Knowledge Sustainability & Sovereignty


The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC or “Community”) is dedicated to the long-term protection of natural resources and the preservation of Ojibwa culture – this dedication has contributed to the people’s survivance and resiliency for many generations. At present, the KBIC actively maintains scientifically-sound planning and management, and more recently, have increased efforts to integrate Anishinaabe-gikendaasowin (“knowledge, information, and the synthesis of our personal teachings”: WM Geniusz 2009:11) into Community governance. In order to sustain Ojibwa knowledge, it is critical that we continue to use, share, and pass on knowledge to future generations, as we have done since time immemorial.

The greatest lesson Nanabush imparted was how to learn.  ~ WM Geniusz, 2009:67


Knowledge sovereignty is the ability to use Ojibwa teachings and values to guide our daily practices and relationships, and to inform KBIC’s long-term planning, decisions, and actions throughout the 1842 Treaty ceded-territory. Our territory is rich with teachings and practices that have been sustained in the region for millennia. As Ojibwa people, we know it is our responsibility to learn from all our relatives, the fish and wildlife beings, plant and tree beings, and to be attune to the teachings of the rocks, wind, sky, and waters as well as our fellow human relatives.

Using and applying our teachings has the potential to strengthen capacity in the wider Great Lakes region, and also, directly for the KBIC. Anishinaabe-gikendaasowin can be used to inform KBIC governance strategies and contribute to Community adaptation planning. Also, sharing Ojibwa knowledge can provide for more equitable knowledge exchange with many other KBIC partners, including, local, regional, state, provincial, tribal and intertribal, federal, and university partners. Sharing knowledge empowers integrated action, planning, and research more widespread for the wellbeing of our Great Lakes ecosystems.

Knowledge requires a network of knowers, or more accurately, of actors.  Knowledge is something you do; not a preexisting tool independent of the person holding it, nor of the uses to which it might be put. ~ Mohawk Scholar Christopher Jocks


In sharing our knowledge, it is imperative that KBIC retain decision-making authority concerning its research and ownership of its data. This concept and practice, known as Indigenous Data Sovereignty, is being more fully realized by KBIC in its work with others. It is true that data collection on Indigenous lands and with Indigenous peoples fulfills various scientific agendas and needs. However, it is equally important that research in partnership with KBIC also prioritizes the protection, restoration, and revitalization of Indigenous land and life. 

Today, KBIC is diligently working to strengthen our capacity and utilization of Anishinaabe-gikendaasowin. It is our goal to increasingly apply Ojibwa knowledge in all of the work we do for our community and relatives, and in partnership with others. One project, funded by Michigan Sea Grant (2020-2022), is currently compiling and synthesizing our vast data sets and KBIC documents to create a KBIC knowledge guidance document to share with our many partners. This work, in partnership with Michigan Tech researchers and Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission staff, aims to strengthen community and ecosystem resilience for current and future generations.

In Decolonizing Methodologies (2012), Māori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith asserts that decolonization requires “researchers committed to producing research knowledge that documents social injustice, that recovers subjugated knowledges, that helps create spaces for the voices of the silenced to be expressed and listened to, and that challenge racism, colonialism and oppression.” (198)


Communities across the globe are engaged in knowledge and data sovereignty activities – practices to restore and protect their local languages, environments, economies, and cultures. Understanding knowledge sovereignty is about getting to know place and people – histories and genealogies, human-environment relationships, and justice and ethics, as well as ecologies, economics, policy, technologies and more. To learn more about knowledge sustainability and sovereignty in our region, please visit these multi-media resources:

The Ways – Stories on Language and Culture

Ogichidaa Storytellers

When can we eat the fish?

Nenabozho Goes Fishing: A Sovereignty Story

A Talking Circles Event – Synthesis and Community Brief (2014)

P-Values and Cultural Values: Creating Symbiosis Among Indigenous and Western Knowledges to Advance Ecological Justice (Robin Wall Kimmerer 2019)

The Language of the Three Fires Confederacy

Ojibwe Gichigami (“Ojibwa’s Great Sea”): an intersecting history of treaty rights, tribal fish harvesting, and toxic risk in Keweenaw Bay, United States (VS Gagnon 2016)

Great Lakes Now – Buffalo Reef Restoration

WM Genius 2009 Book Review – Our Knowledge is Not Primitive (VS Gagnon 2014)

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz 2015)

What do Indigneous Knowledges do for Indigneous Peoples? (Whyte 2018)


The term “re-search” conveys Indigenous ways of searching – seeking and gathering knowledge from an Indigenous perspective. In Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know (2012), Anishinaabe scholar Kathleen Absolon describes re-search as “journeys of learning, being, and doing,” in which the researcher, inquiry, and approach undergo transformation throughout, and as a result of, the journey of searching. The word research in Anishinaabemowin is nanda-nisidotawin, meaning ‘way of seeking understanding.’  The researcher, nanda-nisidotan, translates to ‘s/he seeks understanding.’