Sara Shahriari
In Bolivia, led by indigenous President Evo Morales, the clock on the congress building runs backward. But 3-D Indian time leaves the clock behind entirely.

Indian Time Documentable, According to Recent Study at Oregon State University

Renée Roman Nose

A recent study conducted at Oregon State University has documented “Indian time” as a three-dimensional construct growing out of the interplay between climate and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). In other words, it’s a Thing, rather than just some made-up pejorative term bandied about by linear-thinking colonial settlers who found the Indian way of doing things incomprehensible way back when.

The results of an as-yet-unpublished study, Understanding Native Cultural Dimensions of Climate Change, suggest that the notion of Indian time is in fact founded on logic and common sense derived from triangulating climate events to create traditional knowledge.

Initially seeking to find out if Native people were altering traditional behaviors as a result of climate change, researcher Samantha Chisholm Hatfield, Ph.D. (Siletz, Cherokee) interviewed experts from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon, the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington State, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana, the Duckwater Shoshone in Nevada, and the Paiute in Utah. More specifically, Oregon State wanted to know whether tribes had noted any species depredation, and if so, how such species loss might be affecting traditional cultural activities. But the interviews yielded a lot more than the researchers anticipated, opening up new vistas for potential inquiry.

“There is an emergence of Indian time tied to environmental effects, things such as budding out of plants, insect movements, animal migration or fluctuations in their patterns of behavior,” said Chisholm Hatfield, who is nationally recognized for her TEK specialization, in an exclusive interview about the findings with Indian Country Today Media Network. “Native communities are very tied to the environment, and these behaviors are signals, an alarm clock in a sense, that comes across similarly to a calendar, and again in a very timely manner. I guess like 3-D for Native people. It’s not linear like it is for non-Native societies.”

Chisholm Hatfield said she was ecstatic upon finding a way to document what’s known as “Indian time.”

“At first I didn’t believe it,” she told ICTMN. “Indian time, it’s kind of a misnomer in Indian country, and some people use it negatively. For some it has a stereotype associated with it. But [now we] find that it can be validated, and probably where it comes from is this environmental situation that people experience.”

RELATED: A Look at Indian Time

While the original research did not target the depredation of specific species, Chisholm Hatfield and fellow researcher Philip Mote, Ph.D., a climate scientist and the study’s principal investigator, conducted semi-structured interviews and watched for patterns to emerge as a result.

“What we found is that things are essentially being put on hold or renewed in a cyclical fashion,” said Chisholm Hatfield. “It’s more of a renewal or resurgence philosophy. Here in the Northwest, certain things came up, such as salmon, eels, that sort of thing.”

Mote was astonished by the findings.

“I was indeed surprised when Sam started uncovering these more fundamentally level, identity-level perceptions of what was happening,” he told ICTMN. “That it went far beyond the visible cultural expressions, it was more something that people would talk about fairly late in the conversation and their sort of concern, or their sort of confusion, or the sense that things were being disrupted in an unprecedented way.”

An example he found particularly interesting and illustrative was the case of eel ants.

“There’s stories that are historically linked to the emergence of the eel ant signal, the carpenter ants, that it’s time to get eeling,” he said. “Those are seasonal indicators. One of them is affected by terrestrial indicators, the other is not, and so as the spring warms and emergence of things shifts earlier, it disrupts that fundamental sense of time.”


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