British Columbia Library Association

Notes on Okanagan College’s Indigenous Concepts of Knowledge Symposium

By Roën Janyk

More than 100 people attended an Indigenous Concepts of Knowledge Symposium at Okanagan College’s Kelowna Campus on June 15. Moderated by Dr. Bill Cohen, Okanagan College professor of Indigenous Studies and Project Manager of the College’s Indigenization Task Force, several notable scholars discussed their perspectives on topics such as connections between orality and literacy, Indigenous concepts of ownership and intellectual property, traditional ecology-based systems of knowledge, ethics of the use and curation of Indigenous knowledge, and research methods that respect Indigenous ways of knowing. Attendees also enjoyed bannock provided by the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society.

Dr. Greg Younging, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia (Okanagan) and Assistant Director of Research for Canada’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission, shared his knowledge surrounding intellectual property and Indigenous concepts of ownership. Younging discussed the struggle with existing legal regimes to accommodate First Nations’ unique cultural values and forms of traditional knowledge, and how fundamental differences between western and traditional knowledge create challenges in determining whether the different concepts can be merged. Younging’s most recent essay was published in the book Free Knowledge: Confronting the Commodification of Human Discovery.

Dr. Ann M. Doyle, head of the Xwi7xwa Library on UBC’s Vancouver campus, presented a talk, titled, Indigenous Knowledge in Action: Organizing Knowledge in Public Institutions, in which she, highlighted three story baskets—a concept she learned from Ellen White. The first basket Doyle shared was called Journey, the journey to theory; the second was Raven, the story of Raven in the Library; and the third was titled Returning, returning things that have been taken. Doyle went on to discuss knowledge organization systems. She shared her experiences learning to organize, design, and describe items within an Indigenous library. Doyle co-authored the article “Indigenization of knowledge organization at the Xwi7xwa Library,” in a 2015 issue of the Journal of Library and Information Studies. UBC Library also maintains an Indigenous Librarianship Research Guide that contains information on both Indigenous knowledge organization and Indigenous cultural and intellectual property.

Symposium attendees. ROËN JANYK

The symposium concluded with a presentation by Melissa Adams, Librarian and Archivist for the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, on Indigenous knowledge and the impact of colonialism on record keeping practices. Adams addressed how classification schemes and subject headings used to describe Indigenous knowledge continue to pose problems for finding, accessing, and organizing such information. Adams touched on Verna Kirkness’ concept of The Four R’s (respect, relevance, reciprocity, and responsibility) and adapted the concept from higher education to a framework for thinking about Indigenous knowledge.

The first R, respect, refers to respect for Indigenous cultural integrity, including elements of cultural knowledge and core values. The second R relevance, references relevance to Indigenous perspectives and experiences, includes Indigenous information needs and how to find materials. The third R, reciprocity, can be considered a two-way process whereby people from different cultures and with varying levels of understanding may contribute different but equally valuable information. The fourth R, responsibility, describes meaningful, participatory inclusion of Indigenous people..

Adams called for more diversity among information professionals and also discussed the challenges of organizing and presenting information held in the Union of BC Indian Chief’s Library and Archives.. For further information about Adams’ presentation, visit her list of open access resources on archives and Indigenous issues.

The Symposium was presented by Okanagan College Library, Aboriginal Services, and the Okanagan College Faculty Association. For more information about the event, please contact Ross Tyner, Director of Library services. A recording of the symposium is available here.


Roën Janyk is the Web Services Librarian at Okanagan College.

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