Book Title: Kaandossiwin: How We Come To Know

Author: Kathleen E. Absolon

Review by: Athavarn Srikantharajah 

Disclaimer

This document was produced by a non-white settler on Turtle Island. CMIC operates on stolen unceded Algonquin Territory, and attempts to be cognisant of the role of colonization in this work. I would like to make clear that I am a first-generation Tamil person on this land, whose family was forced here from Sri Lanka because of forms of colonization that affected my people, but through a refugee program established through colonial laws and governance. I have only received formalized education through colonial institutions. These experiences shape my worldview, and how I interpret Indigenous ways of knowing.

Introduction

Cover page of the book Kaandossiwin: How we Come to Know, by Kathleen E.Absolon

This document serves as a summary of Kathleen E. Absolon’s Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know, and the key teachings that may help folks involved with CMIC or taking the certification program. With Western scientific methodologies dominating academia and many other spaces, it is important to consider other pathways to knowledge and understanding when administering a certification program for community mobilization. One such pathway is through Indigenous pedagogical approaches. Though it is difficult for non-indigenous, specifically non-Annishanaabe folks to adopt these approaches in research, there are key learnings that can guide the way in which we conduct research from the context of our worldviews and perspectives. Absolon’s book is an examination of Indigenous methodologies told through her specific Anishanaabe worldview. This book explores broader ways of knowing by exploring 11 graduate theses by Indigenous scholars. Absolon explores the petal flower as a metaphor for how we acquire knowledge.

Positionality

Indigenous methodology centres the knowledge found from within. We must acknowledge that how we come to know is living and fluid, and that these processes include the spirit, the heart, and the mind. Before beginning the search for knowledge, one must consider the spiritual, cultural, political, and social effects that are present within their life and worldview.

According to Lester Rigney, an Indigenous Australian Scholar (1999), “[lived experiences] speak on the basis of these experiences and are powerful instruments by which to measure the equality and social justice of society.” With this in mind, Absolon discusses repeatedly throughout the text that it is important to acknowledge that within Indigenous epistemologies, one does not attempt to interpret lived experiences through another’s worldview. Absolon frequently cites the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Decolonizing and Indigenizing (Re)Search

In the book, Absolon recognizes that colonized knowledge is meant to dominate, within it ignorance prevails, and that through it colonization and superiority are internalized. Thus, decolonization and Indigenizing is “about both knowing, and having critical consciousness about our cultural history.”

Approaches

Within this framework of (re)search, the following must be taken into consideration:

  • Community: community should be respected, and each community’s ownership of the research is honoured.
  • Respect: Absolon warns to avoid voyeurism, outsider interpretation, objectification of culture, and reductionist analysis. “Within Aboriginal culture, one does not inquire or tell about matters that do not directly concern one.”
  • Take accountability: claim and openly state who you are before you begin your search for knowledge.
  • Non-neutrality: understand that our voices are not neutral. How we come to know is linked to our historical, political, legal, economic, geographical, cultural, spiritual, environmental, and experiential contexts.
  • Knowledge is relational: knowledge is derived through our mind, body, and spirit, in connection with all of Creation.
  • Solution-focused: Absolon states that “the seeking of knowledge has been solution focused and often has an underlying purpose of survival.”
  • Unstructured: within Indigenous epistemologies there are no prescriptions or formulas, models are always multi-dimensional, layered, and wholistic.

The Petal Flower Model

In the book, Absolon uses the Petal Flower as a model for how we come to know. This for several reasons. First, the flower’s survival is dependant on several internal and external factors. The components of the flower are interrelated and interdependent. Furthermore, it is earth centred and exists within a relationship with all of Creation. The flower is also cyclical, as it changes constantly. Finally, it has a spirit and life that is impacted by the environment within which it exists. The following are taken from Absolon’s summary of the model.

Indigenous Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands by Mrs. Frances Sinclair, Plate 17 (Argemone glauca), 1885. Image produced in the context of colonial dominance in Hawaii.

Roots

  • The roots are the grounding for Indigenous methods.
  • The life and presence of the flower depends on its roots.
  • Prioritize Indigenous knowledge, worldviews and principles in the research.
  • Position Indigenous ways at the centre and refuse to see them in relation to western/dominant ways of knowing.

Flower Centre: Self

  • The centre of the flower represents self and self in relation to the re-search.
  • Place yourself at the central presence in the research.
  • Know your location: who you are, what you know and where you are from.
  • Commit to re-searching relationships, Indigenous peoples and communities.
  • Dedicate to recovering humanity and rehumanizing knowledge production.
  • Remember you motives and re-member your relations.

Leaves: The Journey

  • The leaves enable the photosynthesis of knowledge: transformative journeys.
  • The leaves embody the journey of the self through the research process.
  • Embark on processes and travel on search journeys that are emergent, transformative, learning and healing.
  • Attune to process.

Stem: Critical Consciousness and Supports.

  • The stem represents the methodological backbone and connecter between all parts of the whole.
  • Have a strong backbone: a confrontation of colonial history with socio-political honesty.
  • Integrate Indigenous knowledge and decolonizing ideologies, thoughts, feelings, frameworks, and models of practice.
  • Acknowledge the supports of ancestors, family, community, Elders, and Creation.
  • Capitalize on our strengths and supports throughout.

Petals: Diversity in Methods

  • The petals represent the diversity of Indigenous re-search methodologies.
  • Accept diverse, eclectic and varied Indigenous approaches as essential and useful for Indigenous scholars’ research.
  • Use a wholistic and cyclical approach that attends to Spirit, heart, mind and body.
  • Use methods that are culturally relative and rooted in doing and being. Methodologies rooted in oral traditions involve ceremony, song, stories, teaching and knowledge that are creative, diverse, visual, oral, experiential, and sensory based.

Environmental Contexts

  • The environmental context of the petal flower influences the life of Indigenous methodologies in the academy and affects Indigenous re-searchers who are trying to advance their theories and methods.
  • Make strategic decisions related to coping with obstacles and gatekeepers, the committee and writing oral traditions.
  • Negotiate and deal with the clash of academic and Indigenous theories, methods, and expectations to create change.

Conclusion

As a student of social sciences at the University of Ottawa, and having only ever learned to learn through colonial methodologies, Kaandossowin: How We Come to Know has been a revolutionary process of dismembering a poisonous attempt to re-member my body, mind, and spirit into a way of knowing that is relational. I was able to apply to some of the core principles in an anti-colonial context as well as broader Tamil/Desi ways of knowing. As Absolon states in her book, the active process of her writing this book on Indigenous methodologies is in and of itself apart of the process of decolonization and an act of defiance against colonial education.

Kathleen E. Abolon (Minogiizhigokwe). (2011). Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know.

Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.

 To maintain personal accountability, please feel free to reach out to me at s.athavarn@gmail.com to discuss my summary of the text further.