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On the eve of Canada’s 150th anniversary an equitable relationship between First Peoples and “settlers”/“newcomers” is still out of reach (cf. findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015, and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996, twenty years apart). Extending law professor Kathleen Mahoney’s “Canada’s origin story” SSHRCC keynote (November 2015), I propose to postpone the “Canada 150” graduation until we’ve taken a make-up “Canada 101” course, addressing whose-ecological-knowledge-counts as a top-priority topic.

I submit that, in conceptualizing the future of this country alternatively to its ongoing, if chronically unacknowledged, colonialism, practice-justified Indigenous knowledges – at their philosophical core – are well worth employing on a par with re-examined(!) European-descended knowledges. Drawing on the work of Indigenous scholars Winona Laduke (1999), Deborah McGregor (2005, 2008), Richard Atleo (2011 & elsewhere), a.o., I compare (non-)Indigenous environmental philosophies in search of coalitional yet diversified, non-colonial thinking and action. “Traditional ecological knowledge” (TEK), a notion introduced by the mainstream for the Indigenous eco-epistemological orientation, but predictably eschued by Indigenous scholars (discussed in McGregor, 2005), is given a two-way upgrade, allowing Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledges to cross-pollinate or specialize, depending on the case, in informing environmental policy-making.

The study explores the correspondences between epistemological issues of paradigm (in)commensurability (per Kuhn’s “scientific revolution” model) and actual lived experiences of environmental injustices, notably in Canada’s “fourth world” and the global “third world” (see Shiva 1989/2010, a.o.), largely perpetrated by Canada et al.’s “first worlds”. Given the increasingly visible global-scale ecological crisis, which has come to be recognized as related to the industrialized-technologized lifestyle of the (ironically) “developed” world, attention is directed to lessons to be gained from the historically proven sustainable practices of “pre-contact” societies, and their persisting present-day descendants. I, moreover, insist on also looking at Europe’s own pre-Industrial ways of life and underlying worldviews (see, e.g., Lorimer’s 1998 edited volume), from which Western modernity, and even more so current free market economy, have drastically, and ultimately (self-)destructively, departed.

This allows me to argue, on some level critically/pedagogically and on another post-dichotomously/coalitionally, that the notion of TEK is not precluded from reference to what Europe “knew” (no different than world-wide wisdom traditions) and chose to sidestep through its double-edged values of “progress”/“civilization”/“development”. Sampling 25 centuries, there is a record of reverence for nature and “paradigmatic rebellions” (Rorty, 1979) against its subjection in the thought of … Sophocles,… Hildegard von Bingen,… Goethe,… Hans Jonas…

The educational philosophy message is that an up-to-date “Canada 101” epistemology informing public/personal decisions would invite the traditional knowledges of a re-emerging Indigenous North America, while heeding the wake-up calls of contemporary science (Hansen 2009, Schneider 2009, Weaver 2009 on climate) and concurring theoretical stances, without ignoring nature-mindful European (and, likewise, world-wide) legacies. Rather than denying “[economic] growth” (Jackson, 2009), wellbeing (cf. Anishinaabe minobimaatisiiwin “right/good living”) would entail growing together in (ecological) wisdom as far as economy, technology, and overall way-of-life. By ecosystemic interconnectedness, the blueprint for an equitably knowledgeable Canada that is yet to be born calls forth a similarly upgraded Earth.

Keywords: philosophy; systems theory/social systems, cultural imperialism, post-colonialism, policy, ethics, environmental journalism


Atleo, E. Richard [a.k.a. Umeek] (2004) Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth Worldview. Vancouver, Toronto: UBC Press.

———- (2011) Principles of Tsawalk: An Indigenous Approach to Global Crisis. Vancouver, Toronto: UBC Press.

Haraway, Donna (1988) Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies 14(3), pp. 575-599 (Autumn 1988). Appears in S. Harding, ed., The Feminist Standpoint Theory

Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies. pp. 81-101. New York & London: Routledge.

Carson, Rachel Silent Spring

Code, Lorraine (2006) Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location. Oxford, UK: Oxfod University Press.

Laduke, Winona (1999) All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Cambridge, MA: Southend Press.

Lorimer, David, ed. (1998) The Spirit of Science: From Experiment to Experience. Edinburgh, Scotland: Floris Books.

McGregor, Deborah (2005) Traditional Ecological Knowledge: An Anishnabe Woman’s Perspective. Atlantis 29(2), Spring/Summer 2005, pp.103-109.

———- (2008) Linking Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Western Science: Aboriginal Perspectives from the 2000 State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies XXVIII, 1(8):139-158.

Rorty, Richard (1979) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Shiva, Vandana (1989/2010) Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. London: Zed. Republished in 2010 by

South End Press.

———- (1997) Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Boston, MA: South End Press.