Author’s Note: This is a complete revision of the post originally titled “Maslow Got It Wrong.” My ea rlier version included inaccuracies, as some readers pointed out, like the assumption Maslow depicted his theory in a pyramid shape. I have documented and attempted to correct these errors in this companion post called What I Got Wrong: Revisions to My Post About Maslow and the Blackfoot. I’ve updated the post you’ll read below, so it is more focused on what we can learn from the Blackfoot and from other Native cultures. I have retitled this post to reflect this emphasis more clearly.
Some months ago, I was telling my friend and GatherFor Board Member Roberto Carlos Rivera that I had come across unpublished papers by Abraham Maslow suggesting changes to his famous Hierarchy of Needs. Roberto, Executive Director of Alliance for the 7th Generation, was familiar with the subject and turned me on to something else I didn’t know: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs may have been inspired by the Siksika (Blackfoot) way of life. In reading follow-up materials he sent me, I learned Maslow spent six weeks living at Siksika — which is the name of the people, their language, and the Blackfoot Reserve — in the summer of 1938. His time there upended some of his early hypotheses and possibly shaped his theories. While I initially came to believe Maslow appropriated and misrepresented the teachings of the Blackfoot, I have learned that this narrative, while held by some, may not be accurate even according to Blackfoot scholars. Yet what has been far more valuable for me in this inquiry was learning what Maslow witnessed at Siksika. Whereas mainstream American narratives focus on the individual, the Blackfoot way of life offers an alternative resulting in a community that leaves no one behind.
Ryan Heavy Head (also known as Ryan FirstDiver) and the late Narcisse Blood, members of the Blackfoot Nation, received a grant from the Canadian Government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to research Blackfoot influences on Maslow. Their lectures summarize their findings and are stored in the Blackfoot Digital Library. Dr. Cindy Blackstock — a member of the Gitxsan First Nation tribe, a professor at McGill, and Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society — has conducted similar research. My primary investigation into this topic involved watching Blood and Heavy Head’s lectures; reading the works of and corresponding with Cindy Blackstock; speaking to and reviewing the writings and podcasts of the world’s foremost Maslow expert, Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman; speaking to Ryan Heavy Head on the phone; and consulting the sources cited at the end of this article.