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Cognitive Imperialism is Manipulation

American Indians have experienced a multitude of atrocities propagated by the dominant cultures’ desire to maintain a power imbalance that fortifies the dominant cultures' world-building desires. Likewise, many indigenous students have fallen victim to school systems based on a colonial mindset designed to assimilate them through the dominant cultures’ values and experiences, which in turn, begins to set the schema of the habitus to “resemble more closely the values that the school seeks to transmit consciously (and also unconsciously) and to legitimate” (Mills, p. 4, 2008).

Battiste (1998) offers the idea of cognitive imperialism “as a form of cognitive manipulation used to discredit other knowledge bases and values and seeks to validate one source of knowledge and empower it through public education” (p.20). The scholar further contends, “Cognitive imperialism denies many groups of people their language and cultural integrity and maintains the legitimacy of only one language, one culture, and one frame of reference” (Battiste, p.20, 1998).

Smith (1999) and Pidgeon (2008) suggest that scholars have traditionally favored imperialistic ways of knowing developed primarily by Westerners. In other words, those in power, those who have colonized and marginalized other groups of people, have privileged their Ways of Knowing and constructing knowledge. Chilsa & Tsheko (2014) claim that “Knowers are seen as beings with connections with other beings, the spirits of the ancestors, and the world around them that informs what they know and how they can know it” (p. 223).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. IINII has extensive experience in building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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