Indigenous Knowledge within a Global Knowledge System
Indigenous Knowledge within a
Global Knowledge System
Indigenous Knowledge within a
Global Knowledge System
David Che-Wei Lee (Paljaljim Rusagasag)
Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh
Wednesday, December 6, 2010 at 4:30 PM
Room 4130 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, University of Pittsburgh
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Agenda and Time Allocation
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• Background and Motivation
• Indigeneity – 1 minute
• Indigenous Knowledge – 5 minutes
• Indigenous Rights – 2 minutes
• Science and Indigenous Knowledge – 5 minutes
• Exploring the Interface – 5 minutes
• Research Outcomes – 2 minutes
• Principles – 5 minutes
• Examples: teaching, research, capability, policies, and
strategies – 5 minutes
• Q & A – 10 minutes
Background and Motive
• In response to globalizing forces
- Promote universal approaches to knowledge & understanding
• Two potential pathways for reactions:
- Abandoning the old way versus seeking to re-discover ancient wisdoms
• A Third way
- Focus on interface between indigenous knowledge and other knowledge
- The interface recognizes a distinctiveness of different knowledge
- To see opportunities for employing aspects of both
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A Misread Definition of Indigenous Peoples
• In defining the indigenous peoples in 1949, the United Nations
General Assembly noted other characteristics:
Among the peoples of the earth, indigenous peoples constitute a
vulnerable group which had long been neglected. Their social
structures and lifestyles have suffered the repercussions of modern
development. They have been subject to growing pressure to bring their
languages, religions, knowledge, arts and oral traditions, and the other
manifestations of their was of life, into conformity with those of the
majority social groups around them. (Howitt et al., 1996, 70)
• The primary aim was to regain indigenous values and language, and
to exercise a degree of autonomy.
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What is “indigeneity?”
• The primary characteristic
– An enduring relationship between populations,
their territories, and the natural environment
• Key element
– an ecological context for human endeavors
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What is “indigeneity?” (cont’d)
• Secondary characteristics (derived from the
relationship with the environment):
– The relationship endures over centuries. Time
– The relationship is celebrated in custom and group
– The relationship gives rise to a system of knowledge,
distinctive methodologies, and an environmental
– The relationship facilitates balanced economic
– The relationship contributes to the evolution and use
of a unique language. Language
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Why is “Indigeneity” so Important?
• Five levels of argument that characterize
indigenous peoples have been proposed (for legal
1. A human rights and non-discrimination
2. A minority rights
3. A claim to self-determination
4. Continue to apply the historical sovereignty
5. An increasing literature regarding being
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What is indigenous knowledge?
• Origin: The relationship between people and
the environment therefore forms an
important foundation for the organization of
indigenous knowledge, the categorization of
life experiences, and the shaping of attitudes
and patterns of thinking.
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How is indigenous knowledge formed?
The relationship between people and environment
forms a vital foundation for:
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The Basis for Indigenous Knowledge
According to the celebrated North American indigenous
scholar, Vine Deloria,
“Most tribes were very reluctant to surrender their
homelands to the whites because they knew that their
ancestors were still spiritually alive on the land” (Deloria,
His comments underline the link between the physical
and social environments, but also emphasize the
significance of resources as collective and
intergenerational, and the importance of land for health
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The Basis for Indigenous Knowledge (cont’d)
• “Relationships” form a substrate for indigenous
knowledge (Tau, 1999).
• Three distinguishing features of indigenous knowledge:
– It is a product of a dynamic system.
– It is an integral part of the physical and social
environment of communities.
– It is a collective good.
• Maori knowledge draws on observations from the
natural environment, and is imbued with a life force
(mauri) and a spirituality (tapu) (Solomon, 2005).
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A Question and Challenges for Indigenous Knowledge
• Can indigenous knowledge be applied in
conjunction with other systems?
• Indigenous knowledge is valued because of its
traditional qualities, but not the thrust for
development and the creative potential of
• Applicable only to the distant past or to
modern times in parallel with other
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Traditional Medical Treatment and Medication of Paiwan in Taiwan
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The Medical Statement
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Paiwan Stone House
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Contemporary Relevance of
Indigenous Rights and Its Knowledge
• The Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
contains 45 articles covering cultural, spiritual, economic,
political, and constitutional rights(Working Group on
Indigenous Population, 1993).
– It requires states to recognize indigeneity by reference to
indigenous culture and knowledge, citizenship, the
environment, and indigenous autonomy.
– It proposes that indigenous peoples should have access to:
• the indigenous world with its values and resources,
• the wider society within which they live,
• a healthy environment, and
• a degree of autonomy over their own lives and properties.
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ARTICLE 29 has particular implications for the
research and development
Indigenous peoples are entitled to the recognition of the full
ownership, control and protection of their cultural and intellectual
property. They have the right to special measures to control,
develop and protect their sciences, technologies, and cultural
manifestations, including human and other genetic resources,
seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora,
oral traditions, literatures, designs and visual performing arts.
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Debate between Science and Indigenous Knowledge
• opposition to the promotion of science as the only
valid body of knowledge;
• the rejection of science in favor of indigenous
• the use of tools that are unable to unravel the
essential nature of systems of knowledge.
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Debate of Methodology
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Opposition to Science and to Scientific Research with
First, scientific research has been used to characterize indigenous peoples in ways that
reduce their standing in the eyes of other citizens.
Second, not infrequently researchers have plundered indigenous knowledge,
reconstructed its meaning, and published findings as if they were their own.
Third, while analysis into smaller and smaller components is a standard scientific
method, indigenous knowledge places greater emphasis on the construction of models
where multiple strands can be accommodated to make up an interacting whole.
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A Potential Exploration of the Interface
• Despite the methodological gulf between the two, there is room for
each system to find accommodation by the other without distorting
the fundamental values and principles upon which each rests
• The tools of one are not used:
– to analyze and understand the foundations of another
– to conclude that a system of knowledge that cannot withstand
– alternately a body of knowledge that is incapable of locating people
within the natural world, lacks credibility (Waldram, 1995, 214-218).
• An increasing number of indigenous researchers use the interface
between science and indigenous knowledge as a source of
inventiveness and, rather than seeking to prove the superiority of
one system over another, are more interested in identifying
opportunities for combining both.
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What will the Research Outcomes at the Interface?
• Purpose: create a new knowledge which can be
used to advance understanding in two worlds.
• Outcomes: gains in economic growth,
environmental sustainability, social wellbeing,
and cultural integrity.
• Measurement: life expectancy – Maori-specific
outcome measures have been developed for
health interventions and wider developmental
programs that impact on the human and resource
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Principles for Learning and Research at the Interface
• Recognition of the validity of each system of knowledge
• Indigenous communities share benefits of teaching and research including
intellectual property and commercialization.
• Cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices are reinforced in teaching and research.
• Indigenous world views are not compromised.
• Innovation and exploration using indigenous methodologies and scientific
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Example 1: Teaching at the Interface
• The New Zealand Experiences
– Teaching adds a Maori perspective to a course usually by inviting a
Maori scholar or elder to offer an indigenous viewpoint
– Two models of learning are introduced into the course.
– Apart from the conventional academic methods, students are able to
engage I other forums where learning outcomes depend on active
involvement in indigenous formalities and participation in experiential
– A stay on a tribal center for culture and learning becomes a component
of many tertiary courses.
– The two styles of learning confuse students where there has been
inadequate preparation or where their tribal center visit has not allowed
sufficient time for any meaningful appreciation of its relevance to the
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Example 2: Research at the Interface
• The Maori Participation Example:
– Some research will need to get the approval of the
elders, such as the opposition to the collection of blood
and urine samples.
– In this way, the beliefs of participants will endorsed
and anxieties about future misuse of bodily fluids will
– In the process, non-Maori members of the research
team became enthusiastic about the protocols, not only
because recruitment opportunities were expanded but
also because the significance of the study took on a
dimension that had not been previously considered.
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Example 3: Indigenous Capability
• Indigenous teachers and researchers have a crucial role in
straddling the divide between sciences and indigenous knowledge.
• They face potential criticism from two fronts (pluralism at the
interface will weaken integrity and undermine identity):
– Indigenous groups may feel that the indigenous component has simply been
added on to standard academic practice, without any fundamental shift in
method, and runs the risk of losing sight of an indigenous core.
– Academics may complain that unnecessary variables have been introduced
which limit the integrity of their studies and confuse scientific principles.
– More than training individual academics.
– The establishment of Ngä Pae o te Märamatanga, a center for research
excellence at the Uni. of Auckland in 2002, a focus for interface research
across a number of tertiary educational institutes and is actively promoting the
development of a large cohort of Maori doctorate graduates.
– The aim of the Academy is to promote Maori and indigenous scholarship and
to engage in interdisciplinary and interface research.
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Example 4: Policies and Strategies
• Origin: Treaty of Waitangi in 1840
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Meaning and Interpretation
• The Treaty itself is short, consisting of only three articles. The first article of the
English version grants the “Queen of England” (actually the United Kingdom)
sovereignty over New Zealand. The second article guarantees to the chiefs full
“exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries
and other properties.” It also specifies that Māori will sell land only to the Crown.
The third article guarantees to all Māori the same rights as all other British
• The English and Māori versions differ. This has made it difficult to interpret the
Treaty and continues to undermine its effect. The most critical difference revolves
around the interpretation of three Māori words: kāwanatanga (governorship),
which is ceded to the Queen in the first article; rangatiratanga (chieftainship) not
mana(which was stated in the Declaration of Independence just five years before
the Treaty was signed), which is retained by the chiefs in the second; and taonga
(property or valued possessions), which the chiefs are guaranteed ownership and
control of, also in the second article. Few Māori had good understanding of either
sovereignty or “governorship,” as understood by 19th century Europeans, and so
some academics question whether Māori fully understood that they were ceding
sovereignty to the British Crown.
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Important Two Different Viewpoints
• The English version of the Treaty tends to equate
property with physical properties such as land.
• The Maori version “also” recognizes cultural
properties such as language.
• Critique: The Crown’s response to the Treaty has
not always been consistent and has fluctuated,
focusing sometimes on equality as between
individuals and sometimes on the recognition of
Maori property rights.
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• To increase Maori participation in society:
– A range of affirmative action programs have been instituted
for Maori individuals undertaking tertiary education and
preparing for higher academic qualifications.
• To actively protect Maori custom and methodologies:
– The Crown regards intellectual knowledge as a property
and senses some obligation to protect it. That has led to an
acceptance that Maori worldviews have a legitimate place
within the wider knowledge society and ought to be
factored in to tertiary education and research strategies.
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• Paradigms that encourage and enable interface teaching
and research require balance between indigenous
methodologies ad conventional academic methods
associated with higher education.
• There is room to explore an interface model as an
alternative to the imposition of a single approach.
• In the longer term an undifferentiated global model could
undermine indigenous contributions to knowledge
• A more strategic goal might be to increase capability:
– A critical mass of indigenous scholars.
– The development of academic centers where teaching and
research at the interface can lead to the creation of new
knowledge and the advancement of indigenous peoples and
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My Critique and Questions
• Why did author “only” raise science as a vital point
compared with indigenous knowledge? Is science a only
form of knowledge for all?
• How do you see the indigenous methodologies?
• Do you think indigenous knowledge can be part of contents
in the higher education? Why or why not?
• In your argument, what will indigenous involvement in the
higher education and research be like?
• In your argument, what will indigenous potential
contribution to the science and capacity of indigenous
organizations and communities be like?
• To make de-colonization successful, Maori has a good
foundation with the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.
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Thank you for listening, and I look forward to
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