Indigenous ways of knowing (epistemology) refer to the contextualization of knowledge that has over the years been adhered to by indigenous people (Shawn, 2008). Various aspects in the universe such as reflection, listening, experience and protocol as they concern relations of beings (ontology) formed the basis of knowledge building. Though at times dismissed as childlike and primitive, indigenous ways of knowing are complex systems vital to the sustenance of humankind. This epistemology fostered harmony in the community by nurturing synergy of key universal elements such as land, kin, place, law, language and story. Indigenous ways of learning continue to form the basics of human co-existence by creating harmony and balance among relationships present in nature.
In his book, Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods, Shawn researches on the paradigms shared by indigenous communities in Australia and Canada. He demonstrates that “the relations between people and indigenous ways of knowing shape not only indigenous reality but also the reality of the modern world” (Shawn, 2008). He appreciates indigenous research as a ceremony of maintaining the people’s accountability to vital relationships that give assurance to the continuity of humankind. Shawn posits that the appreciation of cultures regardless of their source, history or uniqueness should be a unifying factor for all the people in a country. Moreover, research into indigenous cultures should be geared towards appreciating and helping indigenous people live better lives (Shawn, 2001).
Knowledge production systems relate to societal structures or organizations, their values and ontological perspectives. This can be exemplified by modern day scientific knowledge which examines and regards reality out of things it has previously created. Knowledge production systems of the indigenous people related to their highly cohesive co-existence in the society and their strong beliefs in the supernatural (Shawn, 2001). The Aborigines for instance believed that all things in the universe (inclusive of wood and rocks) are alive and intelligent. They, therefore, believed that they could gain knowledge from these things. These societal structures, different value orientations and ontological perspectives attest to the existence of varying knowledge productions systems.
Modern scientific research methods and knowledge are tailored to examine only that reality it has previously created and objectified as knowable. Shawn (2001) asserts that modern scientific research methods limit people to the possibility of acquiring more knowledge through indigenous ways of knowing. Such research praises modern ways of knowing and portrays people subscribing to indigenous cultures as backward and uncivilized. This biased research leads to the degradation of indigenous cultural aspects such as religion, clothing, and artworks among others. Politically, members from indigenous communities are barred from taking up political positions in modern governments. Unbiased indigenous research appreciates all cultures in a country and gives them opportunities to better lives.
At times dismissed as childlike and primitive, the culture of the Aborigines has come to be appreciated as crucial to the future of mankind. The definition and understanding of intelligence and life among the Aborigines are what differs from modern, conventional beliefs. Most notably, the Aborigines believe that all things in the universe including rocks and trees are alive and possess some form of intelligence (Shawn, 2008). The Aborigines, therefore, belief that they interact with intelligence all the time. This happens in their dreaming stories and in everyday life. In addition, they strongly belief in extraterrestrial life and specifically celestial bodies such as the stars and the sun whom they believe are indicators of communication from the sky. For instance, the Aborigines believe that appearance of an upside down “crocodile” in the Milky Way followed by his rotation determines the breeding cycles of Emus on earth. The appreciation of these unique aspects of Aboriginal culture forms the basis of ethical considerations which leads to meaningful indigenous research.
Most indigenous communities and especially the Aborigines uphold practices that preserve the environment. Most of their land is, therefore, rich with unexploited resources. Modernity has compelled countries to exploit all the resources within their territories in a bid to develop and industrialize. The decisions to exploit natural resources usually disregards any cultural beliefs associated with the resources and can rightfully be termed as colonization. When this happens, the process deprives previously independent groups of people livelihoods such as sources of food and disrupts their lives leaving them dependent on other cultures. The situation is exacerbated when modern governments do not recognize indigenous communities and are only interested in extracting their resources. Shawn (2008) posits that the inclusion of indigenous people in the formulation of policies regarding resources found in their land ensures that the welfare of indigenous people, as well as that of the nation, is adequately addressed.
Among the indigenous people, children were a key component of the societies. Their care was a responsibility shared by the whole community. This contradicts modern societies where the children grow up under the care of close family members. The taking away of children in modern societies could create chaos and disrupt the continuance of modern culture. However, it would foster interdependence and raise the people’s level of consciousness as they seek to rebuild their societies. An approach where one views all cultures as equal and holding potential to improve humanity. This approach calls for people from different cultures to appreciate even that which they are not able to understand from other cultures, and especially indigenous their ways of knowing.
The understanding of indigenous ways of knowing opens people up to the possibility of acquiring knowledge from nonconventional sources and helps them appreciate other cultures. This knowledge can, therefore, help one to live harmoniously with other people and develop as a person in a multicultural community.
Shawn, Wilson, Research Is Ceremony. Indigenous Research Methods. Halifax & Winnipeg.
Fernwood Publishing, 2008. Print
Shawn, Wilson. What is indigenous research methodology? Canadian Journal of Native
Education; 25, 2; CBCA Complete. 2001. Print