Indigenous Knowledges and Open Education

Last week was #OEWeek22, and I was fortunate to attend some really interesting events discussing open practices. However, I wanted to highlight one event in this blog post that really opened my thinking. It included a panel from the Saskatchewan Polytechnic Library on Indigenous Knowledges and Open Education. The panel problematized open education for prioritizing a Eurocentric view of copyright and intellectual property rights which is sometimes in tension with Indigenous knowledge systems.

It was at this point that my thinking was challenged because I had not considered copyright and Creative Commons licensing from this perspective before. Over time, Indigenous peoples around the world have preserved distinctive understandings, rooted in cultural experience, that guide relations among human, non-human, and other than human beings in specific ecosystems. These understandings and relations constitute a system broadly identified as Indigenous knowledges which are derived from three different types of knowledge.

  • Traditional Knowledges are knowledge, know-how, skills, and practices that are developed, sustained, and passed on from generation to generation within a community, often forming part of it’s cultural or spiritual identity. For example, Indigenous cultural expressions, which include more tangible things like dances, regalia, design, songs, etc.
  • Empirical Knowledges result from careful observations and relationships to humasn and non-humans that are ecological and are accumulated over time. For example, biocultural resources that includes microorganisms, plant varieties, animal breeds, genetied sequences, etc.
  • Revealed Knowledges which are sometimes revealed through dreams, visions, and intuition.

With knowledge sharing come specific protocols, or Indigenous laws, that are defined by specific communities. These Indigenous laws of knowledge sharing can be different from community to community. However, they often have similar aspects defining who is privileged to knowledge and who is allowed to share that knowledge, including:

  • Ownership and Inheritance (community, individual, clan, family)
  • Earned (with age or experience)
  • Gender Identity
  • Geography
  • Season
  • Techniques (art, harvesting)

Therefore, sharing Indigenous knowledges can be complex and challenging, yet it is essential to center Indigenous worldviews in respectful ways. The presenters then proposed that the 5R’s of open should be reframed to fit within the understandings of how to work within Indigenous Knowledges sharing protocols.

By showing care, we can take principles and practices of open and apply them to how we work within Indigenous Knowledges by respecting Indigenous cultural practices and identities. By building relationships within those communities, we can earn the privilege and respect to access Indigenous Knowledges. However, we also must use the knowledge shared with us responsibly and within the realms of sharing protocols, letting let indigenous peoples take the lead and do our part to uplift their voices. At all times, we must be reverant, showing respect for the sacred at the heart of Indigenous peoples culture. Finally, reciprocity is about giving back to these communities who are sharing their knowledge with us.

While I’m still grappling with some of the ideas surrounding Indigenous Knowledges, I can definitely see how this new framework of 6R’s values the cultural practices and protocols of Indigenous peoples.

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