By Jesse Popp, Assistant Professor, Chair in Indigenous Environmental Science, School of Environmental Studies, University of Guelph
Although a wide diversity of world views exist, each having unique perspectives that can be complementary to one another, colonial forces have prioritized some world views and knowledge systems over others.
Some governments, including the government of Canada, have sought to forcibly assimilate Indigenous Peoples into colonial systems. Despite the ongoing consequences resulting from assimilation attempts — like residential schools and the `60s scoop — Indigenous knowledge systems and ways of knowing stand strong. Currently, a powerful shift is happening as people collectively recognize Indigenous knowledge systems as equally valid and important.
Indigenous knowledge systems are extremely diverse. They come from various distinct nations, each with unique cultures and perspectives. Indigenous knowledge systems are place-based bodies of knowledge, practice, belief and ways of life that have been passed down through generations.
Sharing many philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, Indigenous knowledge systems, although strong alone, can be woven with western knowledge to provide holistic and complementary understandings.
Indigenous people increasingly approached
As people recognize the value in weaving knowledge systems and move towards supporting reconciliation, Indigenous Peoples and communities are increasingly approached. Unfortunately, the past has been fraught with non-Indigenous people attempting to take Indigenous knowledges with little thought to the impacts on communities. This is changing.
Non-Indigenous people are recognizing the importance of proceeding with respect, and increasingly reach out to Indigenous scholars or communities for guidance on how to do so.
Although more Indigenous people are being welcomed into scholarly roles with expertise that can help guide processes “in a good way,” there are still very few holding these positions. Many Indigenous scholars forge ahead to passionately contribute to systemic change; however, as requests mount, and there’s not enough time to go around, we are stretched incredibly thin.
As more and more people reach out to Indigenous scholars, the pressures increase. That needs to change. So, as an Indigenous scholar who is regularly inundated with requests, I’ve come up with a few considerations to help those wishing to reach out to us.
Before reaching out to an Indigenous scholar:
- Do research first. Is there a way you can find answers on your own? For example, from reading a book written by Indigenous authors, Googling or watching videos featuring Indigenous people sharing insights.
- Recognize we have a lot of requests. Although we want to help with as much as we can, we often have many requests. Please don’t be offended if we just don’t have time to interact.
- Recognize we are not all the same. Indigenous Peoples are diverse. We have unique cultures, values and traditions and will not give the same response.
- Just because we are Indigenous doesn’t mean we know all things Indigenous. Like other scholars, we are experts in a given field. We are not experts in all things Indigenous.
- Think about your intentions. Do your interests genuinely support reconciliation and prioritize the rights, values and ways of knowing of Indigenous Peoples?
- Avoid box-ticking. At all costs, avoid reaching out if the purpose is to tick a box (like making your grant more “Indigenous”).
- Ensure your ideas include meaningful engagement. We want to collaborate in meaningful ways. Never tokenize us.
- Prioritize reciprocity. Is what you have in mind of mutual benefit? Think about how we might be able to help each other.
- Consider compensation. As academics, we have a lot on our plates. External requests are often above and beyond the duties of our paid positions. We have personal lives too. Finding ways to properly acknowledge and compensate us for our time is important.
- Know that our ways of knowing are as equally valuable as yours. We may see through different lenses on some things, but our way of seeing and knowing is just as important as yours.
It is important to embrace multiple knowledge systems and ways of knowing to improve our work, improve our communities, improve our planet and work towards righting the wrongs of the past. However, it is equally important to do so in a positive way.
Equally valuing one another and prioritizing respectful engagement can help make us stronger, see more clearly and better address some of the enormous issues facing us today.