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ERIC Number: EJ900199
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2007-Sep
Pages: 11
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 50
ISSN: ISSN-1990-3839
What if Indigenous Knowledge Contradicts Accepted Scientific Findings?--The Hidden Agenda: Respect, Caring and Passion towards Aboriginal Research in the Context of Applying Western Academic Rules
Witt, Norbert
Educational Research and Reviews, v2 n3 p225-235 Sep 2007
The statement in the title, what if Indigenous Knowledge contradicts accepted scientific findings (Fowler, 2000), is an expression of the dilemma people who research Indigenous Knowledge think they find themselves in when they are confronted with different interpretations of what it means to be human, or, as I may summarize it, with different cultural interpretations of human existence. I sense a certain amount of fear in this statement, which, indeed, suggests an Indigenous interpretation that threatens the accepted scientific worldview. The question is, of course, who the accepting entity is and what the acceptance is measured on. The statement was made by an academic (PhD) executive of a diamond company who, responsible for inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge in the environmental assessment the company had to do before starting the mine, suspects contradictory interpretations on land use by the Indigenous people who occupy the land that should be developed by the company he represents. With this statement, he sets the stage for an analysis of research data on Indigenous Knowledge the company collected in order to follow recommendations of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (1996) that would dismiss the validity of the very subject, Indigenous Knowledge, that is to be integrated in environmental assessment done on Indigenous lands. His use of the term accepted scientific findings is unfortunate as he tries to recruit the academic community for reinforcing his view on the suspected contradictions of Indigenous Knowledge to scientific knowledge. He juxtaposes accepted, academic or scientific knowledge production to Indigenous, supposedly non-scientific knowledge, and in the process creates an image of a united academy which keeps Indigenous Knowledge out rather than integrating it, ignoring a development within the academy, carried by Indigenous scholars, which is opening paths to integrate Indigenous knowledge, although, admittedly, this does not happen without a challenge of the status quo. Looking into knowledge production anywhere we will find that the basis is observation, no matter where knowledge is produced. What is then the problem with acknowledging knowledge from others? One hint is given by Parsons (2005) who quotes on Thornhill ( that "you have to observe what nature actually does, not what you think it should do", a statement that refers to assumptions (hypotheses) that influence both the researchers' observation and the analysis of it. I have to clarify here that he is referring to an academic establishment which, rather than trying to find new insights, tries to protect accepted paradigms. In this context any different interpretation of the observed facts would pose a threat, and the very presence of Indigenous Knowledge might be seen as such. In this context, the rules of research and acceptance of knowledge production become a control mechanism that, rather than expanding knowledge, only allows a point of view that protects the Status Quo, preventing knowledge from real growth. In this way, the acceptance of knowledge researched according to those rules will be measured not on the basis of the philosophy of the people who hold this knowledge but on the degree of whiteness, meaning its closeness to the protected and privileged, western academic knowledge. I see Fowler's (2000) statement within this context. What I will discuss are examples that show how the company uses academic research analysis to create a context which keeps Indigenous Knowledge out of the academic realm. Of course, the driving factor might be to validate the economic agenda of the company and devalue Indigenous concerns of destruction of their environment, source of Indigenous economy and, ultimately, their way of life. As legal interpretations were also used in order to justify such views on Indigenous Knowledge, I will discuss those interpretations, using some rulings by Canadian courts that contradict them. In the end, I will discuss the academic context, showing that, while there is a struggle by Indigenous scholars to integrate Indigenous worldviews, the doors for acceptance of Indigenous Knowledge are not as closed as the statement in the title of this paper might suggest. I will, however, also point out that there is a tendency to protect a Status Quo of scientific knowledge produced in the academy and that Indigenous Knowledge has not yet been completely accepted, and as long as control of knowledge production and interpretation of knowledge according to its degree of academic whiteness remains in the hands of the privileged, Indigenous people in the academy will have to struggle to have Indigenous Knowledge accepted. My examples refer to research of Indigenous Knowledge in the Omushkegowuk (Swampy Cree) community of Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario, Canada set up and supervised by the diamond company. My interest in this issue stems from my status of, albeit being non-Aboriginal, being a member of the community by marriage, being involved in community matters with all my in-law relatives living in that community. Having such personal connection to the people I also witness that due to the mistrust in the validity of their knowledge, Indigenous people still have a hard time trusting the claim of their colonizers to have moved beyond colonialism.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Canada