Two-Eyed Seeing and Validating Indigenous Knowledge
*originally posted to elainealec.com
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding Indigenous oral histories, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and traditional stories - especially because, up until recently, they were never written down and were thus dismissed as imaginative, unreliable and made up. Even those who are willing to categorize our stories as oral literature contribute to the colonization of knowledge and education because oral literature is equally used to describe folklore, thus disrespectfully diminishing Indigenous oral history, stories and knowledge to mere fables and lore.
The reality, however, is that the very survival of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island has been relying upon accurate retellings of these Indigenous stories across countless millennia. Because, while colonization requires the devaluing of Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous care of the land to justify land dispossession and the displacement of Indigenous peoples for Colonial-Settlers, the truth remains the same: our stories carry thousands of years of science, maps, family relations, land changes, floods, migrations, National treaties, and natural laws for the survival of all beings on Earth. We've mastered balance and harmony, and we understood the importance of these teachings as so vital that everyone was taught them and memorized them. There was no need to write them down.
As we move forward with decolonization and cultivating safe spaces, we need to remember that those outcomes first require decolonizing the way we view knowledge and education. We must be willing to confront and reevaluate the prejudices and biases that Western society has taught us about what knowledge is "valid" and what is a "good" education.
For so many Settlers, the LandBack Movement or the term "Decolonization" is scary because they haven't been taught to view Indigenous peoples as sacred land keepers or land guardians. TEK hasn't been credited as the same level as Western science, despite having been around for thousands of years longer. Despite this, imagine how advanced "Canada" could be if they accepted Indigenous land stewards and TEK as equal and took on our body of knowledge equal with their own.
While it's not a popular idea, this combination of Indigenous and Western knowledge is happening in small pockets around the country. The approach is labelled "two-eyed seeing," originally cultivated by the Mi’kmaq (translated from the Mi'kmaq phrase "Etuaptmumk") and it incorporates both Indigenous and Western worldviews into research. (1) The process can be tricky and requires patience, more time, and researchers that are truly committed to reconciliation and decolonization. However, for those who are committed to reconciliation, and to cultivating safe spaces and decolonizing education and knowledge, here are three concepts to keep in mind:
Be aware of your Western prejudices and biases. We've all been taught them, even Indigenous peoples have been taught to devalue ourselves. It's time to put an end to it.
Western and Indigenous worldviews are complete opposites, leave your judgement at the door and open your heart and mind to understand each other. Neither form of education is more valid or "better" than the other.
Indigenous knowledge keepers and Elders are experts in their fields and require as much academic and professional respect as those holding Western-style degrees. They also deserve equal compensation. Don't expect any Indigenous knowledge keeper or Elder to work for free. You wouldn't expect a Western high-level expert to donate their time, why should an Indigenous high-level expert?
Keeping these three concepts in mind when approaching Indigenous knowledge is a step towards two-eyed seeing, but the concept has even broader applications and effects on research than just how we think about each other. For further reading, I've included an article about the Mi'kmaq concept of "Etuaptmumk" and how both Indigenous peoples and Settlers can use it to work together moving forward.
The approach itself is exciting because we have the opportunity to lead projects and make decisions regarding land and community development with the knowledge pulled straight from our stories. Because these stories hold our cultural values, ceremony instructions, and important teachings about sacred relationships, we can look to them to ensure that we are making decisions with good hearts. And, of course, these stories aren't just for Indigenous peoples to learn from. We're more than willing to teach Settlers how to live on this land with good hearts as well, but they have to start respecting our stories first!
Reid, AJ, Eckert, LE, Lane, J-F, et al. “Two-Eyed Seeing”: An Indigenous framework to transform fisheries research and management. Fish Fish. 2021; 22: 243– 261. https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12...