A Precarious Path off the Beaten Track

In every field of contemporary thought, the methods and metrics for making sense of complex systems are incapable of helping us perceive the actions and relations that shape our reality. We live in a world where fact-checking, sense-making and any feeling of shared reality seems impossible.

What is real, what is true, what is authentic, what is natural, what is ethical, what it just – nobody can agree on these things at scale. Gas lighting, disinformation, cultural warfare, data cherry-picking, virtue signalling – this is just how people communicate now. Those of us working with Indigenous Knowledges are not immune to it either. The Indigenous Knowledge Systems lab is stepping back and trying a different way.

Systems analysis and change mean structural awareness and action, but the marginal have been directed away from structures and towards post-structuralism and discourse analysis in recent decades. While we struggle through endless culture wars to “centre our voices” within the colony, we lose sight of the structures of limitless growth and extraction that drive ongoing ecocide and genocide. Worse, we lose sight of the complex knowledge systems of land, society and culture that have provided us with genius-level methods of inquiry for millennia.

Meanwhile, complexity science and systems thinking as disciplines have been “founded” and occupied by mostly older European males. They formulate and compute the alchemy of emergence to harness bio-power for transhumanist civilisation projects, and we are arriving late to a party in a house we were evicted from long ago. We carry the old master’s tools to dismantle that house, but he doesn’t live there anymore. His nephew has moved in, and he’s micro-dosing ketamine and building robot servants, so our sweat and blood and children are no longer required. He acknowledges our unceded lands while retaining them as capital to keep the party going.

Something is missing in his algorithms and we are welcomed to the party because he suspects we may carry the philosopher’s stone, the X-factor absent from his regeneration equations, the ritual force multiplier to make his evolutionary fitness fitter. Others at the party welcome us because we make Enlightenment 2.0 look inclusive as capitalism reboots with stakeholder optics. We are supposed to welcome them into their real estate and dance for them. We are supposed to bring the sexy illusion of ancient wisdom and the missing link of paleo-ontology to disciplines all founded on a “when we were cavemen” premise.

So in this world of runaway heating in climate, information, conflict and debt, Indigenous knowledge systems thinkers must be cheeky and leave this straight path paved with glittering inducements and perverse incentives. We must take our unsettling embassy to the disciplines, right to the foundational level of those wrong stories of a primitive human patterning that we are told makes us all eaters of the future by nature.

We re-embed these foundations in stories of right relations within the land, seeking to rethink the self-terminating algorithms of industrial civilisation in an era of cataclysmic transition. We are not applying Indigenous content and identities to the disciplines for token inclusion in the current world-killing system – we are applying Indigenous processes and systems knowledge to co-create the regenerative systems of the future. We seek to bring all people back under the Law of the Land, to recover our ecological niche as a custodial species.

We respect and uphold the decolonising projects of those who have cleared space for us to do this work in the academy, but we are also intensely aware that there are mining companies arriving here from “decolonised” nations seeking to destroy our lands for profit. So we become cautious, less focused on the optics of decolonising voices and Indigenous representation within the globalising systems that are consuming our biomass, and more interested in the generator functions of these systems and what we can do to transition to more regenerative ones.

The knowledge systems of our old people are helping us articulate better methods and metrics to perceive the actions and relations (not just the objects and quantities) that shape our shared reality, and so we continue to build on the work of those who have gone before us, to ensure there is something left for those who come after us.

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