AREAS OF KNOWLEDGE:
INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS

Kayapo Chiefs from Amazonia. Photo source: Valter Campanato, Agência Brasil

Kayapo Chiefs from Amazonia. Photo source: Valter Campanato, Agência Brasil

REVISITING AND FURTHER REFINING OUR ORIGINAL DEFINITION OF INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS

If it has not yet revealed itself spontaneously; this might be the time for transparency on the Nacirema case study. There may be cathartic laughter and/or candid expressions of outrage!

When the dust clears write down the "work in progress" definition that was previously generated by the whole class. Then ask them to read the following texts:

TEXT A:
The hunter-gatherer lifestyle worked at least tolerably well for the nearly 100,000 year history of behaviorally modern humans. Everybody in the world was a hunter-gatherer until the local origins of agriculture around 11,000 years ago, and nobody in the world lived under a state government until 5,400 years ago. 

Diamond, Jared (2012: 209) The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? Penguin, New York.


TEXT B:
Indigenous knowledge is not static, an unchanging artifact of a former lifeway. It has been adapting to the contemporary world since contact with "others" began, and it will continue to change.

Bielawski, E. (1990) Cross-cultural Epistemology: Cultural Readaptation through the Pursuit of Knowledge. Paper presented at the Seventh Inuit Studies Conference, Fairbanks, Alaska, August 1990. 


TEXT C:
“Fourth World” refers to ethnic and linguistic groups not represented by a nation-state. 


TEXT D: 
Indigenous peoples throughout the world have sustained their unique worldviews and associated knowledge systems for millennia, even while undergoing major social upheavals as a result of transformative forces beyond their control. Many of the core values, beliefs and practices associated with those worldviews have survived and are beginning to be recognized as having an adaptive integrity that is as valid for today's generations as it was for generations past. The depth of indigenous knowledge rooted in the long inhabitation of a particular place offers lessons that can benefit everyone, from educator to scientist, as we search for a more satisfying and sustainable way to live on this planet.

Barnhardt, R., & Kawagley, A. O. (2005) Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Alaska Native Ways of Knowing. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), pp. 8-23.


TEXT E:
Indigenous knowledge systems explore local knowledge unique to a particular culture or society. The term usually refers to the knowledge constructed by a particular group of people such as the Namaqua people of Southern Africa, the Secoya people of Ecuador and Peru, the Ryukyuan people of Japan and the Wopkaimin people of Papua New Guinea… The Maori knowledge system today, for example, is a mixture of traditional knowledge and knowledge inherited over time from exposure to European culture.

From the TOK Subject Guide, 2015


Arrange the students in groups of four. Provide a timed 12 minute window for lively group discussion based on the following generative questions. Emphasize that these questions will provide good starting points for a graded Indigenous Knowledge Systems oral presentation that will be coming soon.  
Printable pdf. of the texts and questions.

  1. Why do 21st century academics use terms like “traditional” and “hunter-gatherer” rather than “primitive” societies?  What is an LEDC? Is the term “4th World” politically incorrect? 
     
  2. How does the official TOK Subject Guide avoid proposing a precise definition for indigenous? Why do you think they chose this strategy?
     
  3. To what extent are the Maori, as they are in New Zealand today, a war-like, 4th World, indigenous, highly traditional culture? 
     
  4. Formulate your own knowledge question about a named Native American culture.
"A Navajo Gold Star family receiving the strength and warmth of the ceremonial torch as they remember their lost one during the 9th annual Navajo-Hopi Honor Run’s torch ceremony. The ceremonial torch is from “Carry the Flame Across America,” a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the honor and memory of Veterans." Photo: Donovan Shortey. See more of his work curated at Navahophotography.org

"A Navajo Gold Star family receiving the strength and warmth of the ceremonial torch as they remember their lost one during the 9th annual Navajo-Hopi Honor Run’s torch ceremony. The ceremonial torch is from “Carry the Flame Across America,” a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the honor and memory of Veterans." Photo: Donovan Shortey. See more of his work curated at Navahophotography.org

 

EMBODIED AND EMBEDDED

The quote below from the Shakespeare's Cure for Xenophobia, in its universality, is a reminder that indigenous peoples should not be considered as somehow apart from the existential predicaments and pressures that beset all the worlds nations and embedded cultures. Stephen Greenblatt is a Harvard Literary historian, renowned Shakespeare scholar and regular New Yorker contributor. He attended Yale when anti-semitism was still overt. 

The quote could supplement Who do you think you are? in Ways of Knowing. It could also enrich in medias res and Capable and fallible in the Knowing about Knowing section that introduces the TOK course.

Pdf. of the Greenblatt quote.

What you inherit, what you receive from a world that you did not fashion but that will do its best to fashion you, is at once beautiful and repellent. You somehow have to come to terms with what is ugly as well as what is precious.

The task derives from the kind of creatures that we are. We arrive in the world only partially formed; a culture that has been in the making for hundreds of thousands of years will form the rest. And that culture will inevitably contain much that is noxious as well as beneficent. No one is exempt—not the Jew or the Muslim, of course, but also not the Cockney or the earl or the person whose ancestors came to America on the Mayflower or, for that matter, the person whose ancestors were Algonquins or Laplanders. Our species’ cultural birthright is a mixed blessing. It is what makes us fully human, but being fully human is a difficult work in progress.

Though xenophobia is part of our complex inheritance—quickened, no doubt, by the same instinct that causes chimpanzees to try to destroy members of groups not their own—this inheritance is not our ineluctable fate. Even in the brief span of our recorded history, some five thousand years, we can watch societies and individuals ceaselessly playing with, reshuffling, and on occasion tossing out the cards that both nature and culture have dealt, and introducing new ones.
— Stephen Greenblatt: Shakespeare’s Cure for Xenophobia—What “The Merchant of Venice” taught me about ethnic hatred and the literary imagination. New Yorker: Annals of Culture, July 10 & 17, 2017 Issue.
Confiscated Machetes at the Rwanda Border. Photo: James Nachtwey, 2014

Confiscated Machetes at the Rwanda Border. Photo: James Nachtwey, 2014