Key thinkers and ideas on indigenous knowledge systems

Key thinkers on indigenous knowledge systems


Adding authority to your TOK essay and presentation

The knowledge questions in your and TOK presentation should be supported not only by your own ideas and evidence, but also by those of other people. We have therefore put together a list of key thinkers for each way of knowing and area of knowledge who will add extra authority to your TOK essay and presentation, and help you to explore the KQs connected to your title. You can see the complete list of key thinkers here.

Beautiful minds

But we’re thinking of more than just the TOK assessment: these minds are the source of some of the most incredible ideas ever put forward, and have shaped the way we view the world and our place in it. So we think they are worth getting to know in their own right, because they will genuinely help you to figure out this mysterious thing called existence.

Making use of these thinkers

We have indicated which elements of the course they are particularly useful for (remember you should be trying to link the different parts of TOK, so don’t just focus on one WOK or AOK in isolation), and we have provided a Wikipedia link for each person. However, you should see this as the point where you begin, rather than end, your exploration of these paradigm-defining figures. We’ve also identified one person for each way of knowing and area of knowledge whom we consider an ESSENTIAL THINKER, due to way they challenge assumptions or provide a particularly important idea. Each of these thinkers are accompanied by a video in which they outline their theories, and which you can quote as a source for your essay or presentation.
TNK = the nature of knowledge
SP = sense perception
HS = the human sciences
IKS = indigenous knowledge systems
NS = the natural sciences
RKS = religious knowledge systems

Black Elk (1863 – 1950)

Black Elk was a Sioux medicine man and spiritual leader. He spoke of the unity of all men, and tried to emphasize the similarity of spiritual beliefs regardless of the different religious traditions from which they came.
Also helps us to explore Faith, SP, ethics, RKS

ESSENTIAL THINKER Davis, Wade (1953 – )

Davis is National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence, and has a vast knowledge of indigenous peoples all over the globe. His research and studies of other cultures is characterized by respect and wonder, enabling him to truly acquire different perspectives through which to view the world.

Also helps us to explore Ethics

Tjapaltjarri, Clifford Possum (1932 – 2003)

Tjapaltjarri was a one of the key figures in the indigenous Australian art movement. His art often featured representations of dreaming stories, thus making use of both imagination and indigenous knowledge systems.
Also helps us to explore Imagination, arts


Key ideas on indigenous knowledge systems



Signals and signs made by animals or plants that indicate a change occurring in the ecosystem


This is a name given to the stealing of knowledge from indigenous peoples, often with the intention of patenting it and making it unavailable to the rest of the world (without paying for it).

Epistemological pluralism

This means the recognition that there is more than one way of acquiring knowledge about the world (ie not just based on scientific methods).

Global tongues

The most spoken languages of the world, such as Chinese, English, Spanish, and Arabic.


A form of arrogance that is based on pride and self-confidence in oneself or one’s own society.


Nomadic societies which obtain all their food from naturally-occurring plants and animals, rather than planting and harvesting crops.


Anything that is believed to exist, but cannot be seen. Metaphysical questions deal with the nature of existence, and the origin of the universe.


A way of thinking that places an emphasis on acquiring and possessing non-essential items, partly as a way of proving one’s own worth.


A non-dominant group in society is one that has fewer representatives in the decision-making bodies of a country, and has less social and economic power.

Observer effect

A phenomenon often encountered in the human sciences that involves the subject of an study or experiment altering their behaviour as a result of being observed.


The idea that knowledge can only come from that which is scientifically or mathematically provable. This is largely a Western paradigm, and can lead to conflict with indigenous knowledge systems.


A member of a society who acts as an intermediary between the physical and metaphysical world, connecting others to the spirit world.


A relationship that is mutually beneficial, with both sides dependent on the other to remain healthy. For example how indigenous societies generally interact with the natural world.

Cite this page as: Dunn, Michael. Key thinkers and ideas on indigenous knowledge systems (3rd December 2013). Last accessed: 20th March 2018


Leave a Comment