Team Researches Alleged Intellectual Differences

Nov 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 17-2: Sustainability, Tribal College News

A team of Red Crow Community College (RCCC, Cardston, AB) faculty and students are working on an ethnographic research project. They want to challenge the belief that there are fundamental differences in the cognitive abilities of Western and indigenous peoples, according to Ryan Heavy Head, one of the participants.

Heavy Head said that many Western and indigenous people believe there are intellectual disparities linked to whether a people has an alphabetic writing system. This project focuses upon one indigenous group — people of the Blackfoot Confederacy who are called Niitsitapi in their native language.

The Niitsitapi communities assert that certain people have superior intellect – those who rely upon the oral tradition and not writing have better memories and more potential to internalize knowledge.

On the other hand, some Western academics associate the introduction of writing with an increase in the ability to deal in complex, abstract thought. According to this point of view, those who rely upon the oral tradition are limited to their personal, concrete experiences.  The project will examine both presumptions.

The project is called “Itsinikssiistsi: Remembranced Offerings and Generous Feedings, the Role of Narrative Exposition in Blackfoot Knowledge Production.” The 3-year study of Blackfoot storytelling and traditional oral education is funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Much of the material will be digitized, and some will be available on the college website. Thus future generations of the Blackfoot Confederacy will benefit from this knowledge. RCCC and the elders committee will decide what type of content is appropriate for public viewing.

The participants have high hopes for this inaugural partnership between the college and the national research council. They want to foster greater respect between two knowledge traditions. They also hope that the project will contribute to more equitable policies in Canadian and American education and research programs.

For more information about the project, see the Red Crow Community College website,, or call the college at (403) 737-2400.

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