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Indigenous Environmental Philosophy

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Danielle Burk

on 24 February 2013

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Transcript of Indigenous Environmental Philosophy

By: Chelsea, Danielle, & Heather Indigenous Environmental Philosophy The Importance of Indigenous Environmental Philosophy Aboriginal environmental ethics is recognized as an important area of research in developing sustainable systems. However, strong stereotypes exist regarding indigenous civilization which inhibit the understanding of these ethics. Through "open and honest communication" obtained by deconstructing stereotypes, meaningful research can begin (McGregor 327). It is hard to define indigenous environmental philosophy. This is because defining assumes a "uniform concept across all indigenous people ("Coming Full Circle" 390)" and would be misleading and fuel these stereotypes. The more we understand the foundational ideas in Indigenous communities, the more we can understand why Native communities today fight so hard to influence environmental efforts and education (Belanger 21). What is Indigenous Environmental Philosophy? Indigenous Philosophy is a concept that looks at both scientific and spiritual knowledge and seeks to understand how different environments effected different cultures’ “ways of knowing” (Belanger 3). Some call it a dance of person and place; understanding the interconnectedness of all living things and the earth. Belanger writes, “And not unlike Western ways of knowing, Indigenous ways of knowing are based on the notion that individuals are trained to comprehend their environment according to teachings found in stories developed specifically to describe collective lived experiences dating back thousands of years” (Belanger 2). In other words, we learn from our past to better understand ourselves and how we interact with nature. Vine Deloria believes that the main task of Native American Philosophy is to use intense research and study to have some sense of what our indigenous people probably meant in their descriptions and interpretations of their environment (Common Themes in American Indian Philosophy 6). In addition, Indigenous knowledge offers an approach for local development which is based on co-evolution with the environment and respecting the carrying capacity of ecosystems (Mazzocchi 463-464). “During this time of “educational and ecological crisis” it is essential to open up the field and to entertain the possibilities of new approaches in a creative quest for more viable and complete educational processes” (Cajete). Cajete believes that education is in need of serious reform in order to change how our current view of nature affects us. Education should be diverse and target different cultures, abilities, and ways of thinking instead of being one size fits all, to better increase our interactions with the world and develop better ideas in order to protect our environment. Aboriginal Stereotypes There are many positive and negative stereotypes regarding aboriginal tribes. They can be viewed as the "peaceful, mystical, spiritual guardian of the land" or as "marauding, hellish savages" (McGregor 325). Stereotypes inhibit the use of native knowledge for two reasons. First, the knowledge expected of aboriginals is due to these images created by non-Natives. Additionally, as Native people speak out about resource use concerning them this becomes viewed as threatening. Native people have just recently broken into the academic world, and Indigenous Philosophy is a relatively new term. In the late eighteenth century Indigenous intellectuals worked to record their ideas and philosophy, but their contributions were downplayed or ignored altogether (Belanger 3). It is just recently that they are being taken seriously in our state of environmental crisis. Scientific Vs. Traditional Knowledge Frequently scientific knowledge takes precedence over traditional knowledge and is only acknowledged as far as it aligns with Western science. This lack of value raises concern with Aboriginal people. This is related to the lack of understanding due to stereotypes. Aboriginal people are also weary of the exploitation of their knowledge. When willing to share, traditional knowledge is often sold by researchers. Though Indigenous peoples inhabited North America for nearly 40,000 years before Europeans arrived and knew the land better than anyone, current Western Philosophy is influenced more by England than the Indigenous (Belanger 6). The key idea driving Native science is that the environment directly influences culture. There are 5 tenets to Native science: space/land; constant motion/flux; all things being animate and imbued with spirit; relationship; and renewal (Belanger 10). Indigenous people relate to the world in a unique way compared to western people. "Their traditional education processes were carefully constructed around observing natural processes, adapting modes of survival, obtaining sustenance from the plant and animal world, and using natural materials to make their tools and implements" (Barnhardt 10). Western science tends to focus on compartmentalized knowledge, it is taught in a detached setting such as a classroom, whereas Indigenous people acquire their knowledge form direct experience and relationships with the natural world.Western people often assess competency based on what they think a person should know and measure this by having students take tests. This does not determine if the student is actually capable of putting this measured knowledge into practice. Indigenous people on the other hand, base competency as a relationship to survival or extinction. Their knowledge is tested based on their relation to the real-world such as hunting and being able to feed their family (Barndhardt 11). Indigenous knowledge is not always taken seriously. In the case of oil sands in Canada, there are many cases where this knowledge has contradicted government or corporate interests. Government officials have met 107 times over the last three years with First Nations to discuss the environmental protection of areas surrounding oil sands. However, these nations feel that these meetings are just for appearances. Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan tribe said that "we should be equals sitting at the table from start to finish not just called on when they need optics that we've been consulted" (The Canadian Press). Combining Indigenous and Western Views There are many complexities when trying to combine two different world views. “The specialization, standardization, compartmentalization, and systematization that are inherent features of most Western bureaucratic forms of organization often are in direct conflict with social structures and practices in Indigenous societies, which tend toward collective decision-making, extended kinship structures, ascribed authority vested in elders, flexible notions of time, and traditions of informality in everyday affairs” (Barnhardt 13). While Western ways of thinking are often linear, Native American philosophy views the world in cycles and circles of interconnectedness (Common Themes in American Indian Philosophy 14). "Traditional or indigenous knowledge is now increasingly being used not only with the aim of finding new drugs, but also to derive new concepts that may help us to reconcile empiricism and science” (Mazzocchi 466). How Indigenous Groups View Environmental Philosophy "A cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationships of living beings with one another and the environment" (qtd. in "Coming Full Circle" 393). "The culturally and spiritually based way in which indigenous people relate to their ecosystems" (qtd. in "Coming Full Circle" 393). “No matter how well educated an Indian may become, he or she always suspects that Western culture is not an adequate representation of reality. Life, therefor becomes a schizophrenic balancing act wherein one holds that the creation, migration, and ceremonial statue of the tribe are true, and that the Western European view of the world is also true” (Deloria qtd. in Belanger 4). "Ecological communities revolved around practiced relationships at multiple levels of personal, family and community life" (qtd. in "Coming Full Circle" 394). Key Questions to Ask Ourselves “What has been lost and what has been gained by participating in a system of education that does not stem from, or really honor, our unique Indigenous perspectives?” (Cajete)

“How can we re-vision and establish once again the “ecology of education” that guided our tribal societies?”(Cajete)

“Why was there never a universal Indigenous philosophy? Why was each community so different, and what were the influences in each?” (Belanger 7)

Should traditional knowledge be accepted over scientific knowledge?

How will combining indigenous with western knowledge affect our relationship with nature? Sources Barnhardt, Ray. "Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Alaska Native Ways of Knowing."Anthropology & Education Quarterly 36.1 (2005): 8-23. Print.

"First Nation Says Alberta Oilsands Plan Will 'annihilate' Its Lands and Future ." The Hook. The Canadian Press, 24 Aug. 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. <http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/Aboriginal-Affairs/2012/08/24/First-Nation-says-Alberta-oilsands-plan-will-annihilate/>.

Gregory A. Cajete, Santa Clara Pueblo, Contemporary Indigenous education: A nature-centered American Indian philosophy for a 21st century world, Futures, Volume 42, Issue 10, December 2010, Pages 1126-1132. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016328710001837)

Mazzocchi, Fulvio. "Western Science and Traditional Knowledge: Despite Their Variations, Different Forms of Knowledge Can Learn from Each Other." EMBO Reports 7.5 (2006): 463-66. Print.

McGregor, Deborah. "Coming Full Circle: Indigenous Knowledge, Environment, and Our Future." The American Indian Quarterly 28.3 (2005): 385-410. The University of Nebraska Press. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v028/28.3mcgregor.html>.

McGregor, Deborah. "The Role of Stereotypes: Exploring Aboriginal Environmental Ethics." Environmental Justice (n.d.): 325-29. Print.

Owl Listening. "Common Themes In American Indian Philosophy." State University of New York Press. Albany. (2010): 1-16. www.sunnypress.edu/pdf/62007.pdf

Yale D. Belanger, University of Lethbridge, Ways of Knowing: And Introduction to Native Studies in Canada. Nelson Education Ltd. 2010.
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