Indigenous ways of knowing have been suppressed and marginalized throughout academic history and we are finally gaining momentum in elevating Indigenous knowledges as equally valid to Western science.
We have been told over and over, ad nausea, about the importance of diversity. I agree. We see diversity in nature on a daily basis. But while being indoctrinated about diversity we are losing the ties that bind each of us, individually, together as a nation. We are losing our individual identities, and the gifts each of us, individually, bring into the world. Instead of promoting what holds us together we are being pushed into divisiveness by group. All blacks are oppressed. All whites are privileged oppressors. Not sure what Asians are. The Indigenous, another group, are colonized – whatever that means. And now we are told they have special Elder Knowledge Keepers; an Indigenous way of knowing that needs to be elevated to equality with Western science. According to First Nations Pedagogy
“…over the millennia, First Nations and Inuit people developed intricate knowledge and understanding of the natural world. Their awareness of global laws and patterns is equal to and even exceeds mainstream scientific knowledge and offers clues to our continued survival on this planet.”
There are more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada, which represent more than 50 Nations and 50 Indigenous languages. We have been taught that the Indigenous people of North America have been peaceful people who have a special, unique connection to Mother Earth.
This special empathy is often shared with us as Indigenous leaders try to prevent the building of oil pipelines, including blockading Canada’s east – west railway. At the same time, Indigenous people are fighting amongst themselves. Which group shall we take as the Elder Knowledge Keepers?
I read that a relatively recent evolving interest in First Nations knowledge by mainstream society is both timely and to be expected.
“The deep sophisticated knowledge of how to live in balance with other people and all of the Earth’s inhabitants, and the very planet, herself is keenly necessary in the 21st century. Many First Nations, Inuit and Métis Elders have mused that if Western peoples had paid attention to Indigenous knowledge when they first arrived in Canada and other parts of the Americas, the current world would be much more harmonious, clean, and healthy.”
Despite the myth that Aboriginals lived in happy harmony before the arrival of Europeans, war had been central to the way of life of many First Nation cultures. From a young age, boys were initiated into the use of weapons and were taught how to kill both animals and humans; as in other Indigenous peoples. Revenge was a consistent motivating factor across North America, a factor that could lead to recurrent cycles of violence, often low intensity, which could last generations.
Native peoples practiced slavery long before Europeans came to the New World. It was common in some Indigenous communities to enslave those captured in war. Some slaves were treated cruelly, while others became family members. In some nations, male captives were tortured as a ritual means of eliminating “the other” (i.e. outsiders) from the society, while female captives were enslaved.
Why am I sharing this with you? Well, we are now told via First Peoples Studies that Indigenous Knowledge should be included in STEM studies; science, technology, engineering and mathematics, research simply because it is Indigenous. How does cultural information shared through the centuries turn into scientific facts?
Jordan Peterson wrote about this in a column in the National Post. Three professors at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, were awarded a New Frontiers in Research Grant (announced in late 2019) aimed at “engaging Indigenous understanding and involving Indigenous communities in the co-creation of knowledge, the project aims to decolonize contemporary physics research and attract Indigenous students.” The head researcher, Dr. Tanja Tajmel, “questioned the colonial assumptions made in the way Western science evaluates light and what it considers knowledge.” Dr. Louellyn White, associate professor in First Peoples Studies, added that “Indigenous ways of knowing have been suppressed and marginalized throughout academic history and we are finally gaining momentum in elevating Indigenous knowledges as equally valid to Western science… If we, as an institution, do not embody the Territorial Acknowledgement by recognizing and affirming the expertise of our Elders as Knowledge Keepers, the acknowledgement becomes nothing but empty platitudes.” Dr. Ingo Salzmann, the last of the three principal investigators to whom the funds were awarded, says, “The culture of physics certainly changes with diverse people involved.” He argues, “Therefore, decolonizing science involves challenging the underlying hierarchies.”
What is a Knowledge Keeper? What expertise, exactly, do these Elders embody? What is it that they know that has eluded scientists through the centuries that is now vital to science?
Diversity in science is a good thing. It leads to fresh perspectives. Incorporating Indigenous knowledge and understanding of the world can provide insight into paths of study. However, bringing under-represented people into sciences and other STEM fields requires mentoring from a young age to prepare those students to compete at the higher levels. Welcoming people with different backgrounds into scientific fields should not change the “culture of science”, though. That would undermine the integrity of the scientific process and the scientific body of knowledge. Science is science, or at least it should be. Scientific knowledge and understanding can change as we learn new things, but the process of acquiring that knowledge and understanding should not. How can we trust new developments if we don’t trust the methods through which they are acquired or achieved?
Well it seems that does not matter. What matters is diversity. I for one cannot wait to see the outcome of the equivalency of the scientific method and “Indigenous ways of knowing.”
What discipline is next? Math?
Whatever happened to merit?
From the Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Tarfon used to say, it is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but you are not exempt from undertaking it.”