Two Eyed Seeing

In the Fall of 2004 Mi’kmaw elder Albert Marshall offered the Mi’kmaw term Etuaptmumk or in English – ‘Two Eyed Seeing’ as a way of understanding the integration of Indigenous and Western worldviews or forms of knowledge. (Martin, D.2012).

However, there are other ways of understanding ‘Two Eyed Seeing’, one of which recognizes that the Indigenous worldview and knowledge incorporates both the intuitive, holistic, metaphorical mind of the brains right hemisphere with the analytic, reductive, linear left hemisphere.  Whereas Western worldviews and knowledge rely predominantly on the functions of the linear, analytic left hemisphere.  In this case ‘Two Eyed Seeing’ refers to a state of mind that relies on a balanced use of the left and right brain functions.x1   This is often referred to as a holistic worldview. From an Indigenous perspective we define this as consisting of knowledge produced from the body, mind, heart and spirit.  It appears that this form of ‘traditional’ indigenous knowledge gave indigenous populations the capacity to perceive crisis as an opportunity to grow and become stronger.x2   As a result, Indigenous populations were endowed with the capacity to minimize the negative effects of trauma.

When First Nations people used ‘Two Eyed Seeing’ in the past we faced crisis with confidence because we were able to manage and grow from crisis and cope with trauma.

The (traditional) tribal family continues to grow in spite of whatever trouble comes along and has the ability to use crisis as an opportunity for growth.  The (traditional) tribal family is adaptable and resilient in that it has the capacity to encounter crisis and use the discoveries from these experiences to become stronger.  Problems are perceived as challenges and opportunities for learning.  These perceptions have provided Aboriginal people with the capacity to survive numerous challenges from the environment and European settlers.  However depleted abilities may be Aboriginal people have remained strong enough to survive tremendous crises over the past five hundred years.

(Connors, Maidman, 2001)

Colonization experiences which have included residential schools and resulted in loss of language, culture, teachings, beliefs, lands and self determination all contributed to progressive disconnection from ‘two eyed seeing’ and weakened our ability to face and cope with crisis, leaving us vulnerable to the negative effects of crisis. Today crisis often creates increased events of trauma that result in prolonged and pervasive physical, mental, emotional and spiritual harm. In addition, colonization has weakened our positive connections and relationships within family, and community. These losses have also contributed to depleting our capacity to cope with crisis and trauma. Current western research supports First Nations knowledge recognizing indigenous communities that maintain and support traditional cultural practices, beliefs, values and self determination experience less crisis and trauma and cope more effectively with these events (Chandler & Lalonde, 2008), Levy, 1965, & Westlake & May, 1986). In other words, ‘two eyed seeing’ and living appears to increase our capacity to cope with and benefit from crisis so that trauma occurs less and when it happens it is less likely to produce enduring harmful effects. Today we refer to this capacity as resilience. From an Indigenous perspective we can refer to this as ‘Two Eyed Seeing’ and living. Elders often refer to indigenous culture as ‘a way of life’ or a way of seeing and living.

The ability to employ the functions of both hemispheres of the brain in balance, as described in ‘two eyed seeing’, appears to offer the abilities that enable resilience.

From a healing or therapeutic perspective this condition can be encouraged by utilizing therapies or healing practices that speak to the development of, each hemisphere. Both Western and First Nations healing/therapeutic practices offer approaches that can accomplish this. However, the effects of colonization on First Nations people have shifted our worldviews so that First Nations people now have worldviews that range from assimilated western worldviews to traditional First Nations worldviews (Two Eyed Seeing). As a result therapeutic interventions that address both brain hemispheres have to be used and have to match the client’s worldview. It is therefore, imperative that therapists/healers assess the worldviews of their clients and ensure that the healing/therapeutic practices offered match with their worldview. This means that appropriate healing practices can consist of Western therapies, traditional First Nations practices or combinations of both. Today we identify these approaches as culturally safe or competent practices. Practitioners who desire to be effective healers within First Nations and Inuit communities should complete an indigenous cultural competence program.

In short traditional indigenous cultures contain the strengths that create the capacity to cope effectively with crisis and trauma.

Despite the many assaults that have occurred on the Aboriginal families of North America during the past five hundred years, Native people have survived and are… (recovering from the impact of colonization). While it is a travesty that some First Nations did not survive to see this time of healing, it is a testament of the resilience and strength of the tribal family that so many Aboriginal families remain. Today, many Aboriginal people are beginning to realize that most of the strengths that enabled our survival lie within our cultures. Those ways that the colonizers regarded as primitive and from which they attempted to separate Native people are what many First Nations and Non-Native people now realize contain the tools that will likely ensure the survival of all peoples and all of creation on this planet. This is why today there is a strong resurgence of native culture and native pride. Aboriginal families are now coming full circle to redefine the principles from our past that will help us to form a healthier future.

(Connors, Maidman, 2001)

One core principal that can promote our healing and recovery is ‘two eyed seeing’. As we learn once again to utilize the functions of both hemispheres of our brains in more balanced ways we rebuild resilience and by doing so recover our capacity to cope effectively with crisis and traumax2. In short much of the rebuilding that we need to do is from within ourselves in balance with some of what is offered from others. Some First Nations people refer to this process as decolonization or reclaiming much of what we have lost.

Our elders often remind us ‘Creator has given us all that we need to live good lives. We need only to attend to these gifts and use them well for our benefit and the benefit of all of creation.’

Contributed by Dr. Ed Connors.

x1Jill Bolte Taylor in her book My Stroke of Insight offers useful insights into this phenomena.
x2Rupert Ross offered useful insights into the indigenous worldview in his book “Dancing With A Ghost” Exploring Indian Reality.

Article: Two Eyed Seeing

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