Saturday, 29 October 2011

Science and Indigenous Knowledge (yet again revisited)

I just read an article in the Nunatsiaq News, titled, "Greens change stance on Inuit bowhead hunt" talking about the embarrassing display of neo-con behaviour by Nunavut MP, Leona Aglukkaq, who heckled an NDP member calling for an inquiry into the collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland on Oct. 21 by shouting: "seals!". This prompted Elizabeth May to tweet:

"Since no one was attacking sealers, or sealing, there was no provocation for her rude outbursts. It was an ignorant display [from] a woman I usually respect."

This apparently started an online conversation between Iqaluit twitter users and May, that can only add esteem to her image here in Inuit Nunaat as far as I'm concerned - and I'm no Green Party or bowhead whale hunts apologist. This is because for the first time in our history a public official with a significant but largely invisible following has demonstrated a willing to listen rather than prejudge or remain silent on our culture by admitting that her party's policy stance on bowhead whales status is a work in progress.

But, what I wanted to highlight here was what came after in the Nunatsiaq News article, and something I mentioned earlier in my blog on Science and indigenous knowledge (part ii):

"The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada identifies the bowhead whale as threatened, but it's now reviewing that status.

That's because bowhead whale populations look much healthier than scientists once determined.

The [federal] Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimates of the bowhead whale population jumped from 345 in 2000 to 3,000 in 2003, after aeriel survuys, then to 7,309 in 2007 and, then, in 2008, to 14,400.

The DFO's most recent stock assessment from three years ago says this latest number of 14,400 is only a 'partial estimate' and that there could actually be as many as 43,105 bowhead whales." (Nunatsiaq News, October 28, 2011, p 19)

Isn't that something! Inuit hunters, who are out there 365 days a year, have been saying for years and years that DFO's estimates seemed way off. I mean, I can understand the need for scientific skeptism and the need for conservative stance on things unproved but scientific research should never be unduly influenced and corrupted by short-sighted ideological/political agendas. Ever!

There have been a couple of government-employed scientists/researchers who come here, who've had the great arrogance and bigotry to try and assume "ownership" and "right to manage" the animals they study as they saw fit, and tried to belittle Inuit Knowledge with their father-knows-best attitude. I won't mention names but I think a comprehensive review of all scientific papers regarding arctic animals (and their management agendas) is in order. The good name of Science demands it.

To most Inuit, the image of "science" and logical positivism is unkind, oppressive and little-minded; a miser and bigot whose only power is the wilfullness to say NO! The Church, the Police... these have been used as tools of oppression; will Science be just another one?


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Use of Inuktitut in Nunavut

I've been reading on the news recently regarding the Nunavut Tunngavik's Annual Report on the State of Inuit Culture and Society where the President highlighted some long-standing issues of federal funding disparities between the 600 or so francophone Nunavummiut and Inuit of Nunavut ($4,460 vs $53.71) for minority languages promotion.

Things haven't changed much since the first annual report after Nunavut Social Development Council was absorbed by NTI. In fact, the figures have stayed exactly the same over the years that it was first mentioned in the annual report when I worked there.

Though this funding is very important for both Inuit and French language translation services of the Government of Nunavut, the monies are not slated for anything that the Inuit themselves could use for Inuit Language promotion initiatives - such as what Qikiqtani, Kivalliq and Kitikmeot Inuit Associations access through Aboriginal Languages Initiative (federal funding) which provides funding for publications and other Inuit language related activities. The other Inuit regions, like Inuvialuit, Labrador and Nunavik get part of this funding pot to do very important work with their partners, such as Nunavut Bilingual Education Society and Inhabit Media for the Qikiqtani region.

Qikiqtani Inuit Association gets about $100,000 a year to produce Inuktitut language material, all of it very professional quality thanks to NBES and Inhabit Media (which was recognised recently by a major national literacy award). Kudos to Neil Christopher and Louise Flaherty!

But the money that NTI's Annual Report on the State of Inuit Culture and Society talks about is only meant for the Government of Nunavut ostensibly for translation and Inuit language services, but because it's not really accountable to the Inuit of Nunavut, Inuit do not really have a say on how that money is spent. It's strictly a government-to-government contribution agreement.

The issues that Inuit language face here in Nunavut have little to do with funding but come down to the Inuit themselves and only Inuit can initiate the meaningful changes and change-of-heart so necessary for the betterment of our language's lot. Well, the schools have a role to play and so does Nunavut Teachers' Education Program. But no amount of high-tech gizmos and gadgets will change the situation any.

We, as Inuit, need to start talking about Inuit education in a serious manner. Though I believe Inuit elders have a role to play, we shouldn't foist the whole responsibility on them but start examining the more technical aspects of pedagogy, or the nature of learning and teaching, and ourselves and what we value (in the Socratic sense).

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. We make a big deal about the syllabic writing system but in all my years of being a linguist, a translator and as a policy analyst, I've found that someone who actually reads Inuktitut briefing materials in countless meetings (on very important issues) a rare bird indeed. Most Inuit delegates say that they can't be bothered to read the material "because it's written in a different dialect" when it invariably becomes perfectly clear people from different communities have no problems communicating with each other in the meetings and conferences.

It has to do with comfort and competency in operating in the syllabic writing system (both reading and writing, and translation quality for that matter). Some of the Inuktitut translated material obey no rhyme or reason of the Inuktitut grammar because some translators assume that English and Inuktitut (or any other language) should have a one-to-one correspondence and literal (rather than meaning-based) translation is how things should be done. Some of the problems arise from poorly-written/highly technical English material that translators are forced to translate into Inuktitut.

Research skills are often lacking and there is a heavy reliance on off-the-shelf dictionaries which may not be the most appropriate resource, so the first entry in the dictionary (whether it be a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb) gets put into the Inuktitut without much regard for the grammatical structure such that the Inuktitut version looks kind of like a cut-and-paste job.

The problem is compounded exponentially given the quality of education in Nunavut schools, which does not teach Inuktitut as a social phenomenon but rather as a purely academic subject (the same way English used to be taught in Japan not too long ago with no end goal in mind but so as to get marks for taking the subject). The whole language approach regards isolated words and labels as "teaching" a language when words in isolation and labels have little or no communicative value.

Language is a social phenomenon, where the narrative is key to capturing and engaging the student. But the last time I heard Dept of Education HQ regards as unspoken policy Inuit myths and legends as religious material so something that uses the Inuit language in the most natural and grammatical way is precluded right from the start.

With little or no available literature and no meaningful Inuit elder employment in the schools to verbally tell stories and expose Inuktitut grammar to Inuit children (Inuit are often just employed for vague "cultural programming" without orientation or training) the Inuktitut instruction proper falls to how to write syllabics and concrete words like "door", "light switch", "atausiq, marruk, pingasut...", etc. which passes for Inuktitut instruction.

I think I've also said more than once in this blog that I think Inuit Language instruction should seriously consider using ICI standard roman orthography where morphemes and grammatical elements are easier to discern and spelling can become more consistent, and sight-reading is possible. The non-standard and inconsistent use of syllabics is killing our language and our visceral impulses and defensiveness regarding a writing system that so few can even read are helping the death and morbidity along.

Developing linguistic competence and language acquisition do not require high-tech gizmos and gadgets nor even money and funding that will never be given in sufficient amounts; only our engagement and participation in the social phenomenon called language as human to human can we make the difference. The Inuit narrative has so much to offer, especially when we reflect upon not just our long-long history as an Arctic people but also as contemporary society working it out through recent colonialist past and all the teachable moments inherent in that experience. In telling our story do possibilities become real objects of contemplation and imagination.


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

"talking eskimo"

I may have given the wrong impression that I'm visceral about the term "Eskimo" in my last blog entry. Well, I'm not really offended by the term because I happen to think that revisionism is not only ideological stupidity but a highly suspect practice of denying historical facts in favour of egoism (not only in terms of morality but also because it is blatantly arrogant and pretentious, insane). It is no better than evolution- and Shoah- deniers, and right-wing nuttery.

I love the term "Eskimo". Not only does the term have a look and feel of a traditional hooded parka about it, but it also has serious historical/political/philosophical/cultural value that is not immediately obvious to the layperson. If scholarship and history were determined by ignorant populist sentiments we would be doomed to repeat historical monstrosities over and over again. At the least, we'd deny that Canada was ever tainted by colonialism. Corporatism and its irresistible imperative to sanitize, censor and prepackage everything would win; ignorance and intellectual immaturity would win.

As a linguist, I appreciate Eskimo's historical/etymological and political value. It is a badge I wear most proudly, and in honour of my forebears who knew nothing of it and never felt diminished by it. "never felt diminished by it" - what a great phrase.

The vulgar use of the term is nothing like the scientific nomenclature: Eskimo-Aleut Language Family, which I feel a close connection to. When it is used to denigrate my culture and language, it merely degrades and disabuses the user of their mistaken ideas of who we are. I dare neo-con non-Inuit to use it in our face so we may see clearly how ignorant and infantile they really are to try and lump us as ignorant and stupid.

People use "it's all Greek to me" to imply their own ignorance and lack of education; "talking eskimo" is it's opposite. This is my only issue on the matter. I think ITK (the Canadian national Inuit org) should have taken the time to explain these subtleties.


Monday, 24 October 2011

The long shadow of Euclid's ghost

In my earlier blog entry I spoke a bit about non-Euclidean geometries, specifically the spheroid geometry of Riemman's and Lobachevsky's hyperbolic geometry. I've been thinking about this, and I've come to the conclusion that Euclid's fifth postulate on parallel lines is inescapable even in the spheroid and hyperbolic geometries or the elliptical for that matter: in the spheroid, the center point creates the first chord and the tangent creates the second chord 90 degrees to the center and the lines never meet though the surface is finite but unbound; in the hyperbolic, the center point is outside the curve but the tangent line is also inescapable there.

It is when one considers only the surface geodesics thereof the lines begin to converge or diverge depending and screw up the Pythagorean theorem on the triangle summing to 180 degrees. But the center point in three dimensional spheres and hyperbolic geometry can still create the right conditions for Euclid's fifth to apply. In fact, any curve in any n dimensions would still obey it because the fifth is inescapable as an iron-clad geometric fact.

my apologies to my readers for this little episode... but I've been kind of under stress and such "epiphanies" tend to ooze out when messy reality bears down on me. But of course I'm not a mathematician and my above "proof" makes no pretensions of rigour: I just love contemplating something so beautiful as Euclid's axioms. Silly boy.

How's that for talking eskimo, Mr Anderson? Can we do such things in Nunavut, if not Saskatchewan?


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Rote memorization as a tactic for learning vs learning by comprehension

I know of no one that would/could reasonably pretend that the Nunavut education system is not without its problems. Well, there are those whose optimism borders on the insane - especially at headquarters and the political levels, but these people are rather disingenuous because it is in their interest to pretend.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not really blaming anyone. The system itself lacks stability and continuity so necessary for actual learning and education and inspiration to take hold. There is no teacher I know of who didn't care enough to try and do something, but the high attrition rates and job stress (and alienation by miscommunication and culture shock) stacks things against them. So, it is the system that fails the students by neglect from day one and overloading teachers who can't make heads or tail of the neglected student body where frustration ultimately overwhelms everyone; it's not the individual students or teachers that should ever be blamed for this sorry state of affairs.

I've had the opportunity to teach but it seemed in the end rather like a Sisyphean exercise to try and work on years of neglect and disjointedness of the system. At the college level where critical engagement and prior knowledge-logic application is key to advancement, we are truthfully working with students who've got rudimentary literacy skills (meaning they can read and write (some at a higher level than others) but real comprehension or application of reasoning skills is somewhat lacking). I don't think my students were unique and exceptional in this respect. The system robbed them of so much academic opportunity; this is to a large extent hidden, but most teachers will recognise that something is kind of off...

None of them would ever be labelled stupid. They were very intuitive about the Inuktitut grammatical structure which we were studying and I saw flashes of great insights but the odd thing was that they couldn't accept the notion of paraphrasing or grammaticizing the subject matter at the conceptual level.

I'm not criticising the students. I'm criticising the system that no one is really in control of; I think the education system is pure hell for most concerned, students and teachers alike. For highly intelligent students (which I would include almost all Inuit students with functioning faculties) being in the school system is like having ALS without the speech machine that saved Hawking's sanity and blessed the world with his profound scientific insights and contributions.

The dysfunctional education system creates pressure throughout the whole system called the Nunavut and federal governments and in the Nunavut society. In itself and as a whole, the system is extremely racist and prejudice bent on "proving" the inferiority of a group of people, for... what. Such waste is criminal, unconscionable, unacceptable. But it's a chicken and egg thing: we don't know what we don't know and don't know that we don't know. So it will take teachers with exceptional integrity and humanity to try and fix the system; teachers with a long-term vision; teachers who dare to dream of greater things than the time they spend here allows them.

The key is whether they leave the students to fend for themselves to rely upon rote memorization as a "learning" tactic (which cannot carry the workload) or teach them to rely upon liberal arts education principles of historical and developmental pedagogy and open-ended classroom discussions, step-by-step and organically to help try and transcend the practice passing on the hot potato for others to try and deal with.

For teachers this link may help what I'm trying to initiate an on-going discussion on:


Saturday, 22 October 2011

Science and indigenous knowledge (part ii)

Believe it or not, I'm actually a strong believer in scientific principles and consider "science" one of the great achievements of humanity. What I find uncomfortable is how "science" is often used against the lay-public in much the same way "ideology" is used to limit and direct the public's attention away from the inevitable contradictions that unvoiced assumptions (any assumption, really) inadvertantly generate in the political discourse in favour of proponent's views on a given issue.

Granted, science is a conservative, skeptical endeavour because its whole purpose is to try and minimize "noise" and preconceived notions in examination and reflection of facts. This is what gives it nobility, subtle nuance and rational other-worldliness so rare in our human world. In Bob Berman's column in Astronomy magazine called, Strange Universe (June 2011 issue) entitled, High Confidence; how much of the cosmos do scientists actually understand with certainty? he writes:

"Astronomy is a fascinating mixture of stuff we're learning, processes we're merely guessing about, and information we've nailed down cold. But most articles and news stories omit such nuances. Instead, they present everything in the same high-confidence tone as the salesman who convinced me to buy the most expensive vacuum cleaner in the solar system."

It is not just the science of astronomy that make up this "fascinating mixture" but all of science (all of human knowledge) is really like that. It's just that some are more willing than others to admit some uncertainty and falliability in the interpretation of data rather than pretend that the pope is really God's representative on Earth.

Berman, in his article, commends the National Weather Service (in the States) in how they deal with confidence:

"On their website's 'discussion,' the NWS plays it straight with readers by sometimes saying, 'This is a low-confidence forecast.' They don't flat out admit, 'We're stumped,' but still, bravo for them. They essentially tell you when they're guessing, and this is useful to know."

(you may check out the "Strange Universe" archive:

I once saw population estimates for polar bears in South Baffin that stated that the population projections had a 95% confidence interval for such and such number the technician had generated (see: A confidence interval gives an estimated range of values which is likely to include an unknown population parameter, the estimated range being calculated from a given set of sample data. (Definition taken from Valerie J. Easton and John H. McColl's Statistics Glossary v1.1)) and proceeded to justify recommended allowable harvest levels without so much as accounting for hunters' observed claims that the polar bear population was rather a bit higher than what the equations and projections had churned out.

As it turned out (as with bowhead whale numbers or polling results in any given election cycle for that matter) the on-the-ground observations/ariel population counts were closer to the hunters' claims than the equations had generated. Inuit hunters are out there almost 365 days of the year and there is a solid, organic communications network they rely on to get crucial information on weather and environmental conditions as well as anything that hunters have seen in any given area. Granted, they do not know the exact numbers and claim their knowledge is always falliable because of the uncertainty pricinple, but the body of knowledge is built-up over a very long time and is rather more sophisticated and rational than what the bureaucrats are willing to admit.

My question then is: how much does the "culture" of a given scientific discourse adversely affect the reliability of interpretation of data when unchecked egos and ideological agendas play such a pronounced role in government-aboriginal relations?

I personally think that even the peer-reviewed academic papers and "findings" in such a culture are less than useless, given that these self-same documents/canons are used as reference material to grant diplomas and degrees in turn. I mean, up until a couple of years ago, snowy owls had never been observed by european eyes to hunt and scavenge out on the sea ice, so such claims by Inuit hunters were never believed and so easily dismissed as bunk.

At the turn of the last century, Hilbert issued a seminal challenge/program to mathematics to reexamine and confirm every theorem of its foundations in a rigorous and honest way; I think it's high time to do the same for the "scientific" discourse that impacts upon aboriginal-government relations.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

From Violence to Blessing

A few years ago I was invited to do a presentation in an academic conference in St Paul's University in Ottawa (see below). The topic of discussion centered around Vern Neufeld Redekop's profound notions of mimesis and its role in social violence and reconciliation. The title of this entry comes from Redekop's book, From Violence to Blessing: how an understanding of deep-rooted conflict can open paths to reconciliation. It's an excellent book, and I think it should be required reading for new teachers/bureaucrats into the Government of Nunavut.

My talk was on Inuit Knowledge and specifically on an assessment model that I call "family health model" that I developed to help me get a better grasp of the nature of Nunavut's social/political issues and what to advocate for in the social development discourse in Nunavut.

Indigenous Knowledge and its Role in the Healing of Deep-rooted Conflicts

Jpt Arnakak
Qikiqtani Inuit Association

a fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees
William Blake, proverbs from hell

Conflict arises not only from misunderstanding but from an unwillingness to watch and listen. Inuit of the Canadian Artic were spared overt violence in the taking of our lands and ways of livelihood but the experience has left deep scars nonetheless. The scars stem from the fact that inappropriate labels, such as “primitive”, “pagan”, “stone-age”, etc. were used to justify the appropriation of our rights as full human beings worthy of respect for its own sake. The tree remains the same no matter who does the seeing though it’s a bit worse for wear. There is yet hope for Inuit to take their rightful place in the family of humanity. To hope for the past is unrealistic. What needs to be done now is to create an environment of hope and validity for Inuit culture and language. The creation of Nunavut is a test for multi-culturalism in Canada where not only immigrant cultures are recognized as valid forms of being but that this tolerant society is founded on how it treats its first peoples.

In the book, From Violence to Blessing (Redekop, 2002), and my introduction to the theory of mimesis, “deep-rooted conflict” is defined in terms of a group’s and/or individual’s reactions to perceived “threat to the satisfiers of identity needs” (p. 14). Redekop schematizes being and self with five identity needs: meaning, connectedness, security, recognition and action. (p. 31) -He suggests, rightly in my mind, that these needs are acculturated upon the child (the parents’ and society’s value system, beliefs, methods and biases) and assumed through a mimetic or imitative process.

Deep-rooted conflict between “enemies”, then, arise not from misunderstanding-which holds out hope for redress-but from an unwillingness to share and extend to the other what one may reasonably demand and expect for oneself: a level of autonomy and a safe and secure environment in which to live and construct meaning (whether spiritual, philosophical or concrete).

In this presentation, I want to structure my talk around a possible model for addressing these five needs (meaning, connectedness, security, recognition and action). I want to speak about Indigenous Knowledge (and especially Inuit Qaujimaningit, or IQ) as it relates to social policy development. Here I want to introduce a new concept that I call autochthonic epistemology or “birth-from-the-earth knowledge”, and how this concept may be used in policy development and analysis.

As an Inuk from the Baffin region, I come from a hunter-gatherer society and culture that relies largely on marine mammals as the basis of its sustenance economy.

-What I mean by “sustenance economy” is that knowledge of the ecology of the surround gotten by living and being in the surround, and how that knowledge is used as a means of sustainable livelihood in harmony with the environment and its flora and fauna. Sustenance economics is a fundamental feature of Autochthonic Epistemology-

A sustenance culture, like Inuit culture, relies on the family structure as a means to pass on and ensure the survival and advancement of its genes, knowledge and collective experience as expressed in its mythology, cosmogony and technology. The family structure is the first natural intra-subjective social construct to confront human beings and it is within the family structure that a child develops as a person.

In terms of philosophic flavour and spiritual beliefs, Autochthonic Epistemology (AE) is ecology-based and considers-to varying degrees- Nature to be sacred. IQ cosmology and spiritualism is based on the Sedna myth, a feminine “indweller” (as Tim Leduc, a PhD candidate at York U, puts it), a personified force of Nature. Sedna resides in the abyss, not only governing the sea mammals that make up the majority of Inuit diet but also She has the capacity to influence the weather and, therefore, the ice and snow conditions and the movement of animals. Sedna is the central Mother Earth figure in IQ and the animals, being Her children, have souls like human beings do and, therefore, deserving of our respect and deference for they give us life. (Houston, Diet of Souls, 2004 Triad Films)

This broad and brief survey of the features of AE (sustenance economy that is family- and kinship- based, Nature and Her bounty having deep spiritual/existential significance and meaning, etc.) is by no means exhaustive but this is sufficient for my present purposes where I want to argue for the validity and power of Indigenous Knowledges as means of healing the structural scars and psychological effects of colonialism on indigenous societies.

I’ve constructed a Family Health Model consisting of four basic axioms or principles that I believe warrant our attention in assessing and analysing current social conditions of Inuit:

1. The family is the primary life-support system of its constituents;

2. the family belongs to a larger network called community and society;

3. the family is the means of transferring knowledge, skills, language and values; and

4. the family is the fundamental economic unit.

I do not suggest that these particular synergistic elements necessarily apply to all cultures of AE but they will serve sufficiently to capture, I hope, valuable insights into to the actual health and wellbeing of Inuit as a distinct aboriginal linguistic and cultural group in Nunavut.

Before I get back to the family health model, though, I would like in he following section to present a humble re-interpretation of the tremendous power of the mimesis framework as related to colonialism and post-colonial healing.

Canada’s hitherto “hands-off” policy on Inuit started shifting, after the 1930’s, into an overtly paternalistic one. Regular bouts of mass death from starvation and disease have often been cited as the reason for settling Inuit into centralized locations, to better provide and administer social services. But it is rather interesting that the world then was just recovering from a world war and already it was on the brink of another conflict of unprecedented geopolitical proportions.

I would argue that it was, it is, for sovereignty reasons, to geopolitical factors, that Canada acted thus, acts thus. The resettlement of Inuit families from Nunavik (Northern Quebec) and North Baffin to the High Arctic are concerns of state-craft not of social justice not of natural justice. Most Aboriginal communities are situated so arbitrarily that no natural order, no rhyme or reason, is discernibly respected in the construct of the settlement.

The social and economic carrying capacity of the environment and family and kinship structures is actively disrupted and supplanted by an economy of consumerism and brand-name fixation served by a monopoly interest in exchange for natural resources and real estate. We’ve been moved about and quarantined and our cultures and languages culled like diseased and undesirable cattle.

The maturation process of the aboriginal children is also disrupted at many different levels: neuro-biological, physical, psychological, socially, culturally and materially. This is achieved by way of chronic poverty and an overarching social services system geared toward a specific group: Aboriginal peoples, the voiceless permanent wards of the state.

The education system is not designed to impart skills and knowledge for it’s an ersatz system intended instead to take away rather than to give choices in life. In Nunavut, “age-appropriate” passing is rampant and the children have little or no sense of continuity and context for what is presented before them. With their mother-tongue socially devalued by the system their choices and prospects become severely limited geographically and psychologically. They are rendered ineffectual by the system starting from the day the child is registered in the system.

Fanon (1959) says a colonialised culture is outright assaulted and devalued by the colonizers, “transformed into instinctive patterns of behaviour”, that all efforts are made to suggest that the colonialised people are defective somehow even unto biology and genetics. Given this, the colonialised are incapable of governing themselves and therefore require a ruling class from the dominant power for the sake, and only for the sake, of hegemony and self-interest of the state.

Fascism is merely another form of this logic imposed inward as well as outward. Fascism is the corporate son of hegemony. The militaryindustrial complex that is fascism requires constant source of war and conflict to maintain itself. How fascism quells criticism and resistance is most interesting.

The populous is inundated by the corporate culture with images of war and destruction so as to desensitize it to the complex’s requisite environment and needs, as its militaristic nature demands. We are somehow put in some sort of a trance, obsessing on the objects identified by our governments as either good for or threats to our personal safety and security. We are fed garbage and told to diet, metaphorically and literally: it’s a double-bind that makes it easier to regulate and relegate us into mindless docility.

Critical thinking, conscience and humility are the enemies of the privileged few who’ve built around a lie that they are different, idealized forms of humanity while the rest are merely God’s experimental accidents, including the underclass of their own society.

Human history bears out this type of thinking, this type of being where corporatism (the obsessive need to regiment society by class and status) has been allowed to go unchecked:

Monarchies, as Thomas Paine so succinctly puts it, are founded on the absurd idea of permanent “degradation and lessening of ourselves” for the sake of short-term, temporary political and social convenience.

“Most wise men, in their private sentiments, have ever treated hereditary right with contempt”, he says, that “many submit from fear, others from superstition, and the more powerful part shares with the king the plunder of the rest”. (Paine, 1776)

Give a tyrant an inch...

The papacy was able to achieve continentally what the warlords and kings of Europe could only do locally, to subsume humanity spiritually, politically and corporately, by showing us who our enemies are and how their utter and total destruction is necessary for the completion of God’s design from the inside out. Round ammo for Christians and square ones for the infidel just in case God can’t tell the difference.

The trans-national corporations (ideological in the East and socioeconomic in the West), in turn, are able to achieve globally as the papacy could only dream of: total domination and brand loyalty. The brand-naming of services to human needs is its brain-child.

The common thread running through these apparently different forms of governments is the narcissistic obsession with differentiation of self from the other, the fear that drives the need to insulate one from the real world. In a word, the terrifying world needs to be developed and modified to better suit the autistic needs of the privileged few.

Running parallel with this dark side of humanity is an inborn desire to learn, desire to adapt, a desire to achieve a sense of one’s humanity and to transcend one’s beginnings.

If one may characterize the discourse of fear, superstition and plunder as autistic, then one may extend to humanism the need to communicate and dialogue with the other where, as Cheyne and Tarulli (1999) say,

“The other constitutes not a passive listener, nor a receiver of ready-made message... but rather as a co-participant simultaneously creating and created by the utterance... and a factor in [the dialogue’s] content, structure and style... Thus, the quality and productivity of dialogue depend on many aspects of the other and of the relationship between the utterance and the other”. (civility, courtesy)

Where the discourse of fear, superstition and plunder bases its power on non-human ideals (usually of heaven) and a perfected time and space for the taking, the humanist discourse sees the past, present and future of humanity as an evolutionary/historical process, warts and all. This makes humanist discourse a necessarily evolving, dynamic, participatory phenomenon grounded on honest reflection.

In speaking about the novel and story-telling, Rorty says that “Our actions can be justified only when we are able to how these actions look from the points of view of all those affected by them” (Redemption From Egotism: James and Proust as spiritual exercises). He goes on to say that “Most novels tell us how other erring mortals think of themselves, how they contrive to put the actions that appall us in a good light, how they give meaning to their... lives. The problem of how to live our own lives then becomes the problem of how to balance our needs against those of people like them”. (phronesis)

Up to this point I’ve been speaking in rather broad and abstract strokes, though, I hope, not frivolously. I have attempted to trace an outline to which I want to draw a contrast. If one may define corporatism in terms of uniformity, standardization and linear modality of being then surely there is an opposite but equally valid modality of being that celebrates diversity, adaptability and acceptance of uncertainty as a fundamental feature of Nature; a philosophy willing to live within the surround and possibilities of Nature. (environmentally destructive methods of production and technological innovations that are likewise destructive, armed conflicts, etc. would be contrary to AE philosophy, whereas cultivation of sustainable economic activities is one of its tenets. AE has never been anti-trade.)

Theory of Abundance
To illustrate this I must resume my earlier description of the family health model and here elaborate how I envision analysts and researchers using model as a conceptual tool.

The first axiom of the family health model states that the family structure is the primary life-support system of its members. The focus here is directed at the needs of not only the children, the parent(s) and kin but also at the roles and responsibilities of each member to the continuing health and viability of the family structure, which the second axiom says belongs to a larger network called the community.

In accordance with this line of reasoning, just as the parent(s) are responsible to all extent possible to socialize and invest into the child pre- and post-partum and beyond, the community in turn is responsible for providing the best possible environment and support for parents and early childhood development. Piliriqatigiingniq (working together) and tunnganarniq (social deference) lead to the path of healthy and sustainable mode of being.

The basic concept to note here is that the raising of children (or human development, in general terms) is not a drain on limited family and community resources but is instead viewed as an invaluable and necessary investment into human potential and promise. Human beings; not only can they learn but they also have an amazing capacity to create new things and methods and, hopefully, refine them into integrated forms.

Investment into human development, then, is not a “forced-growth factor” but is a necessary process of a living, breathing society more analogous to the Kreb cycle than book-keeping. Mere numbers and data then become windows into how we value and treat human lives as matter of policy and practice.

The second axiom speaks not only of the human community but also the ecology and environment. In IQ, knowledge of ecology and climate, and use of resources has been acquired and accumulated over generations. IQ insights into interaction between humans and the environment are based on the notion of cycles and periodic behaviour. All natural phenomena are framed as embeddings of resonant patterns within resonant patterns, of weather, animal movements, and seasonal conditions. There is a sense of familiarity with and relatedness to the environment and cosmos in AE.

The third axiom states that the family is the means of transmitting knowledge, values and skills to live within the environment that sustains us. Language, culture and the use of technology in AE, far from being static, are as dynamic and participatory as one would expect living societies should be. Inuit culture, as humble as it is, has a huge presence in the national consciousness of Canada. Inuit technology and know-how have made invaluable contributions to science and other remarkable human achievements. AE is real. IQ is real.

In terms of economic wealth, AE defines such not only in terms of material resources but the collective knowledge and skills of the family and community are recognized as the true basis of wealth and capacity. Seen in this light, the family really does act as the fundamental unit of AE-based economies. This does not mean that individual members have no place in AE, the family is the beginning of belonging and actualization of persons.


Autochthonic Epistemology has ancient roots but that does not mean that it’s primitive. The tree need not be cut down to build a garden. The garden would be the poorer and incomplete without the tree. In the I Ching, there is a hexagram that denotes an image of a lone tree that holds the integrity of the landscape.

The integration and recognition of AE into the social fabric is essential for the healing of societies living in intolerable contradictions of deep-rooted conflict. Given that our social policies and legislation act as major contributing factors to the environment of colonialism, our work must begin from basic first principles, those that facilitate the growth and nurturing of healthy individuals and communities: Meaning, Connectedness, Security, Recognition and Action.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Science? and Indigenous Knowledge

The Inuit-government relations, especially when it comes to hunting and land rights, is ostensibly based on "scientific/rationalist" principles. But that couldn't be further from the truth. The problem is philosophical/ideological impacting the pragmatic in such a way as to stack things against Inuit.

First, the impression that government bureaucracy likes to cloak itself in is that "science" is a monolithic edifice, fully-formed, divinely-inspired, unassailable, immutable "truth machine" - other-worldly, in fact. Second, that English is the language of science - implying, therefore, Inuit must learn English (ie, forget about their own knowledge) in order to partake in its truths.

Excuse me... what hubris! Goebbels would have been proud and jealous of such self-contained corporatist scientism.

The truth is that 99% of cutting-edge scientific exploration is being done by "foreigners" with accents. It's literally been a century since mathematics of repute and renown last occurred and shone - Hardy and Littlewood (some jokingly say also "Littlewood-Hardy"). And they were outshone by Ramanujan, their "protege".

The "science" of governments who have to deal with aboriginal groups is largely Malthusian and corrupted to the core by convenient ideology whose scepticism is rather misplaced (boots too big for the feet) because it's a type of scepticism of prejudice and racist pride that tries and belittle anything that it finds inconvenient. This type of scientism is anti-intellectual and ironical because, by its very definition, is self-annihilalating.

The Inuit-government discourse, in terms of using the real esprit of scientific principles especially in documenting indigenous knowledge, is virgin territory as a serious academic study. There have been attempts but the researchers have a huge hump to overcome - their own training. It's been rather like a musician trained in the classical already with fully-developed prejudice against anything other than its own. But we know that there are many, many forms of music other than the classical.

And we also know that there is such a thing as "musicology" - the serious study of music that is not restricted only to the classical but embraces all forms, including the more "vulgar" forms.

I think part of the problem of documentation and discussion on indigenous knowledges is philosophical, and is therefore extremely subtle, in that serious discourse on the notion of epistemology has not really advanced since the days of Aristotle (though there have been fits and starts in the likes of Wittgenstein et al - ie, his disciples).

I think Wittgenstein's "language games" was an orientation that tended to the right direction, but because of its great subtlety has not been seriously pursued in terms of quantizing its basic concepts into logically-rigourous and productive set like musicology and linguistics have been constructed (two natural children of Wittgenstein's philosophy, I'd say).

Ideology makes a sad joke of science especially here in Nunavut in terms of the science of biology and determination of total allowable harvest levels - couple this with reductionist approach that treats the subject matter outside of its context and natural ecology - making for free-range charlatans to become "world experts" who jealously guard their worthless eggs and titles as if they were real and permanent. Pathetic.

It is not people I attack (please, it's beneath me); it is the consequences for Inuit and real and honest scientific discourse I find completely unpalatable.

Wittgenstien had the intellectual integrity and honesty to repudiate publicly the logical consequences of his more "scientist" hues of logical positivism. A man of such stature is sadly too rare.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

Occupy Wall Street movement and Weber's iron-cage

In my last blog entry I spoke a bit about the lop-sided nature of aboriginal-government relations. I watched an in-depth piece by Diane Sawyer called, "A Hidden America: Children of the Plains" about native American experience that I found extremely familiar and disheartening about the long, sorry history of neglect and abject proverty which is the lot of aboriginal peoples in North America (the pinnacle of the first world) and in the world in general.

As I've said, racism and prejudice are no longer socially acceptable but are still openly practiced as a matter of course by our institutions. One of the informants of Sawyer's interviews said that the native reservations are more regulated than nuclear power plants in the States, and I don't think that assessment is too far off the mark. Max Weber's iron cage (corporatism; rational-legalism), to which the world is just waking up as the spread of "Occupy Wall Street" movement shows, is something that cut its teeth on the lower classes and aboriginal groups along the same lines as the movie Gridlock'd starring Tupac Shakur and Tim Roth.

The movie Gridlock'd is about two heroin addicts, Spoon (Shakur) and Stretch (Roth), who trying to clean themselves up and get into rehab but the government bureaucracy spurns them in every turn (with all-too-familiar officious gusto) as they try and survive the day and avoid both the law and criminals long enough to get into a rehab program. Disregarding the pedantic, clueless critics' reviews (the same species that are trying to belittle "Occupy Wall Street") the movie speaks to anyone who's had the misfortune of having no choice but to deal with bureaucracy just to try and keep body and soul together.

I think the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is much older than the current and spreading protests would suggest: Gridlock'd; Les Miserables; Dickens' books; Thomas Paine; the fathers of the American Constitution; Buber's philosophy; Jesus; Kahlil Gibran, etc. etc. - the list is endless. But the one demand is still "to have one's humanity recognised"; to treat each each with human dignity and justice; to transcend spurious labels and "professional diagnoses" to see the human being underneath the prejudice.


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Truth and Reconciliation?

When Sheila Fraser left her post as the Auditor General of Canada she had some strong words to say to the federal government regarding its failure to live up to its fiduciary responsibilities to the aboriginal peoples of Canada on issues too numerous to list here.

Now, I've been thinking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools, and it's left me with a feeling that much of these types of exercises are rather one-sided affairs where aboriginals, who seem more than willing to settle things to rest while the federal, provincial and territorial governments remain autistic and oblivious as to their roles in all of this.

The story here in Nunavut is typical of this lop-sided relationship. With the signing of the land claims agreement Inuit had hoped (reasonably) to start addressing long-standing issues but somewhere along the line the GN bureaucracy seems to have hijacked the process and made this great opportunity into something of a gaudy shell-game of guess where the money is.

In terms of using the legitimacy of Inuit "elders" to cover the modesty of bureaucrats, and make the departments a bit more "Inuit-friendly", these elders are plopped into the office without any regard for "orientation" or "professional development training" that is so generously given to new hires (usually from the "south"). These Inuit elders become nothing more than furniture (keeping up with the Joneses, like) disconnected from the rest of the activities of the office other than the IQ days where they are taken out and paraded for show-and-tell.

The elders do the best they can, but often they have no real actionable knowledge of the departments' mandates, vision statements and government priorities to do anything of substance they envisioned doing when they accepted their posts. I know a couple of elders who have been conscientious enough to feel that they aren't earning their keep and wonder aloud what they were doing in their empty offices, just waiting for someone to talk to them and tell them what was expected from them. These are people used to working hard and feeling needed and wanted in what they did before being treated as office furniture.

To the GN departments: I think it's high time they talked amongst themselves to learn from each other what "best practices" are in keeping the Inuit elders busy and needed and relevant in their place of work. For eg, the Curriculum Development Office in Arviat has done some wonderful work with elders that can be translated and applied to other GN departments. But I highly doubt that they've ever been approached to help other departments get their acts together and actually utilizing this great potential resource. And following Fraser's parting words, there should be some oversight function to track and audit regular-like the departments' performances because the internal incentives and the money spent to "hire" elders is really part of the finite resources that never seem to be enough to make a difference in our lives (so sayeth the gate-keepers).

Much is made about the noble rule of law and responsibilities to reason and justice in presenting the needs and interests of government bureaucracies when they have something to take from the aboriginal peoples, but the disingenuous creep (as in, mission creep) takes hold the moment funding and policies are secured. I know of no other example of this type of animosity and viscerality that is bureaucracy and "legitimate" government against its own people like that of aboriginal-government relations outside of despotic regimes which Canada claims to be a natural enemy of.

Racism may no longer be socially tenable in the individual (there are laws against this type of behaviour) but it has yet to be addressed as an institutional problem. Shameful, utterly shameful.


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

False dichotomies, stereotypes and intellectual neglect

What in the world is this emotion?
What is the bearing of supremely great works of art on my life which make me feel so glad?
-Rebecca West, English author

In his book, The History of Reading, Alberto Manguel talks about the long history of prejudice against intellectuals and readers in general in the last chapter of the book titled, The Book Fool. In it he says something both familiar and disheartening about the education system in Nunavut – a system that is at once trying to better the lot of aboriginals but at the same time, sometimes harshly unkind in its assessment and indictment of its aboriginal students.
“The argument that opposes those with the right to read, because they can read 'well' (as the fearful glasses (icon of bookishness, blogger’s note) seem to indicate), and those to whom reading must be denied, because they 'wouldn’t understand', is as ancient as it is specious.”
Further the “elitists” shall never let us forget:
“…Aldous Huxley defined it as the special accumulated knowledge of any united family, the common property of all its members. ‘When we of the great Cultural Family meet,’ wrote Huxley, ‘we exchange reminiscences about Grandfather Homer, and that awful old Dr Johnson, and Aunt Sappho, and poor Johnny Keats. ‘And do you remember that absolutely priceless thing that Uncle Virgil said? You know. Timeo Danaos… Priceless; I shall never forget it.’ No, we shall never forget it; and what’s more, we shall take good care that those horrid people who have had the impertinence to call on us, those wretched outsiders who never knew dear mellow old Uncle V., shall never forget it either. We’ll keep them constantly reminded of their outsidedness.”
But this assessment begs the question:
“Which came first? The invention of the masses, which Thomas Hardy described as ‘a throng of people…containing a certain minority who have sensitive souls; these, and aspect of these, being what is worth observing’, or the invention of the bespectacled Book Fool, who thinks himself superior to the rest of the world and whom the world passes by, laughing?
Their chronology hardly matters. Both stereotypes are fictions and both are dangerous, because under the pretense of moral or social criticism they are employed in an attempt to curtail a craft that, in its essence, is neither limited nor limiting. The reality of reading lies elsewhere.”
I’m suggesting here not only racism between different peoples. This type of prejudice (as any) occurs among one’s own kind as well (perhaps even more harshly). You’ve heard of the nail that sticks out is soon hammered down.
Perhaps inadvertently, perhaps willfully we so readily “buy into” stereotypes (even those used against us) because it requires no thought at all for nothing but our tacit acquiescence and silence is needed to perpetuate the prejudice. We know no better. But there is no reason not to remedy this “state of innocence”.
Stephen Marche, in his book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, in talking about Paul Robeson, the first famous African-American actor deemed worthy to play the role of Othello, wrote:
“Slavery makes miscegenation (ie, the mating of Othello and Desdemona: blogger's note) the ultimate crime, because the act demonstrates the basic biological truth that whites and blacks are the same species, and the recognition of common humanity, in an economic system based on the denial of that humanity, is utterly subversive.”
Though it is no longer socially acceptable to openly hold such misanthropic views and prejudices, some of us still cling stubbornly in our most private lives because self-examination is hard and mostly depressing. We all find in ourselves shameful truths so we’d rather leave well enough alone. But a truly emerging enlightened society and individual cannot find this short-coming acceptable. The last bastions of unvoiced assumptions about our “lesser” brothers – the education, justice and welfare systems and the corporations – must change or the weight of our inaction will drag everyone and everything down, as is already been happening in the aboriginal communities.
In Nunavut, the school system descends to the level of the student and there the student languishes in the perfect storm of apathy, alienation and servitude to ignorance. Little wonder the grossly high rates of dropping out. The remedial courses required after the student has “graduated” from high school takes valuable time from their post-secondary studies (if they even go back to school) so that even at the college level this whispering demon that one is never quite up to snuff still bears down upon them when they’ve begun to take education very seriously.
It seems that no one robs them of these opportunities. But it is also everyone in society that robs them. In this case, the absence of evidence really is evidence of absence (and neglect by a system that is yet to catch up to the times).

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mental Health and Suicide

I was watching the CBC National news the other night where there was an in-depth piece on youth suicide and calls for "mental health" curricula in Canada's schools. As much as I feel for the families who've lost loved ones to suicide and especially the father of the 11 year old with MS who died because of bullying, I'm very concerned about formalizing a "mental health" curriculum.

In Nunavut I'm sure all Inuit have felt the devastation of suicide by a family member, siblings and friends (note, both in the plural) who choose to take their own lives. But I don't think much that suicide-by-Inuit have to do with "mental illness" per se but rather like the NHLer who committed suicide recently have more to do with dismal life prospects and being overwhelmed by feelings of not being equipped to deal with life of poverty, feeling stuck in a community, and general malaise brought about by under-education.

I don't think suicide can be approached directly. In fact, "professionalizing" mental illness makes things much worse because a piece of paper does not mean one is an expert in mental health (much of the field deals with pathological problems rather than health choices and healthy living). Once someone is told and suggested that something is "wrong" with them the label becomes almost impossible to get out of, and many, many people cannot survive such labels by professionals.

The problem rather, I surmise from our problems in the aboriginal communities, has to do with how our children are taught. The school systems assume a universalist, secular education which mistake liberal arts education and ethical discourse as almost an evil; dedicated space for self-examination and reflection on value systems have little or no room in the classrooms. In this age of cartoon, "reality shows" and video-games violence our children are not psychologically equipped to deal with what is and is not reality and what society reasonably expects from them as functioning members of their communities. So in effect and consequence our children are raising each other in a world, a subculture that can be extremely violent, vain, short-sighted and brutish.

I have not seen or heard of one school that tried to adapt to counter these factors in a serious and long-standing way. It seems so much more politically convenient to come up with suicide prevention strategies than to examine the root causes for violence, social dysfunction, and suicide (that which ferment and arise from the invisible world of children).

Social conservatism belittles and mistrusts popular culture and lump it into one big, undesirable blob when so much of it is created by very insightful and thoughtful social commentators that are the serious artists of our day. Doing this belittles the feelings and truths of their own children and closes off their means and methods of self-expression. Even the least of us feels that we have a story to tell; taking our voice away is criminal, nay unforgivable. Even more so to deny moral and ethical guidance to shape and inform the growing minds of our children in a safe environment when and while self-expression is the most important thing. The only thing.

A liberal arts education creates well-roundedness in those educated in it. But it's something not really amenable to easy compartmentalization such like shop, physical ed, music, language arts because grading ethical and moral fortitude is impossible. Though choice of topics for language arts is the foundation of liberal arts and taking shop could develop a sense of self-sufficiency and creativity given only its regard by the teachers.

Bringing the "experts" in now will destroy any chance of our children's sense of well-being, and they'll forever become ghosts floating and drifting through life who are extremely conversant in psycho-babble and making up excuses for behaving if not badly then aversed to self-improvement.