of The Gift Economy
Many Voices discuss The Gift Economy
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In this paper, I discuss how the logic of the gift embedded in Indigenous philosophies
relates to the prevalent ignorance and benevolent imperialism of the academy. I
suggest that there is a pressing need for a new paradigm in the academy; a paradigm
based on the logic of the gift as understood in Indigenous thought. With the help
of the notion of the gift, I argue that it is possible to envision alternative ways of
perceiving and relating to previously marginalized epistemes in the academy. In
short, we need to conceptualize a new logic that would make the academy more
responsible and responsive in its pursuit of knowledge.
The Gift Logic of Indigenous Philosophies
in the Academy
The logic of the gift articulated here foregrounds a new relationship char-
acterized by reciprocity and a call for responsibility toward the “other.” Thus
far, much academic attention with regard to Indigenous peoples has focused
on seeking to “acclimatize” Indigenous students to the university environment
and academic culture. This approach is based on an implicit assumption that
Indigenous people are in need of help. Further, these assumptions are premised
on externalizing responsibility. Those who are ultimately responsible are always
Sami Worldview and Gift Practices
In Indigenous worldviews, the gift extends beyond interpersonal relationships to
“all my relations.”1 Put another way, according to these philosophies, giving is an
active relationship between human and natural worlds based on a close interaction
of sustaining and renewing the balance between them through gifts.
Instead of viewing the gift as a form of exchange or as having only an eco-
nomic function as many classic gift theories suggest, I propose that the gift is a
reflection of a particular worldview characterized by a perception of the natural
environment as a living entity which gives its gifts and abundance to people if it
is treated with respect and gratitude (i.e., if certain responsibilities are observed).
Central to this perception is that the world as a whole is constituted of an infinite
web of relationships extended to and incorporated into the entire social condi-
tion of the individual. Social ties apply to everybody and everything, including
the land. People are related to their physical and natural surroundings through
genealogies, oral tradition and their personal and collective experiences pertaining
to certain locations.
According to the traditional Sami perception of the world, like in many other
Indigenous worldviews, the land is a physical and spiritual entity which humans
are part of. Survival is viewed as dependent on the balance and renewal of the land,
the central principles in this understanding are sustainable use of and respect for
the natural realm. The relationship with the land is maintained by collective and
individual rituals in which the gift and giving back are integral. The intimacy and
interrelatedness is reflected in the way of communicating with various aspects of
the land which often are addressed directly as relatives. The close connection to
the natural realm is also evident in the permeable and indeterminate boundaries
between the human and natural worlds. Skilled individuals can assume the form
of an animal when needed and there are also stories about women marrying an
animal (Porsanger 2004: 151-2).
An interesting, almost completely ignored aspect in the analyses of Sami cos-
mology and “religion” is the role of the female deities in giving the gift of life (to
both human beings and domestic animals, mainly reindeer) and the connection
to the land. One could suggest that the Sami deity M·tt·r·hkk· with her three
daughters signified the very foundation in the Sami cosmic order. M·tt·r·hkk·
could be translated as “Earthmother” (the root word m·tt·r refers to earth and
also to ancestors). Moreover, words for “earth” and “mother” in the Sami language
also derive from the same root (eanan and eadni respectively). The role of women
and female deities in Sami cosmology and the world order of giving and relations
is a neglected area of study. M·tt·r·hkk· and her three daughters are the deities
of new life who convey the soul of a child, create its body and also assist with
menstruation, childbirth and protection of children. In spite of the fact that the
most significant gift or all, a new life, is the duty of these female deities, they have,
in ethnographic literature, often been relegated to a mere status of wives of male
deities. This reflects the common patriarchal bias of ethnographic interpretations
of cultural practices.
Traditionally, one of the most important ways to maintain established relations
and the socio-cosmic order has been the practice of giving to various sieidis. Sieidi
is a sacred place to which the gift is given to thank certain spirits for the abun-
dance in the past but also to ensure fish, hunting and reindeer luck in the future.
Although the several centuries’ long influence of Christianity has severely eroded
the Sami gift-giving to and sharing with the land by banning it as a pagan form
of devil worshipping, there is a relatively large body of evidence that the practice
of sieidi gifting is still practiced (Kjellstr–m 1987; see also Juuso 1998: 137).
I argue that contrary to conventional interpretations, giving to sieidi cannot
be completely understood through the concept of sacrifice. Even if sieidi gifts do
have aspects of sacrifice, they are not and should not be regarded solely as such.
They may have other dimensions that can be as significant—if not more so—as
the aspect of sacrifice. Bones are given back, the catch shared and reindeer given to
the gods and goddesses of hunting, fishing and reindeer luck represented by sieidi
the gift logic of indigeneous philosophies in the academy
sites as an expression of gratitude for their goodwill and for ensuring abundance
also in the future. In this sense, giving to sieidis appears involuntary as it is done
for the protection and security of both the individual and the community.
The Academy and the Reproduction of the Values of the Exchange Paradigm
The university remains a contested site where not only knowledge but also middle-
class with its eurocentric, patriarchal and (neo)colonial values are produced and
reproduced. As Althusser and others have exposed, the academy is one of the main
sites of reproduction of hegemony. Not surprisingly, then, the studied silence and
willed indifference around the “Indigenous” continues unabated in most academic
circles. In the same way as Indigenous people remained invisible in shaping and
delineating of the nation-states in the “New World” (see Hall 2003, 66), Indig-
enous scholarship remains invisible and unreflected even in discourses of western
radical intellectuals. The politics of disengagement rooted in hegemonic forms
of reason combined with the corporatization of basic values—accumulation of
intellectual capital, competitive self-interestedness—deter many self-identified
critics of hegemonic discourses from seriously committing themselves in elabo-
ration of alternatives or engaging in the slow and demanding process of “ethical
singularity” (Spivak 1999: 384). In the spirit of the times, they count upon the
revolution—a sudden rupture that appears from nowhere without much effort.
Val Plumwood (2002) has pointed out the critical but usually hidden relationship
between power and disengagement:
Power is what rushes into the vacuum of disengagement; the fully “impartial”
knower can easily be one whose skills are for sale to the highest bidder, who
will bend their administrative, research and pedagogical energies to wherever
the power, prestige and funding is. Disengagement then carriers a politics,
although it is a paradoxical politics in which an appearance of neutrality
conceals capitulation of power. (43)
The reality remains, as Gayatri Spivak reminds us, that mind-changing requires
patience and painstaking attempts of learning to learn: “The tempo of learning
to learn from this immensely slow temporizing will not only take us clear out of
diasporas, but will also yield no answers or conclusions readily” (Spivak 1990).
“Instant fix” models or reductionist sloganeering are simply not going to deliver
the transformation. “Feel-good” transformation that does not address complexities
or multiple realities and challenges will not get us very far. We must be able to see
how cynicism and nihilism are not only counterproductive but serves the interests
of power. Cynical attitudes particularly common among male intellectuals that
suggest that envisioning alternatives is too idealistic only serves the hegemonic
structures by creating new and sustaining old hierarchies and relations of power.
Peter McLaren (1995) urges intellectuals and educators to deprivilege cynicism
“in favor of a will to dream and act upon such dreams” (56).
Another contemporary reality is that, as the pervasive economic globalization
has painfully demonstrated, sites of separatism are no longer possible. In a way or
another, all societies and communities are affected by the forces of globalization
that eliminate borders of all kinds. The pervasive nature of neoliberal corporate
mentality is also reflected in the (willy-nilly) adopting much of its values. Particu-
larly relevant in this context is the externalization of social responsibility. It seems
that the corporate ethos according to which social responsibility is considered
a distortion of business principles (Bakan 2004) is also increasingly influencing
the academy, where even “revolutionary scholars” prefer to point fingers and
disavow their own personal social responsibilities. One repeatedly hears that we
need alternatives and that we have to start creating them, but very few in fact get
beyond that point.
Why, then, more academics are not envisioning alternatives? A brief visit to recent
conferences in numerous fields and disciplines show that most scholars, including
some Indigenous intellectuals, are content to limit their thinking within existing,
hegemonic paradigms and become satisfied in asking complacent questions such
as “minimum requirements” for our participation in current structures. Ironically,
those who do not limit themselves to telling others to create alternatives and new
visions but attempt to elaborate them are ridiculed as utopian and idealistic even
by those who call for alternatives. Maria Mies (1998) suggests:
The difficulty of even thinking of an alternative in our industrial societies
is due partly to the concept of linear progress which dominates Eurocentric
thought. People cannot understand that “going back” and looking for what
was better in the past, or in non-industrialized societies, might be a creative
method of transcending the impasse in which our societies are stranded....
They are also reluctant to step out of their given mindset and dream of another
paradigm, unless they are offered a fully fledged model of another economy.
They fear to join a process, which is already under way, and contribute their
own creativity and energy. They want security before they step out of their
old house. (xvii)
The reality is that we have to have the courage to start from the scratch and
participate in an on-going, unfinished process. Suggesting, as some academics have
done, that we need to learn from the New Right because their strategies seem to
work is not going to get us anywhere. One quickly learns that fabricating lies,
manipulating fear, manufacturing myths and hostility toward the other in the
name of uniting the nation and at the end, believing in these myths themselves
is not going to teach us very much else than how utterly corrupt, savage and
unconscionable the New Right is. It is impossible build viable alternatives with
these tactics. Moreover, considering how the general spirit of distrust and disil-
lusionment generated particularly by the Right appears to have affected also the
spirit of much of the Left, it is clear that we do not need to learn from the Right.
In our search for teachers and sources of learning, we need to look elsewhere,
the gift logic of indigeneous philosophies in the academy
scratch the surface deeper and broaden our horizons beyond the Right and Left.
We need to start learning from the Gift. As Spivak (1999) states:
There is an alternative vision of the human: those who have stayed in place
for more than thirty thousand years.... Yet here too lies the experience of the
impossible that will have moved capital persistently from self to other—eco-
nomic growth as cancer to redistribution as medicine: pharmakon. (402)
Scholarly “Give Back”
A central principle of Indigenous philosophies, “giving back” also forms the backbone
of current research conducted by many Indigenous scholars and students. It expresses
a strong commitment and desire to ensure that academic knowledge, practices and
research are no longer used as a tool of colonization and as a way exploiting Indig-
enous peoples by taking (or as it is often put, stealing) their knowledge without
ever giving anything back in return. After centuries of being studied, measured,
categorized and represented to serve various colonial interests and purposes, many
Indigenous peoples now require that research dealing with Indigenous issues has to
emanate from the needs and concerns of Indigenous communities instead of those
of an individual researcher or the dominant society. Indigenous research ethics assert
the expectations of academics—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—to “give
back,” to conduct research that has positive outcome and is relevant to Indigenous
peoples themselves (e.g., Battiste 2000: xx; Smith 1999: 15)
The principle of “giving back” in research—whether it is reporting back,
sharing the benefits, bringing back new knowledge and vital information to the
community, or taking the needs and concerns of the people into account—is
part of the larger process of decolonizing colonial structures and mentality and
restoring Indigenous societies.
Besides generating respectful and responsible scholarship, the recognition of
the gift of Indigenous epistemes also provides it with a deeper, more informed
understanding of contemporary Indigenous-state (or the dominant society) relations
manifested in numerous and complex ways as well as of the different perceptions
of the world which emphasize the relationship between human beings and the
natural environment. Considering the destructive agendas of unlimited economic
growth based on prevailing neoliberal, global capitalist and patriarchal paradigms
labelled as “free trade” and commodification of all life forms is yet another reason
for the academy and the mainstream society at large to recognize and become
cognizant of the main principles in Indigenous philosophies.
At the same time, we need to remain vigilant of patriarchal, masculinist
mechanisms of control that also exist within contemporary Indigenous scholar-
ship. As a young Indigenous woman and junior academic, I have experienced
the old boys” network functioning in most unexpected academic spaces and
learned that in some cases, male-bonding and solidarity with other male aca-
demics is far greater than the unity of “Indigenous peoples’ front” in working
towards transformation and decolonization of our peoples and societies. Here
of course lies the irony of the double standard—this is the very same front that
is considered threatened when Indigenous women concur with feminist analysis
and build alliances with non-Indigenous women and feminists. Yet more than
once Indigenous women scholars have been faced with the male mechanisms
of control which seek to silence and keep women, including young Indigenous
women, in their place and stop them stepping on the toes of the authorities.
These incidents have made it clear that if we adhere to these male mechanisms
of control, we as Indigenous female scholars are allowed and can be critical only
within carefully defined parameters.
The Future of the Academy and the Recognition of the Gift
I contend that the future of the academy is dependent on the recognition of the
gift of Indigenous epistemes—recognition as understood within the logic of the
gift that foregrounds the responsibility in the name of the well-being of all. As
in Indigenous epistemes, the future of the academy is dependent on its ability to
create and sustain appropriate reciprocal relationships grounded on action and
knowledge. In other words, recognizing the gift requires acquiring and adopting
a new logic that is grounded on the responsibility toward the other that is defined
as the ability and willingness to reciprocate at the epistemic level, not only at the
level of human interaction. The call for the recognition of the gift of Indigenous
epistemes is a call for an epistemic shift grounded on a specific philosophy and as
such, a more profound transformation than efforts toward the inclusive university
seeking to “democratize” the traditionally Eurocentric curriculum and the canon.
In the discourse of inclusion, the paradigm—the mode of thinking and relating,
the relationship—remains unchanged as a one-way relationship where the flow of
knowledge is always unilateral (and thus hegemonic), whether from Indigenous
people to the academy (the scene of the native informant) or from the academy
to Indigenous people (the scene of Eurocentric, hegemonic intellectual founda-
tions of the institution).
The gift logic necessitates mind-changing—opening up to a new way of seeing
and conceptualizing knowledge as well as our relationships and responsibilities. As
such, it also exceeds analyses put forth by advocates of critical pedagogy. Cultivating
critical thinking and social responsibility, critical pedagogy emphasizes the political
and emancipatory nature of education. Many also advocate “revolutionary critical
pedagogy” that foregrounds the social class and is informed by Marxist theories.
For the most part, however, critical pedagogy is a white, male discourse and thus,
not necessarily emancipatory for many other groups and individuals (Ellsworth
1989). In its articulation of the primacy of the social class or the processes of
democratization, revolutionary critical pedagogy also usually ignores the funda-
mental question of expropriation of Indigenous peoples lands and territories (see
also Grande 2000: 51). Scholars of critical theory and pedagogy are apt to note
how capitalism would not be possible without the unpaid work of slaves, people
the gift logic of indigeneous philosophies in the academy
of colour and women, but there is again a studied silence about the usurpation
of Indigenous lands. Perhaps it is strategic forgetfulness to ignore “the historical
facts which are for many hard to swallow”—that at best, the Anglo-American is
a guest on this continent, and at worst, the United States of America is founded
upon stolen land” (Silko 1980: 215).
The concept of revolution is inconsistent with the logic of the gift. Revolution
is always predicated of violence of some sorts, whether physical, overt violence
or more subtle forms such as structural, symbolic, or even epistemic. Revolu-
tions take place to overthrow oppressive, hegemonic regimes. Further, observing
the recent discourses of revolution by both the Right and the Left has left me
somewhat wary of the potential of revolutions. If the neoconservatives can view
themselves as revolutionary in their myth-making and battle against the evil in
the name of saving the “nation,” revolution has literally come too close to terror
and hegemony. In such revolution, there simply can be no liberation for the ma-
jority of the world’s population. Revolutions are also marked by the gender bias
which merely reproduces patriarchal, hierarchical models as the ideals for new
sovereignty (see Spivak 1985). As Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen
note, “[a]fter so many failed or abrogated revolutions, we no longer have confi-
dence in the power which comes out of barrels of the guns of the international
warriors” (1999: 120).
Yet another reason for not having faith in revolutions is because no trans-
formation takes place if we are incapable of getting beyond the language of
aggression. As we know, language mirrors but also constructs our reality and
thus our values. We do not need replication and reinforcement of the language
of violence, we need a language of new possibilities. Instead of opposition, we
need participation and commitment. The logic of the gift that compels us to
reconsider concepts such as responsibility, recognition and reciprocity. This does
not mean that Marxist analysis and critique is no longer needed. There is no
doubt that epistemic ignorance is sanctioned in the interest of global capitalist
relations. But instead of relying on one theory and expect it to do all the work,
we have to recognize that no theory alone can deliver change or do the job
single-handedly. This is also where our intellectual maturity may begin—when
we stop engaging in wholesale dismissals of useful tools called theories without
first doing our homework.
I have also called attention to the fact that Indigenous epistemes cannot be
recognized as a gift within the prevailing neocolonial, global capitalist system.
The language and values of exchange market economy and male rationality have
permeated all spheres of life, including the way academics view their responsibili-
ties. Moreover, universities are increasingly run like corporations and are marked
by the values of neoliberal ideologies. This directly and indirectly affects to what
is considered important and relevant in teaching and learning. By counting on
the wealth and profit the gift or aspects of it such as “traditional knowledge”
can generate for the advancement of the academy, this system only exploits and
commodifies the gift by perceiving it as part of the exchange economy. In this
system, knowledge is being commercialized—a trend reflected, for example, in
the view of Joseph Stiglitz for whom knowledge is a global public good capable of
producing benefits and “one of the keys to development” (1999: 320). The idea
of the recognition of the gift challenges this ideology embedded in the current
trend of universities on the road of “becoming corporate institutions motivated
by profit-thinking” along the lines “[t]he more money one attracts, the more one
is “excellent” (Kailo 2000: 65; see also Findlay 2000: 312).
Further, the concept of epistemic ignorance seeks to pave way to a new language
that exceeds cultural discontinuity theories and analyses. Epistemic ignorance refers
to the predominant, general resistance to, indifference and lack of recognition
and knowledge of Indigenous worldviews and discursive practices in the acad-
emy. The concept assists to expose practices of active and passive “not-knowing”
and mechanisms of exclusion in the academy which ensure that the gift remains
impossible. However, it is clear that academy is not only benevolently ignorant
but also in many ways, adamantly opposes Indigenous epistemes because they
do not conform their learned views about the world, knowledge and rationality.
Therefore, epistemic ignorance does not only refer to innocent not-knowing but
also structures of power, ideologies that seek to maintain status quo, consolidate
native informants and keep them in the academic reservations.
Instead of focussing on the question of what needs to be done for Indigenous
people in the academy, we need to hold the academy responsible for its ignorance
and therefore, for its homework. Creating Indigenous spaces and asserting their
voices in the academy is an insufficient measure because these gestures do not
guarantee that Indigenous people can speak or are heard and understood by the
academy. The historic, cultural and social foundations of the academy continue
to be informed by patriarchal and colonial discourses and practices, resulting in
a situation where “[t]he conditions of intellectual life are circumscribed by these
assumptions and practices” (Green 2002: 88). In addition to the conditions of
intellectual life, also what is being heard is confined and defined by these param-
eters. Due to the selective, rarefied intellectual foundations of the academy, those
coming from other epistemic traditions are either forced to “transcode” their
systems of knowing and perceiving the world into the dominant ones or simply
remain “unheard” or misunderstood.
What is urgently needed is an unconditional welcome and openness to the “other”
epistemes in such a way that “translation” of these epistemes is not a prerequisite to
be welcomed to the academy. The questions that we need to ask include: how to
move beyond the pervasive and widely sanctioned benign neglect? How to transform
mere tolerance to engagement and to active participation in the logic of the gift?
Epistemic ignorance, however, is not only an “Indigenous problem.” It is also
a problem of higher education at large for it seriously threatens and limits “free
and fearless” intellectual inquiry and pursuit of knowledge. Beyond the academy,
it is a problem of entire society. With the current suicidal economic priorities
and destructive values, what is at stake is the long-term survival of everyone.
Therefore, the problem of epistemic ignorance in the academy or elsewhere in
the gift logic of indigeneous philosophies in the academy
society is not solved by adding “Native content” in curriculum or incorporating
the “Indigenous” in critical pedagogy. Calls for raising awareness and increasing
knowledge are not new—they can be found in almost any list of recommenda-
tions dealing with education and Indigenous peoples. In Canada, for instance,
they are among the core recommendations in the Report of the Royal Commission
on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996 and reiterated in the more recent report, Learning
About Walking in Beauty: Placing Aboriginal Perspectives in Canadian Classrooms
I argue that in the academy, Indigenous epistemes need to be recognized as a
gift according to the principles of responsibility and reciprocity that foreground
the logic of the gift. The recognition called for here, however, is of a specific kind.
It is not limited to the often fleeting moment of recognizing diversity in terms of
“other” identities and cultures associated with multiculturalism but as I propose,
it stems from an understanding grounded in the logic of the gift. This recognition
requires knowledge but also commitment, action and reciprocity—one must take
action according to responsibilities that characterize that particular relationship.
As the various gifts of the land cannot be taken for granted in this logic—if they
are, the balance of the world which life depends on is disrupted—the gift of In-
digenous epistemes cannot be neglected. If they are, the university has failed its
profession. As the gifts of the land have to be actively recognized by expressions of
gratitude and giving back, the gift of Indigenous epistemes must be acknowledged
by reciprocating which includes the ability to understand not only the gift itself
but also the logic of the gift behind it.
Changing our mindsets to the logic of the gift is a challenging, interminable
process that requires a strong commitment to hospitality and a sense of respon-
sibility toward the “other” on the academy’s part. Rather than simply compre-
hending otherness, it is a matter of recognizing agency of the other (see Spivak
1995b: 182). Knowing (about) other cultures or epistemes will never alone erase
systemic inequalities and disparate relations of power and privilege in the academy
or elsewhere in society. This is why the academy must be called into action by
an unfaltering commitment to responsibility and reciprocity as discussed above.
Echoing Spivak’s words, my work makes “a plea for the patient work of learning
to learn from below—a species of “reading’, perhaps—how to mend the torn
fabric of subaltern ethics...” (Spivak 2001: 15).
This plea is not romanticizing: “What we are dreaming of here is not how to
keep the tribal in a state of excluded cultural conformity but how to construct
a sense of sacred Nature which can help mobilize a general ecological mind-set
beyond the reasonable and self-interested grounds of long-term global survival”
(Spivak 1995a: 199). This mobilization, however, does not imply taking the easy
but irresponsible step across the threshold of embracing a “land ethic” or the
logic of the gift, for that matter, without addressing the contemporary realities
of Indigenous peoples. Nor it involves viewing Indigenous peoples as “nature
folk” and picking and choosing aspects of Indigenous cultures according to the
personal preference and need. It is not a call for simply paying tribute to Indig-
enous peoples and their land-centered practices or for merely employing them as
inspirational symbols without knowing and acting upon one’s responsibilities as
required by the logic of the gift.
Superficial cultivation of short-lived references to Indigenous peoples’ relation-
ship with the land has nothing to do with the logic of the gift. Rather, they only
romanticize and perpetuate persistent stereotypes with regard to “tradition” versus
“contemporary.” The gift has to be read in its various contexts and one of the
sites is the academy. Neither various gift practices nor the logic of the gift can be
rendered as belonging only to “archaic” or “traditional” societies. The logic of the
gift remains central in Indigenous epistemes. We are all contemporaries although
some of us may have different ways of perceiving and relating to the world.
A commitment to openness and learning to learn will hopefully also assist
people in the academy to see the links between issues such as the logic of the gift
and contemporary land rights of Indigenous peoples—a question that, from the
perspective of the dominant, often appears controversial, problematic and above
all, political. The gift is a reflection of a worldview that emphasizes the mainte-
nance of good relationships with the land. If there is no land to have a relation-
ship with—that is, if the land is expropriated or used for other, more “profitable”
purposes, whether in the name of civilization or globalized economy—not only
the gift is made impossible but also the survival of the people is impossible. In
other words, the subordination of the rights of peoples to the global “imperatives”
of capital and profit does the same job as the earlier anti-potlatch law and other
policies and measures of banning cultural practices of Indigenous peoples. The
Bretton Woods institutions effectively continue the legacy of colonization and
assimilation by making the conditions of the gift and other practices impossible.
To turn Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of gift practices upside down: it is not the gift,
but WTO, that is the most effective form of symbolic violence. The WTO is
the new “anti-potlatch law” (see, for example, Bracken 1997; Cole and Chaikin
1990). Therefore, the bottom line is to change the values and thinking behind
these values because—as Indigenous people in particular know—otherwise we
kill the planet and ourselves with it.
The gift is a wakeup call to the academy and society at large. It is a collective
vision for a common future that is more reasonable—if we recall, the non-hege-
monic form of reason implies the ability to receive—as well as a more sustainable
and just society. The gift is not only about applying new tools for teaching as
sometimes suggested. The logic of the gift is not merely settling with minimum
requirements within existing paradigms, nor is it just about “Indigenous voices”
in the academy. It is a much more fundamental transformation of mindsets and
values with a measure of creativity and radical break with previous practices.
This transformation goes beyond incorporation of subjugated knowledge in
the margins of an intact core of the knowledge. It is a radical change in the way
academics, students, administrators and others in the academy perceive the role
and nature of “other” epistemes. As Luce Irigaray (1985) contends, there cannot
be change in the real without a concurrent change in the imaginary. As long as
the gift logic of indigeneous philosophies in the academy
the mainstream western society is dominated by a destructive imaginary, change
is simply impossible.
The heart of the logic of the gift lays in the conceptual push to reimagine the
academy as a site of responsibilities where epistemic reciprocation occurs. There
is no single mode how this can be done. Rather, the logic of the gift is embedded
in a practice that takes into account the multiplicities and specificities of each
individual context. The very core of the gift logic is that there is not a single set
of practices—this is evident in the multiplicity of gift practices of Indigenous
peoples. The logic is shared but the practices vary from a context and situation
to another. The intellectual maturity starts when we recognize that there is no
one magic way, only the on-going active participation of everybody and endless
ways of reciprocating, receiving the gift and taking responsibility. The logic of
the gift cannot and should not be reduced “to a congerie of prescribed methods
and techniques that sacrifice theory and reflection at the altar of high priests and
prophets of practice” (McLaren and Farahmandpur 2005: 7). Advocates of “con-
crete solutions” who separate practice from theory are misguided in their dualistic
mindsets and hyperseparation that reflects the ingrained modern consciousness,
only reinforcing the politics of disengagement. As we can see in the relationship
between the philosophy and the multiplicity of practices of the gift, theory and
practice are inseparable and overlapping, one informing the other. For those, who
are not sure how to practice the logic of the gift, one place to start looking is the
gift giving practices themselves. Another place is self-reflection: How can we col-
lectively and individually start transforming our values so that they would better
reflect the basic principles of the gift logic, participation and reciprocation—the
conditions of being human? How can we practice these principles in our work,
research, teaching and daily academic life? What do we need to learn to ensure
that Indigenous epistemes “can speak’? At the same time, we need to continue
critiquing the patriarchal global capitalism and its values in the academy and
engage in lesser used strategy of social justice—practising and living our alterna-
tives—the gift logic, for instance—also in the academy.
This article is based on my forthcoming book, Reshaping the University: Respon-
sibility, Indigenous Epistemes and the Logic of the Gift (University of British
Columbia Press, 2007).
Rauna Kuokkanen is Associate Professor of Pedagogy and Indigenous Studies at the
Sami University College, Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino (Norway). She holds a Ph.d.
on Education from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) and
an MA on Comparative Literature (University of British Columbia) and on Sami
Language and Literature (University of Oulu, Finland). She has published articles on
Indigenous research paradigms, education and critical theory, Indigenous literature,
the gift paradigm, and globalization and Indigenous women. Her current research
examines the intersections of autonomy, violence, and political economy in the context
of Indigenous women. She was the founding chair of the Sami Youth Organization in
Finland, established in 1991, and has served as the Vice-President of the Sami Coun-
cil. Currently she is a member of the Board of directors of Terralingua, International
Organization for Protection of Biocultural diversity, and a member of the Call of the
Earth Circle, Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative on Intellectual Property Policy.
The expression “All my relations” (or “all my relatives”) is commonly used as a way
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