This was originally posted at SA-Exchange, but the site has since shut down.
Sandra D. Styres 2017 book Pathways for Remembering and Recognizing Indigenous Thought in Education: Philosophies of Iethi’nihsténha Ohwentsia’kékha (land) is a key addition to the literature around understanding core concepts in Indigenous philosophies of education.
The audience of this book is academics who want to be able to express the specific philosophies that Indigenous people bring to education. It is not a book aimed at practitioners so much as researchers. Although it touches on story as a teaching method (Archibald, 2008) it does not utilize that as a primary method itself. There is some teaching through story but not nearly as much as a book like Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This book falls somewhere between western academic writing and Indigenous teaching through story, and that is one of its strengths. In addition, while Styres is trying to explain concepts that are common to many Indigenous peoples, she is approaching educational philosophy from a Haudenosaunee perspective.
The writing can be dense, but Styres is trying to be very specific and explanatory and get across concepts that may be new to people. After reading the book once it would be advantageous to re-read it and partake in some of the iterative learning that the book discusses.
The book is divided into five parts, utilizing the concept of circularity and iterative development to link them and to present them with the conceptual framework of the medicine wheel. The sections are: (re)centering, (re)membering, (re)cognizing, (re)generating, and (re)actualizing (Styres, 2017).
K-12 education and post secondary education has traditionally been designed to privilege a Eurocentric view and it is difficult to see the flaws in it if you are examining it with the same view that created it. And so Styres begins with (re)centering where she explains that in order to truly critically analyze western educational concepts you need to look at it with a different perspective, something she calls decentering.
She explains that the commonality in Indigenous education is that it is land based. Within that land based concept are both the concepts of language and self-in-relationship. Tied in with these three concepts which are discussed in depth is the idea of circularity and iterative learning. In iterative learning the learner must come back to a topic again and again, bringing what you have learned in the meantime to bear on your understanding. Stories are inherently circular in that once you know the story, revisiting it will show you more. Every revisit adds more depth.
The second section has to do with understanding what “self-in-relationship” means. The key parts of this are Interrelatedness, Interdependence, and Interconnectedness. This is connected in with 7 generational thinking as described by other philosophers.
Self-in-relationship doesn’t care about what the colonial concept of “Indian” is supposed to be and instead focuses on the relationship with the land/animals/people/plants. She also explains that Identity is about you and your actions with a community, not about you claiming that community. Self-in-relationship is action, not blood-quantum.
The third section has to do with knowledge. Styres explains that ancient knowledge is still relevant because they are living, not static. The key concept is that of “place” based knowledge, which is particular/story/specific.
In the fourth section she discusses relationship to power and rational thought.
Relationships to power are different in Indigenous concepts. She uses the term dominant privilege rather than white privilege as she is trying to explain a colonial concept of power as domination rather than the Indigenous perspective of power as a temporary leadership within a community relationship.
Rational thought is not exclusively western. The difference she puts forward is that the western concept of rational thought assumes that one can reach/rationalize everything through intellect alone. The Indigenous concept on the other hand is that intellect isn’t enough, it must include the creative, spiritual, and metaphoric as well. Not only that, but that the process is never finalized. There is no point now or in the future at which all is known or rationalized, but instead it is an endlessly iterative concept.
There is no point at which you cannot revisit something and learn more.
All of this comes together in (re)actualizing. Here she utilizes story to bring the reader through her concepts again. From this she hopes to begin moving the reader on to new ideas and concepts in Indigenous Thought in Education.
Archibald, J. (2008). Indigenous storywork : educating the heart, mind, body, and spirit. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Styres, S. D. (2017). Pathways for Remembering and Recognizing Indigenous Thought in Education: Philosophies of Iethi’nihsténha Ohwentsia’kékha (land). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
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