Etuaptmumk as Reciprocity

By: Dr. Carmen Rodriguez de France

Dr. Carmen Rodriguez de France

Education Collaborator

 As an immigrant of Indigenous heritage from the Kickapoo Nation, Carmen acknowledges the privilege and responsibility that she holds to live and work on the land of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, and on the land of the W̱SÁNEĆ and the lək̓ʷəŋən people in British Columbia. Her work is always situated at the intersection of social justice, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and the experiences of in-service and pre-service teachers. She currently facilitates courses on Indigenous worldviews, Epistemologies, and Education in the Department of Indigenous Education at the University of Victoria. Her research is always motivated by her own interest to be a life-long learner and promote diversity and social justice. 

As a former school teacher in México, Carmen understands the importance of developing and exploring approaches to teaching and learning as a tool to advance critical thinking. Through her participation in a variety of community-based initiatives in schools, recreational centres, art galleries, libraries, and other spaces for learning, her work focuses on creating awareness to better understand, appreciate, and learn from the histories and stories of the Indigenous people of Canada and other parts of the World. She is committed to strengthening collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada aiming to create a better shared future.


“Something essential happens in a vegetable garden. It is a place where if you can’t say ‘I love you’ out loud, you can say it in seeds. And the land will reciprocate in beans” (Wall Kimmerer, p.127).     

Through sharing stories in her book entitled Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Potawatomi scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us that the gift of Reciprocity is what will restore our broken relationship with the Land.

Indigenous knowledge of the land, also known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), Indigenous Science, and other similar names, pertains to the knowledge held over millennia by the first inhabitants of the Earth. Taking care of the land was—and continues to be—essential to survival and to everyday life. Listening to the winds, watching the cycles of the moon, following the migration of the birds and other creatures allowed people to learn how to live in harmony, how not to damage, and how not to take more than what was needed.

Late Elder Dave Elliott Sr. from W̱SÁNEĆ in British Columbia, talked about how in the moon of PEN’AWEN—harvest time—people would go out to look for seagull eggs, which are bigger than a chicken’s egg. They would only harvest the nests with four eggs or less but not the nests that only had one egg. “If there’s one egg they wouldn’t take it, because the mother would abandon the nest. If there were two, they would take one; if there were three they would take two. They wouldn’t take the only egg, and they wouldn’t take from  the nest with four in it because the mother could already be sitting on it” (p. 47).

These are some of the teachings related to the moons, the seasons, and the time to harvest as well as the teachings related to respect, relevance, reciprocity, and relationship. These “4 Rs” (Barnhardt & Kirkness, 1991) are foundational to the values and beliefs of many Indigenous Nations, including the Métis and the Inuit. While these 4 Rs have been associated with post-secondary learning contexts for Indigenous students, there are ways in which these values can also be associated with and woven into Western learning and teaching spaces.  

A way to approach these connections is by looking at the principle of Etuaptmumk, or Two-Eyed Seeing, developed by Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall in 2004 with the aspiration to show Indigenous people how to be able to live in “two worlds” and to learn to use the strengths of both Indigenous and Western approaches to life and living. Even though the principle of Two-Eyed Seeing was originally developed for learning how to weave Western science and Indigenous scientific knowledge, it has been adapted and transferred into other disciplines and pedagogical approaches in all three contexts of Education: formal, informal and non-formal.

In formal education, the principle of Etuaptmumk refers to the ability to integrate scientific knowledge from both worldviews. For example, using tide gauges to measure tides or using SONAR technology to prevent accidents and map out the seafloor. Indigenous knowledge would use a multiplicity of knowledges to look at tides and predict their severity: the direction and speed of winds, the season, the phases of the moon,  the shape of the shoreline, and so forth. Each of these knowledge systems is useful in its own right, and can help us better understand these phenomena.

Another example of how Etuaptmumk can be applied is by studying Indigenous traditional and contemporary hunting methods. When in 1999 the Makah people from Washington State recovered their birthright to fish and hunt whales, there was a massive social movement criticizing their ways of hunting that to the eyes of many were considered not traditional. Hunters were seen on televised news using their harpoons while they hunted from a motorized boat. One could argue that the strengths of both Western fishing technology and Indigenous traditional methods merged in this practice. In this example, one can appreciate that perhaps when introducing Etuaptmumk, some examples might provoke discussion, discomfort,  and disagreement. It is within these examples that guided conversation will be needed so as to remind ourselves that in order to survive in a “White Man’s world,” Indigenous people need to learn and use Western ways of doing. Late Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese reminds us of this when he shared a story of his Grandfather saying that horses (introduced by the Europeans) are like education:

“In order to fight the good fight, our braves and warriors had to steal horses. If you stole a man’s horse, you instantly robbed him of mobility. At the same time, you instantly gained the mobility necessary to continue defending home, land and family.

And so we were horse thieves.

In this modern world, my grandfather informed me, it’s absolutely crucial that I continue to steal horses. The only way that I would ever be able to find my way to a secure future, and to hold on to my essential Indianness throughout it all, was to be a horse thief.

Technology is a horse. Every computer, every fancy gadget that the white man has created, Mishomis told me, is a horse he rides. If I could steal the horse of technology, I could continue to fight the good fight and defend myself, my home, my family and my people.

The English language is a horse. Education, business skills, finance, employment, administration, TV, radio and communications are all horses of that superior technology. ‘Learn to ride these horses’, he told me. ‘Learn to ride them, control them and use them, but always remember to honour the culture and tradition that gave me life.’

Stealing horses. The old man had much wisdom.

As adults and role models, it’s necessary to be good examples. We need to remember at all times that the eyes of the young are upon us. When we make use of the horses of this modern world, and retain our sense of our cultural selves, we’re telling them that it’s possible.”

Learning to see the world through Two-Eyed Seeing also requires that non-Indigenous people learn to appreciate and utilize Indigenous principles and ways of being. In non-formal educational contexts, recent research related mostly to sustainability and environmental stewardship demonstrates how Western science and other disciplines continue to utilize principles and foundations of Indigenous knowledge when trying to restore the Earth’s homeostasis. Disciplines like agriculture, the arts, theatre, geography, music, and many others have adapted and adopted Indigenous epistemologies and values not only to advance reconciliatory pathways but as importantly, to honor the millennial knowledges contained in the collective memory.

Lastly, in informal contexts, the principle of Etuaptmumk can be illustrated in our everyday life when we use technology to access websites or applications to learn words and phrases in Indigenous languages; it is also present when we use traditional approaches to healing such as preparing and drinking a variety of teas prepared with bark, leaves or seeds, and when we take an aspirin to combat a headache.

The principles of Etuaptmumk are present when we listen carefully and are attentive to the wisdom of the Land, the Elders, knowledge keepers, and community members with whom we interact and learn from. They are also present in the wisdom and the voices of non-Indigenous community members, the Elders, and the teachers who are committed to shaping the path of Reconciliation, transforming attention into intention.