If you grew up in the Canadian school system, you’ve at least heard about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs once in your life. If you need a refresher: Maslow stated that humans have to first meet physiological needs (water, food, warmth, rest) before we can meet safety needs. Once safety needs are satisfied, we can meet our psychological needs like community building, belongingness and love. After that, we can meet our esteem needs. When all of those needs are met, we can have full self-actualization. We can finally meet our needs of self-fulfillment and focus on creative activities, like going after our individual career goals, etc. Later on, he added self-transcendence, where self-actualized individuals would pursue goals outside of themselves, finally caring for others.
What many people don’t know, is that Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs framework was actually rooted in the Blackfoot Confederacy teachings. In the summer of 1938, Maslow went to stay with the Siksika Nation, in Alberta. He was interested in testing his hypothesis that humans formed social hierarchies based on dominance and submission. While studying their conception of time and collective existence, he adapted the teachings of the Blackfoot Confederacy, to fit the western notion that the individual is the most important part of existence. The Blackfoot perspective actually places self-actualization at it’s foundation. Once self-actualization is met, community actualization takes place. Once those two levels are met, then we reach the peak: cultural perpetuity. The Gitksan people call it, “the breath of life.” It’s the understanding that we as individuals will be forgotten one day, but we play important roles in ensuring that our people’s important teachings live on for generations. The erasure of this expansive perspective makes me wonder if it’s one of the reasons why there are so many injustices in Canada, around the world, and ecologically to the planet itself.
I thought about the Blackfoot teachings when I spoke with Vanessa Simon. A woman of Haitian heritage, growing up in an all white family, in a very white part of the world; British Columbia, Canada. She began by telling me her experience of being lonely in Victoria, BC. This yearning for a community but unable to find it, resonated with me, and I’m sure it does for many people living in BC, especially if they are Black. While discovering and growing into her identity as a Black womxn, athletics and mental health helped propel her into the world of activism. After living in Victoria for 6 years, she is helping shape the community. She’s helping it achieve community actualization.
The beginning of Vanessa’s journey on this path of social and mental activism began when she joined two distinct communities. The first was through her collegiate athletic career, where she often felt alone. The other was a group supporting each other’s mental health journeys. Although, most of the people in these groups were white, she was able to use these experiences, as well as her desire to belong to a community, to first recognize her own traumas that she had been carrying. After acknowledging her personal traumas, she began on her journey of healing and growth. This growth would eventually lead her to having the strength to help others, and building a community in the process.
Most of us know, before 2020, Black folx were largely erased from almost every conversation about British Columbia. Non-Black Canadians would question why we need to talk about Black people in Canada since “they don’t exist here”. If you really searched for the information you might have heard about Hogans Alley in Vancouver, and during Black History month, you’d learn mainly about American Black history, and if you’re really lucky, you’d hear about Viola Desmond: “t