“Native science” in food systems: a wide range of tribal processes of perceiving, thinking, acting, and ‘coming to know’’

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[…] An intimate, long-term relationship with traditional territories also gives rise to Indigenous systems of governance, social organization, and science. Philosopher Gregory Cajete refers to this as ‘Native science,’ the practice and product of a “lived and storied participation” with the totality of creation, entailing “a wide range of tribal processes of perceiving, thinking, acting, and ‘coming to know’‘” (2004, p. 46). Examples of ‘Native science’ at work in food systems are among the best documented, having commanded the attention of natural and social scientists for at least the past century and a half.

The process is both simple and complex. Engaging with the land—or rather, with the enspirited and sensate gestalt of plants, animals, weather, and geography that is ‘the land’—yields a formidable pool of knowledge. This initial pool is augmented by inspiration, enriched via communication with outsiders, refined through continual trial-and-error, and passed down by cultural transmission (see among others, Berkes 2008). Even traditional Indigenous food storage techniques can be traced to a discourse between humans, spirits, plants, and animals, as Shuswap Elder Mary Thomas points out:

See these scattered pine cone pieces? […] If you look carefully, you will find a pile of pieces nearby. Underneath the pile will be a cache of pine cones belonging to a squirrel. The little cones will be arranged in rows with the tops pointed downward. This is what my Grandmother taught me. When I was a little girl, I asked my Grandmother why the cones were all pointed downward. “Because,” she told me, “when the winter snows begin to melt, and water drips into the cache, it will run downward off the cones and not wreck the nutmeats inside them.” I asked, “How do the little squirrels know to do that?” Granny said, “They learn like we do, and then they pass their knowledge on to us.” (Greenwood and de Leew 2007, p. 49)
There is, as one might expect, a linguistic component to this scientific endeavour. Okanagan Elders understand that language is place-specific because it is given to the people by the land. Since the knowledge housed in each territory is unique, a shift in location catalyzes new vocabularies to voice new understandings (Armstrong 1998). Socio-political formations are similarly rooted, as in general, the Indigenous perception of clan and kinship systems amongst other actors in the natural world correlates with human political organization along these same lines (Deloria 2000). Because of this conceptualization of ‘land’ and ‘place,’ removal from, commodification of, or destruction in traditional territories is a simultaneously physical, economic, social, and metaphysical rupture, as well as an emotional and intellectual blow. […]

Sam Grey is a doctoral student in Political Science and a graduate research fellow at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. She holds prior degrees from Trent University (BAs, International Development Studies, Philosophy, and Indige- nous Studies) and the University of Victoria (MA, Human and Social Development). Sam has published on Indigenous women’s human rights, decolonization praxis, and historical injustice; and is the editor of three books on Indigenous knowledge and rights-based advocacy. Her current work explores the intersection of politics, emotion, and virtue.

Raj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at the university currently known as Rhodes University (UHURU), South Africa. Learn more >>

Source: Food sovereignty as decolonization: some contributions from Indigenous movements to food system and development politics by Sam Grey & Raj Patel © Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014
URL: http://rajpatel.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Grey-Patel-2015-Food-Sovereignty-as-Decolonization.pdf
Date visited: 15 January 2019

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