Honouring Indigenous Knowledge in Development

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By Kaytlyn Criddle

While there is no question that many development initiatives have overlooked and even threatened indigenous peoples and cultures, I am optimistic in the capacity for development to be inclusive of indigenous knowledge, skills, and perspectives. This is because I have witnessed such a process take place firsthand in Ghana.

I have recently returned to Saskatchewan after six months working in northern Ghana with the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD) as a Coady International Institute youth intern. CIKOD is a local non-governmental organization that works to strengthen traditional institutions and provide resources for grassroots movements. For development initiatives to be both effective and sustainable, CIKOD believes that they must incorporate indigenous culture and worldviews and build upon capacities already present in the community.

women in Gbengbee sing and dance to close the meeting. Photo by Kaitlyn Criddle.

Women in Gbengbee sing and dance to close the meeting. Photo by Kaytlyn Criddle.

During my time in Ghana I had the pleasure of working with two of CIKOD’s local partner organizations that represent rural farmers, many of them women. The Rural Women Farmers Association of Ghana and the Langmaal Centre for Rural Development Initiatives are great examples of organizations that not only recognize the importance of indigenous knowledge and practices, but also fully integrate this knowledge into their programming. With help from CIKOD, these organizations are working to promote traditional seeds and agricultural methods while discouraging the use of chemicals that are harmful to human health and the environment. Farmers within these organizations believe that by returning to their indigenous practices they can better protect the environment and overcome food insecurity.

Meeting with the chief in Talensi to discuss the implementation of farmer-managed natural regeneration practices. Photo by Kaitlyn Criddle

Meeting with the chief in Talensi to discuss the implementation of farmer-managed natural regeneration practices. Photo by Kaytlyn Criddle

These inclusive, community-led indigenous development projects are fresh in my mind as we approach International Development Week. They serve as concrete examples of how a better world is possible when we work from a place of mutual respect, knowledge-sharing, and solidarity. I have seen how incorporating indigenous knowledge and working within traditional institutions can empower communities and enhance ownership of the development process, ultimately ensuring  that it is more sustainable– the necessary ingredients for effective development.

Woman working in her field in Village of Tanchara, Ghana. Photo by Kaitlyn Criddle

Woman working in her field in Village of Tanchara, Ghana. Photo by Kaytlyn Criddle

Thanks to funding through the Canadian government’s International Youth Internship Program (IYIP), I have gained valuable skills and knowledge in Ghana. Perhaps more importantly, I am building lasting alliances that transcend national borders and foster intercultural learning and understanding – which I believe to be a key message in many of the indigenous movements gaining momentum today, such as Idle No More.

Thus, I am deeply concerned by the news that the Canadian government is considering cutting funding to the IYIP and the International Aboriginal Youth Internship Initiative (IAYI), and saddened that other young Canadians may not have this invaluable opportunity. In our fully globalized world, intercultural understanding and skills are more crucial than ever for young people, even for those not planning on working directly in international development. International experience is often the first gateway on the road to global citizenship, building a society better-equipped to deal with today’s challenges. When there are fewer opportunities for youth to expand their worldview and develop intercultural skills, we all suffer.


Kaytlyn Criddle (Right)Kaytlyn Criddle is a U of R student from White City, Saskatchewan. You can follow Kaytlyn’s journey in Ghana through her blog at girlkatie.blogspot.ca


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