“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together.”
– Chief Seattle
What if we saw ourselves in animals? How much more connected would we feel to nature if animals became extensions of us?
Indigenous cultures around the world have attributed wisdom and meaning to animals. For example, a cheetah helps one to focus on effectively achieving goals, while a horse represents freedom and inner strength.
Today, we will consider the Animal Wisdom that lives in each of us and how this activity provides kids with the opportunity to draw upon Indigenous values, in order to strengthen our communal bonds with one another and nature.
This SEL activity teaches students about the Indigenous values of accountability, building relationships, and having respect for your fellow humans and wildlife in a fun, interactive way.
Accountability in the Era of Climate Catastrophe is a Crucial 21st Century Lesson for Every Person On Earth to Internalize, Not Just a Standard to Check Off the List.
The survival of this planet is contingent upon all of us quickly becoming global citizens. Environmental justice is also an integral part of social justice, which is a foundational tenet of Be the Change.
Indigenous cultures around the globe are rooted in their reverence for the natural world, what we refer to as “analog,” and living in harmony with wildlife, instead of seeking to dominate it, which is a Western value.
Indigenous people have always understood that preserving the delicate balance between wildlife and humans meant they could leave an intact world to their descendants, like their ancestors did for them.
Unfortunately, our increasing dependence on technology is alienating us further away from the analog and expanding the inequality between humans, nature, and wildlife.
Seeing the World Through Indigenous Values and The Eyes of Our Animal Guides
So, how do you teach students whose faces are glued to their smartphone screens every day to value the analog world around them?
We start by linking their personality to animals.
Animal Wisdom is an SEL activity that artistically connects the human and animal worlds and draws inspiration from ancient non-Western spirituality.
Associating our humanity with animals will teach both your students and you indigenous values of seeking and accepting wisdom from all sources and in all forms, even if it isn’t grounded in the dominant Western narrative.
It will remind you that there are societies and systems of thought that predate Western civilization and will hopefully encourage you and your students to question why these integral lessons have been discounted and erased in favor of Eurocentric logic.
SEL Activity: Animal Wisdom
Our exercise begins by asking students what their most artistic trait is. As prep, you will give students 6-8 packing boxes and ask them to paint them different colors.
On the day of the activity, place various materials such as glue, scissors, markers, books with animal pictures, and cardboard tubes at each workstation. You’ll then assemble students into pairs or groups of 3 and ask them to pick 1 shared value that they collectively care about.
Next, you’ll show them pictures of totem poles and distribute our Animal Wisdom handout, which showcases several animals and the wisdom each possesses. You’ll then ask each group to consider which animal best reflects their shared value and why.
Then you’ll ask each group to share the animal they chose with the class, and then you’ll explain to them that Indigenous people believe these animals represent wisdom for human beings.
Finally, you’ll give each group 1 of the painted boxes and ask them to create the animal they chose. When everyone is finished, stack the boxes on top of one another like a totem pole.
Filtering personality character traits through the lens of homemade animal totems and indigenous values of interconnectedness not only reifies the bonds between students and their peers, it also (temporarily) shifts their focus from our dominant human-centered Western worldview to one where people, wildlife, and nature are interconnected and equally important.
And if kids understand that they’re connected to all life on the planet and that their actions have a ripple effect, it creates an intrinsic motivation to be accountable to all life.
Indigenous Values Fosters Climate Change Awareness
As we mentioned earlier, connecting with nature in the age of climate change is more important now than ever.
Although the warming of the planet is largely the result of decades-long emissions from fossil fuel companies, we should still understand how our individual actions negatively impact our precious ecosystem.
It’s important for all of us to see ourselves in animals and center all forms of life in order for us to digest the harrowing and far-reaching scope of climate change. That way, we can rise up and take action against the powers that enable and perpetuate the destruction of our planet.
Imbuing animals with wisdom on par with human intelligence will hopefully give you and your pupils a greater respect for wildlife.
The analog wisdom of ancient Indigenous cultures can teach everyone valuable lessons about interconnectedness, accountability, and respect for the environment that we can apply to our society.
Are you ready to discover your pupils’ inner animals? Check out our booklet with Animal Wisdom and other great SEL activities to facilitate lessons that reinforce community values, social justice, and deep democracy.