Apr2017, Opinion&Letters
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Erased Epistemologies? Space for Indigenous Knowledge?

On March 20, Dr. Tuwihai Smith delivered a lecture at Quest titled ‘What place does indigenous knowledge and methodologies have in the academy?’ Dr. Tuwihai Smith is a world-renowned scholar, known for her ongoing contributions to the field of research, particularly in the fields of anthropology and education. Her book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples provides a wide-ranging critique of the colonial underpinnings of Western research practices, and suggests ways to re-center Indigenous knowledges and agendas in research. Her talk demanded that we consider how knowledge is produced within the academy as well as what kinds of knowledge we work with at Quest.

The question ‘What is knowledge?’ has been a hallmark for the past four years of Cornerstone students. However, in reflecting upon Dr. Tuwihai Smith’s talk and our own Cornerstone experiences, we started to wonder why we had we not learned about place and displacement, or about the unceded territories on which we sit. Where was the acknowledgement of Indigenous, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) knowledge?

Dr. Tuwihai Smith’s talk forced us to think critically about how and why Western/European knowledge is pervasive in the curricula and pedagogical approaches of many universities, including this one. She spoke about how Western/European knowledge has often been taught as separate from the land on which universities sit and the Indigenous peoples who originally occupied it. Most universities were born out of a long history of colonization and displacement. Not only were indigenous peoples cast aside, but so were their epistemologies. For Dr. Tuwihai Smith, the term Indigenous has been constructed on a global scale to encompass experiences and peoples who actually vary greatly across contexts. However, according to Dr. Tuwihai Smith, Indigenous knowledge is typically grounded in place and fostered through the practices, traditions, and teachings of the peoples who are indigenous to that particular place. Indigenous knowledge is thus deeply rooted in the land and in Indigenous peoples’ presence, stories and understandings of that land. Dr. Tuwihai Smith shed light on what these erased epistemologies can teach us about building inclusive learning communities that foster space for multiple ways of knowing.

For many Indigenous scholars, Indigenous knowledge is not the binary opposite to Western knowledge; knowledge can and does exist in conversation. Scholars such as Dr. Tuwihai Smith have long been teaching and working in Western educational institutions while simultaneously involving their own philosophies, protocols, and learning processes. Dr. Tuwihai Smith encourages us all to see knowledges as multiple and fluid. She compels us to think about how we go about creating and imagining knowledge in our own learning, what kinds of knowledge the academy tends to value, and who/what typically gets excluded from this process.

While there is still much work to be done in terms of incorporating Indigenous knowledges into this institution, we would like to acknowledge the work that is already being done. The First Nations Initiative is a working group composed of faculty, staff, students and members of the Squamish Nation that is currently working to establish long term, reciprocal and mutually beneficial partnerships between the Squamish Nation and Quest. The Initiative is working on collaborative agreements with the Nation, organizing training for faculty, and bringing in voices that are often unrepresented at our university, like that of Dr. Tuwihai Smith’s.

As students, we can show support for this Initiative and call for similar efforts demanding the inclusion of multiple ways of knowing in our classes, ways that extend even beyond Indigenous knowledge. We can remember that knowledge and experiences are political, not neutral. Finally, we can give support, not difficulty, to all the staff, faculty, students, and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw members that are dedicating endless hours to improving our communities of learners. We urge our fellow students, faculty and staff to see Indigenous knowledge as valid, dynamic, and transformative for this institution. Given that Cornerstone, for the past four years, has been a course based entirely in epistemology, we see plenty of space here (and across curriculum) for Indigenous knowledges at Quest.

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