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Full Transcript: Episode 1

What is Indigenous Knowledge? What are Indigenous Knowledge Systems?

Intro guitar music 0:00
Daniel de Kok 0:15

What is Indigenous knowledge? And what are Indigenous Knowledge Systems? In this episode I’ve chosen to contrast different approaches and highlight shared points of interest in answering these questions.

This episode includes segments from my interviews with the following (Knowledge Systems) Stream members. Barbara Wall, Jonaki Bhattacharyya, Jeji Varghese, Karen Beazley, Jennifer Silver.

Barbara Wall 0:40

Within the courses that I teach, I begin with the topic of origins of Indigenous Knowledge and focus on the origins, being an individual and a community or a family’s relationship with a land, with the water, and with those more than human relatives: the other beings of creation. And this can be really unsettling for students because that relationship with the land for many of the students has, has been disrupted, has been broken.

And for students to start to comprehend that Indigenous Knowledge comes from the land and the water in the beans of creation, and not from a book, or not from a lab experience, experiment is, is quite a challenge. And I also use Wendy Geniusz’s work where she speaks about the knowledge, or our knowledges are gifted lovingly by the spirits. So then there’s that component of spirituality that comes into the discussion and can be a challenge to navigate.

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 2:34

Knowledge systems are dynamic living ways of knowing and being that exist in people. And so just that, like the relationships that I engage in with Indigenous colleagues and friends and partners, change over time, so does the way that I engage with their knowledge systems.

So when it comes to the processes, that often means we’re starting out with them setting the goals. And that’s coming from a place of Indigenous knowledge, because a whole community’s or even a First Nations government’s priorities are going to be coming stemming – that’s an expression of Indigenous knowledge systems, right? It’s an expression of what people choose to value.

Jeji Varghese 3:26

I’m going to draw from the article that Stephen Crawford and I wrote: So we define knowledge systems as a social network of individuals that exhibit structure and function in the use of specific processes to understand the conditions and causations of nature.

And so with that, there’s sort of a recognition that knowledge systems are embedded within worldviews and cultures; that there are actors that play different roles within knowledge systems; that there are a variety of knowledge system processes.

So each of these terms have been named different things. And so it’s kind of hard to just focus on one, but the idea of knowledge creation, organization, knowledge, validation, storage, retrieval, transfer, and use, in the article, we were trying to come up with a way of creating a socio-cultural sort of knowledge system framework that would help anyone who’s thinking about knowledge systems to basically define their own knowledge system to someone else that maybe doesn’t have the same.

And so within Western science, I often think of, I mean, how the social sciences think about knowledge is very different than the natural sciences, right? And even within the natural sciences, there’s differences across disciplines.

And so it’s, so there’s this, you know, disciplinary way in which we approach knowledge that can be defining in certain ways. But there’s also some similarities in terms of, you know, peer review of, of articles as a form of validation, right? Like, there’s certain practices that are seen as common.

Same thing with Indigenous, right, within Indigenous knowledge systems – and always use the plural – is that there are multiple knowledge systems, and you can think about knowledge systems at different scales.

So you can think about it as, you know, a person’s knowledge system, which may incorporate sort of knowledge systems from multiple places, but you can also think about it in terms of communities, nations, and then you know, across different cultures.

And so what, it’s a little bit, it’s really about the different ways in which we understand and communicate and make sense of the world around us. And there are certain sort of conventions that we agree to, in terms of that, whether it’s, you know, how knowledge is validated.

And sometimes when you go from one knowledge system to the other, there’s disagreement, right, about what’s considered appropriate or authentic or truthful knowledge because there’s differences in that validation, or there’s differences in how knowledge is stored.

So for example, you know, the idea that knowledge can be housed in a library can be seen as completely foreign to Indigenous cultures, who don’t have the same disconnect between the knowledge and the knowledge holder or knowledge keeper, right?

Like the idea that you can come in, as a researcher and extract someone’s knowledge – it to them would be like taking that person outside, right? Like this idea of untangling the knowledge holder from the knowledge doesn’t make any sense at all.

Barbara Wall 7:15

But to address the location of sources, I believe that it’s really important as an Indigenous scholar, as a student in Indigenous Studies, or Indigenous Environmental Studies and Sciences, to cite the sources of knowledge, to cite the knowledge carriers, the conversations. To cite, perhaps a ceremony where Indigenous knowledge and understanding was gifted to you.

The way that you would, you know, is a similar way to the, to an academic citation of a paper or a, or a lecture. I like to call it the tracing the genealogy of the knowledge and say that, you know, this came from this specific knowledge carrier, but this knowledge carrier is from this community, and this knowledge carrier had multiple people share these knowledges and lived experiences with them.

So we work with, we work with our students and in their writing, and in their citation process to find ways to not background oral knowledge mobilization, to find ways to cite those, those events, those listening events, those experiential events.

And, again, it can be very unsettling for the students who are used to saying, Okay, well, it’s written down here. So this is, so I know this is valid because it’s written here, and it’s been peer reviewed. But really, Indigenous knowledge is peer reviewed by the community and peer reviewed by their survivance of the knowledges.

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 9:19

With any form of knowledge, sharing it is a key part of how it lives and breathes. But Indigenous knowledge systems are most often coming from oral traditions too, right?

So taking myself out of the equation for a moment, like the… it’s absolutely at the heart of the work that we do, I think, to support the sharing of that knowledge between the knowledge holders and the people they want to share it with, for it to continue.

So that’s essential and, and with that comes all the embodied, the responsibility for how it gets shared, for how it ought to be shared. Whether we’re talking in particular places only to certain people, only certain times of day, certain seasons or situations, stories that might run with families.

You know, they’re they’re part of… that’s why we use the word system, right? We’re not just talking about information, we’re talking about practices, and ways of interacting.

Barbara Wall 10:31

One of the other things that I also talk about and share with the students is that Indigenous knowledge that is embedded within our language, and the teachings that are embedded within the words, the nouns, the verbs, the descriptive phrases for the natural world. And we launch into discussions about: how does language influence how we think? And how does language influence knowledge mobilization?

Karen Beazley 11:14

The rest of us who’ve grown up in the Western tradition, we need to take a step back and listen and learn. There are so many things, for example, in the Indigenous language, like many Indigenous languages, Mi’kmaq, for example, are verb based. And so just the way things are talked about in more action-oriented ways, as opposed to now that, as objects, you know, just those kinds of differences make a difference in how we think, and how our knowledge is portrayed.

And in Indigenous systems, everything is about relationship. Whereas in western systems, it’s so siloed and separate and so how do we learn how to combine those, such an integrated approach was such a siloed approach, and we want to make sure we don’t end up tearing apart the Indigenous knowledge into silos so that we can plug it into this Western system and call that ‘weaving’. That’s not really weaving. That’s mining.

Jennifer Silver 12:15

Indigenous knowledge systems, is really, are really, in many ways, relational and those relationships that people have with harvest gathering spaces and particular species that are critical for food and trade and livelihood. It’s those relationships that are actually foundational in many ways to the larger knowledge system.

Exit guitar music 12:36