Indigenous Epistemology. What’s that you ask? – TLAM Week 4

Indigenous Epistemology. What’s that you ask?

This week in class we spent a 2 hour and 30 minute session going over just this. There is no short answer in sight, but rather an overview of the engaging discussion that my classmates and I experienced through the insight of guest lecturer Ryan Comfort from the American Indian Curriculum Services, School of Education.  As he began his presentation, it became apparent that it would be theme based, integrative, and interactive. The skillful address of the number four as the main theme connected everyday life with the epistemology if indigenous practice.  We did four exercises, related those exercises to four elements, and explored the hidden connection that this concept of four has to our everyday lives.

The first exercise required each individual to channel a raw and unexposed part of their inner connection to a place or thing and further express this connection in the format of an ‘I Am’ poem. The poem was not limited to a scheme or a meter preference, but rather to a channeling of the senses. It went something like this:

I am the mist on a brisk autumn day
I am the sunshine peeking through the fray
I am the crisp scent of morning after a wee rain storm
I am the craggy rock beneath your feet after the dew is gone
I am the dampness on your cheeks and the salt from your tears
I am the last harvest of heather, home of the Scottish hills.

My motives for sharing this poem do not stem from vanity, but rather to express a key element of Ryan’s presentation. “Think, pair, share.” All of the exercises that we engaged in held this requirement, which was both beneficial and at times uncomfortable.

Now for the unveiling of the magic number four. Ladies and gentleman I present to you the medicine wheel!

The attributes of beliefs, values, the physical, and mental are all embodied through the medicine wheel to demonstrate the importance of connection. With the progression of Ryan’s exercises, it became clear that he was aiming to demonstrate this connection through the focused intent behind each activity. For example, where the second exercise focused on listing what we individually knew about Native Americans and where we got this information, the third exercise forced us to discern if our information came from a credible source. Of course, then the question became, what is a credible source? But this is yet another example of something that cannot be answered in a generic way as it differs greatly with each discipline.

Now we move forward to yet another connection that Ryan wove into his presentation. Being that he was catering to an audience of library school graduate students, he modified his last and fourth exercise to fit nicely with the other requirements of the TLAM course. Through this exercise, we were asked to brainstorm on ways the process of learning about indigenous culture could be incorporated in the public library setting. Sounds like an easy task, but it was full of unexpected challenges. Concerns about budget, appropriateness, receptiveness from the respective population the library serves, and accuracy of information all warred for dominance. Thankfully, this was not an answer that we needed to have that same day. However, it is an exercise that I feel Ryan hoped we would carry with us during our journey as library, archive, and possibly museum professionals.

By: Sarah Morris

Week 4: 2/10/11