What is the role of anthropology in accepting different ways of knowing in the Academy?

“If you want to learn something, first you must learn this.” Toronto,Canada Ogimaa mikana project: http://ogimaamikana.tumblr.com/

This time of year always lends itself to reflection, and I can’t help but think back on 2018 as the beginning of a huge learning curve for myself in teaching anthropology. After many years as a sessional instructor, I began a teaching stream faculty position at the same Institution. The precarity of sessional teaching necessitates a type of survival pedagogy that includes a perpetual inferiority complex (imposter syndrome) and figuring out how to accomplish a measure of success with no resources (a future blog discussion I am sure).

Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Land Cession 1781-1820 & Rouge Tract Claim 2015 www.mncfn.ca

A full-time teaching position brings with it new responsibilities but also the freedom to pursue personal pedagogical projects. This is the beginning of that journey for me. The starting place began admittedly out of naivety and frankly ignorance. I wondered why there was no presence of the local Indigenous community on campus, and seemingly a lack of student knowledge of the significance of the land on which they studied and lived every day. I saw a connection between this lack of awareness with my attempts to get the students in the my Introductory course in Biological Anthropology and Archaeology to reflect on their own place of privilege and positionality in a discussion on the traditional methods of anthropological study “in” (or more appropriately “on”) Indigenous populations.

After attending anthropological and pedagogical conferences with no guidance on how to begin this inquiry from the Indigenous perspective, I was generously mentored by a Metis archaeologist who gave me a reading list of Indigenous authors and directed me to NAISA (North American Indigenous Studies Association) This opened up my world to the writings of Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012; 2018), Margaret Kovach(2008), Marie Battiste (2013), Shawn Wilson (2008), Eve Tuck (2018) and many more. In this world, anthropological research is not exactly viewed in a positive light. In the words of Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2018: 12 -13)

“When I wrote Decolonizing Methodologies (1999), discussions of being an insider or outsider in ethnographic research were prevalent. Anthropology departments now teach people how to be a research insider, and there is an industry around making yourself inside, as though that is the solution to the kinds of tensions that are raised in considering who is inside and who is outside a community.”

Are we at a critical transition in the field of anthropology? As Tuck (2018: 20) asks “What would it mean to move from learning about Indigenous peoples to learning from Indigenous Peoples?”. This requires an acceptance of pluralistic ontologies and different way of knowing (Nakata, 2007a). This requires a mutually respected and equitable relationship between educational institutions (traditionally based on a colonial model) with local Indigenous communities on the forefront of decolonization. This requires a transformation of teaching and learning away from the Eurocentric transactional traditions (Styres, 2017). What is the role of Anthropology in accepting different ways of knowing in the Academy?

I have found that the answer to this question lies within the local Indigenous community (Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation) The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action (2015) outline many educational changes that must take place in order for transformative learning to occur, and many educational institutions across Canada have recognized the importance of an Indigenous curriculum. It seems that anthropology as a discipline should be on the forefront of this movement. However, I think that for our field, decolonization must begin with an re-evaluation of our discipline. We have an additional responsibility for truth and reconciliation of the past (and present) contributions that our field has made to Colonial afflictions on Indigenous peoples throughout the world. My fear is that this reflection will be an insular process that only ends up re-colonizing Indigenous communities. It is time for the Academy to recognize that there must be room for multiple learning traditions to establish ethical spaces between cultures. Researchers from post-secondary institutions often claim that their work helps Indigenous communities, but they fail to acknowledge the ongoing power imbalance and inequity that is maintained with this type of research. Regardless of the good intentions, when the findings are based on Western epistemologies then they are often not aligned with Indigenous ways of knowing (Louie et al., 2017).

  1. Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Purich Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia.
  2. Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario.
  3. Louie, D., Pratt, Y., Hanson, A., & Ottmann, J. (2017). Applying Indigenizing principles of decolonizing methodologies in University classrooms. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 47, 3, 16-32.
  4. Nakata, M. (2007a). The cultural interface. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36(S), 7-14.
  5. Styres, S. (2017). Pathways for remembering and recognizing Indigenous thought in education. University of Toronto Press, Ontario, Canada.
  6. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015). Truth and Reconciliation commission of Canada: Calls to action, Library and Archives Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Retrieved from: http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
  7. Tuck, E., & Yang, K. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization, Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1,1,1-40.
  8. Smith, L., Tuck, E., & Yang. W (2018). Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education. Rutledge, New York.
  9. University of Toronto Steering Committee (2016). Wecheehetowin: Answering the Call, the University of Toronto’s Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canad. https://www.provost.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/155/2018/05/Final-Report-TRC.pdf
  10. Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Fernwood Publishing, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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