Exploring Indigenous Knowledge

I joined a couple of webinars this week on the topic of Indigenous Knowledge and Thinking. I’ve been curious about the topic for a long time, and have been exploring it more recently to increase my own understanding.

One of my reasons for studying psychology is my interest in diversity, inclusion and accessibility. I’ve also been doing some research about my family history in the past year, picking up on some light digging I did in my teenage years. Those two things have resulted in me looking for and coming across more information related to Indigenous and First Nations Knowledge.

I knew that I was only at the tip of the iceberg with this subject and that was confirmed when I plunged myself into some very academic sessions with people who have deep knowledge and experience in this space. So I am here just documenting thoughts and notes and observations to embed them into my mind. For me there were a lot of parallels in the content covered in these very different panel sessions which is why I’ve combined it into one blog post.

Indigenous voices: research principles through a First Nations lens

This was a panel as part of Open Access Week 2021, moderated by the wonderful Kim Tairi. Kim’s a vibrant librarian from Aotearoa New Zealand who has generously helped me in the past with questions I had about Maori culture. The panel included:

  • Māui Hudson: Associate Professor in the Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato
  • Dr Levon Ellen Blue: Senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology and coordinator of the National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network (NIRAKN).
  • Spencer Lilley: Associate Professor of Information Studies at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Information Management.

The discussion was about how the concept of Open Access (to knowledge) is not as simple as open or closed. This is particularly relevant when it comes to research involving Indigenous People and Knowledge, as I would quickly discover in the session.

Here are some of the things that stood out for me from the panel discussion. Note that this is my perspective and I am not positioning this as a representation of the panellist’s thoughts:

  • Open access to knowledge has the benefit of making knowledge more widely available and accessible. However publishing to an Open Access journal or making data open access does immediately make it accessible to everyone or consumable by everyone.
  • There is a lack of Indigenous Representation in academia, which presents a challenge in having Indigenous perspectives appropriately considered in the collection and publication of research.
  • Research should be “as open as posssible, as closed as necessary”. This resonates with me in terms of how we often recommend approaching securing and sharing of corporate knowledge internally.
  • “Just because it’s available and the research is done doesn’t mean we should be sharing it”. This was a comment by Kim. The broader discussion was about the potential consequences to sharing raw research without context. And that often the process of research pulls insights that may not be relevant to the specific research question being addressed, and could do harm out of context.
  • Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Research are not the same thing. Particularly where research is not conducted by or necessariily for the benefit of Indigenous communities.
  • Putting research into the public domain can infringe on peoples rights. Ethics processes around research are designed to protect research participants.
  • There are many benefits to sharing Indigenous Research, but this should not happen without considering the rights of indigenous peoples and considering how they create, share and manage their knowledge.

Some topics and keywords that came up which I want to look at more:

  • Decolonizing methodologies
  • Relational accountability
  • CARE principles of Indigenous Data Governance

Re-emergence: Complexity Yarns with Indigenous Thinkers

Another panel discussion in the same topic area but I found this one because I recently followed Dave Snowden who is one of the panellists and it is presented in partnership with the NIKERI Institute at Deakin University (where I just started studying), The Cynefin Centre and Complexability. The panel included academics and strategists with lived experience from a First Nations perspective:

  • Tyson Yunkaporta: Senior Lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges at Deakin University.
  • Beth Smith: Project Manager and Policy Research Consultant
  • Dave Snowden: Founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Cognitive Edge.
  • Dr Mervyn Wilkinson: Cultural Change Strategist, Change Management and Leadership Specialist at Catalyst of Change Consulting Group.

This panel was the second of three in a series bringing together different Indigenous thinkers to talk about complexity in the context of First Nation experiences. As a kicking off point for the panel the question was asked ‘Why doing one accent is not okay, and another is okay?’.

Here are some of the things that stood out for me from this panel discussion. Note that this is my perspective and I am not positioning this as a representation of the panellist’s thoughts:

  • The parralells between historical treatment of Welsh people and that of Australian and Papua New Guinean First Nations. Colonisation, mining, appropriation and probably a lot more I am yet to become aware of.
  • We need to treat the English language as separate from the English.
  • Most cultural knowledge is embodied, it’s not just cognitive.
  • Taking peoples stories and turning them into historical artefacts is anthropological appropriation.
  • Minig is a common Indigenous issue. Land becomes valuable becuase there is something in it that people want. When that thing is gone, so is that value.
  • Indigenous People have different attitudes towards money, wealth and economy. Traditions are often matriarchal and exploiting the community for the benefit of an individual (or corporation) is a shameful act.
  • Language can be exploitative and create boundaries which people are unable to cross.
  • Authority is earned over time, power can be taken and exploited. In Indigenous cultures power is distributed and authority is held centrally.
  • Being a facilitator (of meetings) yeilds power of interpretation. This is the possibility of taking away peoples sovereignty.
  • “Why is it that old wives tales are called old wives tales when old men’s tales are called history and philosophy”, noted by Beth.

Some topics and keywords that came up which I want to look at more:

  • Creolize (with respect to a language)
  • Atomism and Communitarianism
  • Wantok or “One Talk”
  • Entangle trios
  • Hegemonic narrative
  • Digital democracy
  • Cognitive soverignty

I came away from both of these sessions having learned many new things and being introduced to words and concepts that I had to stop myself from searching further lest I go down a rabbit hole.

If you have ideas or information or links that you think I should check out please share. Based on my quick peek into this subject area there is a lot to understand so I would value other people’s insights.

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