“I think the primary difference is that Indians experience and relate to a living universe, whereas Western people - especially scientists - reduce all things, living or not, to objects. The implications of this are immense. If you see the world around you as a collection of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, you will inevitably destroy the world while attempting to control it. Not only that, but by perceiving the world as lifeless, you rob yourself of the richness, beauty, and wisdom to be found by participating in its larger design.
In order to maintain the fiction that the world is dead -and that those who believe it to be alive have succumbed to primitive superstition - science must reject any interpretation of the natural world that implies sentience or an ability to communicate on the part of nonhumans. Science insists, at a great price in understanding, that the observer be as detached as possible from the event he or she is observing.
Contrast that with the attitude of indigenous people, who recognize that humans must participate in events, not isolate themselves.
Ironically, although science prides itself on being a search for knowledge, Indians can obtain knowledge from birds, animals, rivers, and mountains that is inaccessible to modern science. And Indians can use this knowledge to achieve better results. Take meteorology. Scientists know that seeding clouds with certain chemicals will bring rain, but this method of dealing with nature is wholly mechanical and forces nature to do our bidding. Indians achieved the same results more peacefully by conducting ceremonies and asking the spirits for rain. The two methods are diametrically opposed. It’s the difference between commanding a slave to do something and asking a friend for help.
Being attuned to their environment, Indians could find food, locate trails, protect themselves from inclement weather, and anticipate coming events thanks to theirunderstanding of how all things are related. This knowledge isn’t unique to American Indians. It’s available to anyone who lives primarily in the natural world, is reasonably intelligent, and respects other life-forms for their intelligence. Respect for other life-forms filters into our every action, as does its opposite: perceiving the world as lifeless. If you objectify other living things, then you are committing yourself to a totally materialistic universe - which is not even consistent with the findings of modern physics.
The central idea of science, as it has been developed and applied, is to get machines or nature to do the work human beings don’t want to do. This is immensely practical, but in a shortsighted way.”
— Vine Deloria, Jr.