Breath of Life Theory

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Cindy Blackstock:

"There are significant differences between First Nations and western worldviews particularly in relation to time, interconnection of reality, and the First Nations belief that simple principles often explain complex phenomena such as the universe or humanity. Physics’ theory of everything departs from the ontological norms underlying many western social science theories by proposing that all matter and time in the universe can be explained by a small set of interdependent physical principles set at precise values (Greene, 2003). Social science has not seriously entertained a theory of everything for all humanity. As set out in Blackstock (2009), western social science theories are limited in scope, application, and time. They are, in effect, snapshots situated within a broader interconnected reality. The breath of life theory suggests that a theory of everything for humanity should be seriously explored in western theoretical scholarship.

The holistic nature of TOE and its situation within expansive concepts of time and dimensions of reality means it is a better match for First Nations ontology than western social science theories (Blackstock, in 2009).

BOL assumes that a set of interdependent principles known as the relational worldview principles (Cross, 2007), described later in this paper, overlay an interconnected reality with expansive concepts of time and multiple dimensions of reality. Diversity in human experience is accounted for as time, culture, and context shape the manifestation of each principle. The basic premise of the theory is that structural risks affecting children’s safety and well-being are alleviated when the relational worldview principles are in balance within the context and culture of the community.

Although BOL was developed in response to the structural risks related to First Nations child welfare, the assumptions and structure of BOL do not implicitly bind it to child welfare applications and consideration should be given to its relevance to other areas and cultures. It is important to emphasize that this paper and the BOL draw on the general character of both western and First Nations knowledge and there is significant diversity among both cultural groups that is likely not fully captured. The inclusion of culture and context as shaping factors in BOL should make it culturally relevant for most, but in keeping with the self-determination principles for effective research with Aboriginal peoples, no theoretical framework should be imposed on First Nations without their prior approval (Schnarch, 2004).

For more detail on the underpinnings of BOL, readers are strongly encouraged to read my previous work setting the foundation for BOL by contrasting First Nations and western ontology and making the case as to why physic’s theory of everything is more proximal to First Nations ontology than are many social science theories (Blackstock, 2009). " (


The Relational Worldview Principles

Cindy Blackstock:

Inspired "by Native American child welfare expert Terry Cross in the relational worldview model (Cross, 1997; Cross, 2007).

The principles are categorized in four domains (cognitive, physical, spiritual, and emotional) of personal and collective well-being:

1. COGNITIVE: self and community actualization, role, service, identity, and esteem

2. PHYSICAL: water, food, housing, safety, and security

3. SPIRITUAL: spirituality and life purpose

4. EMOTIONAL: love, relationship, and belonging

The breath of life theory predicts that, if the relational worldview principles are out of balance within the framework of community culture and context, then risks to the child’s safety and well-being will increase. BOL also suggests that child welfare interventions geared toward restoring balance among the relational worldview models principles will result in optimal safety and well-being for the community and their children.

The relational worldview principles are derived from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Cross, 2007). Maslow’s work was, in turn, informed by the time he spent with the Blackfoot Indians in Canada (Coon, 2006). In effect, the hierarchy of needs was an early attempt at an ethical space concept (Ermine, Sinclair, & Jeffery, 2004). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs assumes that understanding human needs is critical to understanding personal well-being (Huitt, 2004; Coon, 2006). Although Maslow emphasized the interconnection of needs, he also believed that some human needs were more foundational than others and that both the identified needs and hierarchal importance of those needs were valid across cultures (Hoffman, 1998). As shown in Figure 1, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is typically represented in an eight-level triangle with the most fundamental physical needs depicted at the bottom and the personal fulfillment needs of self actualization and transcendence at the top (Huitt, 2004)." (


From the conclusion:

"Inspired by Ermine’s and colleagues' (Ermine, Sinclair, & Jeffery, 2004) concepts of ethical space and the tragic, longstanding overrepresentation of poor outcomes for First Nations children, BOL proposes a holistic approach for conceptualizing structural factors affecting First Nations children and families. The interpretation of the breath of life theory within the distinct cultures of First Nations peoples is embedded into the theory so as to avoid “pan Aboriginal” approaches that negate the rich diversity of Aboriginal cultures and languages. It comes at an important time when our current ways of thinking about structural risks have failed to stem the tide of First Nations children experiencing poor outcomes in child welfare and other areas.

So how does the breath of life theory differ from structural theory, ecological theory, and anti-oppression frameworks? This new theory assumes the world is indivisible and that everything across all time is important to understanding human experience. This theory goes beyond describing structural risk to identifying a series of constants that must be in balance in order to eradicate or reduce structural risk and its manifestation at the level of individuals and groups. BOL would agree that Bronfenbrenner’s dimensions of reality (1979) are important but would argue one lifetime (Bronfenbrenner, 1989) is inadequate to truly understand the experience of intergenerational groups. This new theory embraces the value of ancestral knowledge not only in identifying the constants that govern our reality, but also the culture and context that give shape to different manifestations of reality. It considers oppression as important only as a contextual factor––not as a focal factor––and provides a mechanism for restoring well-being: balance among the constants.

BOL introduces a First Nations perspective on social science. To fully understand the theory and its applications, some fluency in First Nations ontology is required. BOL invites western social science scholars to explore their current assumptions about knowledge and humanity from another worldview that situates human experience within expansive concepts of interdependence, time, and reality. It is an opportunity rarely presented in North American social science theoretical deliberation that is so dominated by western ontology and theoretical derivatives.

The implications of the theory are potentially significant. In the field of child welfare, if this new theory is proven correct, it would suggest that child welfare interventions should focus on restoring balance among the relational worldview principles instead of over-focusing on treating the way that the imbalance manifests at the level of individual children and families. BOL may also be useful in the development of child and family and community assessment tools aimed at identifying sources of structural risk and redressing its impacts.

With further testing, it may also have application in other disciplines where structural risk impacts on individual experience such as justice, health, and education. Importantly, even though the breath of life theory was developed based on general tenets of First Nations ontology, with proper cross-cultural evaluation it may inform structural interventions for other cultural groups."