Indigenous Epistemologies Can Aid Western Logos


Jack Portman

The Western epistemological discourse is so thoroughly rooted in its strict regiments and synchronic methodology that any alternative means of knowledge production are subject to its hegemonic scrutiny. As a result, indigenous knowledge is frequently disregarded by the Western scientific community, despite its profound applications in sustainable agro-ecological practice, local resource management and biodiversity revitalization. In actuality, indigenous knowledge is situated in the continuous, dialectic exchange between empirical observation and practical application. The bodies of knowledge derived by indigenous communities concerning local resource and environmental factors constitute an invaluable praxis for facilitating sustainable development, cultivating biodiversity and ensuring food security. In addition to its practicality, breadths of cultural value and identity are encoded in the generational transmission of indigenous knowledge, making the reapplication of indigenous agricultural systems a critical means of indigenous empowerment.

Indigenous knowledge is frequently misunderstood and resultantly discounted. Misconceptions that its orality and mythology both diminish its truthfulness, or that indigenous knowledge is less developed and thus not useful, all contribute to its marginalization and discreditation. Therefore, it may be beneficial to problematize the traditionality of indigenous knowledge and frame it within a more contemporary context.

Indigenous knowledge incorporates observations of long-term natural processes, environmental conditions, local taxonomies and resource management strategies. Its nuance and accuracy are relied upon to address issues in food production, resource conservation and sustainability, and expectedly the means by which it is produced are thorough and deliberative. Local vocabularies and understandings of the variety, behavior, location, interconnection and exploitability of local resources is inherently intimate, sustainable and based in observation. The involvement of indigenous values and perspectives in the knowledge production process has become an increasingly prevalent means of achievement, with coalitions between indigenous nations and scientific institutions forming to address environmental and sustainability issues. Cooperation between native and non-native research groups is inevitably situated in a multi-paradigmatic intellectual space shaped by the politics of knowledge production. Accordingly, research methodologies in indigenous spaces must be accommodating of local value systems, priorities and corpuses of knowledge to prevent delegitimizing indigenous subjectivity. Additionally, considering the economic and political interests of native communities is imperative to ensuring a mutually advantageous research coalition. Employment opportunities and fair compensation for indigenous community members are important to constructing mutually beneficial coalitions.

International development and Western hegemony have transplanted foreign agricultural practices globally in an undeniably exploitative exchange. Historically, colonial development efforts have extracted raw materials and inexpensive labor from indigenous populations, resulting in the proliferation of foreign agricultural systems reliant on artificial fertilizers and exploitative resource management strategies. Western agro-systems have displaced indigenous methods in much of the world without regard for the inherent suitability and sustainability of local knowledge. Owing to its reliance on costly and dangerous inputs, transplanted industrial agriculture has significantly altered global ecosystems. As a result pollution, deforestation and eutrophication accompany transplanted agricultural practices.

Reincorporating the inherently suitable body of indigenous knowledge in its pertinent contexts is necessary to avert further environmental degradation and achieve sustainably secure systems of agriculture. Implementing indigenous agricultural systems and using indigenous knowledge to inform sustainable development can effectively subvert the global environmental crises resulting from transplanted industrial agriculture. Instituting indigenous agricultural methods and applying local knowledge to sustainable development requires community empowerment and a collaborative research processes.

Indigenous populations relied on a spatially and numerically limited availability of resources to enable the ecological services and agricultural methods they relied upon, such as nutrient cycling, detoxification and hydrological regulation. Resultantly, indigenous knowledge is inherently interested in the preservation of biodiversity in order to maximize the abundance of resources available. Indigenous knowledge is inexorably conscientious of biodiversity conservation, such that many indigenous societies even augmented local landscapes to combat environmental degradation and cultivate biodiversity. Understanding and implementing indigenous conservation strategies in contemporary local contexts is necessary to ensure global food security and sustainability.

Effectively employing indigenous knowledge is an existential necessity and an ethical responsibility. While its propensity for conservation and sustainability are extremely applicable qualities of indigenous knowledge, its role as a form of resistance against the dominance of industrial agriculture is equally critical. Empowering indigenous communities to shape local agriculture autonomously and in accordance with cultural value systems is essential to addressing the neocolonial subjugation facing marginalized indigenous groups.