7/22/2011 1 Comment
Like many people, along my life's path I come across many people offering traditional Indigenous knowledge. While indeed sometimes the knowledge is valid, oftentimes I come across situations where I am doubtful. Because I am an Indigenous scholar I also come across situations where people ask me a particular question that is yet vague in that it seems to have no grounding in a particular Indigenous knowledge tradition. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that sometimes people are engaging in a thought process that is rooted in pan-Indianism versus being rooted in a particular Indigenous knowledge tradition.
As a learner-researcher, when I listen to people and the Indigenous knowledge they provide, share, or claim to be an expert about, I always do so through a critical lens as I have learned that being romantic is a foolhardy way of learning. By critical lens I mean that I do not simply accept their knowledge blindly. Rather, some of the questions I ask myself before accepting the knowledge someone offers consist of the following:
1. Does the person explain where they are from, where their ancestors are from, and where their home territory is in a clear and consistent way? For me this comes first because Indigenous knowledge is always localized in that for the most part knowledge emerges from the relationship between the land and the cosmos. If they are not rooted in their own knowledge tradition such as their own creation story and other sacred stories I question all they provide.
2. Is the person sharing the knowledge in a respectful way versus through a lens of nastiness, sexism, racism, or through an air of arrogance? And are they treating all people in a good way? If not - I question their knowledge.
3. Is the person sharing knowledge from their heart as well as from their mind? Or is the knowledge well thought through versus only felt? For the most part both heart and mind should be present. While of course there are exceptions to the rule most of the time both should be present.
4. I ask myself, are their teachers known and respected people? Having a respected teacher is an indication of valid knowledge. Keep in mind though that being a politically controversial person is different than not being respected.
5. I also pay attention and look to see if they put down others. If they put down others I question the knowledge provided. A good and confident teacher will have no need to elevate their knowledge by putting down others.
6. I ask myself, does this person have integrity? Meaning do they follow through with what they say, and do they meet their deadlines. While it is unreasonable to expect people to always be able to do what they said, if they have a pattern of not coming through and thus dropping the ball I question their knowledge.
7. I ask myself, does the person have any credentials? Although not without limitations, indeed credentials are an indication of valid knowledge. By credentials I mean do they speak the language and / or do they have institutional credentials such as Mide or university training?
8. If the knowledge is emerging from a printed source such as a website or a book, additional questions apply. I ask, is the knowledge organized, well presented, done in a good way, look professional, and is there a bibliography available so you can check their sources.
As suggested, although there are limitations to these questions, and while certainly there are additional questions one can ask them self before accepting another person's knowledge, thinking through these questions is where I begin my process of determining if the knowledge is worthy of further thought. Finally I offer these questions as a guide, and also to encourage your own critical thinking, versus offering a panacea.