Other Ways of Knowing

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The Integral Strategy process creates a space for people to come together in community in a way that acknowledges every person and values their gifts. Authentic dialogue is the foundation of our practice. There is much we can learn from cultures who live these values, and from ways of knowing that connect us at a deeper level to the wider world and to each other.

Indigenous Values

Imagine a culture that lives by these values: respect, courage, love, generosity, honesty, humility, and wisdom. What could it teach us?

These seven values enrich human life and sustain community in harmony with the natural world. Blair Stonechild, a Cree-Saulteaux member of the Muscowpetung First Nation and professor of Indigenous Studies at the First Nation University in Regina, Canada, described them in his book The Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality (2016).

  • Respect includes respect towards others and their beliefs and all parts of Creation. If we cannot show respect, we cannot expect respect to be received. Respect is an essential pillar upon which good relations are built.
  • Courage is not just physical bravery, but has to do with relationships. Being brave involves doing the appropriate thing, even if it hurts us.
  • Love is to be unconditional, given freely even when others may not seem to deserve it. With love comes peace.
  • Generosity involves sharing with the needy such as the elderly and infirm, and showing hospitality towards visitors.
  • Honesty includes truth towards ourselves, accurate recognition of who and what we are. This leads to honesty towards others. We keep in mind that truth cannot be hidden from the spirit realm, as Manitow hears all thoughts.
  • Humility is humbling ourselves and recognizing that no matter how much we think we know, it is little compared with the universe of knowledge.
  • Wisdom is knowing the difference between what is proper and improper and appreciating the consequences of our actions. We cherish the value of knowledge.

Lifelong Learning

Blair Stonechild says indigenous people learn how to live these values over a lifetime. The very purpose of living, he says, is to learn from the choices we make. This has physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions. Spiritual practice is the touchstone of indigenous life.

“In the Indigenous world view, all Creation is sacred and spiritually alive. … Land is a living entity that must be treated with respect. Spirituality is to be practised daily rather than merely written about or practised in a rigid institutional setting. Underlying all Aboriginal belief is a view of a world gifted by Manitow. Our purpose on earth is to develop an understanding of how to live in harmony with all of Creation.”

Western culture, Ray Barnhardt and Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley write in “Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Alaska Native Ways of Knowing” (Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 2005) emphasizes compartmentalized knowledge abstracted from the natural world; indigenous knowledge is based on direct experience. In Western culture competency is linked to mastering knowledge that supports the complex division of labor. In indigenous culture it is linked much more immediately to the ability to survive.

Circles and Community

Talking Circles are universal in indigenous societies — a place where everyone is equal; where people can speak their truth without being judged; a place to listen and bear witness. People talk without being interrupted while others wait their turn. Supportive silence is expected. “Listen,” says a native proverb, “or your tongue will make you deaf.” What is shared in the Circle is kept confidential.

Circles create positive energy. Healing Circles have been used by indigenous communities to promote recovery from the harm resulting from suppression by the dominant culture.

“Sharing, learning, caring and trusting create support, which makes the Circle healthy and strong,” Jean Stevenson, a Peguis First Nation Cree wrote when she described them in “The Circle of Healing” (Native Social Work Journal. 1999.) “Our Native values are the integral foundation of the Circle. With these values come the building of character which teaches us about compassion, responsibility, cooperation and commitment.”

Talking and Healing Circles affirm community, respect and value each person, and acknowledge the shared challenges of being human.

Knowledge Keeping

Survival in indigenous communities has relied for generations on deeply understanding nature, treating it with respect, and gratefully receiving its many gifts. Knowledge is preserved in stories, ceremonies, and cultural practices passed from one generation to the next by knowledge keepers. Much of this knowledge has been sustained through hundreds of years. But indigenous societies and languages are threatened. Of the 6,000 languages spoken globally today, 4,000 to 5,000 are indigenous. UNESCO reported in 2002 that 3,000 are ‘endangered, seriously endangered or dying.’

“Native people may need to understand western society,” Barnhardt and Kawagley say, “but not at the expense of what they already know and the way they have come to know it. Non-Native people, too, need to recognize the co-existence of multiple worldviews and knowledge systems, and find ways to understand and relate to the world in its multiple dimensions and varied perspectives.”

As we struggle with global challenges and issues of sustainability, a significant question is raised for mainstream society: What could we learn from other ways of knowing?

This article is an excerpt from a book in progress on complexity, collaboration, and the challenges of transformative change. It was first posted on March 6, 2018, on LinkedIn.


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David Forrest

David is the founder of the Integral Strategy Network. He is a writer, futurist, strategist, and facilitator of systemic change.

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