Indigenous Epistemology and Education

In the article Indigenous Epistemology and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights Teresa L. McCarty and guest editors focus on indigenous epistemologies and its role with educational systems, human rights and indigenous self-determination. The article first introduces a series of questions that helped to drive the research of the various authors involved as the scholars seem to redefine the indigenous research agenda within, outside, and for the fields of education and anthropology (McCarty, Bargoiakova, Gilmore, Lomawaima, & Romero, 2005). As the authors move through the article, there are different positions taken to look at native people, the oppression that they have encountered, and the lasting effects that are reminiscent today with the loss of language, culture, and community systems. The reading helps define indigenous people and relate their historical experiences to challenges that many still face today. It winds down by recognizing the efforts of research taking place today that is driving to revitalize indigenous epistemologies and reverse many of the negative experiences that have transpired.

In this paper, the researchers worked off prior material that found in previous journals and scholarly research that they could build upon. From my perspective, the author and co-authors were looking to continue the momentum in providing scholarly research with indigenous epistemology and education. The report presented readers with supporting data with statistics that highlighted the author’s position on how indigenous languages and people have been plagued over time. The readings also presented research that showed examples from various researchers who shared common ground in means of results to theirs studies conducted in this line of inquiry, but with different segments of people who were studied. In short, the different areas of research analyzed help to highlight a movement by various research projects that all support similar findings.

From my perspective, one of the main things that were discovered in this study is that there have been some recent success from scholars working in this line of inquiry. The research presented in this article provided excellent insight on indigenous epistemologies and the affect they can have education within different cultures and societies. The report also uncovered a common thread amongst various scholars who hold the same passion for reversing the trends that have negatively affected indigenous people. A positive component to this piece, the authors are very motivated that in time more scholarly research will be conducted in this field, more efforts will be made to reverse the cycle of subjugation, and that the articles and commentaries assembled here lead the way toward these transformations (McCarty, 2005).

The piece to this article that grabbed my attention most was the material focused on how indigenous languages have been driven to near extinction in some cases. I agree with the authors points that, the shift toward English represents a shift away from the indigenous (McCarty, 2005). As I read this part to the reading I immediately reflected on my own personal experience as a Latino growing up in the United States, and how I have been unsuccessful in mastering the Spanish language. The English language was the first language spoken in my home and my parents’ home growing up, although both my parents and grandparents speak Spanish. I recall while growing up asking my parents why I was not taught Spanish as a child and why they did not speak Spanish very often. I was given a very direct answer. My parents both attended catholic school in Arizona growing up. It was common practice in the past that students in this school were not allowed to speak Spanish. If they were caught doing so, they would be reprimanded immediately. An interesting fact is that all of my siblings and myself attended this same catholic school growing up, and none of us speaks Spanish fluently today. Ultimately I found an immediate connection to the authors and point of agreement as they described how society has driven indigenous people, their languages, along with many of their social and cultural practices underground over time.


McCarty, T. L., Bargoiakova, T., & Gilmore, P., Lomawaima, K. T., Romero, M. E. (2005). Indigenous Epistemology and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology & Education Quarterly36(1), 1-7.

Indigenous Language and Culture Backdrop and Educational Revitalization Efforts

I was struck by the discussion regarding the power of indigenous languages in Teresa McCarty’s (2005) journal introduction entitled “Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights.” In the introductory article, McCarty (2005) explains that while indigenous populations may comprise a small percentage of current, world demographics, they do, however, disproportionally possess most of the world’s languages.  She demonstrates this point through the employment of statistics.  McCarty (2005) states that although, “indigenous peoples comprise 4 percent of the world’s population…they speak 4,000 to 5,000 of the world’s more than 6,000 languages” (McCarty, 2005, p. 2).

These languages are threatened by the legacy of colonized diaspora that negatively impact indigenous identities.  Diaspora jeopardizes knowledge and epistemologies that are directly connected that are autochthonous, or indigenous, to specific peoples and lands.  The core of these knowledges is understanding ways of life within particular locations and circumstances through.  These knowledges are orally transmitted to younger generations of indigenous peoples as a means of perpetuating traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world.  This traditional and orally linguistic transmission of cultural ways of knowing is violently disrupted by the linguistic genocide of indigenous peoples.  Therefore, as language and traditional knowledge is inextricably fused, discourse about indigenous self-determination and education cannot occur without active consideration and exploration of the both elements.

More specifically, McCarty (2005) argues, that the “shift toward English represents a shift away from the Indigenous” (p. 3).  However, the ramifications of a monolingual and resulting monocultural educational system limit the scope of knowledge, epistemologies, and worldviews transmitted to younger generations.  As a result, indigenous linguistic and cultural educational movements have begun to reclaim and propagate traditional ways of knowledge through language in schools.  This effort is bolstered by the ideology that perceives and respects the cruxes of language and self-determination.

Therefore, not only should language revitalization efforts include grassroots initiatives, but also those at all levels of education because loss of indigenous languages and the subsequent knowledge continue to threaten indigenous students’ academic achievement.  This connection and the result it renders is that the educational inclusion of indigenous epistemologies “can lead to a different kind of schooling experience and a different kind of learner” (McCarty, 2005, p. 4).  Indigenous languages, McCarty (2005) contends, belong in the very classrooms that have historically and systematically oppressed their use and transmission, and therefore further marginalize indigenous populations.  However, by including indigenous languages and knowledge in education, these traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world can empower indigenous peoples and communities toward self-determination.

Indigenous language revitalization efforts in education are at the core of my research agenda, especially those implemented on reservations.  This article illuminated the interconnectedness of the concepts of language, knowledge, of the “power of place.” I completely agree with the argument that education should be the first step in initiating language revitalization efforts.  This is especially powerful due to the colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples through the educational process.

However, as language is not extrinsic from other cultural aspects and ways of knowing, it should not be taught in isolation.  It is a means of transferring traditional, cultural knowledge.  Therefore, it should be taught as a tool through which cultural knowledge is transmitted.  Although there are many educational programs that attempt to instill linguistic and cultural knowledge, the one I most subscribe to is that of the mother-tongue immersion program.

The mother-tongue immersion program completely immerses children in the traditional, mother-tongue language throughout the entire of the school day in kindergarten.  The language is spoken by elders of the community as a means of exposing and encouraging students to use it, but also as a means of teaching traditional knowledge.  As the children progress throughout the grade-levels, the languages employed by the schools are 50% English and 50% mother-tongue.  The Maori have developed implemented this linguistic and cultural immersion program and have rendered positive results that have resulted in other, international schools to adopt similar programs (Reyhner, 2003).  The mother-tongue immersion program is theoretically supported by the information provided in McCarty’s article and is one that I would like to research further.

McCarty, T. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education — Self-Determination , Anthropology , and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1–7.

Reyhner, J. (2003). Native Language Immersion. In L. L. Jon Reyhner, Octaviana V. Trujillo, Roberto Luis Carrasco (Ed.), Nuturing Native Languages (4th ed., pp. 1–6). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Retrieved from