Who I Am and What I Bring

Halito! I am Dawn Hill Adams, writing to you from the Pine Ridge of extreme northwestern Nebraska, the Land that supports and sustains our organization’s work to advance Indigenous Knowledge. It is the traditional homeLands of the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Nations. I am very pleased you’re here.

The evaluation community’s growing interest in ecology, complexity theory, and Indigenous worldview struck me as highly significant the moment I learned of it. I have advanced degrees and research experience in ecology and evolutionary biology (Ph.D. from UC Berkeley). This means that when I write about evolution and ecology in the pages you’re about to read, I often speak out of the authority I have from my education and years of being on graduate faculty teaching these subjects. However, I cite authors to help you learn more and also to establish support  for theoretical views that may be somewhat contentious. For many years I was active in an international group of physicists, chemists, biologists, philosophers, and theologians who discussed, among other topics, complexity theory. Nobel Laureate scientists participated frequently, so the level of discourse was not trivial. So I bring the understanding I formed of complexity theory then — as an evolutionary and ecological biologist who’s Indigenous — to the pages on that subject. I am not presenting you with information you could simply look up in a textbook, but interpreting and explaining things from my perspective, which I think is fairly unique as well as appropriate to the task at hand.

More important to the fact of my being here, then, is that I am an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw nation who founded a nonprofit to advance Indigenous Knowledge more than 20 years ago. At various times over the past 45 years, I have worked to help people of Western culture understand Indigenous epistemology. But I have to admit I started this work in an effort to protect myself from the pressure my professors brought to bear on me as a graduate student because I used an Indigenous epistemic approach they openly ridiculed. That evolved into efforts to protect both my research and teaching from departmental colleagues for the same reason once I was faculty. So I initially “studied up” (Hopson 2005:293) on Western culture, in an anthropological sort of way, to protect my own work. Only later did I use what I had learned to help people of Western culture gain at least some understanding of Indigenous worldview.

At any rate, you can see that my life experience has created a fortuitous vantage point from which to consider the paradigm shift attempting to emerge in evaluation right now, and the ways that Indigenous worldview, ecology, and complexity theory are being drafted into the service of environmental evaluation. Furthermore, I am motivated by a deep inner drive that’s determined the course of my work for the last several decades. Aboriginal scholar Tyson Yunkaporta has actually articulated this drive far better than I can. Here are his words about it in his own life, from the introduction to his book Sand Talk (2020:17):

“We rarely see global sustainability issues addressed using Indigenous perspectives and thought processes. We don’t see econometrics models being designed using Indigenous pattern thinking. Instead we are shown a dot painting and implored to make sure we include Indigenous employment in our plans to double a city’s population ‘sustainably’ within a couple of decades. Any discussion of Indigenous Knowledge systems is always a polite acknowledgement of connection to the land rather than true engagement. It is always about the what, and never about how. I want to reverse that phenomenon. I want to use an Indigenous pattern-thinking process to critique contemporary systems and to impart an impression of the pattern of creation itself.”

I hope the pages of this weaving exercise I’ve prepared will help you begin to see the pattern of creation itself. If so, I believe you will attain your goal.

Choose another page of Preparing the Cane:

Or return to the home page if you’ve finished all these.