Indigenous knowledge lives within Indigenous languages
By Caroline VanEvery-Lefort @Karenniyo77
Since the inception of residential schools in Canada, Indigenous people have suffered a serious blow to our communities and our ways of life, the most prominent loss being the loss of our languages. Taiaiake Alfred states in his book, Peace, Power and Righteousness, “Our bodies may live without our languages, lands, or freedom, but they will be hollow shells. Even if we survive as individuals, we will no longer be what we Rotinonhsyonni call Onkwehonwe-the real and original people-because the communities that make us true indigenous people will have been lost” (Alfred, 1999, p. xv).
Alfred makes reference to the loss of critical aspects of Indigenous society and Indigenous thought whereby he asserts that without these aspects, our people will cease to be Indigenous people. What needs to be clarified about his statement is his reference to community. In this sense, he is not referring to the physical community, but the community of the Onkwehón:we mind.
This perspective is reflective of the Kanyen’kéha idea of collective consciousness. The Kanonhweratónhsera (Thanksgiving Address) addresses our collective consciousness. The Kanonhweratónhsera; also referred to within Kanyen’kéha as the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwenh which means “the words that come before all else”. This reminds us that we are related to all creation. Furthermore, this is a fundamental building block for our model of governance in that it is said at the opening and closing of gatherings and sanctions official business matters. Within this giving of thanks, the phrase, E’tho niyontónhak ne onkwa’nikòn:ra is repeated. This phrase reminds us to be of one mind and one spirit; thus maintaining a collective consciousness and reality.
The relationship between Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous language has been long debated. Benjamin Whorf began investigating this and Marie Battiste and James Youngblood Henderson state, “Whorf argues that worldviews grow out of the structures of language, and that long and deeply held ideas are frozen into ways of thinking and speaking” (Battiste & Henderson, 2000). In other words, language is the mechanism in which knowledge is created, understood and used. Therefore, Indigenous knowledge is contained within Indigenous languages and shapes the worldviews and beliefs of a people and no new Indigenous knowledge can be created without the language of which it was originally produced. From a Kanyen’keháka perspective, as our knowledge “business” is that which is alive and as it exists in its natural state, it can no longer can live without the existence of its world, the Kanyen’keháka world, our minds.
As a learner/speaker of an Indigenous language, the Mohawk language or Kanyen’kéha, I can only truly speak of my experiences with learning and understanding Kanyen’kéha. I cannot presume to speak for other Indigenous languages and their perceptions on the relationship between Indigenous language and Indigenous knowledge. For the purposes of this paper, references and comparisons will be made from my own Kanyen’kéha paradigm, which has been primarily shaped by my study and understanding of Kanyen’kéha and the ethics, morals and worldview of my people, the Kanyen’keháka.
There are critical issues that need to be addressed with respect to the relationship between Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous language. Eurocentric scholars have attempted to define Indigenous knowledge in order to understand Indigenous people and their ways of knowing and doing. However, there are fundamental linguistic and philosophic differences that have crippled their efforts at understanding both the definitions of Indigenous knowledge and the linguistic and philosophical differences as they are not using Indigenous language as the lens through which to examine Indigenous knowledge which leads me to my second argument. It is the very perspectives with respect to the philosophies and languages of Indigenous people that confirm that Indigenous knowledge lives within the language and cannot live outside of the language.
Even the Western perspective recognizes that Indigenous knowledge lives within Indigenous language. This is evident through the colonial governments’ efforts to extinguish Indigenous languages around the globe. The eradication of Indigenous languages was an attempt by colonial governments to eradicate the Indigenous mind, which would result in the disappearance of Indigenous knowledge for the purpose of assimilation, an act of cultural genocide.
As Western scholars continue to use the European languages and Eurocentric methodologies for the purposes of defining and understanding Indigenous knowledge and thought, Indigenous languages will continue to be misinterpreted and Indigenous knowledge will continue to be refashioned and recreated, not as Indigenous knowledge but rather Indigenous influenced, European knowledge. This is problematic in that the Indigenous knowledge no longer is as it is intended and is instead a perversion of Indigenous knowledge as interpreted by the English speaking mind. Only when the researched and scholars use Indigenous language as the medium from which the knowledge is gathered, analyzed, defined, and understood can Indigenous knowledge maintain its continuity and continue to survive in its originally intended form.
Indigenous knowledge is not something that is easily defined since the term is broad and refers to the knowledge systems of many different peoples. Most often, the term is defined by scholars who create a definition that works for them and their purposes but does not correspond with the Indigenous language of the peoples who’s knowledge they wish to study.
Battiste and Henderson reiterate this point by stating, “Eurocentric scholars impose a definition, attempt to make it apply universally, then, when it fails to comply with any universal standard by deductive logic, quibble over its meaning. This is the strategy of a language system that is not attached to an ecology or to its intelligible essences” (Battiste & Henderson, 2000, p. 36).
This is further manifest in the scope of the Kanyen’kéha word to describe Indigenous knowledge. In Kanyen’kéha we say, ni yonkwarihó:ton, this loosely translates to “our ways” however is literally translated as “it to you and I, it is that kind of business”. This term not only encompasses the knowledge base which is made up of the following elements: language, facts both explained and unexplained, ceremonies, responsibilities, moral lessons, stories, daily activities, seasonal activities, songs, dances, geography, climate, landscape, etc.
To define Indigenous knowledge, Eurocentric scholars have used the following definition,
Perhaps the closest one can get to describing unity in Indigenous knowledge is that knowledge is the expression of the vibrant relationships between the people, their ecosystems, and other living beings and spirits that share their lands. These multilayered relationships are the basis for maintaining social, economic, and diplomatic relationships-through sharing-with other people (Battiste & Henderson, 2000, p. 42).
The difference between the above definition and the definition from the Kanyen’kéha language is that the above definition and all Eurocentric definitions concerning Indigenous knowledge is the categorization of knowledge. “The system of classification and the definitions used within it are based on the desires or purposes of those who created the system. The definitions are judged to be valid if they advance the desires or purposes of the people who fabricated them, allowing them to measure, predict, or control events” (Battiste & Henderson, p. 36).
In Kanyen’kéha, the description of Indigenous knowledge is broad and all encompassing which is in direct contrast to the categorization methods of Eurocentric scholarship. The Kanyen’kéha description, meaning “our ways” includes all aspects of our knowledge and more importantly, our ways of being as opposed to categorizing it into one-word terms, which are most often nouns. The descriptive nature of our language does not allow us to classify the Eurocentric characteristics of Indigenous knowledge as nouns and therefore, life is given to “our ways”.
For example, the word to describe our language, onkwawén:na, means our language, our voice and our words. There is not one clear definition for the Kanyen’kéha word, it means all three. One cannot have a language without having a literal or a figurative voice or words. Furthermore, the way that we describe language, voice and words in isolation is owenna. In our language, all living things that exist in their natural state, created by the creator, begin with the letter o. Thus the base roots words for our language, our minds, thoughts, and our knowledge exits in a natural and living state as they all are words the begin with o. Other root words that begin with the letter O, include o’nikonhra meaning mind emotional state, thought; oriwa meaning business matter and issues.
Scholars who define and categorize Indigenous knowledge are exerting the power and control aspects as noted above. To change the way a people refer to or think about their own knowledge and beliefs; changes the scope and value of the belief system. Indigenous scholars have noted,
“…Eurocentric thinkers automatically assume the superiority of their worldview and attempt to pose it on others, extending their definitions to encompass the whole world. Typically, this quest for universal definitions ignores the diversity of the people of the earth and their views of themselves. This destructive process has been described as “ontological imperialism” and “cognitive imperialism” (Battiste & Henderson, 2000, p. 36-37).
Hawaiian scholar Manulani Aluli Meyer reiterates the notion of cognitive imperialism. She states,
“Knowledge is spirit. It is a life force connected to all other life forces. It is more an extension than it is a thing to accumulate…the spirituality in knowledge got entangled within the bureaucracy of its form and has been pulled back further and further away from the light of fundamental empirical knowing. It is now often confused with religion and relegated to back room lectures and dismissed by mainstream science” (Meyer, 2005, p. 50).
Meyer’s observations regarding the comparison between Indigenous knowledge and religion are evident within Indigenous communities. Speaking from my own experience in my home community, this situation truly exists. With the loss of language and culture and the transition from traditional practices to Christianization, some of our own people make the mistake of comparing our traditional ceremonies to religion when it is much deeper than that, as is explained by the term ni yonkwarihó:ten, “our ways”.
As Indigenous people, it is necessary when examining Indigenous knowledge, to use our own terminology to describe what we are talking about, to make comparisons, and to support arguments in an attempt to educate those around us as to who we really are and what we are all about. To utilize Eurocentric definitions alone limits us and allows others to view us, and “our ways,” through the Eurocentric lens. It is necessary to break free from the Eurocentric notions of Indigenous knowledge and once again, allow them to be ours. Without our language, this is not possible. It is through the language that our truly Indigenous thoughts, words and perspective are recognized and echo the ways of our ancestors. If we continue to utilize other languages, it is not our ancestors that or heard, it is another’s voice, an unfamiliar voice.
Linguistic and Philosophical Differences
To understand the concepts and philosophical values of Indigenous epistemology, it is easiest to use examples from the language. Many authors would assert that one’s language, philosophy and worldview and therefore knowledge base, cannot be separated. Benjamin Lee Whorf states,
“We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar or can in some way can be calibrated” (Carroll, 1956, p. v)
This is certainly arguable with respect to the Kanyen’kéha language in comparison to the English language, yet Eurocentric scholars and non-speaking Indigenous scholars continue to try and understand, describe, experience and recreate Indigenous knowledge from their English speaking minds.
There are some pieces of the language that are fundamental to understanding our difference of worldview. The Kanyen’kéha language is polysynthetic. This means the language is made up of small grammatical elements, each of which have specific meaning. These grammatical pieces are linked together to create words, which are equal to an entire sentence in English. Another interesting element of the language is that it is verb based and nouns are incorporated. Below is an example of the complexity and beauty of the Kanyen’kéha language. This word, which when translated into English means I want or need something literally means, itme, the earth will provide a benefit. The benefactive suffix is a feature of the language that is reflective of the Kanyen’kéha principles of giving thanks and recognizing the benefits that we receive. The difference in worldview is demonstrated in this simple word.
Dual feature – reinforces the relationship of two things
Prefix – It –> me
Infix – emphasizes the subject or prefix
Noun Root – For Earth/Land
Benefactive Suffix – denotes a benefit of some kind for the speaker
Furthermore, this word demonstrates that according to the above definition as presented by Battiste and Henderson, Kanyen’kéha is Indigenous knowledge. The word recognizes the relationship between people, the spiritual world, and the earth. An English word that encompasses all of the following elements that define Indigenous knowledge, does not exist.
Another example of our linguistic and philosophical differences is reflected in the writings ofManulani Aluli Meyer, she states, “The autonomous I is a new invention. It is not an Indigenous idea to view us separate from all things, nature and each other. We are all parts of a whole” (Meyer, 2001, p. 195). This concept holds true with Kanyen’kéha. Kanyen’kéha has three groups of pronominal prefixes. Pronominal prefixes represent the subject of the sentence (I, you, he, she, etc.). These groups or pronominal prefixes do not separate the subject from the natural world. For example, one set of pronominal prefixes represent itme/I, another, I/meit and the third set represents the relationship between people. Thus, there exists a metaphysical and physical relationship, the autonomous I as described by Meyer is non-existent.
Bearing this metaphysical relationship in mind, it makes sense that our Indigenous languages would be primarily verb-based languages. Things that in English we would describe by nouns are actually verbs and are named by their use. For example, a cup, yehnekaráhkwa is translated as something that holds water or liquid. Nouns are not seen as simply items, but are thought of in terms of their uses, therefore reiterating the importance of relationships.
The nouns that do exist in the Kanyen’kéha are mostly environmental nouns, meaning nouns such as river, lake, sky etc. These nouns are incorporated into verbs, which give them life. For example, takenontara’ne means I climbed (ascended) the mountain. The –nont- is the root word for mountain and is embedded in the word. The noun is not referred to on its own but in relation to the subject and the action.
These seemingly simple grammatical elements of the language, give way to an entirely different way of thinking and worldview. The idea of relationships is paramount. A speaker cannot eliminate the concept of relationships from speech at any point in time. Consider this, in English, one would say, “We should go for a walk.” In this statement, the speaker is speaking to one or more people about the act of walking, destination unknown, there is no relationship between the road and pathway the subjects will take. In Kanyen’kéha, we would say the following, E’thótsi taetewathahahkwà:na. This statement tells us that the speaker is speaking to three or more people and including him or herself in the group. Furthermore, the verb for walk literally means to pick up the road or path for some purpose. In Kanyen’kéha, there is a relationship between the act of walking and the path the subjects will take.
Another important element to Kanyen’kéha worldview is with respect to spirit. In English, we talk about our spirit as something separate from our mind. In Kanyen’kéha, the word for spirit, o’nikòn:ra means something like mind, spirit and sense. What is most interesting about the Kanyen’kéha concept of o‘nikòn:ra is that we cannot separate our emotions from our spirit or our thoughts. When we feel something, it affects our spirit and also affects our minds.
When we have negative thoughts, we have negative emotions and therefore our spirits are affected as well. When the incorporated noun root for o’nikòn:ra, -nikonh- is incorporated into words, it refers to all three concepts. For example, the word wake’nikonhráksen, which, in English means, I am sad, refers to having negative thoughts therefore affecting your spirit in a negative way. The idea that we all possess a spirit and that we cannot separate ourselves from it is a fundamental difference in thinking. It is our spirit that connects us to the world around us.
Willie Ermine describes the connection between language and spirit in his article, Aboriginal Epistemology, “Our languages suggest inwardness, where real power lies. It is in this space within the individual, that for the Aboriginal, has become the last great frontier and the most challenging one of all” (Battiste, 1995, p. 108). Here, Ermine metaphorically describes the struggle to maintain our spirits as Aboriginal people and he attributes our languages with this strength of spirit.
Eurocentrism and Indigenous Languages
Throughout the discussion within this paper the metaphysical, linguistic and semantic truths of the Kanyen’kéhaka paradigm have been discussed however little attention has been given to the creation of reality, language and social knowledge as presented by Berger and Luckmann. Fundamental to understanding Berger and Luckmann’s ideas is the concepts of reality and knowledge. Reality is defined as, “a quality appertaining to phenomena that we recognize as having a being independent of our own volition (we cannot “wish them away”)” (Berger & Luckman, 1966, p. 1). Furthermore, knowledge is defined as, “the certainty that phenomena are real and that they possess specific characteristics” (Berger & Luckmann, p.1). In this sense, reality and knowledge are intertwined in that when phenomena exist, there is knowledge attached and that knowledge becomes part of reality.
Regarding reality, Berger and Luckmann state, “Everyday life presents itself as a reality interpreted by men and subjectively meaningful to them as a coherent world” (Berger & Luckmann, 1966, p. 19). Looking at this definition from the perspective of an Indigenous researcher, it becomes apparent that by conducting research, which is subjective and by taking those subjective meanings and making them a part of the academic knowledge base, questions arise as to the validity of the meaning created. Put another way, as scholars continue to assert the Eurocentric mind and English language upon the Kanyen’kéha collective consciousness and likewise, Indigenous knowledge, the reality of the knowledge which they seek is that of an altered reality, a perversion of the truth from that of the Indigenous reality.
This is further supported by Berger and Luckmann’s correlation between reality and language. They state, “Everyday life is, above all, life with and by means of the language I share with my fellowmen. An understanding of language is thus essential for any understanding of the reality of everyday life” (Berger and Luckmann, 1966, p. 37). If reality is constructed based on shared language, then one can contend that those who do not share the same language base will have a different kind of mind, therefore different thoughts and perspectives and thus, a different reality. Therefore, as Berger and Luckmann claim, a shared language is key to understanding reality. Without it, reality differs and is therefore no longer the reality of the people studied.
Berger and Luckmann’s concern with the knowledge and its social construction contend that,
…the sociology of knowledge must first of all concern itself with what people “know” as “reality” in their everyday, non- or pre-theoretical lives. In other words, commonsense “knowledge” rather than “ideas” must be the central focus for the sociology of knowledge. It is precisely this “knowledge” that constitutes the fabric of meanings without which no society could exist (Berger and Luckmann, 1966, p. 15).
This defines the relationship between knowledge and society, whereby knowledge is constructed by meanings, which are created by people and their understandings from within any given society. This then reiterates the importance of a shared language. If a shared language does not exist, the shared meanings and understandings do not exist and reality or society does not exist. What then does this mean for the Indigenous world and the academic world?
For the Indigenous world, with the annihilation of Indigenous languages, the concept of reality and social knowledge has changed. The current state of Indigenous language is threatened by further disappearance of the language and as a result the fabric of Indigenous societies. For the academic world, this means a lack of true Indigenous knowledge to be research and to be added to the knowledge base of that reality. Without Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous studies, anthropology, archeology, biology and other academic programs that utilize Indigenous knowledge will suffer and die.
How did the breakdown of the sociology of Indigenous knowledge happen? Looking back in history, one must examine the reasons for the disappearance of Indigenous languages and therefore, Indigenous realities. Included in this investigation are the relationships between colonial governments and the disappearance of Indigenous languages.
Destroying the language of Indigenous people effectively breaks down the peoples collective historic memory, cultural, social, spiritual knowledge, all of which are necessary to be erased if one intends to cultivate or construct an alternate history, cultural, social, and spiritual understanding of the world or in other words, an alternate reality. Put another way, the driving force behind this was to assimilate the minds of a people.
It was for this reason the Department of Indian Affairs in Canada and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in the United States, shared ideas about the eradication of Indigenous minds through the effective use of the residential schools for the purpose of assimilating Indigenous peoples by way of attack on the fundamental base of the knowledge systems and their realities, their languages. One residential school survivor tells her story through her children’s storybook. She states,
We were told what time to get up, what time to eat, when to pray and when to go to the bathroom. Everything was time; everything was regulated, and I realize that during that process they had stolen my will…my will to do anything and my freedom of choice in all matters. If we didn’t do what we were told they’d take you to the principal’s office and they’d pull down your pants and give it to you on your bare ass. Also during this process, we weren’t allowed to speak our language and we were taught nothing about our traditional ways, or our heritage or anything about our culture… (Harper, 1993, p. 3).
Through her words and experiences, we can see the effects that the change in the author’s reality shook her. We can also see that the eradication of the language made it impossible for the author to pass to the next generation her knowledge of the language and about the teachings of her people. The question then arises, does the author share the same reality as those of her people that speak her language, according to Berger and Luckmann, and she does not. Her mind and reality differ. Thus the colonial governments’ attempt to assimilate the Indigenous people was moderately successful. Some elements of Indigenousness exist but her reality has been altered and her way of processing her reality has differed.
With the advent of residential schools, the colonial governments tenacious assimilationist policies began. It was the government’s intention to eradicate the problem of the Indians by using day schools and residential schools to take the Indian out of children. Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent General is quoted as saying,
…Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department, that is the whole object of this Bill (Haig-Brown, 1989, p. 27).
With governments taking this stance on the Indian problem, the assimilation efforts continued and more blatant statements and actions were made with respect to assimilation. “Their education must consist not merely of the training of the mind, but of a weaning from the habits and feelings of their ancestors, and the acquirements of the language, arts and customs of civilized life” (Haig-Brown, p. 25). This demonstrates the governments’ realization of the importance of language, reality and social knowledge. With the systematic destruction of these elements, the Indian people would cease to exist and the Department of Indian Affairs would not be necessary.
Despite the efforts of the colonial governments, pockets of language speakers still exist and are continuing to ensure that the language lives as well as the collective consciousness of their people. It continues to be an uphill battle and the academic world does not help. As a result of residential schooling, many survivors are looking to learn more about what they have lost and they therefore turn to books, books that have been written by Eurocentric academics who do not speak an Indigenous language and therefore do not understand the reality of the Indigenous people whom they study. This is problematic for both the Indigenous group and for the individual since the reality they read about is not the reality of the true people or Onkwehón:we but the academic’s perspective of the Onkwehón:we reality.
Growth and Creation of New Knowledge
Our lack of speakers of Kanyen’kéha and other Indigenous language has resulted in many changes with respect to Indigenous knowledge. Much of this can be attributed to the loss of Kanyen’kéha and Indigenous reality and language. For instance, without a sound knowledge of the structure and context of the Kanyen’kéha language, it is very easy to misinterpret what is being said, which results in misunderstandings that if written can be viewed as truths. For example, various stories and writings have been translated and through the translation, misunderstandings and misrepresentations have resulted in the creation of new or misrepresented learning. In Genocide of the Mind, James Aronhiotas Stevens makes reference to a Kanyen’kéha story. He writes,
On:wa’ ki’ wenhniserá:te kerihwaién:tere’s oh nahó:ten’ ratí:ton’. Ne kí:ken ken’ nón:we nikanà:taien’ tenwatté:ni’. Iah ó:ni onkwehonwehnéha’ thenhshako’nikonhrotákwen iah ó:ni ónhka’ thaonsaiontatíhseke’ nonkwaianerénhshera’ tenwatté:ni’. Ó:nen ki’tiotáhsawen tsi teiottenionhátie’ (Moore, 2003, p. 157).
He has this translated as the following:
Now, today, I understand what they meant by these stories. This very place will change. We Indians will no longer speak our language, and, along with our words, we will lose our law. Even now it has begun. It is changing (Moore, p. 157).
The literal meaning of the Kanyen’kéha words are much more descriptive than the paraphrased translation above. The literal meaning of the above Kanyen’kéha paragraph is as follows:
Now, today, I understand what they say. This very town/village will change. Not our way, he has taken their minds/spirits and nobody again could speak our language. They and I will lose our language/voice/words and too, our laws will change. Already, it has begun, it is going along changing (Moore, p. 157)
There are many elements that are left out of the paraphrased translation that are culturally relevant with respect to the seriousness of the storyteller’s claim. With the taking of our minds, our spirits are also taken which leaves as the hollow shells as Taiaiake Alfred is quoted as saying that the beginning of the paper. In addition, the storyteller makes reference to the loss of language but this means the loss of our words and our voice as well. How then, with the loss of voice can we as a people stand strong and speak for ourselves? These are the concerns with the translation from Kanyen’kéha to English or to any other language.
The richness, descriptiveness and metaphorical language cannot be preserved and interpreted outside of the original linguistic context. Thus, by allowing paraphrased passages that do not do justice to the actual, literal Kanyen’kéha meaning, individuals are enabling the unknowing population to take liberty in the creation and understanding of the language and the related knowledge.
Another instance occurs within the same chapter of Genocide of the Mind, however, this instance not only has issue with the translation, but the author proclaims that this knowledge is traditional knowledge. The author presents a Canoe Song, written in Kanyen’kéha and translated in English. However, again, there are issues with the translation of the Kanyen’kéha words. The English translation of the Kanyen’kéha is inaccurate. Furthermore, the author states, “This traditional song is originally intended to be sung while paddling, much like work songs that developed in African American slave communities, rhythmic tunes to help one get through a task” (Moore, 2003, p. 155).
Although the author has written this statement in his chapter, it is not referenced and to my knowledge and the knowledge of other traditional people, this is not the case. However, the disheartening issue is that since some individuals do not have traditional people to confirm information with, they are relying on texts written by others who proclaim their thoughts as knowledge. Thus, their thoughts and stories are perceived to be traditional knowledge but maybe more likely to be the creation of knowledge.
With this move from the Indigenous language to the use of European languages to refer to Indigenous knowledge, the creation and misrepresentation of Indigenous knowledge is inevitable. The only way to ensure that this does not occur is to be able to refer to the Indigenous knowledge through the use of the Indigenous language. With the current global efforts at language revitalization, this may again be possible within the academic realm whereby more Indigenous speaking academics will enter the academy and offer their own, true perspectives of themselves and their people.
The Kanyen’kéha collective consciousness lives within the Kanyen’kéha language. Only when the Eurocentric collective consciousness accepts that their language constructs their paradigm, will the scholars of their worldview be capable of truly understanding their limitations with respect to their Eurocentric linguistic limitations in understanding the Kanyen’kéha and other Indigenous paradigms.
Scholars continue to study Indigenous groups and attempt to understand and write about Indigenous knowledge, however, as Bishop states, “…traditional research has misrepresented Maori understanding and ways of knowing by simplifying, conglomerating, and commodifying Maori knowledge for “consumption” by the colonizers” (Bishop, 2005, p. 111).
This problem will continue to persist until Indigenous people around the globe start to speak up, educate and require researchers to achieve a level of fluency in the Indigenous language of the people they wish to study. Eurocentric scholars have endorsed the importance of Indigenous languages, now it’s their turn to put their words into action by making a commitment to learning the languages in an effort to learn and report about Indigenous knowledge in it’s original form.
As an Indigenous person, a Kanyen’kéha person, I can only hope that the contemporary academics will embrace the validity of Indigenous knowledge and the necessity of Indigenous language to its existence. I am aware of the severity of my claims however it is important for the reader to understand that I write these words from my own experiences. I too, like other Eurocentric academics saw my world through the Eurocentric lens. My first language is English and therefore I learned to think in English, understand in English and communicate in English.
Since learning Kanyen’kéha, I have had a life altering experience, a paradigm shift and an experience that not only changed my mind but changed my spirit, it changed the very essence of who I am. That being said, I understand the severity of my words, I understand the fear and contempt that some may feel regarding my statements. However, I understand that from an Indigenous perspective, from the Kanyen’kéha perspective, that my words are true. Tokénhske ki wáhi tsi nahò:ten wakhyá:ton (It is truly true what it is I have written), I know because it has happened to me and I live with my change in mind, spirit and world paradigm everyday.
Karenniyo/Caroline VanEvery-LeFort is from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She is from the Kanyenkehaka (Mohawk) Nation, Turtle Clan.