Living Knowledge Project

Guidelines for representing Aboriginal Community Knowledge

1. Aboriginal community knowledge must be taught within an Aboriginal context or framework. The act of translating Western science into an Aboriginal context (or visa versa) can unintentionally force a Western worldview onto Aboriginal community knowledge and Aboriginal students. Thus, in spite of our best intentions, we can inadvertently engage in assimilation, rather than empowering students to walk in two worlds. Each of our units should establish an Aboriginal framework of community knowledge, to which Western scientific knowledge can relate without distorting that Aboriginal worldview.

2. Always acknowledge diversity within an Aboriginal community group or groups. This can be done, for instance, by associating a group's name with the knowledge that is described, or by recognizing that others may have a different understanding.

3. Let the reader know about the origin of any particular knowledge, and about the permission we have to describe that knowledge. All Aboriginal community knowledge found in our units should have gone through a partnership process of involving Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal community knowledge found in a unit should contribute to the empowerment of Aboriginal peoples. One way to do this is to make the reader aware of how the representation of the Aboriginal community knowledge (found in the text) was obtained and rechecked later by those whom the knowledge represents. This will remind the reader that stories and information that come from Aboriginal peoples belong to that community unless explicit permission is granted to repeat the story or information in one of our units.

4. Clarify what traditional means whenever the word is used. Recognize that culture changes. It is not static. What is traditional knowledge today in a community may not necessarily have been traditional knowledge in the days before contact with Europeans. People in a community must decide what is traditional for them. It may help if we use phrases such as ways of living three hundred years ago or pre-contact technology instead of traditional ways of living or traditional technology (respectively). Avoid prescribing what is authentic to a community. The community themselves must decide what is authentic.

5. Remember that gaining Aboriginal community knowledge is a journey. Avoid thinking of Aboriginal community knowledge as something to be accumulated and possessed, but instead, as a process of coming to knowing.

6. Ensure that Aboriginal community knowledge is acknowledged as being inter-connected with many areas or fields of thought, to remind the reader that Aboriginal community knowledge fits into a holistic point of view. Avoid being bound to a narrow context in which the knowledge is described.

7. Incorporate, if possible and with community permission, Aboriginal language into the unit's text (with the appropriate English word in brackets) and continue to use the authentic word or phrase. This includes Aboriginal English.

8. Pay attention to the verb tense when we write about Aboriginal knowledge. The present tense indicates that the practices and knowledge are useful to some people today in contemporary society. On the other hand, the past tense gives the impression (connotation) that the practices and knowledge have been superseded by 'modern' scientific or Western views. Avoid dismissing powerful ideas as being applicable only in the past.

Adapted from: Guidelines for Representing Aboriginal Knowledge in Cross-Cultural Science & Technology Units
Cross-Cultural Science & Technology Units Project
Glen Aikenhead:
College of Education
University of Saskatchewan
28 Campus Drive
Saskatoon SK S7N 0X1