I am struck by the very practise of Pikwakanagan First Nation surveys asking questions about the place of Algonquin Indigenous knowledge (AIK), how to prioritize AIK, and when and how to apply AIK? This is so great!
What strikes me about this process is that Pikwakanagan First Nation has yet to establish a clear understanding and model or models of where AIK is located and how we create more of it as we move into the future. It is crucial that various models of AIK be established as it will set the foundation of the discussion. Pikwakanagan can ask its intellectuals to develop various definitions and models of AIK using our beliefs and assumptions to shape them. With these models in hand community people will more easily think about AIK, have collective discussions about AIK, and move forward with AIK in a good way. The strength of models, shaped by our Algonquin beliefs, is that they serve to guide our thinking and movement forward. This is the strength of beliefs and models. To be clear, models are not Truth, rather they are models that shape truth, and they are crucial in terms of keeping us on track. What is more, there can be more than one model for this same topic because they are frameworks of thought versus being intended to be an absolute Truth.
Some people reading this may gripe, arguing that models are colonial. This is not so. Women always held a cognitive model and/or patterns when they were making moccasins, and men also rely on cognitive models of their trapline and hunting territories using natural land features to help them. Further, the Sun and Moon rising in the East and setting in the West is a belief and model of reality that establishes a solid foundation of who we are. Algonquin also relied on maps that they could draw in the sand or the mind’s eyes of other people. That said, of course Algonquin had models, to deny this is to say we were so primitive and not intelligent enough to have had governance and thinking structures in our worlds. We did, and we still do. Our Algonquin ancestors were intelligent and we are intelligent.
Another model of the Algonquin Anishinaabe worldview is the belief and ideology of the Four Sacred Elements and the Four Layers of Creation. As most know, there are Four Sacred Elements: Rock, Water, Wind, and Fire. And there are Four Orders of Creation: the Four Sacred Elements, the Tree Nations, the Animal Nations, and the Human Nations. As an Algonquin Indigenous scholar with my doctorate in Indigenous Studies, versus for example a doctorate in history or cultural studies, I am trained in Indigenous knowledge philosophy whereas such the understandings, models and theories relied on are always Algonquin. Given this, I am always thinking through AIK and doing my best to let it frame what I know, how I think, and what I do. While I of course value that AIK is shaped by ancient knowledge, language, and the land, and I do rely on them to guide me, one crucial model I rely on is the combination of the Four Sacred Elements and the Four Orders of Creation.
For example, several years ago when I was learning and thinking about the dangers of nuclear energy I of course relied on my training in the sciences and my experiences measuring toxic organic pollution to guide my learning about the dangerous effects of radioactive particles. Through this I learned that radioactive particles are carcinogenic, teratogenic, and mutagenic. In these ways, radiation is dangerous to humans and our babies.
But my thinking was also relied on the cognitive model of the Four Sacred Elements and the Four Orders of Creation. Thinking through the need to respect the Four Sacred Elements I was able to understand that in cracking atoms, the nuclear industry destroys Rock; I was able to understand that the process of cooling nuclear reactors depends on the cold Water found in the deep rivers, such as the Ottawa River, thus warming them; I was able to understand that the Wind and air we all breathe is contaminated through the process of vented emissions; and I also realized that Fire is generated unnecessarily for destructive and dangerous means.
What is more, my thinking also relied on the cognitive model of the need to respect the Four Orders of Creation. Through this I was able to understand that not only is nuclear energy destroying the Four Sacred Elements and Human Nations, it is also harming the Tree Nations and the Animal Nations.
When human beings rely on the economic model to guide us, versus walking the knowing process back to, and through, the Four Sacred Element and the Four Orders of Creation, we fail to be the human beings Creator wants us to be. And we fail to operate within the Algonquin Indigenous Knowledge worldview.