Review: Indigenous Knowledge Event Series

Published on 12 February 2021 at 16:17

On the 25th and 28th of January and 1st of February the event series about indigenous knowledge took place. The aim of the series was to create a space where we can learn firsthand from indigenous people about topics such as identity and land, to create a space where personal, indigenous experiences can be shared. It concerned different aspects of knowledge and epistemology, compared to what is discussed at university. The importance was laid on indigenous knowledge systems and included different people from different indigenous communities from all over the world.

On Monday January 25, the series started with the theme indigenous identity. At this event, Erika was there to share her story. Stories of the people of her community, her experiences and the difficulties they have. Erika is a Native American woman from South Dakota, and she is an artist and a mother. The evening started off with a screening of the documentary ‘The Kids Are Not Alright’, portraying  the situation of Maori youth in New Zealand and their struggle to connect to their culture. The criminality and suicide rate amongst these youth is very high, and a project of the Ministry for Children has been developed to help them (re)connect to their Maori roots as a way of getting back on the right track. Erika explained that they deal with very similar problems; mental health issues and criminality are very present struggles amongst indigenous people. Also, she explained, there is a lot of pressure on people to do well, to break the cycle of crime and abuse, and they have to manage expectations from a society that does not seem to understand their ways of living. Being able to connect to this part of your identity, express yourself, and fight for your position within a society is difficult, to say the least. The event ended with an open dialogue, where we and our guests spoke and expressed our feelings towards our identities which gave us a lot of insight to who we are in our society, and who we want to be.


On Thursday January 28, Elle Merete Omma and Céline Chautuileo Kun shared their knowledge and experiences on indigenous land. Elle Merete Omma is Saami and Céline Chautuileo Kun is Mapuche-Pewenche. Their stories were very personal and, still, they could relate to each other in a great sense. The event revolved around the (sacred) relationship of the Saami and the Mapuche people towards their land and how loosing and being robbed of their land changes their societies. It was very surprising to us to hear that the same experiences were shared among two indigenous tribes from completely different parts of the world. Small practical exercises throughout the event were facilitated by our speakers to teach us to reconnect to the land, to our land. This is a tool that we were taught to use whenever we feel disconnected, like in times of lockdown for example, to not only reconnect to the nature around us, but also to other people. A discussion about the topics introduced by the speakers continued for a while and many guests were expressing their experiences. 


On Monday February 1, we ended our series on indigenous knowledge with a screening of the documentary ‘Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change’. This documentary was chosen because it is very critical to western scientific knowledge and understanding, and because it connects indigenous knowledge to climate change, a topic that is one of the largest pressing issues in the world and a highly researched topic at the Wageningen University as well. This film shows how the knowledge from the Inuit about their landscape and the animals they live with, is becoming useless due to climate change. The Inuit communities around the world are the communities which are most impacted by climate change and their environment is changing at the fastest rates. Their knowledge about reading the signs of the wind and the herding patterns of the animals they live with, is becoming unusable as these knowledges do not seem to be a reliable source of information any longer.  This film was very critical and started a long debate about the place of indigenous knowledge against scientific knowledge and if we have a responsibility to assure such knowledge to survive. 

This series on indigenous knowledge was highly valuable for us to learn, and for the speakers to have a safe space where they could tell us about their experiences and hope and fears for the future. It became apparent that this topic is not integrated enough into the university setting as many of our guests expressed their wish to learn more about this. We were pleasantly surprised by the emotional and personal conversations that arose following the presentations and films. We hope to be able to make indigenous knowledge systems a recurring topic in our work from now on.

- Review by Anastasia Körner and Ezra Litjens