Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2007


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring 2007, pp. 153-54.


Copyright 2005 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


By his own admission, Wittgenstein's famous imperative "whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" can be paralyzing for Dale Turner. Turner says "I am indigenous, yet I am not an indigenous philosopher; and therefore I ought not to place myself in the privileged position of explaining the meaning of indigenous spirituality." Dale feels that "In a European philosophical context, having invoked a term like 'spirituality' [he] must then explain how this normative term is to be used in its rightful place and do so in the English language." Why must Wittgenstein's imperative be paralyzing? You cannot know what you do not know-but you can find out.

A late friend of mine, Dr. Viola F. Cordova, an Apache woman trained in the Euro-western philosophical tradition, who, for most of her lifetime was occupied in the "process of transmitting a world view and a value system," asked the questions Turner is alluding to. "How am I different? Why is it that I feel most comfortable among other 'Indians'? Is there something, despite the fact that the indigenous persons I encounter come from various and diverse groups, that we share? How is it that 'Indians' can identify each other as 'real'?" (Ayaangwaamizin: International Journal of Indigenous Philosophy, 1, no. 1 [1997]: 33). Dr. Cordova met Turner's challenge quite wittingly; she merely chose to say what it was not! For Viola, the issue is "Being," not inclusion, and I agree with her.

Turner, in This is Not a Peace Pipe, argues for the inclusion of Aboriginal voices missed by Canada's White Paper Liberalism of 1969, by the reshaping of liberalism in Alan Cairns's "citizen plus" theory, and by the shortfalls of Will Kymlicka's concepts of cultural constraints: "For better or worse, it is predominately non-aboriginal judges and politicians who have the ultimate power to protect and enforce aboriginal rights, and so it is important to find a justification of them that such people can recognize and understand." Turner believes "that Aboriginal conceptions of political sovereignty must be included in political liberalism's justification of Aboriginal rights so that racist and oppressive policies that have' held Aboriginal peoples captive for more than one hundred thirty years can be changed." The task of helping "non-Aboriginal peoples understand better the meaning and significance of Aboriginal forms of political sovereignty" is given to indigenous intellectuals in congruence with indigenous philosophers. Indigenous intellectuals ( or Turner's "Word Warriors") such as Howard Adams, Marie Battiste, and Sa'ke'j Henderson (and myself) argue "that systemic racism is inherent in the very essence of mainstream universities in North America and it is not going to change. And why should it? These are Euro-western schools based on Euro-western values. They are not Aboriginal schools based on Aboriginal values. And all of the Dennis McPhersons [or Dale Turners] in the world are not going to change them" (McPherson, "Indian on the Lawn: How Are Research Partnerships with Aboriginal Peoples Possible?" APA Newsletter, 05, no. 2 [2006]: 18).