Aboriginal perspectives II

 

Given dominant discourses of anti-racist whiteness studies within which I was working (e.g. Schick & St. Denis, 2005; Schick, 2000a), and my felt desire to constitute myself as appropriate academic within this context, I decided it was best to do my own homework (Kuokkanen, 2006) and not depend on Aboriginal Peoples for insight (see hooks, 1992b). As such, for much of this process, I did not intentionally seek out Aboriginal or Indigenous scholars and their writings, but relied instead on guidance that came through my increasingly re-animated perception, developed through daily practices such as dowsing, collaging, and walking meditations. At certain points, however, insights from Indigenous and Aboriginal scholars did cross my path and were profoundly helpful. Most significant were my ongoing conversations with University of Regina faculty member, Shauneen Pete, begun through a chance meeting and conversation in the Faculty mailroom.

 

There were several other occasions where insights from Aboriginal scholars captured my attention and imagination. Cole's (2002) thoughts about the ways in which "rationalist scientist discourses" have produced humans as separate from other beings (p. 455) and the notion that not only English words, but also rules of "correct usage" distance and separate him "from my connection with the earth and its natural rhythms" (p. 449), provided a starting place for my thinking about the limitations of textual representations (see writing about section). The notion of "cognitive imperialism" articulated by Battiste (1998; see also, Battiste & Henderson, 2000) offered a phrase upon which I relied as I spoke of the marginalization of artistic and embodied knowing. Kuokkanen's (2006) discussion of "epistemological ignorance" (n.p.) prevalent in Western academic institutions was also helpful as I struggled with ways to both describe and explain my research methods and methodologies within the context of powerful sets of discourses that privilege rational thought (Dillard, 2006a, 2006b; Lipsett, 2001).

 

When I was done most of my work in June, 2007, I finally took my ideas to an Aboriginal Elder working at First Nations University of Canada and received confirmation of my experiences and enthusiastic encouragement for the project. He reassured me that what I was experiencing was actually quite normal, but most often not respected, talked about, nor supported within the halls of academe.

 

Soon afterwards , the notion of "derived knowledge" as described in Smith's (1998) study with a group of Chipewayan, together with some earlier conversation with a white African diviner-healer (P. Bernard, personal communication, May, 2007, January, 2008; see also, Bernard, 2007), gave me confidence to be more explicit about how knowledge comes in many non-referencable (at least in the context of academic re-presentation and A. P. A. format) forms. This notion was supported by a particularly explicit article written by Graham Harvey (2006b), and in a personal conversation with the editor of the Canadian Journal of Herbalism (J. Redden, personal communication, November, 2007), and by Linda Hogan (2000), who notes, "when we go back in human history, we find that it is not only the people now recognized as continuing in a tribal tradition who have known the voices of earth" (p. 11; see also, Churchill, 2002).

 

However, it was not until I moved to Saskatoon to take up a tenure track position at University of Saskatchewan that I had the opportunity to engage in more explicit conversations about what is often referred to in Canada as Aboriginal, or Indigenous, ways of knowing. I wish to acknowledge many of my colleagues (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) at the University of Saskatchewan where I now teach, for supporting me to speak more freely of this work and ideas.* As some of them, and a number of the Elders I have talked with acknowledge, the ability to communicate with nature and spirit(s) is not unique to Aboriginal Peoples.

 

*I would like to express gratitude to colleagues Marie Battiste, Rita Bouvier, Brenda Green, Malvina Iron and Yvonne Vizina for their openness and sensitivity in these conversations.