The following quotations are from Daniel Wildcat, “The Question of Self-Determination,” from Vine Deloria, Jr. and Daniel R. Wildcat, Power and Place: Indian Education in America.
Power, ‘The living energy that inhabits and or composes the universe,’ is what moves us as human beings—all of the connections or relations that form the immediate environment or that small part of the world each of us inhabits. While energy in physical mechanics is quantifiable, Deloria’s concept of power is nonquantifiable. Power is a qualitative dimension shaping our thoughts, desires, habits, actions, and institutions that operates to a great extent without us thinking about it. In ordinary language we can call power amorphous, for it takes many forms, some overt and some latent. We are conscious of the former, while the latter lie dormant and have an existence of (to) which we are not initially conscious. We can also describe power as diffuse, for it surrounds us as an atmosphere of influences, including the very practical economic influences in the world. Power is quite literally flowing around and into us; if we are properly attentive, power can be used by us.
An indigenous North American metaphysics would agree with the formulation that knowledge is power, but object to the narrow Western idea of knowledge and the anthropocentric, human-centered notion of power. Like the concept of personhood, American Indians and Alaska Natives have a much broader notion of knowledge, one that includes knowledge born of direct experience of what I call the atmosphere of influences. Deloria’s likening of American Indian metaphysics to a social reality is helpful, for it directs us properly to the character of this atmosphere of influences. Social reality is not what one narrowly thinks of as social; instead, to follow Deloria’s suggestion, ‘social’ is as close as we might presently get to describing the substantive character or reality of power. Like society itself, the power allowed as social by most human beings, with the exception for a few intellectuals called methodological individualists, is readily acknowledged in its observable effects. We know society has forces we call social because we experience them and not only see, but also feel, their effects. The nature of social reality has certainly dogged philosophers of science and some serious social scientists. I would suggest that they consider the problem of social reality as only one part of a much larger and more serious exploration of the ‘nature’ of reality in general. To say as Karl Marx first did, and as many sociologists since have said, that we are simultaneously products of and producers of society and history, is a way of saying our human lives are a part of a life process we are engaged in—not by choice, but as a consequence of our living existence.
I find it easy to accept that the environment Marx experienced made it relatively simple to see life as a struggle for existence primarily shaped by an economic class struggle. However, it is not romanticism to suggest that Seattle, Ten Bears, Chief Joseph, and many other American Indian leaders of the nineteenth century lived in environments where the notion of a ‘struggle for existence’ never crossed their mind—although concern for living well did. Although it is fashionable today to bash any defense of a tribal aesthetics of cooperation with nature as romantic, I find it difficult to discount the impressions of so many non-Native persons, from conquistadores to Harvard anthropologists, who, in spite of incredibly ethnocentric, if not racist, assessments of our ancestors, all saw indigenous North American societies possessing something they found admirable and lacking in their own Western societies: generosity and social well-being.” 140-141.