words Colin Herring
The ‘academy’ has imposed a definition of Indigenous identity on me. International definitions agree. Due to loss of heritage, I am not Indigenous; I cannot provide evidence of continuity. This post-colonial distinction is mentally disturbing. I resent the implications, it creates many questions for me. How can anyone be engaged in other people’s stories without understanding their own? There are 2 worlds of compliance: the academy and each community.
My academic enquiries delve into the privacy of privileged information. Obligations and trust at the individual/community interface occur.
Anyone who is ‘not from around here’ should approach as an outsider, whether of Indigenous descent or not. A process occurs: becoming known about, being known and then acceptance. We transform voluntarily to the world view of the community in question. A formal document is not really required as one politely knocks at the metaphoric door of a specific community.
The Yolngu will meticulously record your arrival and presence through the practice of continuance and bark petitioning according to their law. It is pure genius. The outsider practices an ethical ontology, axiology, epistemology and methodology transparently, morally, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. The enterprise must be culturally competent. Any ‘shape shifting’ should be negotiated as a decolonising methodology. There is no such thing as open arbitrary permission to do anything you like. Protocols describe the parameters of enquiry as specific, affected by insider community standards and an outside inquisitor or authority.
A document is limited. An oral presentation includes body language, song and representation of soul/spirit. Giving a lift to an Elder and yarning has more credibility. An Indigenous researcher from a different cultural group may have a cultural advantage, but has similar issues of encounter and acceptance. However, academic conventions must be applied. The credibility of individuals, community and an academy is at stake in a sea of competing interests and contested ideologies.
The ‘one world’ mindset of European thinking is defined as (post) ‘positivism’ through objectivity. Another Western theory accepts one reality within fixed periods of history. Another, ‘constructivism’ accepts multiple realities as social constructs. The outsider must move beyond the paradigms of individuation, toward a relational lattice; Indigenous perception is constructed out of local knowledge that interprets the entire cosmos as a sacred identity within. Alternate research methodologies include talking circles, storytelling, personal narratives, Participatory Action Research (PAR), intuition and listening as the act of living the beliefs that make them real.
Anthropology legitimised the colonisation of Australia. Outsiders are lured into critical sociology and post-structuralism for their criticism of grand theory; positivism and classical theories are colonising discourses. Indigenous standpoint theory identifies the white male patriarchy as the target of post-modernist discourse and deconstruction in relation to power.
Western environmental science is challenged by Indigenous knowledges. In many circumstances, historic Western academic practice has preserved Indigenous cultures and remains of interest for any who would revive the threads of their (almost) lost culture. A unique Indigenous voice is emerging and floating in a sea of global issues, evolution, neo-colonialism, neoliberalism, capitalism, bureaucracies and global warming. This ‘contested cultural interface’ is Christianised, creolised and intervened, vacillating within historic epochs of sovereignty, subjection, continuity, discontinuity, learning and forgetting. The tensions and contradictions can be overwhelming, with Indigenous ventures being hijacked, managed under surveillance, re-legislated, dismantled and withdrawal of funding. The Indigenous experience realises many allies (feminism, LBQGTD, disabled and environmentalism) because they can all identify a common oppressor in an uncompromising patriarchy. Indigenous peoples need to develop a critical reflection where Indigenous knowledge is examined through an exclusive Indigenous filter that accepts contrasting Indigenous epistemologies. Theory alone does not create change.
We require emancipatory dialogue featuring anti-colonial and patriarchal discourse and critique. Racism is deeply entrenched within policies, research debate and mainstream perceptions as the Foucauldian ideology of bio-power where one ‘race’ has power over another through massacres, surveillance, incarceration and social engineering. It becomes manifest through interventions, health, life expectancy, poverty and deaths in custody. In present day forms, entire communities (Iraq, Afghanistan Libya and Syria) are being massacred, while our leaders promote world order, described as a
‘runaway world’. If Indigenous peoples and feminists are to tackle colonialism and sites of oppressive power, a safe cultural space has to be developed which challenges without the fear of white, male ‘bio-power’.
The ‘tricky grounds’ and intersecting challenges of methodologies, ethics, institutions and communities influence those who have survived modernity and remain distinct with their own language and belief system. Between the definitions and self-identification, we still find ourselves within a dominating and alien culture. With ancient memories that inform our present practice, we find an obligation to ‘sing’ our reality. As we attempt to escape mainstream scrutiny, we are deemed incapable and in constant crisis. The arrogance of being described as ‘the gaps’ from white norms determines our funding. This history of exploitation and manipulation represents a shift from passive victims toward a formidable front of multiple challenges.
In the Maori research technique of ‘Kaupapa’, specific communities add their unique clan voice. ‘Kura Kaupapa Maori’ or alternative schools of all Maori mind-sets foster innovative research in their own language. This establishes a voice to previously silenced communities. The non-indigenous can even engage in dialogue and be emancipated from their own indoctrinations through collaborative research. It does not escape the call for a (white) ‘one nation’ amongst mainstream commentators. They are yet to comprehend their status was achieved by centuries of oppression.
A psychological war continues as a fractured dialogue between those with power and the marginalised. An alternate global community insists on social justice over profit. In the wake of environmental disasters, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is becoming a new frontier of research. Capitalists are realising there is a margin in it. Tea tree oil is a classic example. After the leaf is harvested, a fire stick tractor encourages the epicormics shoots of a lignotuber to stimulate growth. Firestick farming is now an industry extracting liquid gold. No intellectual property rights exist for the Indigenous who developed that practice. Qualitative research in the field of ethnobotany and talking to Indigenous experts is of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry. The small Indigenous business can be compromised by the global ‘mall’ that can exploit a product. Indigenous products can be commodified and synthesized, while the Indigenous community disappears. This period of globalisation has become another phase to survive, as imperialism transforms into a global monster. Our universities realise the market potential and new Indigenous identities emerge; an Indigenous ‘scientist’ is born as healer, herbalist and ecological practitioner. A transformative research ethic is required to address the vulnerability of Indigenous knowledges through informed consent.
One cannot simply transcribe an ethics guideline from one community to the next as a generic template. The context of the Indigenous community layers unique relationships, affecting the community over time. If meaningful dialogue occurs, quality experience is taking place. The new, old paradigm continues debate, and working groups present stories, perspectives and reflections through poetry, passion, academia, painful experience and common vision. Through Native American eyes, meetings become transcendental rather than stored in temples of printed information. We learn by osmosis of a ‘fourth world’ and an Indigenous framework speaks of ancestral characters and essences as legitimate conversations. Legal precedents have incorporated oral tradition as law; flora and fauna can be recognised as sentient. As the process translates into the domain of legal and academic classifications systems, difference is legitimised.
A dual system of communication is required; one to satisfy an outside provider of an insider’s depth of comprehension. What was previously viewed as barriers can become doorways of relating solutions, as the four winds of change and walking together. This algorithm presented as a ‘medicine wheel’, confirms all is interconnected and ‘related, spiritual, complex and powerful’. The elemental winds are represented as the four points of a compass (decolonises) and are replaced (education) with a reality (healing) that is ever-present (being). An Indigenous renaissance is advocated amidst laughter and a healing ceremony.
After centuries of oppression, we must wade through the emotions of anger and fear, where many falter as moods of the seasons, when the problematic Western door can trigger resistance to the falsities generated. The Navajo and Hawaiian Natives know this leads to annihilation. Sharing these stories within their own cultural context sets up another door of emancipation through surviving and dismantling colonialism… To be continued.