Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous knowledge is increasingly being recognized as just as relevant and valid as western science, if not more. It comes from a place of experience and observation, and is developed over time and generations. Like Indigenous knowledge, local knowledge also evolves over time. Joining us today to help makes sense of the similarities and differences between indigenous and local knowledge is Lawrence Gunther. Lawrence has been collecting indigenous and local knowledge for quite a number of years, and continues to do so through film and his weekly podcast series, Blue Fish Radio. Lawrence, welcome back….

(Transcript of Lawrence Gunther’s bi-weekly 12-minute segment on Live from Studio 5 broadcast over AMI TV and Audio across Canada)

Q. Welcome back Lawrence, how are indigenous knowledge and local knowledge defined, and what makes them both different and alike?

A. The first comes from those who are considered native or Inuit, and the second from those who are not.
A. While indigenous knowledge may include aspects of their culture, spiritual beliefs, traditions and values, both sorts of knowledge are important to people who live along side Canada’s rivers, lakes and oceans.
A. No one group has an exclusive right to develop and share knowledge, and no group can claim that their knowledge is superior.

Q. Why do you think indigenous and local knowledge are playing an increasingly important role in how we plan and interpret scientific research?

A. Scientists receive grants that allow for a set limit of research to be carried out. Those who collect knowledge have time on their side.
A. Scientists are utilizing this knowledge to assist them in applying their research more precisely, instead of starting from ground zero.

Q. How is this type of knowledge being used to shape government policy and regulations?

A. Government policies and rules, if not developed in a way that’s relevant to the people they are intended to benefit, are worth little more than the space they take up on a digital storage device. People responsible for developing such policies and regulations are beginning to understand that not only do the rules need to relate to people; they need to fit within what people know to be their reality. If people find areas of policy or regulations that clearly do not reflect their reality, such as the need to harvest food during certain times of year, than the rules simply just won’t be respected.

Q. Is this sort of qualitative knowledge being used to discover new inventions or create new economic opportunities, and are such commercial activities respectful of those who first possessed the knowledge?

A. Many of our greatest inventions and discoveries were born from observing indigenous people, or by those who learned to do things better by simply observing their environment. We like to think that everything these days comes out of a laboratory, but it’s still the case that while applying knowledge to create better “mice traps” often takes place in labs, the actual knowledge that first gave way to their application came from those in the field. Take Charles Darwin for example, a person who developed the theory of evolution by visiting a cluster of remote islands and observing the difference in animals and their behavior from one island to another. For the longest time he was not respected and scorned as being unscientific. Businesses use to also think this of local people, but now are increasingly including people with indigenous or local knowledge in their plans and operations to take advantage of their depth of experience.

Q. How can we as citizens access such knowledge, and what rules should we be following when we ask for and receive knowledge from another?

A. With the internet and social media, it’s so easy to access information. It’s not the same as knowledge though. Information is simply a collection of facts. Knowledge is applying those facts in ways that result in an outcome that hopefully improves the lives of oneself or others.
A. It’s also often situational and difficult to relate to if you aren’t familiar with the environment. This is why people who spend considerable amounts of time in one location, and maybe even come from a long line of descendants who also shared the same space, have knowledge that you are unlikely to gain yourself by just passing through. Taking the time to hear what such people have to say is a start, and recognizing that their insights are the result of countless hours of focusing on a specific situation, is equally important. This type of commitment to problem solving is growing increasingly rare.