Blackfoot Ways of Knowing: The Worldview of the Siksikaitsitapi


235 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55238-109-9
DDC 191'.089'97352




Reviewed by J.R. Miller

J.R. (Jim) Miller is Canada Research Chair of History at the University
of Saskatchewan. His latest works are Reflections on Native-Newcomer
Relations: Selected Essays and Lethal Legacy: Current Native
Controversies in Canada.


Betty Bastien, a product of residential schooling and a member of the
Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, turned to the
traditional wisdom of the Blackfoot peoples for her doctoral
dissertation. She has used the stories and teachings she collected from
the elders for that project to construct an explanation of the animistic
worldview and communal ethic of the Blackfoot. Blackfoot Ways of Knowing
employs both oral accounts and more traditional published sources to
illustrate how the Blackfoot understand the world. The result is a
worthwhile—although more wordy than it needed to be—interpretation.

There are, though, some problems with the work. One is the author’s
use of the term “genocide” to describe the impact of assimilative
policies directed by the state and by Christian missionaries at
Aboriginal peoples. Genocide is the intentional elimination of a people
physically and totally. To use the term as a synonym for assimilation is
to indulge in hyperbole, while diminishing the significance of genuine,
documented genocides, particularly those of the 20th century.

Another problem with the work is that it tends to denigrate ways of
knowing other than those of the Blackfoot. So, for example, “White
people … live their life only to better themselves.” The English
language, in contrast to Blackfoot, facilitates “the perception of
natural phenomena as a world that can be manipulated.” Bastien even
advocates the establishment of tribal “gatekeepers” to filter or
block any unwelcome intrusions from non-Blackfoot ways of knowing. Such
views could lead to a regime that elevates Blackfoot ways of knowing
into a denigrating and exclusive epistemology as bad as the Eurocentric
system Bastien decries.

A final question: how are Canada’s universities to accommodate the
more than 50 different First Nations languages and epistemologies that


Bastien, Betty., “Blackfoot Ways of Knowing: The Worldview of the Siksikaitsitapi,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024,