AREAS OF KNOWLEDGE:
INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS

Wunala Dreaming. This charismatic Aboriginal art design first appeared on a Qantas (Australian national airline) jet in 1994.  Photo: YSSYguy.

Wunala Dreaming. This charismatic Aboriginal art design first appeared on a Qantas (Australian national airline) jet in 1994. 
Photo: YSSYguy.

Australian aboriginal elders.

Australian aboriginal elders.

The Chanel black wood-and-resin Boomerang: with the Chanel double C logo; priced in Australia at $1,325. Image: New York Times Fashion and Style page; May 16, 2017.

The Chanel black wood-and-resin Boomerang: with the Chanel double C logo; priced in Australia at $1,325. Image: New York Times Fashion and Style page; May 16, 2017.

Before airing any whole class initial impressions, or any reflection about what “indigenous” means or why “Indigenous Knowledge Systems” recently has been elevated to an official TOK Area of Knowledge; jump into the thick of the action by viewing (in full) this documentary video of the Aymara indigenous people of Bolivia. The theme here is the unstoppable fusion of old and new. The Aymara language and culture are being kept alive, often against the odds. Colonization, marginalization and the mixed blessing of globalization have all come into play.

It is worth mentioning that the video source is Al Jazeera; the state-funded news agency of Qatar. 

 

CLASS ACTIVITY: THE MEANING OF INDIGENOUS

Students should be arranged randomly in groups of three. Encourage them to decide who will take on the role of facilitator, scribe or presenter. Allow students a timed ten minutes to provide written answers the following questions:

1. Define the term: "indigenous people."

2. Provide 7 examples of indigenous people from around the world without looking online.

3. Do you think that "indigenous Knowledge Systems" is as an important TOK Area of Knowledge as, say, Mathematics and History.

Next ask the scribes from all groups (simultaneously) to step forward and write down their indigenous people examples from Question #2. Erase any duplicates; then call on volunteers who think that certain suggested examples do not merit inclusion on the list. "Are they indigenous enough for our list?" This should unsettle the students and provoke spirited discussion.

Next call on the scribe of one group to write their team's Question #1 definition on the white board in easily erasable marker. The presenter should read it stridently. Ask the facilitator if the team would like to adjust the definition based on the examples discussion. Then, call on each group in turn to modify and edit the class definition. Tell the class that definition is a work in progress and will be revisited.

Unleash some whole class discussion on Question 3. Remind the class about the importance of respect and the danger of oversimplification with stereotypes. The respect factor will become important in the Nacirema unit which follows.

Contentious issues like globalization, romanticizing traditional lifestyles, cultural relativism and assuming that even relatively isolated cultures are static will almost certainly emerge.

Before attempting to pull this all together, view the next video, which in very quick succession provides glimpses of the darker side of intruding on the world's few remaining isolated tribes. Students may relate strongly to the subject material and will be keen to discuss what should and should not be done. 

 

GOING DEEPER

Time will scarcely permit a full viewing of this haunting and beautifully- paced documentary during regular class time. Students should be encouraged to view it on their own time. This is an example of the kind of extended case study that Indigenous Knowledge Systems as an Area of Knowledge merits. The film archives a 2000-year-old iron smelting process in Burkino Faso--an impoverished, landlocked West African country that gained independence from France in 1960.   

Certain students will find the experience novel and absorbing. Like listening to the Shostakovich 8th Quartet this is not something that they will do every day. The iron smelting documentary has the potential to transport them to another place with a hostile climate, that has a very different sense of time and a different way of being in community. As a bonus the documentary contains plenty of practical physics and chemistry as well as world music in addition to the rich social anthropology.