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Indigenous Knowledges  

Paul L. Gareau and Molly Swain

Epistemology is the theory of knowledge that represents the complex ways of understanding the world. It is defined as a systemic and reasoned discernment that generates a “justified belief” or “truth” distinct from “subjective opinion” and is based on ontological understandings of one’s existence or the “nature of being.” Epistemology and ontology for Indigenous nations/peoples is recognized as a holistic and plural concept of onto-epistemologies whereby understanding and being are shaped by experiential knowledges in traditional, storied places where distinct collectivities of humans and other-than-human nations/peoples intersect, interact, and coexist. Indigenous onto-epistemologies or knowledges are often referred to as lifeways to better describe the relational ethos of Indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing. However, these relational knowledges are systematically overlooked and/or denigrated in settler societies, which position Indigenous knowledges as cultural opinions rather than reasoned truth. This discrepancy reflects a long history of settler colonialism and anti-Indigenous racism rooted in Western European values of moral exclusivity, possessiveness, logocentrism, anthropocentrism, and androcentrism. These values and worldview continue to be deployed onto Indigenous nations/peoples and communities/collectivities through colonialism and racialization in ways that impede kinship relations and storied knowledges. Indigenous knowledges can be understood as the multivariate experiences of thinking, being, and relating between sovereign Indigenous nations/peoples and communities/collectivities. Based in critical Indigenous theory—itself largely shaped by the experiences of Indigenous scholars and Indigenous nations/peoples living with and resisting colonial nation-states in the Global North and Oceania—this discussion is about framing the definitions of epistemology and ontology in ways that are meaningful and resonant to Indigenous nations/peoples’ relational ethos and worldviews. This can be accomplished by situating and unpacking the dominant definitions of epistemology through modern Enlightenment values, settler colonialism, and White possessiveness, followed by outlining an interpretative framework called a hermeneutics of relationality. This hermeneutical framework is a generalizable and critical approach to encapsulating an understanding of Indigenous knowledges as relational, situated, collective, and co-constitutive.