Indigenous Epistemologies and Open Science: Learning from the Land
In November 2020, the world’s first Virtual Indigenous Circle on Open Science and the Decolonization of Knowledge took place. The Circle format was designed by Dr Lorna Wanósts’a7 Williams and featured nearly 20 Indigneous speakers from around the world. They came together to inform UNESCO’s recommendation on Open Science and ensure that Indigenous knowledge and perspectives would be incorporated respectfully and with integrity into the recommendation.
In this episode, four of those participants ( Lorna Wanósts’a7 Williams, Greg Cajete, Manulani Aluli Meyer, and Sonajharia Minz) have gathered again to extend that conversation and further speak to Indigenous epistemologies, their personal journeys in science and academia, and many vital reflections on being attuned to the quality of our relationships, changing our consciousness, cultivating a sense of reverence, and much much more.
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You are listening to the Unsettling Knowledge Inequities podcast, presented by the Knowledge Equity Lab – housed at the University of Toronto and SPARC – the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.
In November 2020, the world’s first Virtual Indigenous Circle on Open Science and the Decolonization of Knowledge took place.
The Circle format was designed by Dr Lorna Wanósts’a7 Williams and featured nearly 20 Indigneous speakers from around the world.
They came together to inform UNESCO’s recommendation on Open Science and ensure that Indigenous knowledge and perspectives would be incorporated respectfully and with integrity into the recommendation.
Today four of those participants have gathered again to extend that conversation and further speak to Indigenous epistemologies, their personal journeys in science and academia, and many vital reflections on being attuned to the quality of our relationships, changing our consciousness, cultivating a sense of reverence, and much much more.
(Speaking in Lil’wat). I’m Lorna Williams. Wanosts’a7 is my name. My people are in Lil’wat’ul. But I live here on the lands of the lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ. I am a Professor Emeritus from the University of Victoria. We had such an amazing conversation with the Indigenous Circle about Indigenous Science. And so it would be a good idea to have a conversation about what we learned, and where we should go next with this idea. I think that the message is being heard – finally. And I know that all of you have worked so hard, and for so long, to change the ideas about what is science. So I’m really happy that we’re having this conversation today.
My name is Greg Cajete. (Speaking in Tewa), as we say in my language, good day. I’m from Santa Clara pueblo, which is one of six Tewa speaking pueblos, north of the capital of New Mexico, which is Santa Fe. I’m also a former Director of the Native American Studies Program at the University of New Mexico, also worked at the Institute of American Indian Arts for many years. I am a Professor Emeritus from the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. And so I’ve been working in the area of Native science, I am trained as a field biologist in my first degree. So I’m very cognizant of many of the issues that Native people face with regard to their participation in western science. That being said, I’m also a researcher of Indigenous science, which really explores the very amazingly rich heritage that we have as Indigenous people in the area of science, even though we don’t call it science. It’s more of an integrated way of life, in relationship with each other, and the natural world, and the whole cosmos. Those are the kinds of things I advocate, I do a lot of work with Tribal colleges here in the United States, helping them integrate Indigenous knowledge, Native science, into their science curriculums. I also work with teachers in developing curriculum in that same regard. And now that I’m retired, I’m doing lots and lots of podcasts and zooms related to the same things. It’s work that I think is very important in this time, in this place. And given the challenges that we all face, but particularly Indigenous people, you know, as we try to continue our traditions, our way of life, sustain ourselves in the face of great, great challenges, particularly climate change, and political upheaval all over the world. (Speaking in Tewa) , thank you so much.
(Speaking in Hawaiian) Aloha everyone. My name is Manu, Manu Aluli Meyer. I’m the fifth Daughter of Emma Aluli and Harry Meyer. And we come from a big family of people dedicated to Hawaiian education, Hawaiian justice, Hawaiian cultural rejuvenation. My work has been in Indigenous epistemology for the last 30 years. And I’ve been a friend of these beloved presenters, and I look forward to being a part of this discussion today (speaking in Hawaiian) , these are our words for science, and for the idea of continuity that has shaped our love of land and service to people. Aloha, everyone.
(Speaking in Kurukh), there are the words of salutation in my language in Central India, one of the tribes. Sonajharia Minz is my name and my first name Sonajharia means spring of gold. And my second name Minz is the totem that is eel, a fish. And my tribe is known as the Oraon tribe, but my language is Kurukh. I grew up as a child of enlightened parents who were very deep rooted in the culture, but were conscious of education and modern education. And very early at the age of five, I was told by my father that intellectual capacity was uniformly distributed to all, and this had a background which I didn’t know at that time and couldn’t understand, which is that in India people are divided not based on any other thing, but because of where they are born – in which family one is born. And because of the Caste system which are linked with the kind of work that is done. The Dalits and Tribals in India are considered to be outside the caste system, and therefore, at least 100 years ago, they were even considered less than humans. But my father mentioned that sentence because it has been assumed that Dalits and Tribals do not have enough intellectual capacity to study modern education, and especially science. And so the children used to be discouraged from studying science and mathematics. But when I was stopped from studying mathematics, after school, I took it up as a rebellious spirit in me to study mathematics and continued to study computer science. So therefore, I have been trained as a mathematician up to my Master’s level. But because I did research in computer science, I have been a Professor of Computer Science for 30 years, in the Universities in India, the public Universities and one of the premier Universities, I have been a Professor of Computer Science for 29 years. A year and a half ago, I was appointed as the Vice Chancellor, which is like a President of a public University in Central India. Whereas I did serve as a Professor in one of the premier public Universities in New Delhi, that is the capital of India. And so after 40 years of being outside my birthplace, which is known as Jharkhand, I was considered as of “merit” and not within the scope of Tribals and Dalits. And I praise the leading spirits, the great spirits that brought me back to my land after 40 years as a Vice Chancellor of a University. But what has been a burning desire for me as a life project has been digitization of the Indigenous cultures, the Tribal cultures, which have been always considered uncivilized, primitive, uncouth, simple, as opposed to sophisticated science. And so it has been a burning desire in me to take up this project of digitization of cultures and Indigenous cultures. But things have taken a different turn. Right now as the Vice Chancellor of this public University, which is in a Tribal populated, densely populated area in Central India, I have been now engaged with teaching and trying to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into the mainstream curriculum. My government, my federal government, at the moment, is also interested in Indigenous knowledge systems. And I’m at this time very cautious and weary, that if we spill out everything and present it to the non-Tribal and the the part of Indian society who has always colonized our knowledge, and has considered us substandard, or subaltern, and uncouth and uncivilized and simple, they just might want to not give enough credit to the knowledge from our again simplistic presentation of everything. And therefore, I, at this time, would like to be very responsibly cautious under the projects which are intended to bring out Indigenous knowledge systems in India. But I’m so pleased be part of this podcast. And I look forward towards a longer relationship as I see so many common issues from other parts of the world.
This began when a group of us submitted an article to UNESCO on Open Science and Open Access. They invited me to be on a panel, which I did, I had four minutes to make a case. But at the end of it, the organizers decided that they would have a separate panel on Indigenous science. And also UNESCO Canada invited me to organize a Circle, a session on the topic that they would support. And so I invited people from many parts of the world, who I had been working with over the years, and who I knew, knew more about this topic than I did. And their response was really, really, you know, very Indigenous. People came on and said that they would be happy to participate. And I decided that even though this was going to be virtual, that we would have it as a Circle, the way that we would do it when we came together to make decisions. And so I constructed it in that way, opening with songs and prayers to make sure that we, each of us, stayed focused on the topic. And everyone had a space and an opportunity to give voice to the topic. And I think that it was successful in that people were able to provide, in a very concise way, the points that needed to be made. In our world, when people come together, we usually have an opportunity to make sure that there’s an energy that flows amongst the group, and so that people feel free to speak and are not afraid. And I think we were able to achieve that. And the result was really clear and complete. And the report was sent to the drafters of the paper (recommendations) that UNESCO is putting together. And I think that it made an influence on the involvement of Indigenous knowledge. Because at the beginning, one of the points that I made in the panel was that Indigenous knowledge in the original paper was a sub bullet of a sub bullet of a sub bullet. And so that really, really showed what they thought about Indigenous knowledge. So even though they mentioned it, which in itself was an achievement, but it was very minimized. And that’s what we’ve been able to change.
First of all, I was very happy to receive the invitation from Lorna, you know, to participate in this event. And again, you know, I’ve worked in the field of Indigenous science really all of my career, 40 plus years, 46 years, 47 years, I’m not sure, I’ve lost count. But in reality, you know, as an Indigenous person, if you grew up in a community where Indigenous knowledge is a part of your life, you know, you really are involved with it for your entire life. And I was aware of the marginalization of Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous peoples, by nation states all over the world – particularly here in the United States, and also in Canada. But I know that it goes on all over the world, that view that Indigenous people are somewhat less human. I consider Indigenous people more human than most in the sense that we have really survived and we have really maintained a very special human connection to the natural world in ways modern peoples have not. And that we see the consequences of that, you know, daily now in the newscasts about climate change, social unrest, economic issues, you know, worldwide. So for me, you know, to share my thoughts on Indigenous science, that was a very important opportunity because UNESCO and also particularly the UN really does have influence in terms of policies, although I wish it had more influence, but nonetheless, you know, it has influence in ways that allow for a better life for Indigenous people. And I thought that this was an opportunity for me to at least share these thoughts and perspectives of the richness of Indigenous science, you know, wherever you find it in the world, because Indigenous peoples, and that knowledge system is a result of hundreds and thousands of generations of humans in a place, you know, developing a very special relationship with that place that can’t be replaced in any other way, except through a long standing relationship with the place. And so I felt that this was something that was missing in western science. As I said before, I was trained as a western scientist, essentially, as a biologist, field biologist. I think my interest in science, particularly in the natural sciences, was a direct result of my participation in my Indigenous community and family. And, you know, farming, subsistence farming, all those kinds of things that allow you to be close to the land and close to a community really do form you, and form your thoughts with regard to relationship. And so I brought that into my journey in science. However, I very quickly realized that it had no place there, that there was no place for Indigenous thought in western science. And so that then began a quest for me to not only object to that statement, but also to really address it in a very direct and deep and profound way. And so I used the education system, the western education system, and used its own tricks against it, in the sense that I brought forward Indigenous thought into the curriculum, and began to develop it parallel to Western thought and perspective as a balance, if you will. I started with Indigenous students, because I felt the Indigenous students were the most deprived, you know, of knowledge of their own ancestral richness, you know, with regard to things that we now called science. And so I felt they needed to know their history, but then I began to see that it was not only Indigenous people that needed to know and understand, you know, their place in the world of science, but also, that it was science itself as an institution, as a culture, that needed to to begin to address its own bias, its own systemic racism, with regard to Indigenous people in science. And so that began the work that I did in a variety of different ways, with various organizations, to begin to address, you know, that inequality that I saw in the part of the science institution. But at the same time, really, my focus has been always, you know, helping Indigenous people realize their own histories of Indigenous science and to become proud of that, to build on that as a strength for the future. And I think this message is beginning to take hold all over the world, unfortunately, here in the United States, because of the political issues, that’s been really a difficult journey, but it’s happening here as well. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. And so Open Science, you know, opening the bastion of western science to be more inclusive of Indigenous thought, I think is a very important milestone, and really needs to be cultivated and nourished in ways that we were able to do. So I have hope for the future, that that will be the new paradigm. But I also have lots of caution, you know, with regard to the system itself and the politics of Western society.
Greg, I need to remind you that it was you that taught us that the key for science is to learn from land, not simply about land, and that distinction changed everything. And it finely nuances the idea of what Indigenous science is. It teaches us to understand, so Indigenous science is not a subset to Western science. They put us down down down below the down below the down, but no, Western science is a subset of Indigenous science. Once you get that understanding, you will be more curious about what the post quantum world is delivering up into our understanding, you will be more aware of the trans spatial understanding and the purpose of essence and spirit and the radical empirical world that has been outlined by our kupuna, by our elders for thousands of years, and we have been called superstitious because of it. And I must say that as we evolve as a world society, there will be a reckoning that is coming soon, that we have actually predicted. I was in a call yesterday with our Native Peacekeepers and Peacemakers, and they reminded us that we are dedicated to the root causes of our ill health, not simply the effects. And so when you understand the root cause of the dilemmas of modernity and society and climate change and depression, if you see it in an Indigenous way, you go toward the cause, not simply to fix the effects. We say the cause is where the Mou lives, where continuity lives. And continuity is always about quality engagement with people, quality engagement with our land, our skies, our waterways, quality – it doesn’t extract, it doesn’t commodify, it’s the quality of our engagement with the world that creates our science, not the extraction and the amount that we can gain for our personal goods. And that is this minor detail. And we in Hawaii call it continuity. And that of course, is very, very synonymous with simultaneity and simultaneity is – you know, the quantum sciences are finally catching up to us by calling it complementarity. So, complementarity, simultaneity, Aloha Mai, Aloha Aku, that sense of as you sow, so shall you reap, dependent co arising, mutual causality, all these words are also found in our own Native lexicon. Because when you care for land, and you care for your mother, your mother cares for you. These are simple, basic building blocks to Eke Kūpuna, to the wisdom of our elders. And it is not simple. These are complex systems that we have had to simplify for the consumption of modern society. And it’s a good ting we can do ’em – because we are always doing it with beloveds, we are always doing it with the love for each other, we are always doing it in a cadence that allows for care of our elders, and the care of our children. We are always learning from each other. And we are always dedicated to ferreting out and understanding the causes. And so for me right now, to be in this group with you Lorna … the UNESCO event was stupendous because it allowed us to gather and we honor our own elders’ knowledge, we do, we absolutely do. And it is the mainstream, the ____, the spirit of my life is to honor what has come before me. And so it is time for us to lead the world in this form of behavior. And I please beg us not to fear the potential commodification of what loving land meets. Because karma is karma eh, Sona. And, please, we must be clearer, confident, courageous at this juncture, because time is running out. And this clarity is necessary. And this is why you gathered us. But I want to thank my elders and my kupuna and my mentors in you, Greg and Lorna, because Western science is a subset to Indigenous science, and that’s what I know.
Manulani, that was so profound, and I’m so so very honored to be invited to this small group of part of the big Circle, Lorna by you. I really have no words to thank you for inviting me to participate in this conversation. And this actually indicates a Circle that I have learned as a mathematics student in geometry. A circle is a continuous, infinite number of dots, points, which when are juxtaposed it forms a circle, and there is no edge to it – and the warmth that I experienced in our previous Circle event in November 2020 that drew me, and the warmth and the relationship that I can feel at the moment during this conversation is indicated that it is a Circle. Because in India, not only the nature and parts of nature are commodified, but even people at times are commodified. We Tribals are either showcased as examples and samples of what was pre civilization, or at times, people like me as individuals who have made it in spite of the difficult circumstances and have become competitive to the mainstream society in India are again showcased or called examples of survival. And they can be aberrations. They can be exceptions. But I’m so strengthened by the warmth I can feel and the call for boldness and not being fearful. All the forces that repeatedly try to subvert our identity, our culture – at the Circle, the Virtual Circle event on Open Science and Decolonization of Knowledge, one thing which came straight to my heart was the phrase used: Indigenous science. Because this is what I always felt in my spirit, that science that was taught to me in a compartmentalised manner, you know, the physics, chemistry, biology, and then again, compartmentalized within biology – apology, Greg, you are a field biologist. But what I learned as these compartmental aspects of science, and further compartmentalization, Lorna, as you were mentioning, dot within the dot within the dot – but I think Manulani you so beautifully put it that the modern science is the subset of Indigenous science. And that’s so not only humbling to know, be a part of such a big and holistic thing called Indigenous science, but then the kind of warmth and the ease that I was able to experience during that meeting that has drawn me back, the kind of spirited warmth is indicative of how the connection between the Indigenous peoples across the world is very, very deep rooted. It connects with the Mother Earth, the creation, not only Earth, but all the entities we can see, that is the sky and everything that we can see. And in each individual Indigenous culture, this is so common. And that commonality, the common denominator is the definition of our oneness. Sorry for using some mathematical terms. But this is how I’d like to express that, you know, the common denominator is the spirit that has found expression in our cultures. Although I have been a professor of computer science for a good 20 years, out of 30 years of my career, I have tried to encourage the students from Indigenous backgrounds, the Tribal backgrounds to be not only courageous when they come out of their contexts into cities and big colleges and universities and are faced with a different culture, but also to start gaining confidence about oneself and claim their own dignity. The dignity that we are deprived of. We have to tell the mainstream society that our identity is beyond what they perceive because their linguistic capabilities, their lexicons can only perceive the semantics of what they use, but ours is more holistic. And the other thing about Open Science that I was drawn towards was, I think, the integrity aspect, the ethics of science, and the benchmarks towards relation of open science with society. But I think that in India, or at least in Asia, I see, it may be a very long journey, and Lorna you have spearheaded, and all of you who have been more engaged in Indigenous science in your efforts that Indigenous peoples, Tribal people in India would be able to take a stand for who they are, rather than who they are being told to be. And therefore, I consider today to be the second step towards a long journey that I may have, which can be a race, like a relay race, where I may have a point where I would hand over the baton to somebody behind me in India. And so I would like to work more rigorously towards justice of Indigenous science, in my part of the world, in my part of the globe.
I think that you bring up a very important point Sona, about the students who come to school, because schools and the education system, have been the strongest tool that was used by the colonizers to colonize, and to put down Indigenous peoples around the world. And I was not in science, but I have been an educator all my life, I’ve worked with children from kindergarten to the university. And one of the things that always breaks my heart is that Indigenous people come to class, no matter at what level and they cannot bring their knowledge systems with them, they have to leave them at the door. And this is something that has to change in every discipline. And science I think has been, is one of the most challenging areas to have this conversation. And so, you know, the fact that we’re having it is going to make a huge difference. And so I really appreciate, you know, the three of you and all the other people who were at our Circle, for making such a big difference. And that’s one of the reasons why this conversation is really important, why the circle was important. It’s at many different levels. It’s to teach people about Indigenous science, that there is such a thing, but also the way that our institutions, institutional structures that we have, exclude and minimize Indigenous people and our knowledge systems. And so Sona your role I think is a critical one. There are a few other people like you in the world, but you’re the ones who will make a huge difference to opening the doors to Indigenous wisdom, Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous science.
The example is here today, we have multiple people from many different cultures because Indigeneity is no longer – really its just a synonym for proximity. It’s a synonym for a system of thinking that allows for continuity. So when you gather people like us together, we recognize difference and we honor difference, because difference is what we have in common. But when you go deep into difference, we find, I have found the depth of what it means to be universal. So I believe Western systems confuse universality with uniformity. And this is why our specific epistemology, found in my own Hawaiian culture, went to Indigenous and now it’s called a holographic epistemology, because it must include everyone. And everyone’s thinking is old, when you prioritize it within a value system that prioritizes love of land and service to people. And this is as simple as it can get. And I have felt it in the First Nations people in Canada, I have felt it in the Tribal people in India, I have felt it in Greg’s people over in the continent. We are all the same, differently. So when you can handle perceived contradictions like that, you are heading more into the living room of Native peoples minds, because we have seen this before, we have seen the cacophony before. We have seen the collapse before. It is in our ____, our stories, our songs, our dispositions. And so when delivered friends asked me to show up, I show up with a shovel in my hand … because it’s time to work. And so now that we’ve met Sona, and now that our circle expands into people, places and cultures that are doing the work, we can now begin to amplify our own processes, because of the needs of our time. And this is what this broadcast, hopefully, will animate, is the quality of our relationality. Not the fact of them. It is the quality of how we are going to develop our consciousness, that I know Greg has, has birthed. And I’d like to turn it over to you Gregory, so that you can extend this idea of learning from land, and now simply about land. See the difference, Safa? The difference is the quality of our engagement with people, land and our ideas.
Thank you Manulani for that beautiful introduction. I mean, of course, you know, Native science is of the land, it is of relationship to the land. And of course, Indigenous people, you know, because they have not really ever left the land, have communicated through their love of the land, have been, I think, the most wonderful kinds of exemplification of Indigenous thought. And so if you are a farmer in India, who has lived all of your life, on the land, relating to the land, what comes with that, of course, is a sense of relationship, responsibility, resonance and respect for the land and for each other. Because the relationship of land to people is a communal relationship. And you grow up in that context, and you begin to understand why relationship is so important to human life, which is really to become complete, as a man, as a woman, in the context of your community, in relationship to the place in which you live, the natural world and also relationship to the cosmos. So all of our epistemologies or forms of coming to knowledge, not only acknowledge this but celebrate it in our songs, in our dances, in our ways of technology, and in the considerations that we have continually for: is this right? Is this a rightful relationship, that will benefit not only the human being, but also all of life, the plants, the animals? The idea that plants and animals and the Earth itself has rights, you know, is a policy, idea, concept that is very ancient, yet it’s been looked upon, I know in Western circles, Western legal circles as something totally new. And yet for us as Indigenous people, of course land has rights, of course plants have rights. Of course, animals have rights. And so this epistemology is really an epistemology predicated on thousands of human generations, of living close in relationship to the land and to each other, that I think has to now be reestablished. I see it as two basic issues, you know, the first issue and the one I’ve concentrated I think most often during my career has really been to help connect or reconnect Indigenous peoples to their histories, and particularly to their history of relationship to the land and to places. And so that reconnection, you know, is I think the first step. Simultaneous to that, you know, I have attempted to connect Indigenous people to what is beneficial in the context of Western knowledge systems. And so access to science and science education, I think is very important, essential in our ability to survive into the future, but not at the expense of our Indigenous knowledge or Indigenous ways of life, because that is really the foundation. And I’m glad Manulani said that Western science is the subset of Indigenous science and not the other way around in the context of this thinking. Because we really are at a point in time, where Indigenous knowledge of this nature, particularly it’s a consciousness, really, that has to be re educated for. First the consciousness on the part of our own Indigenous people, that they are valued, that they matter. That the traditions, and the perspectives that Indigenous people hold, are actually very, very much in line with the new thoughts that’s coming out of Western science, you know about sustainability, about resilience. And so this is why Indigenous science, some Indigenous scientists are becoming interested in how Indigenous people view and understand the relationship to land and to places and to environments and to plants and to animals – in ways that allowed them to survive and sustain themselves, through time and through generations. So that knowledge now is needed by Western cultures, you know, if all of human society is going to survive. Yet, at the same time, the institutions, the politics of Western society, mitigate against the other, exploit the other, so it’s really a change in consciousness. And I know that Manulani has always emphasized, you know, this need to change our consciousness. And that need, you know, is more important than ever before. The great tool that we have for us is education, but it’s education on Indigenous terms. That’s the key, you know, because education was used as a tool to assimilate, to denigrate, and to destroy Indigenous peoples languages, cultures, and lands. And now we have to turn that tool into something that is something that can value – that we can value in ways that allow us to survive and to move into the future. So this is, this is the big question of our time. Still very much Western science looks at Indigenous science as a kind of oddity, as a kind of thing of the past, misunderstanding and mislabeling. And I will say, into a prejudice, you know, really guide much of what is science policy today and the way science is done, especially universities. But I think that Indigenous people are really making headway. And I think what my place now is really just to be an advisor to provide insight, but also to provide teaching in ways that I can. I think the Zoom, while it’s something that I had, I didn’t value in the past, I now know how to value it as a tool to communicate and to exchange ideas, to give voice to these ideas that I have, and other Indigenous people have worldwide. So it allows us a platform in and of itself. It is a product of Western science, but it allows us a platform to begin to share these ideas and these perspectives more rapidly across the globe. So as a new form of education, and incorporation into Indigenous education, especially, I think it has value. My training in science was very similar to what Sonia said, you know, I immediately realized that there was not really a place for me in western science unless I was able to just leave my cultural self at the door, and, you know, participate fully in western science. And that was not something that I was willing to do. And more and more Indigenous people are not willing to do that. So I think that our future is bright. But I think that we have a lot of work to do, particularly at the level of the UN, the level of the corporate entities, but it is really, ultimately, as Manu has always said, a matter of consciousness. And so we change our consciousness, we change our behavior, and then we begin to see how Indigenous science can be used as a tool for the betterment of our future, for the guarantee of our future even – because that is in question as we speak.
Big topics – but as you were speaking, I was thinking about this changing of consciousness. And one of the things that has always been of such a force that I could see in our world as Indigenous people, is the consciousness of gratitude, and always showing gratitude and voicing gratitude in the relationship with each other. And with the land and with everything that is on the land. And that’s something that doesn’t exist anymore in society. And that’s something that I think that we have to be able to promote. And the other is the sense of responsibility that I have, each of us has a personal responsibility to the care of self, each other and the land. And as I was growing up in my community, that’s what we lived, it was a natural, normal thing. And I always tell the story about when we’d go to pick cedar roots for our basket and for our clothing. Before entering the forest, we cleansed ourselves so that we didn’t carry into the forest, the feelings of conflict and strife that we might have, that we might have been experiencing in our relationships with each other as people. And we had to cleanse that- and so there is a consciousness there, that your behavior and what you bring effects in is felt by nature. And I remember, as a young woman, you know, I was feeling really strong and I was pulling really hard at the cedar roots and trying to get the biggest and the most. And the old woman just very quietly said, if we treat the cedar root in that way, they’ll go away, they’ll hide. And I ended up watching them, and they were so, you know, in the work that they did, the way that they carried out their task was so beautiful, in that they, you know, they brought laughter and good thoughts to it. And they worked very steadily, calmly, and they got a big bundle of roots, whereas I didn’t, and I just got short, you know, not so great bundle of cedar roots. And that was a big lesson for me to really watch, and to learn, and to remember, and to observe the ways in which we treat each other, and the way that we treat nature and the natural world, and the way that we relate. And so it’s something that that I always tried to bring into my classes. And people respond to that sense of caring for one another and looking out for one another, listening to one another, observe – being observant. And those might sound simple, but they’re very hard to do. And you have to be guided and learn how to do that.
I wouldn’t be in a position to add to what Lorna has mentioned, but maybe to confirm that these are the feelings that I have grown up with living in a community or whenever we went back to the villages and met people from the same communities, even in towns and in the city of Delhi. You know, the kind of the bond and relationship we enjoyed or we felt doesn’t happen with others, but the sense of reverence, the attitude of reverence, that comes almost naturally when nature – and it was so beautiful to hear Lorna describe about the cedar root incident, but you know, you would find the stories in India in certain parts, where if they had to, you know, slaughter a cattle for a particular festival, they would ask permission from the cattle or the sheep or the goat. So, these are some gestures of relationship and the sense of gratitude. I was just reminded also of how it has become fashionable, at least in this part of the world, on you know, the World Environment Day and etc to just state that had there not been Indigenous peoples on the surface of the globe, till now probably the Earth would have been doomed and the entire nature would have been gone. Why I say so, it is fashionable, because it is said only once a year. But all the discussions that may have emanated, all those supposed resolutions that would try to indicate that there must be respect and the working principles and ethics which are similar or same as those of Indigenous communities, Tribal people In India, none of those get translated into their policies or companies’ policy, and so on and so forth. So therefore, I see that there is a pattern of lip service, I see that there is a pattern of fashion to say certain things. But I’m so grateful for this reminder, Greg and Lorna, that there is the sense of responsibility of care, besides the concept that you mentioned, is Indigenous consciousness, and Manulani you mentioned about Indigenous epistemology. Because I think in the modern education framework, they would try to capture the same, but would again, reduce it to something called Indigenous philosophy, and then again, with this prefix of Indigenous, and then philosophy would be still suspicious. And so a lot has to be done. And I’m trying to look at a scope for me for few more years now, to a work upon, let’s say, the frameworks in which the Indigenous culture or Indigenous knowledge systems may be presented – because these days, in India, we would consider it the land of diversity, because of language and knowledge systems, and etc, etc. But it’s not just the plain lexicon of the knowledge, but because of the literary sophistication a particular language has. And therefore, I see this need for revitalization of Indigenous languages, the Tribal languages. The area I am in these days, and my university, we have teaching happening in one of the languages only, whereas there are various some other Tribes also who live in this area. And I’m trying to find ways to have the curriculum developed for education, even in the university so that these languages are taught and are studied by students coming from those communities, which I’m hopeful would give them the confidence and dignity of equal to the others, the dignity of the language also would be brought to the platform of studies of languages. And now with my encouragement to the teachers, professors in this university, we have managed to work on a curriculum, which is going to be a Master’s level curriculum on Santhal Culture Studies. And so this curriculum, I’m hopeful that this Master’s level curriculum would be able to bring out various aspects of the Santhal Tribes and I am right now in Santhal Pargana, which means the region of the Santhals, the home of the Santhals, and so, with such efforts, I am also trying to be futuristic, that when we do the digital archiving, there be such a platform or framework that, you know, it also finds modules in GIS systems. And it’s not only going to be data – because in India, there is a tendency that each people, group become a data. But I would like the dignity of Tribals in India to be at par with the knowledge and knowledge systems rather than data.
Safa may I just synergize with what Sona is saying because the idea of reverence is very, very fundamental to our own Ike Kupuna, and that idea of reverence is what Lorna is speaking of and Sona, the the concept that you are speaking about is absolutely at the core of what Lorna and Greg are putting forward. And that is the quality of our relationships. And so when Lorna as a younger woman pulls the roots prematurely in a way that doesn’t honor the gratitude that her elders sang into the forest… these are fundamental lessons that we all learn. And all of us, all of us, have been humbled by the brilliance, the depth, and the perception of our elders. And if there’s anything that the world is suffering from, it is a loss of elders. We look around Lorna and Greg and we’re looking around and all my elders are gone. We are needing to be clearly definitive about what you are asking of us Sona, and that is the concept for us is called Kapu – K A P U. Most people think Kapu means, you know, don’t come in or no trespassing but Kapu absolutely means, at its core, to cultivate the energy of reverence. So when we call the Kapu Aloha to stop the development of telescopes on our sacred Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii, people thought it meant to not encourage a loving stance. But Kapu means the reverence – to curate reverence for Aloha, which is our word for mature compassion. So when you develop the reverence of Aloha, for even those who mock you, you develop a discipline that will expand your cognitive capacity to drop into your heart. And when that happens as a world wide movement, we’re going to see the ridiculous nature of our errors and of our ways. And so our systems, our youthful systems that are based on commodification, competition, accumulation. These are not enduring systems and Indigenous people – I am a philosopher Sona, so that is my Kuliana, that is my responsibility to articulate what I see, and what I feel. So the nature of Indigenous knowledge systems are now being requested, because of their enduring capacity. And so that’s why my priority is the quality of how we express an idea and the gratitude. And this is what Lorna is speaking of, the gratitude and the unsafety that we currently experience in our colonial systems of short term thinking, and the science that thinks you’re doing science in a vacuum, in a closed system. It is not where the future lies. And so I want to really thank you for bringing up that idea of reverence. And I want to close my statements with the ______, the actual words of our elders, and that is: _______ , plant a forest, and the rains will come. And the hidden expression of what that means is share purpose with others, and live a life of meaning. And that is more evidence of how our consciousness can be changed. When we share purpose with others, I live a life of meaning. And that is what my elders have taught us here in Hawaii, thank you.
We’re ending this conversation in a very critical place. Because what was brought up is that we’re at a stage where our knowledge keepers and elders are passing on, and we need them, we need their wisdom, we need their knowledge. And so it’s really important that we find ways to be able to relay that message to the future generations. And I can see how much that is needed. So in as many avenues as we can, as we can promote, we need to be able to do that to keep the knowledge of our ancestors, even if they’re no longer with us on this planet, this plane, that their knowledge continues, and we need to find ways to be able to pass it on. And, you know, the way that knowledge is passed on in the Western world is not our way. And so we need to be able to work together to find the ways to do that. And this circle, I think is a good example. But we need to find much more and each of us in our places need to be able to do that for the children who are coming behind us. Thank you.
I’m just sitting here just in awe of all the wonderful words and deep insight and profound thought, you know, that has been shared by everyone. I along with Lorna and Manu and Sona really want to emphasize that, you know, I use a term that actually was coined by Winona Laduke that had really caught my attention when she first shared it years ago. And that was the question: what kind of ancestor do you want to be? What kind of ancestor do you want to be? And in the background of Lorna just now I heard a little child playing. And that reminded me that all that we do, you know, the living of life with meaning and purpose, you know, the Aloha that we share, the community that we share, all of this is towards really bringing into the next generations, you know, that life and that spirit, that sense of community that is so essential, so foundational for human beings. And we’ve lost a lot of that, even in Indigenous communities and part of the Indigenous movement over the years has been to reclaim and recapture much of what we have lost. And now as we move forward into a very dubious future, you know, we have to really think about, remember to remember, as I have often said, you know, where we have come from, where we are – our reality and the possibilities for our future. So for me, you know, Indigenous science has always been a wealth of insight and perspective that I as an educator, wanted to share, you know, my knowledge and my scholarship with others, so that they could be the next bearers of that knowledge into the future. And it’s about being, you know, trying to be a good elder, a good grandparent, and a good ancestor. And I think those are the things that really are going to carry us forward, you know. Today we use the tool of Western education, but now we’re integrating, bringing forward our own perspectives and understandings and insights based on our research and our own forms of Indigenous education. And I truly think that this is going to be one of the foundations, you know, for our survivability into the future. Again, I’m especially concerned with the survivability of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous communities – community is the medium and the message I always say. So that consciousness, the relationship, respect, responsibility, and resonance really has to, has to deal with continuity of our communities in maybe some new forms, but also in some old forms that have been adapted to our needs and the realities that we now face. So for me, I think, you know, these dialogues are very important, these deep dialogues are very important. They’re important to continue among Indigenous peoples themselves. But more particularly, they’re important to translate into forms of education, that really do serve the needs of our peoples, and really do serve that consciousness that we are developing or in the process of developing or redeveloping, that really may be the foundation for our future and our survivability into the future. So what kind of ancestors do we want to be? Thank you.
Gratitude and gratitude, and truly quiet gratitude. Thank you for this opportunity to share and to listen to my beloved friends and new colleagues. I want to close my ____, this gift from our people here in Hawaii Nua Kea, by sharing the idea that it has taken me a lifetime to go from my cognitive brain into my heart and that journey has been a necessary one for me to recognize the true ____, the true energy of our elders wisdom found in our _______, our proverbs, our wise sayings. And my favorite one is __________, it used to be translated as we learn through experience. And now I translated in the esoteric form, in the ______ we call it. The idea is: by my actions, teach my mind. And so may our actions turn toward compassionate discourse and awakening consciousness for the care of our beloved mother, grandmother, and sisters, may our awakening sense of awareness and through the needs of our planet, bring us to better relationships with each other, not worse. Because __________, loving is the practice of an awake mind. Maybe we continue to awaken together. And may we continue to understand what is the purpose of spirit in our lives, in our collaborations, because we believe it is time to radically collaborate with others so that we can evolve. So _____________________. Thank you, Safa. Thank you, everyone. Mahalo.
I think at this time, if I had not had this meeting, I would have been very disheartened. And I’ve have been time and again, thinking about what is becoming of my people, other Tribes, brothers and sisters, who, as Lorna had mentioned, had to leave their Indigenous knowledge outside the school door. But here in India, it was not only leaving that knowledge, but they would unlearn in order to attain ‘better human hood’. So these ideas and these thoughts, time and again, would depress me. But tonight, I’m filled with hope. I’m so encouraged by the hope that has emanated from this entire conversation that with this Circle, and the warmth of the Circle, the extension of collegiality, the commitment towards revitalizing, and the determination to reclaim what is ours as Indigenous peoples, and to show the so called mainstream that they have only been able to master a tiny part of what has been identified as modern science or science. This determination to bring Indigenous science into the educational spaces, I feel it is a beginning of a U-turn. And this was a very, very profound thought Greg, what kind of ancestors one would like to be? We have a choice to make. I’m filled with hope. And I’m so grateful again for being together with Lorna and Greg, Manulani. Thank you very much. (Singing in Speaking in Kurukh) . Thank you.
Thank you so much to Dr Lorna Wanósts’a7 Williams, Dr Sonajharia Minz, Dr Gregory Cajete and Dr Manulani Aluli Meyer for your generous reflections and teachings.
It has been an honour for the Knowledge Equity Lab to be part of this conversation with you.
To learn more about the World Indigenous Circle, please visit the link provided in our show notes.
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