​​Indigenous Thoughts Network 





​Where the Rivers Meet (WTRM) Website


(This section tries to capture all the ideas that were shared outside the framework of the email questions.


I do  think though that the philosophical issues and challenges [provided by Indigenous philosophy] in studying the philosophy of colonized lands and cultures are going to be remarkably similar as they will generally be represented not as philosophy but as spirituality and religion.  So for instance, European philosophy is studied in philosophy departments. Non-European philosophy is usually not taught in philosophy departments but studied by social scientists in religious studies departments, and this is part of the pattern of offloading philosophy that is not European to nonphilosophers to be studied nonphilosophically.  I'd imagine it would be easier to find information on Indigenous thought from anthropologists than philosophers for the same reason.  This depiction of the alien as religious and spiritual and the European as the content of the secular  is the racialization of philosophy, from what I can see: once a philosophy is viewed not in terms of its own reasons but from the vantage of European thought, it {indigenous thought} seems irrational and mystical and then it is treated as not worthy of serious philosophical reflection. This then depicts the European tradition as the natural source of philosophy, including ethics and politics, and serves to justify imperialism. 
I do not have any research expertise in specific indigenous traditions, if by that you mean what we find in the Americas, Africa or Australia prior to European colonization.  Some traditions have an extra challenge, those those whose traditions are local to specific communities or regional languages---they will tend not to have a library of philosophical texts that were studied over large areas that survivor over time. In China and India, for instance, there are these bodies  of texts that have survived colonization but in part because there were languages of scholarship in which the texts survived in multiple collections and libraries (Sanskrit in India, Chinese orthography in China).......[the] challenge is often to locate or identify examples of African philosophy from what would otherwise seem like local cultural lore if we were not paying attention to their philosophical nuances and details. 

I view this as a serious challenge for the problem here is not that such Indigenous cultures do not have philosophy but we might not know much about it given the contingencies of history.  They might have composed great treatises but if they do not survive history we don't know about it. This does not mean that they did not exist. Oddly, it's the cultures that tended to have a wider spread or reach that tended to keep their texts over time, but these were usually colonizing cultures.

 I suppose that Universities don't tend to have course content focused on Indigenous thought - as you've construed it - is because of a basic incongruence, or "mismatch" between the classic Greek style of thought, and Indigenous thought. 

To be more clear: when Philosophy was born by the ancient Greeks, this particular way of inquiring was characterized by asking questions directly, such as "What is the nature of reality?" or "Why is there something instead of nothing?"  This way of asking questions is first of all, very direct (not the preferred style of relating by many indigenous groups), assumed that knowledge was a democratic venture, as opposed to an esoteric one (also not necessarily assumed by many indigenous groups), and concerned itself with questions that were often very abstract  - sometimes purely abstract - in nature. 
Since the time of Plato at least, Philosophy has taken very seriously the importance and existence of abstract entities, laws, etc., that don't at first blush appear to have "practical" application or significance.  By way of contrast, in the traditional teachings I've received from Elders, traditional Indigenous thought is often passed down implicitly, through action instead of speech, through stories instead of explicit principles, often focused on the here and now, and relates most often to clear practical concerns, such as how to live in a good way. 

What's more, there are important implications arising from the differences between written and oral traditions.  I see the differences in these last two as relating to the understanding and practice of knowledge as being what I've characterized as "democratic/esoteric".  This is to say that in an oral tradition, teachings are passed down person-to-person, and so some vetting goes on as to who it is that is worthy of , and responsible enough to hold and maintain the teachings.  By way of contrast, in traditions where knowledge is codified in writing, such as in the Greek tradition, lessons are accessible to anyone who can get their hands on them, and they are preserved by institutions.
I think it's best to look at what Universities are offering with these differences in mind.  Given the differences I've laid out, we are unlikely to find "Indigenous Thought" appearing in a form that resembles traditional philosophical thought.  We have to broaden our thinking and our categories in order to recognize Indigenous thought as it is taught in those contexts. 

For example, in my time with Indigenous people in Northwestern Ontario, many of the things I learned were passed to me in "the ways" of being, which are purposely not made explicit.  What I mean is that, how life relates to the cycles of the earth and nature is something that I come to understand through doing various activities with the people, and then telling and listening to stories afterward. This knowledge is just as clear and subtle as it is when I read a philosophical text, but it is not delivered to me in the same way. 
Looked at through this perspective, there is, as I see it, quite a bit of Indigenous thought being taught in post-secondary institutions.  For example, at Lakehead University, there is a sweat lodge on campus, as part of the student support system.  I believe it is fairly standard for most Canadian institutions to have elders on campus at various times, which might be considered an equivalent learning experience to a standard philosophical colloquium.

That's all I'll say about this right now.  In short, what I'm suggesting is that to pose these questions best, we need to first lay out the differences and similarities between the two traditions of thought, and get clear on the language we use, before we can draw relevant comparisons and conclusions.

I often find when talking to philosophers, that when I capture a concept or method that I learned as indigenous, in words and language that is understandable to them, that they often have a lot of appreciation for it, and it becomes implementable within the traditional philosophical worldview. 

To name one example - naming the sharing of knowledge that happens when an Elder shares a story that has a purpose as "testimony" resonates within the western tradition.  We understand that when testimony is given, it is normative in that it has a specific relation to the truth that is different from mere opinion.  So I see part of the larger project of bringing indigenous thought into the conversation more broadly as being about carefully translating some of the language differences to create a shared framework of understanding. 
What's more, I see this as going in both directions.  For instance, the word "bimaadiziwin" is a word that doesn't have a direct - or in my opinion, even close - correlate in English, and classic Greek and later, English thought doesn't even recognize any concept like this, as far as I know.  Yet is an important concept for questions around the good life, politics, and ethics.  Thinking about and using this concept can be really helpful for developing our collective understanding and for knowing how to live the good life.

I urge you not to draw the conclusion that you are providing a disservice to your people by locating indigenous knowledge "too closely" to western philosophy.  So long as we acknowledge and respect the differences - and similarities - we are moving forward.  At the heart of both traditions is a concern for wisdom, and an understanding of the fact that we move in the direction of wisdom when we engage in discourse, inquire, and connect with the ephemeral, "spiritual", or "immaterial" part of ourselves that we can rely on to discern the truth. 

Personally, I have come to feel that indigenous thinking has something that the western philosophical tradition lacks.  I don't have the right words for this just yet, but I feel it is important that speaking this thing matters a lot, and that it deserves time and attention from the right folks.


Transformative Experience 
Web resources:

Ellenberg, Jordan S. (2013). “What is it Like to be a Vampire and/or Parent?” QUOMODOCUMQUE.
Marshall, Richard (2013). “metaphysical: L.A. Paul interviewed by Richard Marshall.” 3:AM Magazine.
Novaes, Catarina Dutilh (2013). “Further thoughts on parenthood.” New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science.
Paul, Laurie (2015). “What You Can’t Expect When You’re Expecting.” Res Philosophica.
Schliesser, Eric (2013). “Weekly Philo of Economics: parenthood, L.A. Paul's ‘What Mary Can't Expect...’ and 
Uncertainty.” New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science.
Streitfelt, Jason (2013). “Can Parenthood Be A Rational Choice?” Specter of Reason.

TRANSCULTURAL - philosophical thought is trans-cultural, e.g. the logical structure of a modus ponens or modus tollens argument will not be different across cultures. Similarly, I think that the basic metaphysics options of thinking about what reality includes, e.g. materialism, theism, absolute idealism, etc. do not differ across cultures. 

“A Dialogue on Language Between a Japanese and an Inquirer” (published in the collection of essays called On the Way to Language). Granted, it is written from a Heideggerian and therefore western perspective, but it highlights the challenges of gaining a genuine understanding across cultures and languages. For Heidegger, language is one of the primary ways in which Being (the manifestation of the whole of what is within a given historical horizon) is disclosed (along with mood and understanding), which is why to really understand Heidegger one must understand something about the German language. In this dialogue, Heidegger (who presumably is the “inquirer”) struggles to understand the way the Japanese world is disclosed in its own terms. No less would be the case with indigenous thinkers. 

I am particularly attracted to the matriarchal social structure of some first nations, and would definitely want to know more about it.  - I was thinking about the metaphysical limits of philosophy itself; this is what is out there and needs to be studied, can we not re-think the metaphysical limits self-imposed on western philosphy?


alternatives to western epistemology that has been largely taught as atomistic and linear based towards the inclusion of an epistemological relationship that can be aphoristic and multi-voiced; it allows an individual to think for his or herself.  

Ordinary Language philosophy and analytic philosophy was questioned at one time as to whether or not it had a bias against cultural orientation.   This line of questioning has been strengthen by the emergence of experimental philosophy (x-phi). which gives recognition to "intuition" as a valid part of knowing what we know. 

Friends from Haida Gwai have told me their experiences of growing up and residential schools, and of course the stories handed down through generations are inseparable from their art
language as an epistemological source - also ritual, storytelling, etc.)

The idea of the project is to look at Aboriginal Oral Histories in light of some ideas discussed in contemporary analytic social epistemology. 


​Translating purportedly indigenous ideas into western metaphysical terms (like “spirit” etc.) is to invite a superimposition of the west onto other cultures and would simply again be appropriation. The fact that this problem seems to be so little noticed – it usually flies completely outside the radar – probably bears witness to how colonialism continues to be perpetuated today. 

Clarification of Terms: 
Conversation requires that we have a similar understanding of what a term stands for;
Is there a set of products that are organized and available in books analogous of indigenous philosophical tradition? 
use of the phrase implies that it is well known and can be taken for granted.

Clarification of Concept done  -in part - by oppositional arguments to the idea of an Indigenous Philosophy

There is little support to argue that there is a recognizable thing called Indigenous Philosophy
One cannot expect indigenous philosophy to be defined because of its "holism" concept; no impulse to develop ideas can be expected from indigenous people. 

​Student Centered-Community Involved methods to advance reflection on ideas within the indigenous community

Make relevant by getting students to identify the questions in which metaphysical, epistomological and methodological questions can be explored in a systematic way.

​The sorts of philosophical perspectives exemplified in indigenous cultures are not typically coupled with the use of the standard sort of method typical of Western (European-based) academic philosophy

​Is "indigenous knowledge" and "indigenous thoughts" the same thing?

 how to formulate ways of engaging with texts from a different tradition in ways that are authentic to that tradition.  We might even ask whether analytic philosophy is the discipline best suited to that, if we think of its defining methods too narrowly!

MYSTICISM AND THE PARANORMAL - Mysticism and the Paranormal" Course  - Shamanic Texts
a course that included mystical and shamanic texts and optional experiential participation in elementary meditative-breathing exercises.


You speak apparently interchangeably of "Indigenous thought" and "indigenous philosophy".  Could one do that of "ancient Greek thought" and "Greek philosophy"?  In other words, what Plato, Aristotle and others did was not simply an application of  dominant conceptions or concepts, but was a kind of critical reflection upon or about them.  With no clear distinction between the way ancient Greek concepts were used and  reflective opinions about them.

While I think of philosophy as an activity more than a body of doctrine, that too is a blurry line.  Perhaps my favorite "definition" of philosophy is Stanley Cavell's: "Philosophy is the criticism a culture produce of itself."  But that's too broad, of course.

A deep issue: do our ordinary practices in applying our "ordinary" concepts presuppose something like a "philosophy"?  Here extreme care is needed, as, in my view, the answer is both a qualified "yes" and a qualified "no" depending on how one thinks of "something like a philosophy".

Philosophical downloading to 
First Nations/Indigenous Studies
Boas and anthropological accounts of ways of knowing and the history of ideas in non-Western cultures (as they are called).

Appropriation of philosophical approaches to the study of non-western ideology (Shopenhauer), etc.   - is this a process as well- I don't remember any philosopher identiyfing this. 

his will likely not be philosophy per se – more along the lines of the “pragmatic issues like political philosophy, or philosophy of poverty, etc.” 

 I like your focus on indigenous philosophy apart from the usual socio-political issues that commonly occupy any and all such inquiries. But the danger on the other side is readily seen in the kind of new-agey romantic appropriation of indigenous cultures by western culture

[agreement with Shyma Raganathan]:  Ian JarvieI identify myself as a philosopher of science and of the social sciences.  This means that all my hilosophical preoccupations only come into being after the launch of the scientific project in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  In the case of the social sciences, the late eighteenth century.  All claims to knowledge that are pre or alternative to science are exported to social anthropology, which studies indigenous thought all over the world.  No doubt this is a very parochial view but it is well worked out.  It stems from the claim that the scientific revolution was a sea change in human thought and the human condition, and that it was unique.  At one blow, it relegated all traditional claims of knowledge to the sidelines (cf. Gellner), proposed exacting tests for candidate knowledge, and stressed the infinty of human ignorance in the face of the immensity and complexity of the universe.  There is of course a history of science and its emergence, but this is not seen as meliorating the revolutionary break.

What could be the potential of continetnal thought in regards to indigenous thought?

To comment on some of the issues you raise in your e-mail. One of the main reasons why philosophy as an academic discipline is taught as Western Philosophy is because most, if not all, of the professors are trained in Western Philosophy. Also, because of collonialism and post-collonialism, the tendency over the past couple of decades has been to include Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islamic philosophy, for example, as part of Western thought. Whether that's justified or not is a different matter. 

The western philosophical curriculum is already deeply divided. You mention the analytic versus the continental streams.  But there is also the analytical versus the historical streams, with some analysts taking the view that historical studies are "not philosophy" and some historically oriented philosophers taking the view that ahistorical analysis is a caricature.  And there is a less clear but nevertheless 
deep division between those philosophers who take the relation of philosophy to science, and especially to the naturalism thought to inform science, to be central and those who refuse to accept that.  As 
Locke put it, the naturalists see philosophers as underlabourers to those advancing knowledge, namely, natural scientists.  This hard line view has many opponents who refuse to concede that science changes everything.

 Second. You need, at some point, to outline what you think indigenous philosophy entails.  There certainly are many different philosophical traditions but they must share some common features if they are to be all examples of a philosophy.  And it must be made clear how this philosophy differs from a mere sociological or psychological examination of beliefs and traditions.  In addition to studies of logic, which examine types of reasoning process, every philosophy will have, among other things, an epistemology and an ethical/political theory.  An epistemology will deal  not only with the ways we gain knowledge but also have a theory of truth (e.g., foundationalist or not, and so appeal to criteria such as correspondence or coherence).   A political philosophy will speak to the necessary structures of society and to the moral values that should govern communal and individual life.

You say: “There is no university philosophy department in Canada that has identified the need for an indigenous philosophy major or minor.”  Here is a concrete example.  Over the last 300+ years, Western (pre-Analytic and Analytic) Philosophy has learned more about language, reality, logic, and science.  Over the last 100 years Philosophy Departments in North America and Western Europe (and now worldwide) have evolved to have traditional linkages between the following 5 courses: (1) Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge); (2) Philosophy of Language; (3) Philosophy of Mind; (4) Philosophy of Science; and (5) Logic.  Because of the progress made over the last 100 years, we better understand now the connections between these sub-disciplines in Philosophy.  (I have omitted others, to simplify.)   We can connect these to Biology and Physics and Anthropology, etc., and we can also connect them to Metaphysics and Philosophy of Law.  Are there similar sub-disciplines in indigenous thought?  If not, you might ask whether indigenous thought is more closely linked to specific sub-disciplines in Analytic Philosophy (and to Non-Analytic Philosophy).

This leaves out ways of life, the good life, etc.  How should we live in and with our environment?  With non-human animals?  Etc.  These are good and interesting questions.  As I recall Marty’s talk, he touched on these questions.  To me, these questions are most closely related to questions of normative ethics, meta-ethics, and social philosophy. 

Resource challenge not only in terms of textbooks,but resources for departments. in a field struggling for relevance i the academcey.

In philosophy, though, the Orientals have not been so wise. They have tried to introduce what they call “Oriental Philosophy” into University programs, and it has not made deep inroads. So called “African Philosophy” has been even less successful. That is because these things are not really philosophy. Philosophy is originally a Greek word for a very Greek idea, and the philosophy Greece bequeathed to the West has a deep, almost inexhaustible, reservoir of techniques, traditions, and achievements at which it would be impossible to arrive from any other starting point. Through the efforts of Cicero the vocabulary of Greek philosophy and its particular range of interests were translated into Latin, and through Cicero’s Latin came into all the languages of Western Europe, and from there to North America.
Though there are resemblances between what Western philosophers and Oriental or African sages have done, it is simply a misrepresentation to call all their undertakings philosophy. Just as it would be a misrepresentation to call Kung Fu or Jiu Jitsu some kind of boxing.


Aims at pedagalogical neutrality (all cultures or none) 
Pedagogically, the problem in an intro course is this: If I want to be culturally neutral, I can either cover all cultures, or none, i.e. teach philosophy as a purely modern discipline concerned with logic and the foundations of empirical science

History of Philosophy (Ancient)

the question of indigenous knowledge, as you contrast it to pragmatic issues, might best fit in my own work in the context of what is sometimes characterized as ‘ancient’ philosophy. At least, in terms of comparative traditions and thinking about different philosophical world views,

History of Philosophy - (Modern)

affected by Enlighenment and Science, epistemology moved towards an atomistic and linear model.


 Perhaps drop the words "indigenous thoughts" and replace with "Indigenous Philospohy Ideas"
When talking about Indigenous philosphy on this project limit the term to Canada. 
The need to deal with potential critique of indigenous philosophy via critisizing western philosophy.
Since I teach mostly political theory, in the last couple of years I have included critiques of individualism 
from an indigenous perspective (Boldt and Long, Tribal Philosophies and the Canadian Charter of 
Rights and Freedoms; Dale Turner, White Paper Liberalism); I also raise (in reading Locke’s theory of private property) some questions about the way he assumes that the relation between humans and land is one of property, questions that come from indigenous thought.  So, it is indeed practical, but this is what I teach. I, however, have no knowledge of questions of language, metaphysics, etc. that would emerge from a study of indigenous thought. 
This is of course very little. I must confess that I have lately thought of incorporating more indigenous thought in my courses so as to make it part of the curriculum. However, I have been hesitant about it in part because I found it difficult to get readings that would suit the courses I teach, in part because I know so very little. This is one reason why it is so important to develop a programme of indigenous philosophy.

Textbook development - one guiding book by the Canadian Philosophy Association.

To come to practical matters.  Where traditional thought can be explored, compared and contrasted, is, as I have said, in social anthropology.  Another place where such dialogue has proven fruitful, I believe, is in faculties of theology or of religious studies.  Other than these I think the project faces some big challenges.  If there is to be a conversation, perhaps even dialogue, who and how will the procedural rules be set by? Exchanges of claims and counterclaims will hardly draw people in. But to bring up the question of standards of argument by which to assess claims will beg questions that the conversation or dialogue wishes to explore.

​              First, no department I was in offered courses in Indigenous philosophy for a couple of reasons:  there were no texts and no aboriginal person with the sort of academic degrees that would allow us to hire him or her to give such a course.  You will, I am sure, admit that having a non-indigenous person give this sort of course would not be thought authentic, and perhaps even seen as bordering on cultural imperialism.\
      So, one part of your project should be to explain the philosophy you have in mind:  what are its branches (areas of study), what are the central issues /puzzles that the various branches examine, etc. And what texts are studied in this philosophy?  And what other sources are there that someone can turn to in order to learn of this philosophy?  (As things stand, you cannot expect everyone to have any real sense of the philosophy you have in mind – and so they would be unable to compare different philosophies, too

​It may be helpful to your research to divide “Western Philosophy” into (a) Analytic Philosophy and (b) Continental Philosophy.  First, this division (indeed separation) is real.  The two ‘kinds’ of Philosophy are very different, although there is some intersection.  Secondly, and this is certainly my view, just as “western medicine” really only means ‘medicine’—since the so-called “alternative medicines” (e.g., homeopathy) have no firm basis in scientific research, reasoning, and fact—the distinction between Analytic Philosophy and Continental Philosophy partially mirrors that between (real) western medicine and (unreal) alternative medicine. 

​There may be good linkages between indigenous thought and Analytic Philosophy.  There may also be strong linkages between indigenous thought and Continental Philosophy and/or Eastern Philosophies and Eastern Religions.
I think you will benefit if you learn more about these distinctions and about some very real differences.  This may help you understand (and possibly criticize?) “the absence of indigenous thought in philosophy departments  and/or conversation between academic philosophy and academic Native Studies in Canadian universities…”

So here is my suggestion. Think of your project as one of documenting, understanding and making accessible to non-aboriginal people the history of aboriginalthought. Trying o assimilate it to Western Philosophy will waste your time, be fruitless, and distort the very thing you are trying to make available. Allow aboriginal thought to be as mystical, as intuitive, as religious, even as “primitive” as you find it to be. Its strength will lie in its own integrity, just as the strength of Judo and Karate lie in their own excellence, not in any irrelevant comparison to boxing.

Philosophy of Identity

Feminist and Post-structualist