May We Find Balance

Common sense — is there such a phenomenon? This question resulted from attending yet another indigenous presenter on campus speaking to sustainability and the interconnectedness of all things. There were many “common sense” inquiries for the speaker by the audience — and as a friend and I exited the auditorium, we both remarked indigenous concepts are common sense to us. Then, it occurred to me that my indigenous common sense does not translate well into other worldviews. I also get a sense of this when I talk with indigenous professionals. Working in industry, we discussed how our employers make comments about our “out-of-the-box” creativity, and our ways of “doing”, like designing, building, and thinking. One even stated, ‘most designers just don’t have common sense’. We all experienced some form of these comments made by our colleagues. Since then, my perspective about common sense is — it’s bound by differing worldviews and cultures.

To be indigenous, is to exist hearing the ancient voices of my forefathers; the voices transmitted to me by my grandparents, mom, and uncles through daily life lessons, stories, and ceremony. My common sense originates from them, and it’s in everything I do. Existing and “Being” in such a space is what my mentor, Dr. Joseph Scott Gladstone, calls transplanar wisdom; it is wisdom that transpires time and occurs in all directions, including present work in academia, as well as the future as I now transmit knowledge to my children, and soon my grandchildren. I strive, again and again, to internalize such wisdom and knowledge with the intent to embody such intelligence, rather just one-off acts of insight; somedays I feel accomplished because it so innate that I just “Am”. I am “Diné” (Navajo), and there is no other way for me to be. Other days, I feel I diverge widely, but in reality – I’m come back to, I am wholly Diné, and thus, I am human with fallacies. However, my indigenous ways envelop me in a delicate, energetic, always-evolving, yet impenetrable, armor, in exactly the way my elders declared when speaking about my existence as a Diné human being. Every day is new opportunity to strive toward knowing the “common sense” based on my lived indigenous experiences.

In thinking about the devastating impacts of colonization (to put it lightly), I also marvel at the influence of modern technology, namely, the internet, on our ways of “Knowing” and “Being” as indigenous peoples. There is balance and harmony in all things. I’m amazed by this tool serving as a conduit toward reclaiming and revitalizing our ways. And, as a resurgence of powerful, ancient, yet still current, knowledge in our communities. The web exists very much like a Native’s idea of existence — it is an entity embodied with life and energy, ever-evolving, ever-present, and ever-dynamic in a paradoxically, simple and complex cosmos. The way in which it unites indigenous communities is also both simple and complex. Simple because it is a medium to share knowledge – it is the continued transmission of elemental indigenous knowledge within our communities. It is complex because sharing the knowledge in this manner is also exposing it to misappropriation, distortion, and commodification. Individuals lacking appropriate understanding abscond the highly valuable knowledge for personal gain without consideration; even “well-meaning” or “well-intentioned” individuals aspiring personal growth and development cross sensitive boundaries. Particularly, knowledge that have been held “close the vest” under the shield of sanctity and only shared with others while observing proper protocols (including physical space – there is a time, place, and purpose to share particular knowledge). On the other hand, there is also the jeopardy of losing this knowledge if it’s not shared. Also, if it is written or improperly shared (not following protocols), does it lose meaning and value? Many of our people are in places and spaces far from their homelands. They have breached boundaries once set for us; they exist and are wholly indigenous in these new places and spaces. Shouldn’t they have access to some of what makes them whole?

Deviance from such proper protocols by members of our communities seem normalized. ‘Everyone does it’, ‘It’s now just commercialized, it’s not ceremony’, or ‘I have authorization’… are some justifications. The act of recording and posting videos, descriptions, photos, etc. of once sacred and protected ceremonies are prevalent across the internet. The ethical boundaries of knowledge-sharing are blurred and not so simple. People defending their posts are usually virulent when others “call them out” on posting what should not be posted based on their teachings. I speculate this is connected to mimicking and employing the same behavior and tactics used against our peoples in our histories of being marginalized; the idea that others know what’s better for us even when we protest is woven throughout much of these dialogues.

This tension between what knowledge to share and what to withhold is highly applicable to scholarly research. This is internal struggle for me as an academic. I see it as a personal choice for each researcher, but do non-Indigenous groups face this conundrum? What to share, how much to share, how to share, and for what purposes beyond edification? Ultimately, we do what we do because it is part of what it means to be indigenous. To me, indigenous thought is sheer philosophy, so to be an academic is to find ‘home’ in many ways, yet we are also faced with the notion of publications as currency. We strive for the benefit of our Peoples, for the little ones looking to us as grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and siblings, and for the old ones who shed blood and lives on our behalf. We strive for the benefit of our sacred spaces, earthly and in the cosmos, we strive for the benefit of the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. Everything is interconnected – much like how common sense, normalization of deviance, ethics, and knowledge-sharing converge and intertwine. May we find balance.