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“Indigenous ways of knowing” and the environment

A new paper on “indigenous ways of knowing” has been posted on the Environmental Policy page of this blog (“Indigenous ways of knowing” and the environment).  This paper was presented at the Under Western Skies conference at Mount Royal University on October 14, 2010.  The introduction of the paper reads as follows:

An increasingly common argument, in the environmental policy literature, is that the incorporation of “indigenous ways of knowing” is necessary to understanding environmental impacts, contributing to the capacity of policymakers to address the environmental crisis.  Two claims are made in support of this.  The first is that aboriginal people are “keen observers” of the environment, and this will aid scientific research.  The second is that native groups did not destroy the environment before contact and this is an indication of an aboriginal environmental consciousness that helps to shape their knowledge.  Aboriginal peoples, it is argued, have a “way of knowing” that mandated them to “live lightly on the land”, in contrast to the “western” viewpoint of Europeans that prizes the control over nature and the exploitation of resources to spur industrial progress.

Using three case studies in western Canada – global warming research, the development of endangered species legislation, and aboriginal involvement in Alberta tar sands development – these claims will be investigated.  This will first require a definition of “indigenous ways of knowing” and an understanding of how it differs from knowledge that is non-indigenous.   Questions will then be raised as to how knowledge diversity can facilitate the development of a common understanding that is necessary to facilitate effective policymaking.   Successful policy development, after all, requires that problems be clearly defined, causal factors identified and the severity of issues accurately measured – requirements that cannot be easily reconciled with postmodern assertions about different, but equally valid, “world views”. Finally, the paper will examine whether or not these assertions about “indigenous ways of knowing” are a response to the inadequacies of scientific theories and methods, or are a reflection of the economic and political context in which scientific research operates.