- It is really important for people to keep in mind the practices and methods they rely on when moving into the knowing process and knowledge. There are many different types of practices and methods out there such as the oral tradition, interviews, reading the literature, primary source documents, place names, introspection, discussion, observation, and experiential knowledge. This list can go on and on. Keep in mind particular disciplines have a tendency to rely on particular practices and methods. In addition to thinking carefully about the practices and methods you rely on in gaining knowledge, it is also important to keep in mind that your theoretical framework, or your philosophical framework, or your paradigm — best known as your methodological (versus method/s) approach — is crucial because it is the lens you rely on in interpreting your findings gained from your methods. For example, a feminist and an economist will gain different findings and also have different interpretations of the same primary source documents. In this way the same method does not produce the same outcome because methodology mediates. Within this it is important to keep in mind that you may be researching an “Indigenous topic” and doing it for a very long time, but if you are not in an Indigenous paradigm you are most likely producing more colonial knowledge. In Indigenous circles that is a no no.
- Many people think the oral tradition rules as a method of knowing when in reality it is better to think of it as one method in coming to knowledge. To argue that you know something through the oral tradition and that it trumps all other methods and the knowledge that other people have is incorrect because the oral tradition, like all methods, is subject to the misuse of power and bias. Whatever you do don’t be an essentialist.
- Many people think the plural for “method” is “methodologies”. This is not so. The plural is “methods”. Again methods are the practices you use to gather the “data”; where methodology is the lens you perceive and interpret the “data” through to come to knowledge. Keep in mind that the same method can be used for different reasons. For example, an axe can also be used as a hammer if you use the blunt end. What is important is how your use your tool / method. The point here is don’t confuse a collection of methods as your methodology. This is hard but keep thinking because if I can do this so can you. And please don’t use an axe for a hammer because people are emotional about their tools just as people are emotional about their methods.
- While western knowledge systems pulls knowledge apart into ontology, axiology, epistemology, methodology, and methods it is best to think of Indigenous knowledge as a bundle of tightly bound and inseparable relationships that must be respected. Regardless of this difference, you should expect to find yourself in the situation of having to explain in a very well-reasoned way how you came to the knowledge. Crying won’t work. Trust me on this.
- I always suggest that whenever you sit down to read a book or a document you should begin with asking yourself, “Who is this person; What methods or practices shaped and informed this book or document that I am about to read?” And also, “What was their methodological framework of analysis?” If you cannot determine their methods and methodology it is suggested that you ask yourself questions such as, “What was their motivation in doing this work; Are they an insider or an outsider; Are they able to be reasoned and objective in this topic?” Thinking through these questions will help you come to appreciate if the work is useful to integrate into your personal knowing process or is this work too biased to trust.
- All too often people confuse an anti-colonial framework with an Indigenous framework when in fact they are two different ways to examine and understand situations, issues, and topic. An anti-colonial framework moves from critical theory and while it is a crucial and worthy framework, an Indigenous framework is grounded in Indigenous knowledge first. It is important to learn the difference between these two frameworks. Once you do you will come to love Indigenous knowledge even more.
- While it is correct that before contact Indigenous people had their own collection of methods and practices of coming to knowledge such as learning by doing, observation, role models, story-telling, dreaming, visions, listening, introspection, learning by doing, song ... this collection has been added too. Today we can use other methods of gaining knowledge such as interviews, primary source documents, and ethnography … . What is important here is what knowledge system or theory or framework is shaping the interpretation.
© Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She is a published author of Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit and The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process. You can reach her and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.