Native American’s Indigenous Ways of Knowing – History Brought Alive
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Native American’s Indigenous Ways of Knowing

Before moving into the various origin stories of the Indigenous Peoples of North America, it is essential to understand that Indigenous ways of knowing are distinct from the concepts of Western knowledge. Unlike the Western view that knowledge must be tested and ‘proven’ to be validated, Indigenous ways of knowing to encompass a broader affirmation and validity of knowledge from many sources. For this reason, many Indigenous people don’t believe in or support the need for scientific evidence to show how the People came to live in North America. It may be hurtful and controversial for many Indigenous People and communities to have Western scientists excavating the land and removing ancestral remains. 

So far, the information in this book has been exclusively rooted in Western views of knowledge, including the Western need to ‘discover’ and ‘prove’ how the Indigenous Peoples arrived in North America. A perspective more grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing would recognize that each nation has an origin story passed down since the Indigenous People arrived in North America. 

In some Indigenous cultures, North America is called Turtle Island. These origin stories, recorded and transmitted orally, are the true and valid history of how each nation came to live on Turtle Island. It must also be noted that there are many Indigenous Nations on Turtle Island with many distinct histories and unique cultural characteristics. There does not exist one Indigenous history or one specific Indigenous way of knowing; each Indigenous nation is different from another to varying degrees. Some Indigenous Nations may appear to have overlapping values and cultures, others may not. 

Characteristics of Indigenous ways of knowing that are central to many Indigenous Nation cultures include holistic views of the world in which we live. A holistic view considers the many relationships that exist between an individual and their family, their community, their environment, the food they eat, the places they go, and how they might interact with those places. Many Indigenous cultures emphasize a natural awareness and consider not just an individual but the individual in relation to others and the land. Generally, the effects of one’s actions upon others and the land are more recognized and valued in Indigenous cultures than Western cultures. We can also describe that worldview as relational.

In Western cultures, values and actions often revolve around the idea of capitalism so that each person should try to get as much as possible for themselves, regardless of the outcome it might have on other people or the land and environment. It is generally considered valid, understandable, and even admirable for an individual in Western culture to hoard wealth and resources away from others. 

The radically opposing fundamental worldviews, values, and ways of knowing between Indigenous Peoples and the Western European colonizers led to catastrophic outcomes for Indigenous People on Turtle Island. Indigenous Peoples had not encountered the capitalist mindset before colonialism. Having no understanding that such ways of being were even possible, they were taken advantage of in that regard.

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