epistemological understanding may serve as a bridge for connecting culture to technological and scientific development. The medicine wheel has been used in various forms to build identity (Mussel, 2005), adult lifeskills development (Lavalley & Wilson, 2006), and adult basic education (Clarke et al., 1998), and such usage suggests the compatibility of the medicine wheel concept with science and reason. Before building on this theme, we need to consider the process of reification.

The Cree elder advised, “If you have even a little (aboriginal ancestry) then you can choose to be either Indian or white, but you cannot be both.”10 Such a view conflates race with culture with the implication that culture is a quantifiable thing that is subject to choice only if one is of mixed ancestry, and even then only as a binary “either or” proposition. In such an essentialist view, cultural assimilation may be equated with genocide (Swidrovich, 2004; Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). While effective teaching and counseling necessarily relates to the worldview of the student or client, the essentialist view holds that if the individual does not sufficiently know or identify with their ascribed culture, then he or she has lost some- thing and is judged to be unhealthy (Robertson, 2011b). “Loss of culture” by those who can trace at least part of their genetic ancestry to those aboriginal to North America has been blamed for a host of social problems with cultural restoration frequently
framed as “healing” (Brave Heart, 2003; McCormick, 1996; Robertson, 2014a).

The process of cultural restoration is not always appreciated. Elders in one northern community said they recognized that their community had not always been Christian, but efforts to teach them Aboriginal Spirituality11 based on southern (plains buffalo culture) normative beliefs12 felt oppressive (Robertson, 2015). Such conflict between Aboriginal Spirituality and Christianity has not been uncommon (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006). Swidler (1986) explained that during “unsettled times,” ideologies become highly articulated and directive “because they model patterns of action that do not ‘come naturally’” (p. 284).

Religious belief, as defined here, begins when a source is considered authoritatively omnipotent. For example, a Saulteaux elder expressed the concern that “white” schools teach his grandchildren Earth goes around the sun, but his elders taught him the reverse (Scott & Nippi, 2004). If the views of these long-deceased elders were taken as revealed truths not subject to material evidence, then these views were held religiously. Such religiously held views may conflict with scientific teachings in educational settings. For example, Ontario philosopher Christopher DiCarlo faced a university disciplinary hearing after two students complained his suggestion of a common human African ancestry was insensitive to an Amerindian teaching that aboriginal people were placed on the American continents by a “Creator” (Kaill, 2005). While notions of a geocentric universe and a creator-god are also indigenous to European cultures, cultural accommodations have been made, allowing teachers to reference science even in non-science courses. Teaching religiously held belief as fact (or an alternative factum) in education classes can be offensive to people with a scientific worldview. One participant in a workshop on Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition for staff at a northern community college commented, Our provincial Department of Higher Education and Manpower has no more business teaching Native Spirituality—with the intent of conversion—than it has teaching Tibetan Buddhism . . . Imagine what towering indignation would have been engendered had (the instructor) been a Catholic and she had asked us to burn incense, to partake in Holy Sacraments, to confess our sins, and tied problem-solving to the four points of the Cross. (Robertson, 2011a, pp. 99–100)

The “four points of the Cross” in this example is an allusion to the four parts of the Medicine Wheel reproduced in Figure 1. This medicine wheel has been capitalized, referenced in the singular, and described as a sacred part of Aboriginal Spirituality (Dyck, 1998; Sanderson, 2010).

The quadrants represent what are thought of as the four dimensions essential for life balance: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. This medicine wheel may be expanded to include four seasons, directions, races, and periods of life overlayed on the basic medicine wheel with each item in a set of four presented in separate quadrants. Holism is then defined as must be represented in the life of the individual for that person to be healthy.

Figure 1. The standard medicine wheel identified with Aboriginal Spirituality.

The division of the circle into four quadrants makes mathematical sense if it is used to represent two variables—one on each of the x- and y-axis, but the use of the number four in this medicine wheel is arbitrary. For example, the notion that there are four races – red, yellow, black, and white – does not conform to scientific understandings of the concept (Miele, 2002; Pinker, 2002; Templeton, 1998) and may have been appropriated from the Christian children’s song Jesus Loves Me. While it may be generally thought that there are four seasons, the traditional Woodland Cree had six. The representation of four life stages, including child, teenager, adult, and elder, must be a recent application to the medicine wheel because the concept of “teenager” is a modern European invention.

There is no direct translation for the English word mental in languages aboriginal to Canada. For example, the Cree word/phrase Kiskwew (literally, “s/he is crazy”) is used to represent the term in that language to the angst of practicing mental health workers. It can be inferred that whoever first added the word mental to the Medicine Wheel was probably thinking in a European language, and then sought to translate the concept into an aboriginal language. As the wheel was not indigenous to aboriginal North American cultures, the very term medicine wheel must be viewed as a cultural appropriation. Widdowson and Howard (2013) questioned whether the concept itself could be used to advance critical thinking, the dissemination of abstract ideas, or the organization of complex information into constituent parts:

While it appears that the Medicine Wheel . . . offers a more systematic pedagogical technique (as compared to concrete conceptualizations in hunter-gatherer societies), this turns out to be a mirage. The “constituent parts” that emerge from the “breaking down of complex situations” are arbitrarily constructed, the only basis for which is a spiritual belief about the significance of the number four. (p. 294)

The teaching of this Medicine Wheel along with other beliefs associated with Aboriginal Spirituality presents an ethical dilemma for professionals who believe education involves teaching analytic skills concomitant with opening young minds to multiple possibilities. Psychotherapists and counselors who assume the construction of an aboriginal self is based on Aboriginal Spirituality potentially do disservice to aboriginal clients whose worldviews are constructed differently. It will be argued that there is a much older concept of the medicine wheel that is amenable to both modern education and counseling that is client-centered.

Using the Lens of Diversity to Understand the Stone Medicine Wheels of the Plains

There have been tens of thousands of circular structures dotting the Great Plains of North America with most identified as “tipi rings”—stones used to hold the flaps of a tipi in place. Some rings do not fit this explanation. After restricting the definition to include only those circular stone structures too large to be a tipi ring having a central stone cairn, one or more concentric stone circles, and/or two or more stone lines radiating outward from the center, Brumley (1988) estimated that there were between 100 to 200 stone medicine wheels on the plains. Two medicine wheels (one near the Bow River in southern Alberta and another at Medicine Mountain, Wyoming) are divided into 28 pie- shaped parts (Grinnell, 1922). It has been suggested that medicine wheels in Wisconsin (Bender, 2008), Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Wyoming (Freeman, 2009) are aligned with astrological phenomena, but this suggestion remains controversial (Vogt, 2015). Restricting the definition to include only those structures divided into four (or multiples of the number four) would exclude these medicine wheels from the classification.

In estimating there to be more than 340 medicine wheels, Robertson (2014b) included circular structures too large to be tipi rings that are not divided at all, and those that are divided without reference to a central hub or spokes as with, for example, parallel lines. An example of such a medicine wheel can be found at the Tie Creek site in eastern Manitoba, Canada (Steinbring & Muller, 2012). This site includes a triangle centering a large circle of stones connected by a complex of lines to other petroforms, including a large winged bird. It would be curious to deny that this is a “medicine wheel” while conferring the title on other structures that have potentially less obvious interpretive and ceremonial significance. An equally important consideration is that the act of taking a modern definition of the term medicine wheel and applying it to ancient stone structures (albeit loosely to figures divided in ways that are not multiples of the number four) restricts the interpretive possibilities that may be attached to such structures, thereby potentially minimizing the traditional cultural wisdom contained therein. It is argued here that the traditional spirituality of the aboriginal inhabitants of North America employed flexible teachings having a pragmatic character.

Figure 2. The generic medicine wheel of Roberts et al. (1998).

This flexible and pragmatic interpretation of the medicine wheel concept may be applied to counseling.

Using the Medicine Wheel Concept in Counseling

Adlerians traditionally eschew the medical model in favor of a psychotherapy focussed on educating the client in new behaviors that better meet individual goals (Christensen & Marchant, 1993; Morris, 1993/2004). In comparing the holism of the aboriginal medicine wheel with that of Individual (Adlerian) Psychology, Roberts et al. (1998) acknowledged, “A wide variety of medicine wheels exist and no one claims a particular official symbol” (p. 137). Nonetheless, they produced what they called a “generic” medicine wheel reproduced in Figure 2. The reference to four directions in this figure suggests wholeness, but the attachment of the qualities of power, uniqueness, vision, and connectedness to specific directions appears to be arbitrary. The quality of individual uniqueness is not often attributed to collectivist cultures; however, the sense that we are unique individual beings is necessary to exercise personal decision-making and forward planning (Damon & Hart, 1988; Robertson, 2020).

I taught an undergraduate university class on contemporary native health issues in which students were invited to create their own personal medicine wheel. While many drew a wheel with four divisions, the number of spokes ranged from 0 to 18. One aboriginal person drew a series of concentric circles with herself surrounded by family, community, “helpers” (meaning outside agencies such as educators and counselors), and “white” society. Another student used spokes to divide a circle into categories representing vision, compassion, family, work, education, language (Cree), planning, doing, love, nature, and God. Although it might be possible to reduce such a self-characterization to four more general categories, doing so serves to constrain the individual’s meaning and relational experience.

If counseling were to be viewed as advice giving, then it would be expected that the advice so given would be informed by the cultural background of the counselor. Alternatively, the counselor could learn and reference a set of values appropriate for the individual based on his or her assigned cultural designation. Either stance is prescriptive with the direction of client-change determined by forces external to the client. Traditionally, professional counselors and psychotherapists use more client-centered approaches with advice giving minimized.

Counselors concerned with issues of identity within the field of psychology typically attempt to create a shared holistic understanding of the selves of their clients (Adler, 1927/1957; Dryden et al., 2001; Epstein, 1994) with client- directed self-change based on new information or alternative preferred narratives (Hermans, 2006; Robertson, 2016; Strong & Zeman, 2005). The role of the counselor is to assist in information gathering and the generation of alternative interpretations. While the use of a reified Medicine Wheel both constrains the presentation of the self and externalizes the direction of change, it is argued here that the use of the medicine wheel concept is both in keeping with aboriginal tradition and consistent with a nondirective view of counseling. Counselors may use the concept of the medicine wheel without teaching any one form as correct. Examples of different medicine wheels could be presented so as to capture the idea of diversity along with the common theme of holism. These unique medicine wheels would reflect individual values, behaviors, and world views, and the act of self-reflection may promote self-understanding with the decision to initiate change in keeping with the principle that the client is the expert on himself.

Both aboriginal and western counseling accepts client individuality within a social context and decision-making based on client choice. In a qualitative analysis of the writings of 17 schools of psychology and the transcripts of an equal number of interviewed Inuit elders, Korhonen (2002) found universal acceptance of such client-centeredness in problem definition, goal-setting, and choice of interventions. Positive psychologists (Dahlsgaard et al., 2005; Hart & Sasso, 2011; Seligman et al., 2005) have reported cross-cultural success by inviting clients to define for themselves terms like happiness and meaning and to cognitively plan, within their contexts, ways of meeting those objectives. While Christopher and Hickinbottom (2008) argued that using such an ethic privileges the individual to make decisions for the benefit of his or herself (thus giving apparent support to an individualist perspective), I replied (Robertson, 2017) that the capacity for individual volition implied in such tasks as forward planning is itself cross-cultural, and that the capacity for logical thought, including the assumption of an objective reality, flows from a cross-culturally informed cognitive self. This understanding of the self as a volitional, rational, and reflective entity both unites modern schools of psychotherapy and resonates with the self as found in collectivist societies (Robertson, 2020). If the client is viewed as self-actualizing, then he or she effectively becomes a culture of one and each counseling relationship becomes a cross-cultural exploration. In such a paradigm, aboriginal identity development can be supported without presuppositions as to what that identity will entail. While the Medicine Wheel pictured in Figure 1 makes such presuppositions as to how an aboriginal self should look, the medicine wheel in Figure 3 illustrates how the different schools of psychology gain an understanding of the self that is embedded in each “culture of one.”

Figure 3 was prepared by recognizing a continuum between physical and mental states of the individual on the x-axis and a continuum between active and passive states on the y-axis. The intersection of the two axes creates four quadrants labeled: cognitive, emotive, physiological, and behavioral. Various therapies were situated on those quad- rants based on their primary focus. Given a holistic perspective, it is anticipated that intervention directed at any one quadrant will necessarily create change in the other three. Thus, a client with attention deficit disorder could be given stimulant medication with the expected result that the medication will influence subsequent emotions, cognitions, and behavior. Similarly, a behavioral plan directed at the same condition would be expected to produce changes in the other three quadrants. Of course, some therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, may address two or more quadrants directly as part of their methodology. Counselors can use this medicine wheel to explain to clients the process and expected results of therapy while building a holistic picture of the client’s self (Robertson, 2020).

Discussion

If we view traditional indigenous cultures as holistic (Poonwassie & Charter, 2001; Sanderson, 2010), then distinctions between modern constructs such as education and counseling may be seen as arbitrary. As we have seen, education in the modern era can be transformative of the self while counseling as practiced by many psychotherapists is often educational. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that practices and conceptualizations predating the modern era in any given culture would transcend modern categorical boundaries. It has been argued here that such transcendence is a potentiality of the ancient itineration of the medicine wheel. As culture does not include technology or artifacts (Swidler, 1986), modern scientific and mathematical laws also transcend culture. Thus, while the Age of Enlightenment leading to the modern explosion of knowledge began in Europe, thus rendering the term western science an accurate description of the locale of that knowledge explosion during one historical epoch, the corollary that there are other culturally bound “ways of knowing” that are equally efficacious serves to defeat both the educational objective (Robertson et al., 2020) and the psychotherapeutic objective of developing “mind” (Robertson, 2017). It

Figure 3. An application of the aboriginal concept of the medicine wheel to the practice of counseling psychology situating various therapies in quadrants defined by two axes: physical/mental and active/passive.

is the function of culture, then, to relate to science, technology, mathematics, and existing artifacts in some ways. The challenge then is not to replace “western science” with “cultural wisdom” but to link the knowledge therein to indigenous cultures. By facilitating a meaningful appropriation of the techniques by which new knowledge may be learned, aboriginal people will generate new knowledge. We are aided by the belief that aboriginal spirituality is not a religion but a variety of life stances that are open to change based on evidence and reason.

This article began with the suggestion that curricular indigenization to Amerindian cultures will necessarily involve the rooting of modern conceptual thought to earlier cultural constructs in a process of directed evolution. Figure 3 demonstrated how the medicine wheel can be used to illustrate modern conceptual thought in counseling and psychotherapy. Just as it is possible to use the concept of the medicine wheel without attempting to enforce a particular world view, other themes in aboriginal spirituality may be referenced without reifying a particular set of practices and beliefs. Berry (1999) found that a relationship with the land such as being able to hunt, trap, fish, and go berry picking was generally important to the spirits of Inuit, Amerindian, and Metis peoples. It is not necessary to script a particular way of interacting with the land. For example, Robertson (2015) reported on a successful community development program that included Christian indigenous elders taking youth out into the Precambrian Boreal Forest of northern Canada to learn survival skills. In the author’s private practice as a counseling psychologist, it is sometimes suggested that clients consider spending time on family “traplines,” an area traditionally used by a family for the purpose of trapping fur-bearing animals. What the clients do on their trapline that is therapeutic is individualized.

From a holistic perspective, both the student counseling services and curriculum offered by an educational institution are part of a common institutional culture. The indigenization of one cannot be successfully accomplished in isolation. While this article drew on an exemplar involving counseling practice, it is an exemplar with implications for curriculum development. Both involve opening minds to new possibilities. The individual agency implied by such education is not incompatible with cultural grounding:

A relativist position that all cultural tenets are of equal truth or value serves to nullify the cognitive revolution; however, the capacity to take an objective stance can be applied to the interpretive understanding of textual and oral tradition. We hold that it is possible to be inclusive of cultures even if their basic texts are contradictory, provided the process is of being challenged by tradition and working to adopt it in the manner appropriate to one’s own historical circumstance and in preparation for the pluralistic situation of living with other people. (Robertson et al., 2020, pp. 22–23)

The challenge discussed here involves the application of the medicine wheel concept to modern knowledge. As has been noted, the reified Medicine Wheel has already been used to illustrate the concept of race, but inaccurately. It is common in anthropology to note that genetic interchange through population movements over the last hundreds of thousands of years has ensured that there are no human sub- species or races (Lewontin, 2006; Livingstone, 1993; Templeton, 1998). The notion that there is only one race (the human race) could be illustrated by a wheel without divisions. Discussion of the more traditional view that there are three races, Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid (Nei & Roychoudhury, 1974; Rushton & Ankney, 1993), could be illustrated by dividing the wheel into three with major sub- divisions (e.g., most South Asians and Middle Eastern people are classified as Caucasoid in this system) noted within their respective places in the wheel. The more nuanced view that there are seven races (Edwards, 2003; Miele, 2002) could be similarly illustrated. Boundaries between racial categories could be made diffuse to indicate that racial demarcation is largely arbitrary with no one characteristic common to any race.

It has been customary to think of the medicine wheel as representing four directions, but in a three-dimensional world, there are six. The directions of “up” and “down” could be illustrated by adding a line, perpendicular to the two-dimensional directions, at the center of the wheel. The resultant “medicine sphere” could be used to illustrate numerous three-dimensional concepts in nature. The addition of movement to this sphere could be used to illustrate the fourth dimension of time and some of the effects of relativity. It is contended that linking such modern concepts with historical processes will aid in the internalization of both.

The ultimate objective of both counseling and education is the development of informed logical and critical thought allowing the individual to seek an objective stance relative to received tradition. Failure to ground such skills in indigenous cultures will make their transmission feel assimilationist and foreign. This article has explored the use of the concept of the medicine wheel as one bridge linking indigeneity with modernity. It is hoped that this exemplar will con- tribute to the development and use of other markers of aboriginality in education and counseling.

Acknowledgments

This article received support from Humanist Canada.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author- ship, and/or publication of this article.

ORCID iD

Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson  https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9158

-538X

Notes

  1. In this article, the terms aboriginal and indigenous are used to reference people, things, and ideas that were commonly pres- ent prior to colonization or modernity. The terms are not capi- talized when used as adjectives but are capitalized when used as part of a proper noun. The reason for this convention will become apparent in the subsequent discussion distinguishing between Aboriginal Spirituality and the more generic “aborigi- nal spiritualities.”
  2. Much that was indigenous to the Americas, such as foods (potatoes, corn, bison, beans, and turkeys), pharmaceuticals (aspirin, coca, peyote, and quinine), industrial products (rub- ber), clothing (moccasins), transportation (canoes, toboggans), and habit-forming substances (tobacco, chewing gum), have been appropriated into the general culture.
  3. Adair (2006) was talking specifically about a need for a psy- chology indigenous to Canada and not a psychology indig- enous to people aboriginal to Canada.
  4. Half a century ago, an indigenous Cree lawyer (Wuttunee, 1971) predicted policies of cultural reification pursued by Amerindian leaders of the day would result in impoverished communities dependent on increasing levels of govern- ment largess. That prediction has been realized (Helin, 2011; Richards & Scott, 2009).
  5. This was actually the second European colonization of the North West with the first involving participation in the fur trade by its aboriginal inhabitants in a direct relationship with Britain. Canadian expansion involved the development of the North West as an agricultural and industrial hinterland (see Innis, 1930/1970; Ray, 1974; Robertson, 2015).
  6. This was the second time the Canadian government attempted to end the Indian Residential Schools program. An earlier attempt to do so in 1907 was reversed subsequent to a successful lobby by western churches and Amerindian chiefs (Woods, 2012).
  7. During the 1960s, the provincial authorities reluctantly took over responsibility for Indian child welfare, but they did not have sufficient foster or adoptive parents of indigenous ancestry to meet the child welfare need. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) viewed student place- ment at residential schools preferable to “adopting out” to non-aboriginal parents. A two-step process resulted in the transfer of authority for these schools to those Indian bands that contributed to the student population with Indian authori- ties first administering the physical plant. This development was not divorced from child welfare. As Director of the Health and Social Development Commission for FSIN, the author oversaw the development of a document titled “Indian Control of Indian Child Welfare” that paralleled the earlier docu- ment “Indian Control of Indian Education.” Indian Child and Family Service (ICFS) agencies were developed on each band replacing provincial child welfare services during the 1990s. While, officially, the last Indian Residential School in Canada closed in 1996, in 1999 the author completed psychologi- cal assessments of students at a facility offering a residential school program identical to its earlier mandate, but it was now called a “child welfare” facility. The ICFS agencies in northern Saskatchewan had given themselves each a quota of children to be sent to this institution that was still popularly known as the Prince Albert Residential School.
  • When provincial funding for school districts with fewer than 1,000 students was compared with federal per capita funding, the per capita advantage enjoyed by Amerindian educational authorities shrank to $2,547.
  • Working from a critical postmodernist perspective, Strong (2002) declared science to be a “white, male way of knowing” and that “truth” is something arrived at through the “discourse of knowledgeable people” (p. 3). In advocating the use of the reified Medicine Wheel, Dyck (1998) declared that “western science” was devoid of spirituality and creativity, and that people recognized as knowledgeable in presenting traditional teachings should be recognized as authoritative . In contrast, science is a process of learning about an independent reality by reducing subjective bias by using hypothesis testing (Bhaskar, 1975; Bloom & Weisberg, 2007), or as Wilson (1999) said, “Science . . . is the organized, systematic enterprise that gath- ers knowledge about the world and condenses the knowledge into testable laws and principles” (p. 58). The idea that there is an objective reality that may be discerned through careful observation predates Europe’s “scientific revolution” by about 2 millennia and is cross cultural (Robertson, 2020). Therefore, the idea that people from so-called collectivist cultures cannot be objective is suspect.
  • This is from personal communication with Cree elder Ernest Tootoosis, Poundmaker Indian Reserve, 1971. This advice has since been repeated to me by several aboriginal elders and is aligned with the Iroquoian “Two Row Wampum” teaching that the “Redman” and the “Whiteman” will paddle in separate (but parallel) canoes and that if someone tries to have a foot in both canoes, “there will be a high wind and the boats will separate and the person that has his feet in each of the boats shall fall between the boats . . .” (Onkehonweh as cited in Widdowson, 2013, p. 341). Other elders may have different understandings.
  • In this article, “Aboriginal Spirituality” (upper case) is a proper noun referencing a faith-based belief system (see Robertson, 2014b). The term aboriginal spirituality when lowercased ref- erences older beliefs that included supernatural attribution, but was nonetheless evidence based and thus open to change.
  • During the early 19th century, many Cree bands, in alli- ance with a Siouxian people called the Assiniboine, invaded the northern plains of North America. These “Plains Cree” adopted many Siouxian “buffalo culture” practices such as powwows, sun dances, and horse dances. The Cree remaining in the woodlands did not adopt these practices but, as Poliandri (2011) and Waldram (2014) have noted, Great Plains cultural practices have become increasingly identified with Aboriginal Spirituality across North America.

References

Aboriginal Healing Foundation. (2006). Final report of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation: Volume II, measuring prog- ress: Program evaluation. Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Adair, J. G. (2006). Creating indigenous psychologies: Insights from empirical social studies of the science of psychology. In

U. Kim, K.-S. Yang & K.-K. Hwang (Eds.), Indigenous and Cultural Psychology: Understanding People in Context (pp. 467–486). New York: Springer Science.

Adler, A. (1957). Understanding human nature (B. Wolfe, Trans.).

Fawcett. (Original work published 1927)

Banks, J. A. (2001). Citizen education and diversity: Implications for teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 52, 5–16. Barman, J., Hebra, Y., & McCaskill, D. (1986). Indian education in Canada: The legacy (Vol. 1). University of British Columbia

Press.

Bender, H. E. (2008). Medicine wheels or “calendar sites”: Indian time or the space/time continuum. Time and Mind, 1(2), 195– 206.

Berry, J. W. (1999). Aboriginal cultural identity. Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 19(1), 1–36.

Bhaskar, R. (1975). A realist theory of science Retrieved January 20, 2006, from http://www.criticalrealism.com/archive/rts/ index.html

Bloom, P., & Weisberg, D. S. (2007). Why do some people resist science? Science and Public Affairs, 100(22).

Brave Heart, M. Y. H. (2003). The historical trauma response among natives and its relationship with substance abuse: A Lakota illustration. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 35(1), 7–13.

Brumley, J. H. (1988). Medicine wheels on the Northern Plains: A summary and appraisal. Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historical Resources Division.

Chandler, M. J., & Lalonde, C. (1998). Cultural continuity as a hedge against suicide in Canada’s First Nations. Transcultural Psychiatry, 35(2), 191–219.

Christensen, O. C., & Marchant, W. C. (1993). The family counsel- ling process. In O. C. Christensen (Ed.), Adlerian family coun- selling (revised ed., pp. 27–56). Educational Media Corporation. Christopher, J. C., & Hickinbottom, S. (2008). Positive psychology, ethnocentrism, and the disguised ideology of individualism.

Theory & Psychology, 18(5), 563–589.

Clarke, J., Erickson, K., Sealy, D., & Herringer, J. (1998). Developmental studies phase 1 instructors manual. Northlands College.

Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Shared vir- tue: The convergence of valued human strengths across culture and history. Review of General Psychology, 9(3), 203–213.

Damon, W., & Hart, D. (1988). Self-understanding in childhood and adolescence. Cambridge University Press.

Dolan, C. A. (1995). A study of the mismatch between native stu- dents’ counselling needs and available services. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 29(3), 234–243.

Dryden, W., Neenan, M., & Yankura, J. (2001). Counselling indi- viduals: A rational emotive behavioural handbook (3rd ed.). Whurr Publishers.

Dyck, L. E. (1998). An analysis of western, feminist and aboriginal science using the medicine wheel of the Plains Indians. In L.

A. Stiffarm (Ed.), As we see aboriginal pedagogy (pp. 87–101). University Extension Press, University of Saskatchewan.

Edwards, A. W. F. (2003). Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy. Bioessays, 25(8), 798–801.

Epstein, S. (1994). Integration of the cognitive and the psychody- namic unconscious. American Psychologist, 49(8), 709.

Freeman, G. R. (2009). Canada’s Stonehenge. Kingsley.

Friesen, J. W. (1983). Schools with a purpose. Detselig Publishing.

Goulet, L. M., & Goulet, K. N. (2014). Teaching each other: Nehinuw concepts and indigenous pedagogies. UBC Press.

Grinnell, G. B. (1922). The medicine wheel. American Anthro- pologist, 24(3), 299–310.

Hart, K. E., & Sasso, T. (2011). Mapping the contours of contempo- rary positive psychology. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 82–92.

Helin, C. (2011). The economic dependency trap. Ravencrest. Hermans, H. J. M. (2006). Moving through three paradigms,

yet remaining the same thinker. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 19(1), 5–25.

Hutcheon, P. D. (1999). Building character and culture. Praeger.

Indian control of Indian education. (1972). Policy paper presented to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. National Indian Brotherhood.

Innis, H. A. (1970). The fur trade in Canada: An introduction to Canadian economic history (revised ed.). University of Toronto Press. (Original work published 1930)

Kaill, D. (2005). We are all African. Humanist Perspectives, 154, 5–7.

Korhonen, M.-L. (2002). Inuit clients and the effective helper: An investigation of culturally sensitive counselling. University of Durham.

Lavalley, P., & Wilson, L. (2006). Adult basic education level three: Life/work studies curriculum guide. Saskatchewan Advanced Education and Employment, Government of Saskatchewan.

Lewontin, R. C. (2006). Confusions about human races. Is Race “Real”. Retrieved from http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/ Lewontin/

Livingstone, F. B. (1993). On the nonexistence of human races. In

S. Harding (Ed.), The racial economy of science: Toward a democratic future (pp. 133–141). Indiana University Press.

Louie, D. W., Pratt, Y. P., Hanson, A. J., & Ottmann, J. (2017). Applying indigenizing principles of decolonizing method- ologies in university classrooms. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 47(3), 16–33.

McCormick, R. (1996). Culturally appropriate means and ends of counselling as described by the First Nations people of British Columbia. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 18, 163–172.

McCown, R. R., Driscoll, M., Roop, P., Saklofske, D. H., Kelly,

I. W., & Schwean, V. L. (1996). Educational psychology: A learning-centered approach to classroom practice (Canadian ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Miele, F. (2002). Intelligence, race and genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen. Westview Press.

Morris, P. (2004). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Adlerian assessment and treatment. http://www.creativelife- therapy.com/ (Original work published 1993)

Mussel, W. J. (2005). Warrior-caregivers: Understanding the chal- lenges and healing of First Nations men. Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Nei, M., & Roychoudhury, A. K. (1974). Genic variation within and between the three major races of man, Caucasoids, Negroids, and Mongoloids. American Journal of Human Genetics, 26(4), 421.

Nelson, J. L., & Michaelis, J. U. (1980). Secondary social studies: Instruction, curriculum, evaluation. Prentice-Hall.

Petersson, K. M., Silva, C., Castro Caldas, A., Ingvar, M., & Reis, A. (2007). Literacy: A cultural influence on functional left-right differences in the inferior parietal cortex. European Journal of Neuroscience, 26(3), 791–799.

Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. Penguin.

Poliandri, S. (2011). First Nations identity and reserve life: The Mi’kmaq of Novia Scotia. University of Nebraska Press.

Poonwassie, A., & Charter, A. (2001). An aboriginal worldview of helping: Empowering approaches. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 35(1), 63–73.

Postman, N., & Weingartner, C. (1969). Teaching as a subversive activity. Dell.

Quinn, N. (2011). Models school reconsidered: A paradigm shift in cognitive anthropology. In D. B. Kronenfeld, G. Bennardo, V.

C. de Munck, & M. D. Fischer (Eds.), A companion to cogni- tive anthropology (Vol. 1, pp. 30–47). Blackwell.

Ray, A. J. (1974). Indians in the fur trade: Their role as hunters, trapper and middlemen in the lands southwest of Hudson Bay 1660–1870. University of Toronto Press.

Richards, J. (2014). Are we making progress? New evidence on aboriginal education outcomes in provincial and reserve schools. CD Howe Institute.

Richards, J., & Scott, M. (2009). Aboriginal education: Strengthening the foundations. Canadian Policy Research Networks.

Roberts, R. L., Harper, R., Bull, T.-E., & Heideman-Provost, L. M. (1998). The Native American medicine wheel and Individual Psychology: Common themes. Journal of Individual Psychology, 54(1), 135–146.

Robertson, L. H. (2011a). An application of PLAR to the devel- opment of the aboriginal self: One college’s experience. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(1), 96–108.

Robertson, L. H. (2011b). Prior learning assessment and recognition in aboriginal self (re) construction. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 9(2), 459–472. Robertson, L. H. (2014a). In search of the aboriginal self: Four indi-

vidual perspectives. SAGE Open, 4(2), 1–13.

Robertson, L. H. (2014b). Native spirituality: The making of a new religion. Humanist Perspectives, 471(1), 16–23.

Robertson, L. H. (2015). The trauma of colonization: A psy- cho-historical analysis of one aboriginal community in the North American “North-West.” InterAmerican Journal of Psychology, 49(3), 317–332.

Robertson, L. H. (2016). Self-mapping in counselling: Using memetic maps to enhance client reflectivity and therapeutic efficacy. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 50(3), 332–347.

Robertson, L. H. (2017). Implications of a culturally evolved self for notions of free will. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(1889), 1–8. Robertson, L. H. (2020). The evolved self: Mapping an understand-

ing of who we are. University of Ottawa Press.

Robertson, L. H., & Conrad, D. (2016). Considerations of self in recognising prior learning and credentialing. In S. Reushle, A. Antonio, & M. Keppell (Eds.), Open learning and formal cre- dentialing in higher education: Curriculum models and institu- tional policies (pp. 187–204). IGI Global.

Robertson, L. H., Holleran, K., & Samuels, M. (2015). Tailoring university counselling services to aboriginal and international students: Lessons from native and international student cen- tres at a Canadian university. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 45(1), 122–135.

Robertson, L. H., & Redman, P. (1988). A comprehensive review of educational programs and support services of the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School. Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School. Robertson, L. H., Robertson, T. J., & Robertson, D. T. (2020). The opened mind: An application of the historical concept of open- ness to education. In D. Conrad & P. Prinsloo (Eds.), Opening

education: Theory and practice (pp. 26–46). Brill.

Rushton, J. P., & Ankney, C. D. (1993). The evolutionary selec- tion of human races: A response to Miller. Personality and Individual Differences, 15(6), 677–680.

Sanderson, J. (2010). Culture brings meaning to adult learning: A medicine wheel approach to program planning. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 8(1), 32–54.

Scott, A., & Nippi, D. (2004, May 27). Walking in harmony: A workshop for healing within.

Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of inter- ventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.

Sojonky, T. (2010). A self-study: Being a white psychologist in an Indian world. Peter Lang.

Steinbring, J., & Muller, N. (2012). North American petroforms: Questions of their chronological and cultural placement [Paper presentation]. L’art pléistocène dans le monde / Pleistocene art of the world / Arte pleistoceno en el mundo Actes du Congrès IFRAO, Tarascon-sur-Ariège, Septembre 2010. http://blogs. univ-tlse2.fr/palethnologie/wp-content/files/2013/fr-FR/ver- sion-longue/articles/AMN08_Steinbring-Muller.pdf

Strong, T. (2002). Collaborative “expertise” after the discursive turn. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 12(2), 218–232.

Strong, T., & Zeman, D. (2005). “Othering” and “selving” in therapeutic dialogue. European Journal of Psychotherapy, Counselling and Health, 7(4), 245–261.

Swidler, A. (1986). Culture in action: Symbols and strategies.

American Sociological Review, 51(2), 273–286.

Swidrovich, C. M. (2004). Positive experiences of first nations chil- dren in non-aboriginal foster or adoptive care: De-constructing the “Sixties Scoop.” University of Saskatchewan.

Templeton, A. R. (1998). Human races: A genetic and evolutionary perspective. American Anthropologist, 100(3), 632–650.

Vogt, D. (2015). Medicine wheels of the great plains. In C. L. N. Ruggles (Ed.), Handbook of archaeoastronomy and ethnoas- tronomy (pp. 541–550). Springer.

Waldram, J. B. (2004). Revenge of the windigo: The construction of the mind and mental health of North American aboriginal peoples. University of Toronto Press.

Waldram, J. B. (2014). Healing history? Aboriginal healing, his- torical trauma, and personal responsibility. Transcultural Psychiatry, 51(3), 370–386.

Wesley-Esquimaux, C. C., & Smolewski, M. (2004). Historic trauma and aboriginal healing. Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Widdowson, F. (2013). Native studies and Canadian political sci- ence: The implications of “decolonizing the discipline.” In F. Widdowson & A. Howard (Eds.), Approaches to aboriginal education in Canada: Searching for solutions (pp. 340–356).

Widdowson, F., & Howard, A. (2013). Running the gaunt- let: Challenging the taboo obstructing aboriginal education policy development. In F. Widdowson & A. Howard (Eds.), Approaches to aboriginal education in Canada: Searching for solutions (pp. 288–317). Brush Education.

Brush Education.

Wilson, E. O. (1999). Consilience: The unity of knowledge. Vintage Books.

Woods, E. T. (2012). The Anglican Church of Canada and the Indian Residential Schools: A meaning-centred analysis of the long road to apology. London School of Economics and Political Science.

Wuttunee, W. I. C. (1971). Ruffled feathers: Indians in Canadian society. Bell.


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of : https://www.amusingplanet.com/2016/10/bighorn-medicine-wheel.html
  2. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/21582440211015202
  3. https://www.hawkeyeassociates.ca/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Humanist Action For Humanist (And Other) Refugees Who Must Flee Taliban Rule

A consortium of humanist individuals and organizations has begun to work collaboratively and cooperatively to express concern to the Canadian government regarding what they view as a discriminatory oversight (we prefer the term omission) of certain categories of people from the Canadian response to political change in Afghanistan. Particularly, the consortium has expressed concern for Canada’s failure to specifically include atheists, agnostics, humanists and other apostates from its list(s) of categories of those who are vulnerable and may qualify for Canadian assistance. Following is a statement by the consortium.

Statement to Address Discriminatory Oversight in Canadian Special Humanitarian Assistance Program for Afghan Nationals

October 4th, 2021

The tenuous and dangerous living circumstances in Afghanistan following the nation’s fall to the Taliban are dire for many of its citizens, especially atheists and other apostates. Humanist, atheist, and agnostic organizations in Canada represent a diverse group of people who believe that each of us has the responsibility to give meaning to our own life. Those citizens finding meaning in rethinking and rejecting the idea of supernatural entities, including gods, must be as respected as religious believers. In the spirit of the universalism of secular humanism, a consortium of Canada’s many humanist, atheist and agnostic organizations have come together to urgently call upon the government to ameliorate a grave error in the Special Humanitarian Assistance Program for Afghan Nationals.

The current policy language of the Special Humanitarian Assistance Program for Afghan Nationals is as follows:

“There are 2 eligible groups under this program.

Group 1:

You may be eligible for this program if

  • you’re an Afghan national
  • you’re outside of Afghanistan and
  • you don’t have a durable solution in a third country

This group will include people such as

  • woman leaders
  • human rights advocates
  • journalists and people who assisted Canadian journalists
  • persecuted religious minorities
  • LGBTI individuals
  • immediate family members of one of the above

Group 2:

You may be eligible for this program if you’re an extended family member of someone who helped the Government of Canada and has already been resettled to Canada.”

The language used in this policy that exclusively designates eligibility based on membership in a persecuted religious minority group explicitly discriminates against those persecuted on the basis of their non-belief and atheism. 

Atheists and apostates from Islam in Afghanistan face extreme danger and this serious risk should be neither overlooked nor dismissed. It is well established that the classical punishment for apostasy in Islamic jurisprudence is death. Senior Taliban officials have recently announced their intention to impose strict traditional Sharia (Islamic law) punishments, including execution and the amputation of hands. Thus, the safety of all apostates and non-believers is of the utmost concern.

This policy’s highly restrictive current language fails to meet Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines the observance and promotion of “freedom of religion or belief.” The government of Canada is also failing to fulfill its responsibility as a party to the United Nations 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which describes refugees as those who are “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Our collaborative endeavour urgently calls upon the government of Canada to immediately issue a clarification of its Special Humanitarian Assistance Program for Afghan Nationals, to explicitly include non-religious Afghan atheists, humanists, and agnostics.

The above statement is supported by the following organizations and individuals:

Abdullah Sameer, YouTuber & Blogger, Friendly Ex-Muslim, & Previous Founder, Light Upon Light and Verse By Verse Quran

Ali A. Rizvi, M.D., Author, “The Atheist Muslim”, & Co-Host, Secular Jihadists for a Muslim Enlightenment podcast

Andy Blair, Founder & Chair, Ubuntu Canada Refugee

Armin Navabi, Founder, Atheist Republic, Author, “Why There Is No God: Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God”, & Co-Host, Secular Jihadists for a Muslim Enlightenment podcast

Prof. Arthur Schafer, Founding Director, Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, University of Manitoba

Babak Yazdi, Executive Director, Kanoon-e-Khavaran

Barrie Webster, Vice President, Secular Connexion Séculière

Christine Ball, Co-President, Ontario Humanist Society

Christopher DiCarlo, Ph.D., Philosopher, Founder, Critical Thinking Solutions, & author of multiple titles including, “So You Think You Can Think? Tools for Having Intelligent Conversations and Getting Along”

David Rand, President, Libres penseurs athées — Atheist Freethinkers

Diane Bruce, Director, Centre for Inquiry Canada, & Branch Manager, Centre for Inquiry Canada — Ottawa

Doug Thomas, President, Secular Connexion Séculière

Edan Tasca, Board Member, Centre For Inquiry Canada

Fika Taillon, Founder & Organizer, Minds & Hearts Without Borders

George Cordahi, Vice President, Halton Peel Humanist Community

Gus Lyn-Piluso, Ph.D., President, Centre for Inquiry Canada

Henry Beissel, Distinguished Emeritus Professor, Concordia University, Montreal

Homa Arjomand, Active Director, The Cultural Bridges Association, & Coordinator, The Campaign Open Borders for Afghan Women and Children Fleeing the Taliban

Jannalee Morris, President, Atheist Society of Calgary

Jason Sylvester, Board Member at Large, Atheist Alliance International

Jocelyne Lemoine, Branch Manager, Centre for Inquiry Canada — Winnipeg

Katherine Dimou, President, Society of Freethinkers

Kendra Getty, Branch Manager, Centre for Inquiry Canada — Saskatoon

Kenn Bur, Founder, Secular Wall

Kerry Bowser, Co-President, Ontario Humanist Society

Lawrence M. Krauss, Ph.D., President, The Origins Project Foundation, Host, The Origins Podcast, & authorof multiple titles including, “The Greatest Story Ever Told–So Far: Why Are We Here?”

Leonard Walsh, Branch Manager, Centre for Inquiry Canada — Nova Scotia

Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson, M.Ed., Ph.D., President, The New Enlightenment Project: A Canadian Humanist Initiative

Madeline Weld, Ph.D., Co-Editor, Humanist Perspectives magazine

Martin Frith, President, Humanist Canada

Muhammad Syed, President, Ex-Muslims of North America

Neil Bernstein, YouTuber, Neil The 604 Atheist

Onur C. Romano, Human Rights Chair, Centre For Inquiry Canada, & President, Ateizm Derneği International

Randolf Richardson, President, Canadian atheists

Richard Dowsett, President, Halton Peel Humanist Community, & Coordinator, Humanist Association of Toronto 

Richard G. L. Thain, D.D.S., Founding board member, Centre For Inquiry Canada, & Founder, Humanist Canada Student Essay Contest

Richard Young, M.Eng.,Co-Editor, Humanist Perspectives magazine

Robert Hamilton, President, Humanist Ottawa

Sandra Dunham, BSc, MPA, Executive Director of Development, Centre For Inquiry Canada

Scott Douglas Jacobsen, Independent Researcher, Journalist

Seanna Watson, Vice President, Centre for Inquiry Canada

Sheila Ayala, President, Secular Ontario

Simon Parcher, President, Canadian Humanist Publications

Sohail Ahmad, President, Ex-Muslims of Toronto

Sophie Shulman, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sci., Branch Manager, Centre For Inquiry Canada — Victoria

Steven Pinker, Ph.D., Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, & author of multiple titles including, “Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters”

Susanna McIntyre, President & CEO, Atheist Republic

Tahmineh Sadeghi, Spokesperson, Hambasteghi – International Federation of Iranian Refugees

Tarek Fatah, Fellow, Middle East Forum, Columnist, The Toronto Sun, & author of multiple tiles including, “The Jew is Not My Enemy”,

Yasmine Mohammed, Founder, Free Hearts Free Minds, & Author, “Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam”

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of:
  2. https://www.atheistrepublic.com/press-release/secular-organizations-charge-government-errors-afghan-humanitarian-program
  3. http://www.secularconnexion.ca/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Discussion: Launch of “The New Enlightenment Project”

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find organizations and activities that we think humanistfreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The “New Enlightenment Project” caught our eye (particularly the blog section of the organization’s website which features a growing library of articles and discussion) and we asked this new organization’s President, Dr. Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson to tell us more. (Note that bold features are ours and may not coincide with any emphasis that Dr. Robertson might prefer.)

1) What is the New Enlightenment Project and why did you (the organizers) create it?

The New Enlightenment Project was established with three objectives. First, we aim to provide education on the enduring qualities of reason and compassion which define humanism. Second, we affirm that the application of humanist values that flow from a stance firmly rooted in reason and compassion will necessarily change over time. One forum for accomplishing this, for example, is provided by Humanists International and their initiative to amend the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002. This process of updating is part of the “new” in the “New Enlightenment.” Third, since there is no deity that can give us the final word, we must depend on each other honing our knowledge through open discussion and free debate. We provide that forum.

2)  How will NEP be different from other humanist-branded organizations? What will NEP do that others aren’t already doing?

The NEP is inclusive. We recognize that there is a wide range of opinion within humanism and that humanists often have differences in focus. But we also believe that we need a venue where humanists can have difficult conversations about controversial topics. Humanist Canada had such an open discussion group which they shut down last year. They then engaged in discussions with the Centre for Inquiry – Canada about creating a joint open discussion forum, but they have been unable to create such a forum. In the meantime, NEP has created two such forums, one on our website and one on Facebook, and these forums are open to everyone. To our knowledge, we are the only humanist organization in Canada providing this opportunity, and we invite all humanist organizations to embrace this initiative.

3) What does NEP see as the top priorities for humanism and humanists now and in the coming years? Within Canada? Globally?

There are many contemporary issues of concern. One of our top priorities is to come to terms with indigeneity in a postcolonial world. There are those who consider themselves to be allies of the descendants of the colonized who call science and reason “Western” and who promote “other ways of knowing.” When you think about it, this position is quite racist. It is saying that science and reason belong to Europeans and their decedents. Further, it is patronizing to suggest that faith based “other ways of knowing” is somehow equivalent to the enlightenment afforded by empirically verified research. Humanists need to come to terms with how these fundamental values can relate to traditional indigenous cultures. To help accomplish this the NEP participates in an Aboriginal Circle aimed at combining aborigineity and humanism. 

There are other injustices that are worth fighting against. For example, with the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan we are witnessing the re-imposition of Medieval practices that include beheadings and the use of amputation to enforce religiously based authoritarian laws. We are part of a coalition of humanist groups raising public awareness and lobbying for government recognition and support of humanists, atheists and apostates as refugees. While this hearkens back to the original Enlightenment that concerned itself with replacing feudal structures, we must contend with modern economic forces that can also bring injustice.

I think humanists also need to also celebrate the achievements our movement has helped produce. Secularism is on the rise. We have achieved fantastic gains in combating racism and sexism. We need to continue to fight injustice while being wary of beliefs that are anti-scientific and discourage open inquiry. Compassion, which is an essential part of humanism, must be extended to all

4) What does NEP see as the greatest threats to humanism and humanists now and in the coming years? Within Canada? Globally?

Humanism is under attack. It was always thus. We recognize the primacy of human reason in generating knowledge about knowledge about reality. Religionists have maintained that human reason is faulty and we need guidance from a deity. Totalitarians like Martin Heidegger have argued that science and reason are faulty and we need guidance from a great leader or Fuehrer as to ultimate “truths.”

In Canada we have become quite effective in fending off the attacks of religious fundamentalists. Globally, however, we have to deal with religiously infused authoritarian regimes, particularly in the Muslim world, who harass, jail and even execute atheists. Our defence of these humanists and apostates is hampered by the attitude of some North Americans who should be our secular allies but who provide deference to Muslim authoritarianism under the notion that these authoritarians represent victims of oppression.  

In Canada, humanists are facing attacks from these people who identify themselves as secularists as well as from religious fundamentalists. In an article that was published earlier by Humanist Freedoms I identified these secularists as the Woke. These Woke operate from the premise that objective knowledge is impossible and that even science and reason are “white, male ways of knowing.” We have been slow to recognize and respond to their challenge.  The NEP aims to take up their challenge.  

5) HumanistFreedoms.com attempts to present a portrait of contemporary humanism and humanists in its articles; how does New Enlightenment Project, an organization whose name seems to be focused on the past, relate to contemporary issues and reflect a contemporary humanism?

The Age of Reason never really ended and is responsible for the scientific explosion we still see today, but there are attempts to make it seem old, passe. But without the grounding provided by the Enlightenment, humanism ceases to be humanism. Respecting the dignity of the individual is impossible if the individual is denied. If there is no individual who can reason, then all knowledge must be granted by a deity or some analogous ideological structure. If there is no objective reality, then science, empiricism and reason are empty culturally sanctioned performances.  Put succinctly, humanism is grounded on the idea that there is a reality that exists outside of ourselves and we can come to know that reality through careful observation

The Enlightenment affirmed a capacity that was already present in the individual. In my book The Evolved Self, I trace the modern structure of the self that balances both individualism and collectivism back 3,000 years. Steven Pinker, in his new book Rationality states that the capacity to reason is much, much older than that, and while this is certainly correct, the self that did the reasoning and put meaning to the process has evolved. A new self that was volitional, continuous and uniquely felt evolved from the old, but it was almost immediately constrained by organized religions. The Enlightenment released those bonds for increasing numbers of mankind, and we have been living the Enlightenment ever since.  

But social, political and cultural contexts continually change. We have problems such as global warming, overpopulation and globalization that were not present 400 years ago.  While the original Enlightenment was concerned with replacing feudalism, the New Enlightenment must concern itself with recent global capitalism in the digital age and the rise of a new Woke educated aristocracy. The New Enlightenment uses the capacities that are already inherent in the self to amend and update humanism making it very contemporary. Those who would deny those capacities would return us to the Dark Ages.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://www.thinglink.com/scene/641700651721555970
  2. https://nep-humanism.ca/
  3. https://humanists.international/what-is-humanism/the-amsterdam-declaration/
  4. https://www.thinglink.com/scene/641700651721555970

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Books: The Council of Animals by Nick McDonell

A fable is a story that imbues animals and imaginary creatures, along with any manner of natural or supernatural forces, with human-like traits to convey any part of its plot, meaning or narrative. It seems that fables have been a staple of human storytelling for as long as humans have had stories to tell. Even the oldest documented story currently know, The Epic of Gilgamesh, contains elements of fable carved into tablets.

Given this fundamental position of fable in human culture, it should be no surprise, that fable retains a key role in contemporary story-telling. Human connection, whether individual or collective, to the natural world is too vital for fable to ever be completely banished. Fable may be considered as humanism over-lain on the natural world.

We do tend to used fable where it seems to have proven highly effective: story-telling to convey a moralistic message. Often that means children’s stories, but fable is certainly not exclusively for children.

The Council of Animals, by Nick McDonell was published early in 2021 and is a contemporary fable. The storytelling is not particularly innovative nor is the story itself novel and compelling. At the beginning of the story, a council of animals is gathering to decide the fate of humanity – will the animals decide to exterminate the last of humanity or leave them to live out their lives in peace?

In reading the story, other fables readily come to mind and it seems only marginally necessary to state their titles. Pick the first five fables that come to mind and you’ve probably stitched together much of the plot and much of the narrative style. Mentioning McDonell’s willingness as an author to mug for the camera via animal-themed puns and set-pieces and that might be the end of it. It’s almost unworthy of a book review.

Except that the book feels as though its original intent, a story where Kingdom Animalia renders judgment on humanity, had been leant a new direction when the global pandemic came to town. Over the course of the story, it is revealed that some unspecified pandemic had struck down humanity’s population and provided animals (and some mythological creatures) the opportunity to finally gather their collective strength and dominance to be able to decide what to do with the stragglers that had survived.

The efficacy of fables is not their reality. The efficacy is in their ability to convey a moralistic meaning. McDonell’s novel expresses existential concern regarding humanity’s relationship to nature and existential panic in the face of pandemic. Whether that should be considered to be moralized fear-mongering, naive hand-wringing or something else entirely may be up to the reader.

Whether the book is viewed as any of these things should not preclude recognizing that the matter of the book’s panic (a human-created pandemic that threatens to end humanity) is the smaller consideration compared to the book’s concern ( humanity’s relationship to nature).

The book does not seem to be a book of humanism, however it is a book which offers a reminder that contemporary humanists, or perhaps more accurately, contemporary human societies whether they’re humanist or not, currently have the significant challenge to set aside human-centered existential crises in order to address the larger and more significant concern of this planet’s capacity to support life in any form at all. We need a new and vigorous Biophilic Humanism – a humanism, and a humanity, that places its interest in itself within the sustaining interests of the natural world we inhabit.

The moral of the story, when it comes to reading The Council of Animals, is that the time for fables, this over-laying of human priorities and characteristics onto nature, seems to be reaching its limits. Now is the time for laying of nature’s needs and priorities over human character.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of :
  2. http://www.nickmcdonell.com/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Harvard Chaplains Elect a Humanist as ‘Chief Chaplain’

According to their website, The Harvard Chaplains are a professional community of more than thirty chaplains, representing many of the world’s religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions, who share a collective commitment to serving the spiritual needs of the students, faculty, and staff of Harvard University. “

In August of 2021, it was reported that this organization elected a Humanist as their ‘Chief Chaplain’. As one may expect, such a generated media attention and is seen by some as a kind of controversy.

Greg Epstein, the subject of that controversy is one of the organization’s chaplains. Again, according to the organization’s website: Greg M. Epstein serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, as well as the president of the Harvard Chaplains, Harvard University’s corps of over forty chaplains from more than 20 different religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions. Greg also serves the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as humanist chaplain and as Convener for Ethical Life at the MIT Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life. For nearly two decades, he has built a unique career as one of the world’s most prominent humanist chaplains — professionally trained members of the clergy who support the ethical and communal lives of nonreligious people.

Described as a “godfather to the [humanist] movement” by The New York Times Magazine, Epstein was also named “one of the top faith and moral leaders in the United States” by Faithful Internet, a project coordinated by the United Church of Christ with assistance from the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, for his efforts to bring together atheists, agnostics, and allies, as part of an ancient and ever-evolving ethical tradition that can be called humanism. As Greg believes deeply: in a changing world where faith in humankind has become more difficult to maintain, it is more important than ever to fight for our common humanity, and for each other.

As an author, Greg’s New York Times bestselling book, “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe,” continues to be influential years after its initial publication helped popularize the notion that the rapidly growing population of secular people can live lives of deep purpose, compassion, and connection. More recently,Greg’s 2018 move to join MIT, in addition to his work at Harvard, inspired an 18-month residency at the leading Silicon Valley publication TechCrunch, in which he published nearly 40 in-depth pieces exploring the ethics of technologies and companies that are shifting our definition of what it means to be human, often in troubling ways. Greg is currently writing a book on technology, religion, and humanism, based in part on this initial research. His writing on topics such as humanism, ethics, technology, and politics, has also appeared in The Boston Globe, CNN.com, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Salon, Critical Inquiry, and The Humanist.

In 2005, Greg received ordination as a Humanist Rabbi from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. He holds a B.A. (Religion and Chinese) and an M.A. (Judaic Studies) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Masters of Theological Studies from the Harvard Divinity School, and he completed a year-long graduate fellowship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

That Epstein’s appointment is a controversy is not really any great surprise. Whenever religion and organization politics (regardless of that organization’s nature) combine, controversy seems to be an automatic outcome. The real question here, is whether the controversy is about the right questions(s). In 2021, there are still a great many people who seem to feel it is perfectly acceptable to deride a person’s election to some form of public office based on whether they personally believe in a God.

The Harvard Chaplains unanimously elected Epstein. To those who are interested to object and cause snide, disrespectful and deriding headlines and commentary, is seems reasonable to ask two questions.

The first question is, “Since he was unanimously elected by his peaers, What’s the problem?” That question can easily be turned-into a two-or- even-three-parter, with a variety of follow-ups. But let’s leave that one as it is.

The second, and the more considerable question is, “Why do you think it’s OK to discriminate against someone who is merely living the best life that they can within their freedom not to believe what you happen to?”

It certainly seems that a world which continues to move toward allowing religious freedom and the freedom of belief must still be encouraged to recognize that these freedoms include, most fundamentally, the freedom not to believe. There’s the real controversy.


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of
  2. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/20/harvards-atheist-chaplain-controversy
  3. https://www.ncregister.com/blog/harvard-not-heaven-0a2nx6py
  4. https://chaplains.harvard.edu/
  5. https://www.ncregister.com/cna/harvard-catholic-center-responds-to-spin-on-atheist-chaplain
  6. https://www.humanistchaplaincy.org/
  7. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9929315/New-Harvard-chief-chaplain-atheist-ordained-humanist-rabbi.html
  8. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/9/2/greg-epstein-president-chaplains/
  9. https://www.christianpost.com/voices/can-an-atheist-chaplain-glorify-god.html
  10. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/26/us/harvard-chaplain-greg-epstein.html
  11. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/08/27/metro/harvards-new-head-chaplain-is-an-atheist-unanimously-elected-by-his-peers/
  12. https://angelusnews.com/faith/harvard-catholic-center-responds-to-spin-on-atheist-chaplain/
  13. https://nypost.com/2021/08/26/harvards-new-chaplain-is-an-atheist-and-good-without-god/
  14. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/9/9/harvard-chaplain-atheist/
  15. https://www.washingtonpost.com/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Pride Week In Russell Township

On Saturday, August 21, 2021 , local residents and community leaders of Russell Township gathered at the Township Hall to raise a flag in celebration of Pride Week. You may find a link to a video of the activity in the references of this article.

A modest flag raising in mostly rural Eastern-Ontario community may not seem like an attention-getting activity. After all, it is 2021 and a celebration of inclusive community values seems as though it ought to be de rigueur. Other terms that one might think to apply might include routine, banal, standard or even expected.

But it’s not.

Given the unprecedented changes in how individuals and groups have been able to navigate their communities since the global COVID 19 crisis has quite literally locked-down communities and nations, even the question of a flag-raising event entailed significant questions and potential barriers. Can we even hold a flag-raising even in pandemic-lockded-down world?

It took the action of an activist humanist to gather their own personal motivation and energy to reach out to family, friends and community leaders to make it happen. Raising a flag to celebrate inclusive community values still requires commitment and effort.

HumanistFreedoms.com became aware of the flag raising about mid-way through August when Dr. Richard Thain , a long-standing and much respected member of the Canadian secular humanist community, brought to our attention his plan to make the event happen. Using his typically warm, affable and engaging charisma – Dr. Thain inquired about an opportunity to chat about the project. Chat, we did.

Richard and Geneviève Thain

Soon after, Thain had engaged the support and assistance of the KIN Club Of Russell, his daughter Geneviève Thain, as well as other community members to organize a celebration that ought to have been an expected, standard or routine activity of the municipality. Of every municipality.

The bi-lingual event began with opening comments by the Co-Ceremony Masters, Richard and Geneviève:

…. proud to welcome you, all the dignitaries, the Russell township’s Community, diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, my family, friends, neighbours, fellow citizens and all of you who are viewing this around the world from the Kin Club of Russell’s live-stream on Facebook, to this flag-raising ceremony as we gather for this celebration of love and compassion. 

It is fitting that we think about unity and about community today. Over the past seventeen to eighteen months, we have seen how events, beyond our control, such as a virus, can separate and isolate us from our communities. 

Today, we are moved and honoured – in a word, proud – to have a renewed opportunity to come together with new understanding, new unities and renewed pride in our inclusive community. 

We all know that there are those who may disagree on any given issue. Whether it be those who stand in the way of advances in women’s reproductive rights, medical aid in dying… or, indeed, the full realization of fundamental human rights for all marginalized persons in our community – there seem to be infinite ways and motives to divide communities. We are here today to remember historical wrongs and tragedies for Canadians who self-identify as LGBTQ+ but more importantly to celebrate the continued progress of human rights and progressive communities.  

En 2013, la Haut-Commissaire des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme a lancé l’initiative « L’ONU libre et égale » (the UN Free and Equal campaign) en réponse à leurs conclusions selon lesquelles: Plus d’un tiers des pays du monde criminalisent les relations homosexuelles consensuelles et aimantes, en consoltant les préjugés et en exposant des millions de personnes à des risques de chantage, d’arrestation et d’emprisonnement. 

Many countries force transgender people to undergo medical treatment, sterilization or meet other unjust preconditions before they can obtain legal recognition of their gender identity.  Intersex children are often subjected to unnecessary surgery, causing physical and psychological pain and suffering. In many cases, a lack of adequate legal protections combined with hostile public attitudes leads to widespread discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – including workers being fired from jobs, students bullied and expelled from schools, and patients denied essential healthcare.” 

En résumé, dans de nombreux cas, l’absence de protections juridiques adéquates combinée à des attitudes publiques hostiles conduit à une discrimination généralisée contre les lesbiennes, gays, bisexuels, transgenres et intersexués – y compris les travailleurs licenciés, les étudiants intimidés et expulsés des écoles, et les patients privés de soins de santé essentiels. 

The rights that we wish to see around the world, we must first establish and celebrate here at home

We have come to know and respect members of our community who have faced unbearable and unacceptable discrimination based-upon their sexual identity or orientation.  Whether it is police officers and firefighters who serve their community or Canadian military personnel who served here at home and internationally; Whether it is students at our publicly-funded schools or adults of any walk of life… I am proud to be part of this flag raising which clearly states that those who serve our country and community deserve a free and equal place within it.  

To paraphrase a UN Free and Equal campaign – everyone deserves a safe and loving home and everyone deserves a safe and loving community.

Soon after these opening comments, the Thains were joined by local dignitaries including the Member of Parliament of Glengarry, Prescott Russell, the Honourable Francis Drouin and the Mayor of Russell Township, His Worship Mayor Pierre Leroux and the President of the Kin Club of Russell, Patrick Hunter.

Dr. Thain read a letter from Allan Hubley, an Ottawa city councillor (Kanata South) and Chair of the Transit Commission. Dr. Thain shared that:

While thinking about and planning this  flag-raising celebration a couple of weeks ago, I recalled the tragic story from a decade ago, of a Kanata high school student, named James Hubley. 

James had been bullied and subsequently lost his life to suicide.  His father, a member of Ottawa City Council, issued a statement on behalf of his family in October 2011. From that statement we learned: 

Jamie asked a question no child should have to ask – why do people say mean things to me?… Although James had a great many people who loved and supported him, something in his mind kept taking him to a dark place where he could not see the positive side of life…Recently, when Jamie tried to start a Rainbow Club at his high school to promote acceptance of others, the posters were torn down and he was called vicious names in the hallways and online,” writes his father. 

Jamie Hubley was a figure skater and the only openly gay boy in his school. Jamie is remembered as a boy who was not afraid to be himself. He was a championship figure skater for years, loved to sing and act. 

I wrote to Mr. Hubley and asked if he would be willing and available to attend our ceremony here today.  He sent a wonderful reply that he has agreed for me to share with you. 

Thank you for your effort and for your email.  My family and I want to thank you for keeping our boy Jamie’s memory in your hearts.  We are touched and filled with gratitude.   

Unfortunately, I am away for a family wedding at the time of your event but wish you well and thank you for your kind invitation.  

By raising the Pride flag we are going back to what Pride ceremonies were meant to accomplish.  You are raising, not just a flag, but also awareness of the issues that people in every community experience.   Promoting the acceptance of our differences as a community is part of what Canadians do so well.   

Acceptance and respect for each other make our community and our country a better, safer place for individuals and families. For someone who is experiencing bullying or discrimination based on how they look, their sexual orientation or for any reason that makes you unique, your action in raising this flag is a very powerful statement. 

The flag-raising activity was accompanied by comments from Srishti Hukku, a Kashmiri Canadian is a Research Fellow with Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants and has over a decade of experience with the federal government in increasingly senior positions. Srishti holds a Master’s of Public Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Economics. 

Before we turn to the history of the Quasar Progress Pride flag, I’d like to tell you a brief story. The year was 2002 and it was lunch time on a hot summer’s day at an Ottawa high school. Debates on same-sex marriage were roaring in the courts. I went outside to enjoy the sunshine and realized that a group of students were protesting in a circle around the main flagpole in front of the school. They had signs and were loudly chanting – you might be surprised to hear that this group of students was opposed to same-sex marriage. However, for me, that was a watershed moment. It became very clear that love is love…  comme on dit en français, l’amour c’est l’amour. And that such basic human rights were worth fighting for. 

Fortunately, the courts and I felt the same way with the ruling indicating only a few days later that: Marriage is … one of the most significant forms of personal relationships. Through the institution of marriage, individuals can publicly express their love and commitment to each other … This can only enhance an individual’s sense of self-worth and dignity.  Now being here today for this flag raising ceremony certainly feels like my story coming full circle.  As you may know, the original multi-coloured Rainbow Flag was designed by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978 in San Francisco.   The version that you see here today is Daniel Quasar’s Progress Pride Flag designed 40 years later in 2018. Quasar added the black and brown stripes to represent marginalised 2LGBTQ+ communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. The additional elements form an arrow shape that points to the right, to represent “forward movement” and are along the left edge of the flag to state that “progress still needs to be made.” 

A few of those gathered for the Pride Week Flag-Raising ceremony in Russell.


Gay rights and freedoms. Women’s rights and freedoms. Minority rights and freedoms. These are all human rights and freedoms. And even in 2021, raising a flag to celebrate human rights and freedoms is not an assured and expected activity; whether in Russell Township or in any community around the world, there is still much work to be done and many gatherings to be organized before human rights and freedoms are truly such a commonplace thing that raising a flag doesn’t also raise an eyebrow.

Well done, Richard. Well done , Geneviève. Well done to all those who gathered on a warm August day to remember where we’ve been, where we are and where we wish to go with UNIVERSAL human rights.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of: Dr. Richard Thain
  2. https://kinclubofrussell.ca
  3. https://www.facebook.com/388050434576352/videos/1532015760478037

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.