Indigeneity, Language and Authenticity

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The Indigene in Academia

I’ve noted two things over the past couple of years; firstly, being Indigenous and working on something that can be construed as stemming from one’s Indigeneity within the academic sphere one is never not political. It doesn’t matter what one does, as soon as one enters a room, be it physically or in a more metaphorical sense, i.e. through a paper, one’s every action is interpreted as being a political form of resistance or conformity against or with the status quo.

Secondly, Western academia is very keen to use Indigenous bodies as figure heads for new, innovative research projects which, when examined further, rather than challenging established research methodologies uses the Indigene as a smoke screen to keep on furthering the cause of the Ivory Tower. In these projects one becomes, to use the words of Linda Tuhiwai Smith, ‘the indigenous researcher’ and not ‘an Indigenous researcher’.

This is complicated for a number of various reasons. On one hand Indigenous research cannot be approached in the same ways as Western research, mainly because there are crucial questions of cultural accountability at play that cannot be ignored by the researcher. We constantly have to ask ourselves if what we are doing is truly helping our communities; the credo being ‘for the community, by the community and with the community’. Adding to this complexity, the fundamental difference between Western academia’s and most Indigenous forms of knowledge transmission – i.e. a written system vs. several entirely different oral ones – makes Indigenous research far more complex than what it might seem on paper.

Indigenous research cannot simply be interpreted as ‘research done by a token Indigenous person’. Indigenous research is resistance, it is decolonisation in the very heart of Western society. And at the same time while being fiercely political, it is a deeply complex process of walking back and forth between different types of knowledge transmission that most often do not work in even remotely similar ways just in order to negotiate a place where two opposing methods of research can come together whilst benefitting the community of the Indigenous researcher first and foremost.

And adding to the list of things in the aforementioned metaphorical Pandora’s Box of Indigenous research, every language manages to conceptualise the world in slightly different ways, and if anything, the language of Western Academia is far from that of any Indigenous tradition of passing on wisdom.


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