Indigenous enoughness: Perspectives are more complex than they seem.

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(Originally posted on Activating TOK) Why do I have such ambivalent reactions to this video “Enoughness”, when it is so obviously a splendid film to take to a TOK class?  Not only does it give a short, pithy summary of perspectives on the natural world and their implications for how we treat it, with graphic illustration, but it also supports a new area of knowledge in the TOK course, indigenous knowledge.  Moreover, the value it places on sustainability puts it utterly in harmony with IB education.  But….but…but for me, perhaps it’s my objections to it rather than my general endorsement that make me consider it particularly valuable for TOK.

  1.  At first glance…description and analysis

At a first glance, the video could hardly provide more effective support for course ideas. The idea that how we think affects how we act in the world is fundamental to TOK’s emphasis on learning to think critically.  The companion idea that understanding different cultural perspectives is enriching is fundamental to both TOK and IB goals.

On a first viewing, I would encourage students to analyze the perspectives as they are presented in the video for their components (TOK Course Book, page 29): their assumptions, their values, the effect of assumptions and values on how they affect what is seen as important, their processes of validation (with confirmation bias possibly involved), and their implications for how we act in the world.

  1.  At second glance…counter-argument

It’s at a second glance, though, that the film gets even more interesting for TOK.  Although I accept that a short film must simplify ideas, I find myself protesting.  Is the indigenous perspective truthfully so homogenous?  Are there — or have there been — no indigenous groups who acted destructively in the environment or who did not embrace equality and cooperation in their societies?  And is the western perspective as uniform as it is presented as being?  Are there — or have there been — no non-indigenous groups within the west who did not treat the natural world destructively and did share cooperatively?  Has there been no opposition from within the west to the cultural view attributed to it?   Of course there has been!

I can accept broad generalization even on a concept as complex as “culture” — but not without acknowledgement of the difficulties even of defining it (and cultural anthropology insists that there are many) and not without at least a recognition that the perspectives are not uniformly held by all subgroups and their members.

If you choose to use the film in class, I recommend encouraging your students not to emulate it in two regards in their own class presentations involving perspectives:  first, they should hesitate to present perspectives as homogenous and uniformly belonging to a whole group; second and related, they should acknowledge counter-argument.

  1. At a third glance…recognition of framing argument

It’s evident, though, that the video is not simply contrasting two worldviews and their implications for the sake of comparison but is pointedly drawing lessons from the indigenous worldview and way of life as pertinent to our survival in the present and future.  The generalizations on culture are being used for a purpose — presenting the perspective, in turn, of the filmmakers.  The comparison is being made to argue for living more sustainably.  To what extent does it matter if the cultural antithesis is oversimplified for the purpose of argument?  This is a serious question.

It’s easy, too, to see the film as carrying some pride in heritage, a native heritage that has been historically disparaged by colonial powers but whose wisdom in sustainable living has become increasingly recognized. The filmmakers are from an indigenous organization, First Peoples, whose website provides some good materials for a TOK treatment of indigenous knowledge.  The “indigenous perspective” they present in the video may have been a matter of informal cultural heritage, but the one they deal with and develop themselves is much more than purely heritage.  They are using the tools of contemporary communication, with conscious social purpose, and building the shared perspective.

To the extent that there genuinely is an “indigenous perspective” uniting widely different groups for their common characteristics, it hasn’t “just happened”.  It has been — and continues to be — the product of relevant groups working together (as in other areas of knowledge).  As we treat indigenous knowledge in Theory of Knowledge, we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that it is exclusively something of the past.  The people are still here, and they are forging a larger common identity across groups of great diversity.  And, significant to what we hope to gain from different cultures, they are offering a perspective on the world that is strikingly pertinent to the contemporary world.

One thought on “Indigenous enoughness: Perspectives are more complex than they seem.

  1. I would like to thank Eileen for her clear substantive analysis and review of my video. It is exciting and deeply honoring to have my work taken with such deep academic and thoughtful consideration.

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