How We Come to Know
Like many other contemporary publications featuring Indigenous history and thought, this book featuring a title in an original Aboriginal language, thereby accomplishing two things. First, it restores cultural pride on behalf of First Nations authors, and, second the use of a traditional language is usually intended to pay homage to learned members of specific Indigenous communities. As Absolon (p. 10) suggests in the preface; “This book is about Kaandossiwin and speaks to journeys of learning, being and doing…. which are Indigenous ways of ways of searching (research methodologies).” Absolon goes on to say suggest that Anishinaabe researchers have unique and diverse ways of uncovering truth.
A former dissertation, this volume contains eleven chapters, many of which utilize freshly-coined verbiage based on a metaphor of flower parts–root, flower, leaves, stem, and so on. These are exemplary chapter titles: “Wholistic Worldviews and Methodologies” (Chapter 4), “The Roots, Paradigms, Worldviews, and Principles” (chapter five), The Flower Centre: Self as Denial” (chapter 6), “The Stem: Backbone and Supports” (chapter 8), and “The Petals: Diverse Methodologies” (chapter 9). Use of the metaphor is founded on these principles: all of its component parts are interrelated, it is earth centered and harmoniously exists in relationship with the earth, it is cyclical and changes from season to season, and it has spirit and life (p. 49). Absolon successfully uses the metaphor to illustrate how Indigenous researchers have moved from using western paradigms to integrating them with Aboriginal paradigms, to completely immersing themselves in the latter (p. 29).
The book’s contents rightly acknowledge that Indigenous cultural histories are rich and have been successfully passed on through many generations (p. 26). However, a strong resistance to nonAboriginals researching Native cultural histories is implicit in the discourse. For example; “While non-Indian historians and some Indians made careers out of speaking for tribes… many Indians will not write about tribes other than their own…” (p. 25); “Aboriginal knowledge was invalidated by Western ways of knowing” (p. 27); and, “All of the research projects critique the failure of western methodologies to reflect the strengths of the community, culture and traditions of Indigenous peoples” (p. 97).
Absolon acknowledges that Indigenous knowledge is to be shared, but seems to shy away from doing so other than with fellow Indigenous writers. The impression is left that only Indigenous researchers can effectively dismantle and deconstruct colonial motives, theories, and methods, and “set a pathway to freedom” (p. 99). It would appear that an element of peace-making between Aboriginal and nonAboriginal researchers is yet to be attained.
The third, fourth, and fifth chapters of Kaandossiwin seem to constitute the primary contribution of this work; first, in introducing a series of Indigenous co-researchers; and, second, in explicating the roots of Indigenous thinking. Indigenous thinking is at once wholistic, spiritual, and interrelated, with a strong sense of loyalty to natural and spiritual laws. As Absolon states: “Our understandings about the nature of our existence and our reality and how we come to know about our existence and reality make up a paradigm. The morals and ethics that guide us are also part of our paradigm” (p. 55). As a result, references and quotations throughout the book are from Indigenous researchers, with the assumption that consensus exists among them with regard to the interpretation of underlying presuppositions.
In one sense this book fills a void in Indigenous literature by bringing together, summarizing, and synthesizing existing works by well-known Aboriginal writers, although the metaphor of the flower has previously been employed (p. 49). Decrying the work of serious, earnest nonAboriginal researchers is easily documented, and if the author’s intent is to develop a community of Indigenous researchers, it simultaneously conveys a message of ethnocentrism and academic exclusivity at a time when there is an urgent need to share knowledge of all kinds in an attempt to bridge the gap that Absolon has identified.
Fortunately, not all Indigenous writers agree with this stance. This is generous attitude was exemplified in the words of the late Chief John Snow (2005: p. 244-245) of the Stoney (Nakoda Sioux) First Nation: “Our ancient prophecy tells us that a day is coming when the Indigenous people of this land will teach other peoples, other Nations about the importance of life in harmony with the cosmos. I believe that day has arrived.” Fulfilling the role of teacher implies interaction, mingling, fellowship, and sharing, not exclusivity. - John W. Friesen, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary