Moving Towards Sapience

Embracing Indigenous Knowledge as a way forward.

In looking for an elective to fill my university schedule this year, my curiosity was most piqued by the idea of a women’s studies minor. I can say most people who I shared this with rolled their eyes or made a joke, but I tried to assure them (not always calmly) that the women’s studies classes at my university delved into more than just feminist issues. Race, class, power, privilege, colonialism, oppression, you name it, there’s a course about it! These issues are (not always, but often) very interesting to the very same demographic of our film, which tackles capitalism and corporatocracy. All these themes are intertwined.

So, last week I attended my first Women’s Studies class titled “Indigenous Traditions, Women and Colonialism”. The class arrangement was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. We did not sit one behind or beside the other, but in a circle. We were told what the circle represents; that we should always speak to the center of the circle and not directly to the professor. We began the class with a prayer which—as my teacher noted—really helps you remember what’s important, for example nature and its beauty. It is easy to forget such things when sitting in a concrete building in downtown Montreal.

Not only was the first class a great experience in and of itself, but then came the weekly readings. We were instructed to read a text entitled “Indigenous Knowledge as the Basis for Our Future” by Priscilla Settee. In it was a beautiful definition for Indigenous Knowledge (sourced from The Canadian International Development Agency) that resonated with me, especially considering the message behind our film, Sapience.

“‘Indigenous Knowledge represents the accumulated experience, wisdom and know-how unique to cultures, societies, and/or communities of people living in an intimate relationship of balance and harmony with their local environments. These cultures have roots that extend into history beyond the advent of colonialism. They stand apart as distinctive bodies of knowledge, which have evolved over many generations within their particular ecosystem, and define the social and natural relationships with those environments. They are based within their own philosophic and cognitive system, and serve as the basis for community-level decision-making in areas pertaining to governance, food security, human and animal health, childhood development and education, natural resource management and other vital socio-economic activities.’ Some see IK as a last hope in implementation of a sustainable future.”

The last sentence, written by Settee, was exactly what I had been thinking while reading the definition. This idea is highlighted during our interviews with Clayton Thomas-Muller, a Tar Sands campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network, as well as John Perkins, who spent many years living among Indigenous communities around the world. This idea is that we have much to learn from Indigenous people if we are to begin working through the problems that are pushing our society towards collapse. Listening to what they have to say may truly be our last chance at a healthy, sustainable world. One where we value nature and other living beings, cooperate with one another, and bring ourselves back to the level of local communities. Learning more about Indigenous Knowledge is paramount to moving our world—and ourselves—towards Sapience.

2 comments to “Moving Towards Sapience”

  • Adam Daniel Mezei, September 21, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Young people seem to be tallying it up all wrong nowadays..rather than stock up their quotient of friends/mates with as many folks of experience (read: older, wiser) as they can, they focus on the short-term low-hanging fruit, here-today-gone-tomorrow options.

    It’s staggering how inadequately we’re girding ourselves and stockpiling for the future, how the prevalent attitude of must-have right now is the dominant mode of thinking and how anything that disrupts the attention spans of up-and-comers from their shiny metal objects and sexy doodads is responded to with an unusual degree of aggression — or worse — passive-aggressive behavior. Don’t believe me?

    Try pulling someone away from their smartphone for a spell and see how they react…scary…

  • Jonathon Corbiere, September 21, 2011 at 11:28 am

    It is remarkable that we have cast away thousands of years of knowledge for the shallow financial based intellect we all seem to treat as a our religion-absolute. Indigenous peoples long ago realized that the only true and lasting knowledge was that which guaranteed a sustainable and prosperous future for humanity. Their Wisdom offers our civilization a road to recovery – if we would only have the courage to collectively demand it.