Towards best-practice inclusion of the Indigenous in decision making

Dr Kēpa Morgan - IIRC20
Thursday, November 19, 2020

Acknowledgement that Indigenous Knowledge can not be assimilated and readily generalised within reductionist scientific paradigms is emerging. The reluctance of Indigenous Peoples to adopt reductionist science-based interpretations is justified. Science that stops at the point where reality is universal excludes consideration of how outcomes are understood and experienced by more holistic epistemologies including those of Indigenous Peoples. Culturally-derived ways of knowing are beyond the realm of reductionist science and require approaches to decision making that are capable of including culturally-specific knowledge.

Cultural indicators are a geographically specific means of enabling measurement of a particular culture’s attributes, however to be appropriately recognised the method of inclusion is at least as important. Therefore cultural indicators, their definition, and their measurement are the sole prerogative of Indigenous Peoples, who have occupied a particular location for a length of time sufficient to have developed a unique connection to that place. How indigenous epistemologies are effectively empowered in frameworks is a critical consideration, as, due to colonisation, decisions are no longer being made in purely Indigenous contexts.

The purpose of this paper is to reveal broad issues that require attention, as cultural indicator sets cannot simply be tacked onto existing scientific modelling approaches. In all of the case studies that reflected best practice, the cultural indicator sets were developed as part of the project. While some indicators are transferable, the accuracy and appropriateness of the evaluation cannot be assumed unless the cultural indicator sets to be used are verified with the relevant Indigenous community.

The weakness of the majority of scientific modelling and its application within the reductionist scientific paradigm is the assumption that accurate representations of reality can be effectively achieved by only acknowledging the instrumental value and physical characteristics of the environment. A potential weakness of more holistic approaches that incorporate the intrinsic value of the ecosystem is that within the scientific paradigm these understandings can become inefficient due to the sheer complexity created. The challenge therefore is to avoid the constrained approach of only acknowledging the instrumental value but also ensure that the approach is manageable in terms of scale to ensure the effective incorporation of concepts not readily understood in the scientific paradigm.

Cultural indicator sets can potentially address issues with frameworks whose superficial scope is a constraint. Cultural indicator sets could enhance the mauri or intrinsic understanding of a decision making context providing the deeper more meaningful understanding available from Iwi and Hapū (Indigenous Peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand). The framework within which the indicator sets are to be used, however, must also be consistent with the holistic way of knowing of Iwi and Hapū, and the method of indicator measurement for all indicators must be consistent across indicator sets and robust in its application.