An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism

An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism

Todd, Z. (2016) An Indigenous Feminist’s Take on the Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another Word For Colonialism. Journal of Historical Sociology, 29: 4–22. doi: 10.1111/johs.12124.


Ethical Relationality – avoiding “re-colonization” when working with Indigenous knowledges and some practical tips for decolonizing scholarship.

In this article, Todd takes on a recent trend in anthropology, the “Ontological Turn”. I am not 100% certain, but it seems that the Ontological Turn is a willingness in the field of anthropology to examine (critique) Western ontologies and knowledge production strategies in contrast to other non-Western worldviews. It seems that the Ontological Turn in anthropology is being mirrored in Education, in the way that Indigenous ways of knowing are starting to be incorporated in curriculum, teaching and research methods. Todd’s critique is important because it calls attention to the ways in which the Western academy may co-opt Indigenous thinking, stripping it of its true intentions to make it fit pre-existing structures.

Todd points to a trend in anthropology of white scholars citing other white scholars on topics related to multiple ontological realities — Indigenous worldviews and knowledges, rather than citing Indigenous thinkers and scholars who have written or spoken about the same themes. The need to ‘filter’ Indigenous voices through white voices is problematic because it situates Indigenous thinkers as objects or collaborators rather than philosophers, theorizers and intellectuals ‘in their own right’. This in turn makes a statement about whose knowledge is truly valued in the academy; that is, white speakers are valued over Indigenous speakers.
Throughout the piece, Todd advances ideas for helping scholars remain accountable to the people and places that they draw knowledge from. This quotation sums up her tips quite well:

◦ “Sundberg and Watts both provide Euro-Western scholars with practical tools for employing Indigenous ontologies in their work with care and respect: account for location (Sundberg 2014) and Indigenous Place-Thought (Watts 2013:31) – and consider the ongoing colonial imperatives of the academy” (Todd, 2016, p. 9).

Other tips include:

◦ Consider the concept of ‘ethical relationality’ (Dwayne Donald 2009): Living up to our duties to humans, animals, land, water, climate, etc.
◦ Consider our own prejudices: certain voices are privileged while others are silenced
◦ Consider digging for POC, women and others left out of academic discourses who are discussing topics in other ways – rather than citing a “Great Thinker” (often male and white)
◦ Broaden the spectrum of who is reaffirmed as ‘knowledgeable’: Familiarise yourself with the work of  Indigenous thinkers