Introducing “Critical Ontology and Indigenous Ways of Being”:
Using Indigenous Perspectives to Consider Conflict
The author of this article, Joe L. Kincheloe, served as Canada Research Chair at the Faculty of Education at McGill University and was the founder of The Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy. From this foundation in critical pedagogy, his chapter proposes tenets of critical ontology to penetrate the identity construction of would-be educators and researchers. He uses Indigenous epistemologies as foils to the Cartesian construction of self, society, and reality, and pushes scholars to engage with the Other as a way to critically examine the Western construction of selfhood.
(Click HERE for a wonderful video in which Kincheloe elucidates some of his pedagogical beliefs)
Engaging with Kincheloe was easy for me as I also subscribe to the values of critical pedagogy (that being exposure of inequality in the dominant paradigm through examination of and action on the emergent nature of reality, or conscientization). The reading made me question when and where my own critical consciousness awakened. I wish I could say that it was when I first went abroad and lived for 4 years in Asia, but I know that my first foray into the land of the Other was not marked by reflexivity, but by exoticism. I found the cultural differences fascinating, engaging and interesting, but had very little to say about the contributions these cultures made to my understanding of the world and myself. It was not until I was introduced to Sociology, Linguistics and Literary Theory and then participated in a study abroad program to Cuba that I began to see differently. When I returned, all I could do was shake my head at all those who claimed the greatest gift travel could offer was knowing how wonderful Canada is when you return.
So with this intimate knowledge of critical ontology, one could dream I have “cultivate[d] humility without which wisdom is not possible” (Kincheloe 198), but the waking reality is far more steeped in Western ideology than I care to admit. I recently realized this when I came into a heated discussion with my boyfriend’s brother (I’ll call him Tom) over topics ranging from economics and politics, to the value of socialism and community, to extractive industry and the philosophy of work. I left the conversation exhausted and was frustrated with myself at my inability to communicate my point effectively. As we both retired, he mentioned the community group he is a part of and the work they were doing on land use in the area. As I went to sleep that night, my own entrenched Cartesian dualism struck me hard. Why did I feel the need to push him into my own way of thinking? Why did I refuse to concede any of his points? How had everything become so black and white?
On my second reading of Kincheloe, I decided to take direction and investigate Indigenous modes of conflict resolution. Perhaps other cultures could assist me in further extracting myself from the Western individualist perspective. While I have only scratched the surface in this research, I have a couple preliminary considerations to offer here.
Conflict resolution in Ni-Vanuatu society uses storytelling and metaphor to avoid personal attack while exploring contentious issues. Further, they use song, poetry and silence to allow space when debates become heated. I had considered this tactic that night as I lay awake in frustration. Why had I not asked Tom earlier how his worldview manifest in stories of his life? Would this have revealed his involvement with the community land-use board and offered a different metaphor to examine the situation? Of course I also wondered why I couldn’t just keep my mouth shut!
In the Mi’kmaq society, the web of relationship is more important than the assertion of absolute righteousness. Harmonious relationship with all our relations (including the animate and inanimate natural world) is of utmost importance. The most striking image from this reading is the sacred circle, a symbol common to many Indigenous groups. “The traditions of the circle suggest seasons, lifecycles and eco-spiritual forces that both govern and protect human life and ecological balance” (Bowers 295). When conflict occurs, it is never the individual who stands trial, but his or her entire family, their extended community, and even the land. A circle cannot be formed with only two individuals present. If we are to consider our own moments of conflict, multiple relationships are pulled into play as we confide in our closest friends and allies and rally our strength to continue the push toward “right”. Perhaps if our society asked all those people to come to the town square to satisfy these conflicts, we would be more willing to approach each other with the humility that denotes wisdom.
My questions to you:
On page 195, Kincheloe speaks of the potential for Western life to appear as bizarre to someone from another culture. Share an experience where difference has revealed your own bizarre norms. Alternately, watch this scene from God Grew Tired of Us and comment on the notion of freedom presented.
In my example above, it can be argued that I privileged my own values of critical ontology over Tom’s belief in a dominant Western narrative. Is Kincheloe’s reading meant to only dismantle Western ideals and hold up the value of Other ways? In this same vein of questioning, I’d like to highlight Timothy’s response in Week 5 where he is “irritated that all aspects of colonialism are assumed to be horrible, catastrophic, and never in the best interests of the colonized.” How can we extract the positive contributions from the colonialism? What are they?
Thanks in advance for your responses!
Bowers, Kisiku Sa’qawei Paq’tism Randolph. “From Little Things Big Things Grow, From Big Things Little Things Manifest.” AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples 8:3 (2012): 290-304. Web 5 June 2014.
Kincheloe, Joe L. Critical Ontology and Indigenous Ways of Being: Forging a Postcolonial Curriculum.” Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations. Ed. Yatta Kanu. Toronto: U of T, 2009. 181-202. Print.
Walker, Polly O. “Storians: Building on Indigenous Knowledge to Enhance Ni-Vanuatu Mediative Capacity.” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 30:5 (2013): 309-328. Web. 4 June 2014.