Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 16, No 1 (2020)

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The Indigenization of Academia and Ontological Respect

Wendell Kisner

Abstract


 

 

My intent in this essay is not to discuss the actual content of Indigenous experiences and knowledges, as I have neither the requisite expertise nor experience to do so with any competence. Rather, what I wish to discuss are some implicit pitfalls in the idea of "Indigenization" when advocated in the context of Western metaphysical assumptions that have not been made explicit. Like it or not, this context is one in which we all now stand, but it is also disrupted by very different contexts, as revealed by the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission for instance. More specifically, I wish to raise the possibility that an implicit ontological framework derived from Western European history may surreptitiously guide the negotiation of the interface between Western and Indigenous scholarship, and do so in a way that, rather than bringing about decolonization, actually may perpetuate colonization at more subtle and insidious levels. Drawing upon Heidegger's work, I argue that making such ontological frameworks explicit increases the chance of success for any such interface by opening the door to what I will call "ontological respect" (to be distinguished from the respect of persons as commonly understood in terms of Western liberal democracy and human rights). To put it simply, if we are going to understand the other, we must also understand ourselves (where the "we" in this case refers to the settler heirs of Western history). Such ontological respect, I will argue, is itself made possible by a Heideggerian variant of the phenomenological "epochē" or suspension of presuppositions, which suggests an explicit methodology for intercultural exchange, a methodology I call the "intercultural epochē."

 


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