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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2010

Politicizing epistemology: CAUT replies

Jim Clark is right to say that academics should be concerned with the nature of knowledge. And, indeed, the Trent University vision statement about which I wrote was debated and adopted by academics, whom I assume were “properly trained in the academic disciplines.”

But the error is in his dismissal of indigenous knowledge as just another “ethnocentric way of knowing,” akin to the knowledge that “Christians, Muslims, farmers, mechanics” hold dear. I hope most scholars would not lightly dismiss Canada’s colonial history and its failure to acknowledge the value of indigenous peoples’ contributions to knowledge.

Distinguished scholar Marie Battiste of the University of Saskatchewan has written of the “explosive growth” in scholarly research on the relevance of indigenous knowledge for academic disciplines. One example she gives is how indigenous knowledge has been acknowledged for its contribution to the study of biological diversity and sustainability. I doubt the young indi­genous doctors and engineers about whom Professor Clark is worried, would do better in a university environment from which indigenous knowledge was banished.

At the crux of Professor Clark’s argument is his view that “Proponents of indigenous ways of knowing essentially lay claim to all domains that academics have worked so hard to understand.” Thus, he conceives of indigenous knowledge as exclusive, imperialistic, and competing with the scientific stance of the academic dis­ciplines. But this is a caricature. Indigenous knowledge enriches but does not displace other forms of knowledge.

Professor Clark ends his letter with the admonition that faculty organiza­tions have no role to play in deciding complex issues about knowledge. I cannot agree. Faculty organizations, including faculty associations and unions are made up of faculty members fully capable of putting their minds to this task. Indeed it is these organizations that have fought vigorously through collective bargaining, grievance and arbitration to expand and defend the rights of their members to pursue different paths to knowledge and for the collegial rights that Professor Clark assumes exist only in their absence.

Penni Stewart

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