American Indian Philosophy: If You Won’t Teach It, Who Will?

There’s been a movement in philosophy to incorporate non-western philosophy into Introduction to Philosophy courses. I think this is a wonderful move. After all, as it has been argued, if you teach only western philosophy, you might as well call the course Introduction to Western Philosophy instead of Introduction to Philosophy.

I fear, however, that many people have still not incorporated American Indian Philosophy into their courses. I don’t know this to be true. I didn’t take a survey or anything. But I have a strong hunch this is the case.

I’ve been out of “professional” philosophy for several years now. These days, I consider myself an unpaid philosopher. So I don’t know everything that’s going on in the field like I used to. But I used to be pretty well-informed.

I was taught in a, for the most part, western philosophy department. I took my BA and considered it a BA in western philosophy. I did my work on Native American Thought all on my own.

Back then, I read the very first collection put out on American Indian Philosophy: American Indian Thought ed. Anne Waters.

This wasn’t my first look at Native American philosophy, as I fully believe many historic and current Native people are very philosophical and I grew up knowing a bit about them. But it was my first reading of current people who, for the most part, hold PhDs in philosophy and are Native American. (And those who don’t hold PhDs in philosophy are doing serious philosophy.)

Because this is my personal reference point, I always refer people to this book. It covers basically every major area of philosophy–from ethics to epistemology. I encourage anyone to have a look at it and incorporate works into their courses–even beyond Intro courses.

When I was a young undergrad and doing research for my senior thesis, I went to Mississippi with my family. We went to Nanih Wayah, a sacred cave mound of the Choctaws where their creation story takes place. According to their creation story, the Earth gave birth to them, in that very place. (Hence, “Mother Earth.”) This is, then, their continent. If you aren’t going to incorporate American Indian Thought into your philosophy courses on Native lands, who will?

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