​“Indigenous Thoughts” (Concept Description)

    Limits to the words “Indigenous Thoughts”

    Flexibility of the term:  Indigenous Philosophical Ideas




    TEACHING (Pedagological Concerns)


    Indigenous appropriation – rethought

    Indigenous academic claims

    Self-imposed limitation on philosophical “metaphysics”

    Downloading and Appropriation of western methods, etc.



    ​One may look at the idea of systematizing indigenous thought in the western academy in many ways ranging from the idea being unnecessary through to the idea being dangerous, destructive and perhaps a form of thought and knowledge genocide.  To the indigenous activist the discipline of philosophy may be quaint but out of touch with the current struggle indigenous people are facing here at home and around the world; they want action and slogans not to mention drama and media coverage.  These external expressions an activity for the advocate and activist are helpful to the goals of advocacy and activism; they ought not to be dropped from the indigenous strategy in the fight to be ourselves in Canada.

    Philosophy is not a quaint academic discipline, it is a discipline that looks to the very roots of meaning; meaning of concepts (what is the nature of the...), how we think about thinking about this concept, what we do to design our methodology, the sources we accept as valid within our methodology, all go to the heart and soul of any people's struggle.  Struggle, at its heart, is a matter of love, a love for an ideology, a way of life, a people, survival of an individual person or the planet and so forth.  Love meets anger and violence when it is frustrated and not heard.  We see in the emergence of Africana philosophy which - not based on Socrates argument, that philosophy is a natural human activity coming from wonder but -is a philosophy based on frustration.  Can we say that is true of Indigenous philosophies around the world, I think it is plausible and it is certainly verifiable in the Canadian context.  

    Thinking about the nature of the struggle is not a luxury, it is a discipline that requires the heart of an investigator.  Indigenous philosophy ask us who we are, what we are doing here, what do we believe as reality, our world view?  Our own ways of thinking are questions about survival and making sense of our "reality" as well as those questions that attempt to try and understand what is going on in our lives.   The philosopher who is from an indigenous community asks different questions than the social scientist, scientist or leaders; our focus differs from the focus of the leader(s) of the indigenous struggle and politicians but our questions form the basis, the foundation or cohesive glues to provide a struggle heart and soul, sustenance and survival.

    Thinking about thinking and the nature of a concept protects us from pointless rhetoric,  ideology and false directions that could be caused by reacting and not thinking about one's foundation, one's "foot in the ground" misinformed political strategies and actions.  What is the nature for example of the trend to "Acknowledge the Local First Nations" and the Land we are on as theirs? Is it simply a political, nice-feely ritual that avoids anger; do we really understand what we are saying or are we satisfied to simply follow the crowd's thinking on this matter?

    Philosophy such as Locke's "ownership" concepts have been used (appropriated) to justify European political objective of colonial domination. If a people do not improve the land they find themselves on then they don't own it is Locke's basic argument; he of course was influenced in the Genesis 1-2 notion of  human separateness and domination (power over) creation to use how he (and not even she) saw fit.   The thinking of 19th century German philosophers Heidegger and Neitzche was also appropriated and restructured to support Nazi ideology in Hitler's Germany.   More recently, the Catholic Church was asked to withdraw the papal bull's on "terra nullius" and other doctrines of discovery.  The Vatican is taking this proces seriously and is considering the recommendation of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops are already on record as supporting the removal of these 16th century bulls.  These are examples of how ideas are important, concepts need to be understood at the root, then those root understandings have to be understood within the context of archeological and historical records; contemporary social science and science and various interpretation methodologies offered by contemporary humanities.  These disciplines as well as knowledge coming from eastern and indigenous philosophy traditions also help in the understanding of the dynamics of colonialization, oppression and "neo" or modern expressions of exploitation, which indigenous peoples are unintentionally falling into through non-examination or under-examination of the concept base of conceived indigenous stands in Canada.  The Acknowledgement of Peoples is tied to the ownership claim of indigenous peoples over conflicting views on relationship to a particular piece of land; it is the other side of the ownership coin that we ought to reject philosophically and then make pragmatic arrangements that allow us that sacred relationship within the reality of colonialization, capitalism and powers that are militarily backed up. 

    Having, hopefully, established the importance of periodical revisiting of the concepts foundational to our struggle to be our full selves in the Canadian context, the next important point is what indigenous tradition in this regard is an equivalent to mainstream philosophy?  Is there a relationship between grounding our struggle while providing the world an example of a road that - to appropriate  Michelle Obama's phrase" - goes higher (when the others go lower).  

    In thinking about Canada's history with our peoples' we are aware of the brain-washing strategies to break the indigenous child's relationship to family and culture, the non-encouragement of indigenous students to think, but farm, trades or gender based roles more common back in the day.  It is clear that if one can destroy philosophical foundations of a people one can weaken the people considerably.  It is the nature of power to control what the colonized need to know.

    Systematic Disabling of Indigenous Thought

    The monopoly and "intellectual imperialism or colonialism" in regards to ideas is - I hold - the most devious adn destructive foundations to cultural and actual genocide of people; it is a genocide because the denial of indigenous thinking as an equal to mainstream philosophy meets the requirment of the english word "genocide" which is "the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation..  and at the base of Canadian Indian policy - as evidenced in part by the residential school - was the deliberate attempt to destroy indigenous thinking. 

    Colonial regimes are about power and economics.  International law existed in regards to discovery and generally if it was thought that no one occupied the land then a nation-state can claim this land.  When it became evident that most lands "discovered" had already been populated by indigenous peoples none of the European powers gave up their claims, there objective was to enforce those claims but soft methods as peace and friendship treaties through outright genocide (as seen in the U.S. examples).  European thinkers differed in their approach, French thinkers in New France inter-married with Indian people and this was quite open.  Children were Metis or half-breed kids seen either as Indian or White.  English thinkers thought different, much based on the class and artistocracy systems of England.  Indigenous people were to remain at a distance from english settlers and this is where colonization set in motion the treatment of indigenous people.   

    Residential Schools are the most defining example of what was at the core of British/Canadian policy in regards to "Indians" and by implication "indigenous thought".  The idea of residential school was to disable the dynamics of "family", "culture" and "language" as vehicles one can use to pass on a world view and skill set developed over the centuries to survive in what is now Canada.  However, residential schools were the last attempt to destroy the indigenous spirit and thought; residential schools action was also accompanied by the outlawing of the Potlatch (which was a form of understanding one's history, clan and world view) and the Sun Dance, these remained against the Canadian law until the 1950s.   There were other attempts prior to the residential school and agressive legal framework but the results were too slow in coming and proved unsatisfactory.  As an example, aboriginal people had the opportunity to enfranchise and become full British subjects with the right to vote; that did not happen too  quickly in Canadian Indian country.  There were government doomsday scenarios about the rate at which aboriginal people are leaving their communities.  it would take hundreds of years to remove the Indian reality from white Canada. 

    ​It would be interesting to do research on the history of indigenous studies in the field of philosophy in Canada.  I am not aware of any sources that look at that development.  

    Rebuilding and Formalizing Indigenous Thought

    The purpose of my research and this project is to start the process of exploring the absence of indigenous thought in mainstream Canadian universities and colleges.  In order to do this a few pieces around this subject have to be highlighted.

    (1)  Traditional Knowledge is defined as a skills based knowledge (therefore not prepositional knowledge which already places indigenous knowledge outside the field of mainstream epistemological studies).  The United Nations describes traditional knowledge in the following way:

    "Traditional knowledge refers to the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world. Developed from experience gained over the centuries and adapted to the local culture and environment, traditional knowledge is transmitted orally from generation to generation. It tends to be collectively owned and takes the form of stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, cultural values, beliefs, rituals, community laws, local language, and agricultural practices, including the development of plant species and animal breeds. Sometimes it is referred to as an oral traditional for it is practiced, sung, danced, painted, carved, chanted and performed down through millennia. Traditional knowledge is mainly of a practical nature, particularly in such fields as agriculture, fisheries, health, horticulture, forestry and environmental management in general. (United Nations Environment Program - click for reference)

    Protocols around Traditional Knowledge - TK) have been developed and there are many proposals out there, but most of them start with the respect of ownership of the particular knowledge and a working partnerhsip with the owners and the proponents of whatever project the TK people are engaged with.  Examples, include:

    The content in which I am focussing in regards to Indigenous philosophy is not traditional knowledge.  We ought to honor the work being done in this area.   

    Philosophyzing Traditional knowledge is something I havent' concluded anything about.  As long as research into traditional knowledge is about clarifying traditional knowledge and expanding it or enrichening it some form - at that level - sounds acceptable to me, but this is a conversation that still has to happen between those who hold the wisdom and those who seek- through philosophy and/or indigenous philosophy - this knowlege.    In fact, is there a Protocol on Philosophy and Traditional Knowledge Partnerships?

    The Indigenous Knowledge Protection Act (click for full text)written by Dr. Lynn Gehl outlines the kinds of protocol arrangements she sees as necessary.   Her view may very well be the view of many aboriginal people who have some exposure to mainstream philosophy. 

    (2) Syncretic contemporary knowledge - is a term I use for myself; it indicates thought posed by Indigenous peoples as indigenous thought, and while they are right (in the sense that it is thought within an indigenous mind) syncretic contemporary knowledge is the world view we have as a result of living in the contemporary world.  I distinguish this type of knowledge as knowledge that has developed before, not influenced or developed independently from any formal approach to indigenous knowledge in the academy (i.e. inter-disciplinary studies, Native, Indigenous, Metis studies, philosophy, humanities, social science or sciences.   This concern expresses itself in areas such as religion, theology, environmental thought: 

    • Syncretism and Conservation: Examining Indigenous Beliefs and Natural Resource Management in Honduras
    • Directions:  Aboriginal Cultural Recovery and the Fear of Syncretism

    Indigenous ideas and thoughts that arise within a syncretic context will provide the basis for much needed critical analytical work on concepts that were part of the revitalization of Indigenous resistance but have since become ideological

    • Elder Essentialism
    • Intersecitonality of indigenous thought and academic areas (i.e. only indigenous people can teach or research indigenous philosophy)
    • Limit and contextualization to such emerging concepts as "indigenizing" the classroom or older concepts such as "Acknowledgment of Traditional Territories". 

    (3) Academic Indigenous Philosophy - is the focus of this paper.  To me, Indigenous philosophy in a form that can participate in global academic dynamics still has to be formalized and perhaps organized in broad categories such as ontology, epistemology and methodology.  We need to understand the message of silence or answers in the negative; that the absence of a statement implies its opposite or an absent statement is a statement in itself.   

    So, how do we take practical steps in starting the process of talking about formalizing an indigenous philosophy?  Well the first step that I am proposing is to adopt the indigenous model of collective knowledge and group processes.  In that respect I am working on project initiative called the  Indigenous Philosophy Academic Visioning Project.

    This report will show the incredible amount of work that a third year under-graduate can identify as needing to be done.  I will be limited in that I may not have percieved the full layer of complexity some professors were talking about in their emails, so I will try and copy these emails in terms of concerns but privacy will be protected as well to the best o fmy ability.  This is nan importnt inclusion cause maybe other professors can see the depth of a particular concept idea and reflect upon it further as a ways of contributing towards the starting of this indigneous-mainstream discussions of the two philosphical traditions. in relation to each other. 

    Acadmeic indignenous knowledge is my focus.


    The limits of this report is that it is written from the perspective of a third year philosophy major student of aboriginal ancestry at a smaller teaching university in British Columbia.  As I received responses from professors all across Canada I began to realize how poorly worded my questions were.  The beauty of the project though is that it is not rigorous nor quantitative oriented allowing for a survey type report to be generated.  The research project is also guided by a world view that values collective thinking and discussion; these research methodologies that employ collective knowledge gathering techniques remove the power base of research that is designed with a particular end in mind.  The collective approach does not assume any one answer and the adventure in research is collectively seeing where that process leads us.  This collective and “directionless” approach I take is not appropriate for all forms of research, but it fits the bill for collecting ideas and organizing them towards starting a conversation about the perceived absence of indigenous thought in mainstream academia.

    In terms of bias, I write from an older indigenous male perspective.  My bias, as one who has direct experience in the aboriginal movement since 1977 is probably an “old school” mentality of which I think still has some valid points.   As I approach retirement and after some 40 years of involvement I want to move away from direct involvement in “the struggle” towards thinking and writing about indigenous philosophical ideas in my remaining time on earth.   

    My bias also privileges a collective approach to gathering facts in order to produce some thoughts or ideas around a topic that the responses from philosophers across Canada have clearly identified as needed but unexplored and full of wonderful questions and challenges moving forward.  This draft report is an expression of trying to articulate the vast range and ideas of some 87 Canadian philosophers (at the time of this writing – Feb 2017) who have honored me by taking the time to think about my questions.  It is a report that reflects a journey together towards something we don’t’ understand but – as philosophers – are comfortable in taking that road to “who knows where”?   I look forward to seeing where it leads us all.

    In terms of limits I want to acknowledge that I may not recognize a limit.  As an example, in the report I wonder why there is relatively few comments on metaphysics.  As I wrote this piece it occurred to me that part of what I am saying can be accurate, but equally, because I only took one course in metaphysics, I may be missing cues that would point me in a metaphysical direction in regards to the statement given to me.  In otherwords I might have missed the point(s) altogether, but the beauty of this, is that all the documentation is kept so that philosophers and others can take a look at what was understood to be said by people within the profession.



    A number of philosophers pointed out that if one wants to engage in conversation with another then we need to start from a common language that assumes communication.  Part of this communication in this project is to define or explain my usage of a number of words; “western philosophy”, “indigenous”, “indigenous knowledge”, “indigenous thought(s)’ and/or indigenous philosophy including a suggested term “indigenous philosophical thoughts” that do not require a tradition of reflection as practiced in western philosophy. 

    A word that I use “western philosophy” or philosophy out of the west is a word that I have put to the side for the moment for a few reasons.  First, if Indigenous Knowledge in the Americas comes from the America’s then should it be thought of as western?  I don’t know, but it forced me to drill down a bit more on the concept.  Also, there is some discussion of how “western” is mainstream philosophy when one considers the development of philosophy in Greek times (in the world as it was known then), not to mention the philosophy of thinkers from the Muslim traditions, the wisdom and philosophy of places like Iran-Iraq (Persia), Egypt and certain African countries.  In fact, there is much evidence saying that our people are either Negroid or Mongoloid and if that is the case and if we accept the dynamics and sustainability of these oral cultures, then some form of thinking from those people also factor into our own thought, so how indigenous is indigenous?  Making a long explanation short, I find it less problematic to use the word “mainstream” philosophy and most of us understand that to be the philosophy being articulated in philosophy departments across Canada.

    “Indigenous”, in the way I am using it, is a very lay person’s usage and understanding.  Indigenous can refer to people in relation to the land, but as a Chinese philosopher indicated that in China indigenous can also refer to non-people in the context of examining traditions, belief systems and other ideas of a people who have established a long relationship with a particular piece of land or a corner stone of a system of thought.

    “Indigenous Knowledge”, In my mind refers to the usage of the word as a skill; traditional knowledge like the medicinal application of plants, animal behavior, hunting practices, navigating the ontological commitments to a particular indigenous metaphysic and so forth.  Indigenous knowledge in the contemporary sense is less explored and perhaps less mystical.  Indigenous knowledge today can refer to the skills of how one - as an indigenous person – survives in the socio-cultural and political, economic environment of the imposing nation-state.   Contemporary indigenous knowledge is also negotiated between competing ideas allowing for the expansion of the indigenous world view to include thoughts around the notion of individual, liberal concepts of freedom and so forth.  Our knowledge evolves and changes with the times; knowledge is not caught in a time-space prison.

    “Indigenous thought(s)” was originally used by me in the way a lay person would understand the words;  they could be thoughts within the indigenous person’s mind.  Having done some reading in the philosophy of language I know that the word “thought” can be extremely problematic, given the well “thought” out range of dynamics associated around the nature of thought.  So, I use the word in a very simple way, those things that happen in my head (mind-brain) that explain something to me or gives me “ideas” or direction on how to resolve something.  Indigenous thought in that sense might not even exist; as when I think it is not the Indigenous community that does the thinking; I do that all by myself!  However, the influences of the indigenous community is well described in the anthropology and sociology as well as other courses in humanities and social sciences and those influences, of course, affect my thinking and “thought development”.   I am curious about the field of social epistemology in this regard.   

    “Indigenous Philosophical Ideas” as a term was proposed to me by a philosopher; it is an idea that I think holds much promise.  Philosophy in the mind of mainstream philosophers implies the need for a systematic (or perhaps non-systematic) way or tradition of reflection.  If I use the term “indigenous philosophical ideas, the requirement of reflection is no longer needed, hence it can be a term that creates a better communicative tool in a conversation between Indigenous thinkers and professional mainstream philosophers.   -

    The relationship between a discussion of “indigenous philosophy” and mainstream philosophy was a second area where clarification needed.  What does “indigenous philosophy” look like and how it would “fit into”, “relate” or otherwise be in conversation with mainstream philosophy; to which I respond “no clue at all!” I think that it is important in a collective process not to arrive at a conclusion in a premature manner and so I am quite comfortable at saying I haven’t got a clue what the indigenous philosophy looks like nor how it would relate to mainstream philosophy.

    I can share some development in my head that has emerged since I started this project and this is a relational vision of how the two can communicate.  Key to this process is the idea of positioning mainstream philosophy with indigenous thought, knowledge or philosophical ideas not so much in a linear or incorporated relationship but more and more I am seeing that the “network of philosophical traditions” might offer some direction.  I will explain the ‘network” idea shortly.

    When I first started thinking about this around 3 years ago, I was thinking of a “translation model” where we could translate indigenous thinking into mainstream philosophy; I soon gave up on that idea as I began to feel that it did a disservice to the unique natures of both mainstream and indigenous thought.  Then I moved towards a model of conversation between two parties; however, with the need to find a common language implied – at least in my mind – that both traditions would have to give up some of what they think and expand their thinking in other areas; which is good in one way but may be damaging to the traditions of either in other ways.

    If, the adoption of the “translation model” mentioned above, which makes a certain amount of sense because we have at least two different bodies of knowledge that we can work towards establishing a base in which to encourage the development of inter-tradition talk.  In addition to the definition of terms, concepts and words (including relational and dynamic aspects of a term – which is also a function of mainstream philosophy to describe nature) we also need to figure out what the “:rules of dialogue” would be, there is some talk of protocol, but I am not sure if that applies to what is being discussed here. Protocol is about how we treat each other (which includes mutual respect) and I think that this protocol value can be the corner stone of a set of professional and mainstream disciplinary set of rules on how we talk to each other, can we develop common, inter-traditional methods of inquiry that address the dual-cultural, multicultural realities that are factors of a study.  As you tell by this writing, the ideas and concepts are fuzzy, but that is ok, that is what we can do for the next generation –start a process of describing how we can talk to each other in our generations and time, then once establishing a basis, future generations can move from there.   So, finally, I have arrived at my latest philosophical nightmare, the “Network of Philosophical Traditions”.

    Network of Philosophical Traditions

    The Network of Philosophical Traditions is an idea that I am developing (I am not sure if anyone else is working on this concept) that puts forward a relational description that make sense to me.  Jeff Noonan in his blog “Interventions and Evocation” shares his ideas on our discussion of the network idea in a wonderful clear way.  I will just quote what he said “….  Networks interconnect different elements each of which, in becoming part of the network, influences the whole, without losing its unique and particular function.  In the case of knowledge networks, since that which is brought into networked connection are reflective individuals, any genuine network would promote learning and change in all the parties.  I suppose that if indigenous thought is to remain living it cannot simply about the past and present, but will also grow and develop, in complex and critical interaction with European and North American traditions and disciplines.  Those traditions too can learn about their own partiality and blind-spots through real dialogue with indigenous thought, but also, learn something new about the world it sometimes claims to have already mastered.   Beyond mutual learning, one can see the possibility of new forms of hybrid thought develop which (perhaps) eventually grow beyond their particularist cultural origins towards a new human comprehensiveness.

    So, the “network of philosophical traditions” could and would create a new relationship and reconcile a long-standing discussion of how one fits into the other, we don’t have to do that now.  What we can do, however, is let those traditions independently produce the knowledge that they already produce in their own context in whatever area indigenous philosophers choose to study or write.   That these traditions be treated respectfully and in full equality with mainstream philosophy (however we can measure that). 

    Carrying this idea forward, if we acknowledge that each traditions produces knowledge within the boundaries of its own limits; we can look to those ideas from the various philosophical traditions as premises in our process of inquiry.  This is a possibility of “meta”philosophy with meta-epistemological and meta-methodological ways of doing this global philosophy. 

    Right now, mainstream philosophy is pronouncing to learners in the West that universe looks like this or that.  How can mainstream philosophy make such universal claims without considering the process of other philosophical traditions.  All in all, l, I think that mainstream philosophy can make “limited” universal truth claims, in that the truth claim based on (and I use the word intentionally here) western metaphysics combined with ontological commitment, mainstream epistemology and methodology, then how can this guarantee a universal answer?  Keep in mind I am a third year student, I keep the door open to find the magic answer in my remaining two years at the under-graduate level or perhaps I can be given the secret in post-graduate studies. 

    In this light, at least Canada can move forward and adopt a networking philosophical position, identify new monies and resources to develop a network approach creating opportunities for expansion in philosophical criticism.  Referring back to the role of “thinking” and “ideas” with regards to the indigenous struggle, this funding could also be part of the reconciliation package.  So in ending this piece of the report I say whether or not we develop a “meta-philosophical” or “meta-analytical” approach, I think the idea is worth considering. 






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