Indigenous knowledge and sustainability

Subtle technologies kicked off with a look at the above issue with a terse talk by Deborah Mc Gregor (see one of her articles ).

An associate professor at the university of toronto, and, most importantly, an anishinaabe woman , McGregor explores the way in which traditional knowledge and indigenous knowledge about environmental science can be re-introduced in our governments agendas to eventually produce epistemic changes towards sustainability.

Issues of contested territory, sovereignty and a painful history of colonization have made the relation between first nations and the government quite challenging: indigenous people are often considered as a problem to be solved. nonetheless, indigenous people can be considered as part of the solution and can be important actors in the discourse on legislation regarding sustainability.
In addition, issues related to “defining knowledge and sustainability” as a series of specific practices and actions instead of a general philosophical behavior that yet profoundly relies on practice are obstacles in the participation in the discourse.

Drawing from the origin story of creation, McGregor illustrated how the whole apparatus of knowledge of the anishinaabe is based on a particularly powerful notion of sustainability. the story greatly resembles the biblical story of Noah in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But the outcomes, and the protagonists (animals and humans) are different:  the creator has a vision. but people stop listening to the conduct taught. there is a great flood, a cleanse.  sky woman is floating on a log and she is going to have a baby. the water creatures, (the loon, the beaver) try to find land for sky woman but they fail. Only the muskrat succeeds and creates Turtle Island for the sky island. the Muskrat has made the ultimate sacrifice to save Sky Woman .

According to McGregor, this simple story encapsulates,  among other, the notion of sustainability as  “making provisions  for the next generations.” In fact, according to the elders, sustainability is not about “what we take” , but “what we can give back to creation

In this simple notion that sounds so much like a small detail lies, instead, a great gap between what we usually mean by “sustainability” and what indigenous knowledge implies. Certain that this type of discourse will  resurface during the entire symposium, I am glad that it constituted the topic of the first talk. In fact, this notion of sustainability not only makes us reflect on our notions of knowledge, but also begs the question: is it sufficient to mend our past mistakes and failure to live according to sustainable principles, or do we actually need a deeper change that affects our systemic and epistemic knowledge?

If you are interested in reading more about this issue, here is a link to Camille Turner’s blog that provides a few more reflections and a more thorough context of the issues at stake