Sixteen Guiding Principles

Chief Phil Lane Jr. of the Yankton Dakota and Chickasaw First Nations is an internationally recognized leader in human and community development. I took a course provided by The Shift Network within which he spoke of ancient prophesies coming true now and presented 16 Guiding Principles and Sharing Circles Guidelines. He shared his life’s work with us, and the Guiding Principles that follow, along with the story of how they were arrived at. As you will see, they are based on the formula “Starting From Within, Working in a Circle, In a Sacred Manner, We Heal and Develop Ourselves, Our Relationships, and the World”. This is what Our Heart Gardens is based on, and it is an honourable way that can support all of us going forward. Putting it out there, in front of us all, so we can see them, discuss and share them.


These 16 principles for building a sustainable and harmonious world community emerged from a 36-year process of reflection, consultation and action within Indigenous communities across the Americas. They are rooted in the concerns of hundreds of aboriginal elders and leaders and thinkers, as well as in the best thinking of many non-aboriginal scholars, researchers and human and community development practitioners.

These guiding principles constitute the foundation for the process of healing and developing ourselves (mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually), your human relationships (personal; social, political, economic, and cultural) and our relationship with Mother Earth. They describe the way we must work and what we must protect and cherish.

We offer these principles as a gift to all who seek to build a sustainable and harmonious world community.


We speak as one, guided by the sacred teachings and spiritual traditions of the Four Directions that uplift, guide, protect, warn, inspire and challenge the entire human family to live in ways that sustain and enhance human life and the life of all who dwell on Mother Earth, and hereby dedicate our lives and energies to healing and developing ourselves, the web of relationships that make our world, and the way we live with Mother Earth.


Starting from within, working in a circle, in a sacred manner, we heal ourselves, our relationships and our world.


  1. Human Beings Can Transform Their World
    The web of our relationships with others and the natural world, which has given rise to the problems we face as a human family, can be changed.
  1. Development Comes From Within
    The process of human and community development unfolds from within each person, relationship, family organization, community or nation.
  1. No Vision, No Development
    A vision of who we can become and what a sustainable world would be like, works as a powerful magnet, drawing us to our potential.
  1. Healing Is A Necessary Part Of Development
    Healing the past, closing up old wounds and learning healthy habits of thought and action to replace dysfunctional thinking and disruptive patterns of human relations is a necessary part of the process of sustainable development.

WORKING IN A CIRCLE – Interconnectedness

  1. Everything is connected to everything else.
    Therefore, any aspect of our healing and development is related to all the others (personal, social, cultural, political, economic, etc.). When we work on any one part, the whole circle is affected.
  2. No Unity, No Development
    Unity means oneness. Without unity, the common oneness that makes (seemingly) separate human beings into ‘community’ is impossible. Disunity is the primary disease of community.
  1. No Participation, No Development
    Participation is the active engagement of the minds, hearts and energy of the people in the process of their own healing and development.
  1. Justice
    Every person (regardless of gender, race, age, culture, religion) must be accorded equal opportunity to participate in the process of healing and development, and to receive a fair share of the benefits.


  1. Spirit
    Human beings are both material and spiritual in nature. It is therefore inconceivable that human community could become whole and sustainable without bringing our lives into balance with the requirements of our spiritual nature.
  1. Morals And Ethics
    Sustainable human and community development requires a moral foundation centered in the wisdom of the heart. When this foundation is lost, morals and ethical principles decline and development stops.
  1. The Hurt Of One Is The Hurt Of All: The Honor Of One Is The Honor Of All
    The basic fact of our oneness as a human family means that development for some at the expense of well being for others is not acceptable or sustainable.
  1. Authentic Development Is Culturally Based
    Healing and development must be rooted in the wisdom, knowledge and living processes of the culture of the people.


  1. Learning
    Human beings are learning beings. We begin learning while we are still in our mother’s wombs, and unless something happens to close off our minds and paralyze our capacities, we keep learning throughout our entire lives. Learning is at the core of healing and development.
  1. Sustainability
    To sustain something means to enable it to continue for a long time. Authentic development does not use up or undermine what it needs to keep on going.
  1. Move To The Positive
    Solving the critical problems in our lives and communities is best approached by visualizing and moving into the positive alternative that we wish to create, and by building on the strengths we already have, rather than on giving away our energy fighting the negative.
  1. Be The Change You Want To See
    The most powerful strategies for change always involve positive role modeling and the creation of living examples of the solutions we are proposing. By walking the path, we make the path visible.

The Sixteen Principles for Building a Harmonious and Sustainable World emerged from an extensive process of consultation with Indigenous spiritual, cultural and community leaders spanning more than two decades. This consultation process began with an historic gathering that took place during the closing days of December, 1982, on the high plains of Southern Alberta. This gathering of forty traditional elders and community leaders came together to find a solution to the terrible darkness of substance abuse, poverty, suffering and death that seemed to have engulfed nearly every Indigenous community in Canada and the United States, and to share Indigenous visions and prophesies of the future. Four core principles emerged from this traditional council that became the foundation and guiding framework for extensive development, learning and action in hundreds of communities around the world. These four core principles are as follows.

  1. Development From Within
    Healing and development must come from within the communities of people who desire change, and must largely be directed by those people.
  1. No Vision; No Development
    If the people have no vision of human possibility other than the one in which they find themselves, they cannot heal themselves, they cannot develop and, ultimately, they cannot survive. Culture is the mother of vision. Developing people need to rediscover the life-preserving, life-enhancing values and insights of their own traditional experience.
  1. Individual and Community Development are connected.
    The development of individuals and the development of their families and communities go hand-in-hand. Personal and social developments are interdependent.
  1. A great Learning enterprise is required.
    Learning drives the process of development. People have to learn how to live in the world as individuals, families and communities in new ways that are life-preserving and life-enhancing. Learning is the fundamental dynamic of human development.

Four years after the initial gathering (in 1987) another elders gathering was called to review the work under way, and the original four principles were expanded to seven, adding (at the direction of elders and spiritual leaders attending the second visioning conference) such concepts as “the spiritual and moral dimensions of development are inescapable”; development must be shaped and guided from within the culture of the people”, and the importance of integrating the “top-down and bottoms-up approaches”, because both grassroots participation and strong leadership as well as effective institutions are needed. In July, 1991, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and Four Worlds International (FWII) sponsored The Gathering of Native American Elders in Loveland, Colorado, to further discuss the Guiding Principles and Indigenous visions and prophesies of the future. Finally, for seven days, in both the summers of 1993 and 1994, major conferences were held in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, attended by some five hundred Indigenous peoples each year for reflection and dialogue on their experiences in healing and developing their communities. Based on this in-depth reflection and consultation process, Sixteen Guiding Principles emerged that included past principles, but much more clearly reflected what had been learned about what works, and what is needed in the process of community transformation toward sustainable well-being and prosperity.

It is important to note that these Sixteen Guiding Principles have been tested and reviewed by many Indigenous (and other) communities, and have been found to be an effective guide for positive transformational processes. A principle is not a recipe however; it is a statement of fundamental truth. It describes the nature of things as they are what is basic or essential, what works and what doesn’t, what must be included, and what cannot be left out. These Sixteen Guiding Principles reflect the experiences and distilled wisdom of hundreds of communities and Indigenous nations as they struggle to heal themselves and develop a sustainable and harmonious pattern of life.

Finally, it is important to stress that these Sixteen Guiding Principles, as with all life, are in draft. They are not the last word. We have certainly not learned all that we have to learn. New guiding principles will emerge, and new insights about the meaning of the guiding principles we already know will come to light. Consider this an invitation to dialogue.


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