What Indigenous Psychology is

Indigenous Psychologies are systems of knowledge based on paradigms that originate in particular localities and cultures (Kim et al., 2006). Native peoples of the Americas, aboriginal peoples in Australia and New Zealand, Chinese, Japanese, African, Hawaiian, Filipinos, Latin American, and Indian scholars (among others) are contesting the imposition of colonized epistemologies and bringing their own systems of knowledge to the center of discourse. The worldwide call for Indigenization was preceded by the paradigm crisis in psychology experienced in the late 1960’s (Kim et al., 2006). This was influenced by neo-colonial rejection. The collective contestation is that existing psychological theories are not universal but must be understood in their ecological, historical, philosophical, religious, political, and cultural contexts. Indigenous psychologists criticize Western psychology in its fundamental assumptions based on linear models of causality. They contest the imposition of Western standards based on positivist paradigms and Cartesian dual thinking that separates mind, body, psyche, nature, and spirit. Western psychology has emphasized the positivist researcher’s power, expertise, and control. Western social science has applied assumptions of superiority of one race and culture compared to other races and cultures based on Darwin’s theory of evolution. These assumptions help to justify systems of power, oppression, and exploitation of others for the sake of mono-cultural hegemony and colonization of other races, cultures, and nature. In contrast, Indigenous psychologies emerge from epistemologies (how we create knowledge), ontologies (what is knowledge), and axiology (the implicit values in knowledge construction) that bring to the center interdependence, relationship, and stewardship of natural resources and biodiversity.

Under Indigenous psychologies the conception and development of the self encompasses the individual embedded in the context of family, culture, and nature at large. Indigenous psychologists highlight the concept of relationships between humans and non-humans and the natural world at large. The process of knowledge creation is conceived as ceremony (Wilson, 2009). Praxis is based on relationship building that promotes shared identity and interdependence. Multi-methods are applied to enhance awareness as one-with-the-other. Research results remain in the community and the participants decide what to do with them.

These efforts and revolutionary movements known under Indigenous Psychologies are finding an emancipatory language to challenge imperial forms of knowing and being in the world. These movements are co-constructing alternatives and building partnerships with silenced intellectual traditions to decolonize science and address imperative issues of cultural and ecological genocide.