Worldview / Philosophy

Traditional Tahltan Worldview

by Hotseta NaDene

All cultures, or people within various cultures, perceive and conceptualize their reality from a specific perspective. This perspective is usually referred to as their worldview. The worldview can be conceptualized as very closely corresponding to the definitions of culture and cognitive map. A worldview is made up of the principles we amass to make sense of everything around us – our world.

The young people of any particular generation/culture learned these principles through specific means, which include, traditions, customs, values, legends, stories, myths, family, community, and examples set by community adults and leaders.

Once a worldview has been established the individual is able to identify him or herself as a part of a unique group of a collective consciousness. Thus, the worldview permits the possessors to make sense of their surroundings, fashion artifacts to fit this surrounding, generate behaviour, and understand their experiences within their universe.

The worldview is a collection of coping skills, or devices that may or may not work depending on the situation, or it may have been effective in the past but not in the present, or the present worldview may be imposed and thus, conflict with traditional worldviews creating conflict and chaos. For example: in Tahltan we personally and politically follow a traditional ‘matrilineal kinship system’, but in today’s world we’ve adapted to an imposed ‘paternal naming-system’ – two very different ways in seeing the world. This causes a lot of confusion with our social and political identity.

Although worldviews consist of a complex interaction between various aspects of culture we are doing all we can to preserve our traditional worldview in its entirety when teaching and studying the language today.

In regards to the uniqueness of culture and language and the explicit, implicit and tacit knowledge contained within a given language Anthropologist Dr. Wade Davis (2003) states:

Language is not just a body of vocabulary, or a set of grammatical rules. Language is a flash of the human spirit. It is a vehicle in which each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old growth forest of the mind, a watershed of thought and an eco-system of possibilities. (Davis, TED 2003, video: 320-339).

In regards to worldview, “It wasn’t until I began understanding the Tāłtān language and had developed the insight to cross-reference words, phrases and concepts with my traditional indigenous cultural knowledge that I was able to truly understand Dr. Davis’s statement.

Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf use linguistic data to show how categories such as time, space and number are given in different ways by different languages. This lead Sapir to state; that in learning language we learn a world. Thus, when reporting on a cloud burst speakers of English are likely to say ‘it is raining’, but what is the ‘it’ that is raining? We say ‘it is raining’ because we are predisposed by the English language to think of events in the world in terms of direct effects of specific causes. (Monaghan & Just 2013. Audiobook 1:41:50 -1:44:17).

In contrast, a Tahltan would report Chā naditl’īt (rain is falling). Rather than cause and effect, the Tahltan language predisposes its speakers towards seeing the world as a flowing together of things and events, which is a total different way of seeing the world – a different worldview.

Also, in Tahltan the Sub-arctic environment dictated and shaped our interaction with one another. In Tahltan our traditional economy was based on reciprocity and everything we did was dictated by the relationships that depended upon this sharing. Therefore, in our traditional culture we have a clause of respect, built into our language, to insure we maintain good relationships with those who shared our world and are important to our survival in the Sub-arctic environment.

Based on this traditional characteristic, in our language, we cannot assume to know another person’s emotional, or physical state. We can’t simply say ‘you are angry’, or ‘you are tired’ etc. When our elders speak, even when working as informants for linguistic research, they always pose the human emotional and physical statements into a question so as not to offend who they are speaking to even when they were speaking to no one in particular.  This is a different way of interacting based on a different worldview that is dependent on maintaining a good relationship with those around you.

In our kinship terminology, we have specific terms for those who are related to us through either our mother, or our father (James Dennis. Oral personal communication 2011 – 2018).  In Tahltan culture, our mother’s kin are considered to be our close relatives and all those who are older than us cannot be referred to as “ours”; this includes our older siblings and cousins on our mother’s side whom we refer to as our siblings as well (Loveman Nole. Oral personal communication 2011 – 2015). We cannot possess them as opposed to our father’s kin, whom we can possess as ‘my-father’s sister’, or ‘my-father’s brother’. Our mother’s kin are referred to with ‘titles’ that cannot be possessed such as edē (mother’s sister), or edes̱e (mother’s brother) – a different worldview.

These examples are totally different ways of seeing the world in comparison to an English-speaking worldview whose economy is depended on hoarding individual profit – an individualistic worldview as opposed to a traditional Tahltan wholistic worldview.

-Hotseta NaDene

Monaghan & Just. 2013.  A Very Short Introduction: Social and Cultural Anthropology. Audiobook, published Feb, 22 2013. Presented by

TED 2003 February, Wade Davis: Dreams from endangered cultures. [Video file] Retrieved from