Working Statement

Research and Advocacy Group: Hunter Gatherer Education

Hunter-gatherer groups are among the most marginalized peoples in the world today, and face severe threats to their cultures, their livelihoods, and in many places their very existence. Although formal education – schooling – is often presented as a solution for marginalized groups, generally social hierarchies are reproduced through such systems. The extreme marginalization and stigmatization that hunters and gatherers face in modern societies is mirrored in their schooling experience: hunter-gatherer children participate in formal education systems at rates far lower than other groups, including other indigenous groups. Simultaneously, their traditional forms of knowledge transmission, though recognized as being highly effective and adaptive, are under threat due to loss of land, climate change, and other factors.

Many hunter-gatherer communities want to develop approaches that match their particular cultural needs and economic options. However, due to their small numbers, such groups face severe problems of scale when it comes to accessing resources; they are often overlooked in statistical analyses, and ignored by donor agencies and governments, because they are too few or too ‘difficult’, and tailored approaches will be too expensive. Educationally this translates into a lack of appropriate educational facilities near their homes and a lack of mother tongue educational materials in their languages, which in turn means that the only options for formal education are highly assimilative and separate children from their families. This is a violation of indigenous rights, as outlined in a number of global rights documents.

One important aim of this research group is thus to provide a platform for efforts and arguments that draw on the global significance of hunter and gatherer communities in order to support local efforts towards educational self-determination.

This research and advocacy group will begin as a forum to discuss and compare various related aspects of education for hunter-gatherer communities around the world, including:

  • the role of formal education for hunter-gatherer communities
  • traditional educational and knowledge-transmission practices among contemporary hunter-gatherers;
  • the strategic approaches that hunter-gatherer communities employ to gain access to the skills and knowledge that they deem appropriate for their needs;
  • the connection between education and self-determination for hunter-gatherers.

Most importantly, the group aims to address the questions: How can a research-based understanding of these issues lead to better support for educational self-determination for hunter-gatherer communities? What kinds of research are needed? And where is advocacy best focused?

Note on Terminology: ‘hunters and gatherers’ (or ‘hunter-gatherers’) is a term used to refer to small scale, mostly egalitarian, societies that subsist primarily from food that has been obtained directly from the environment – through hunting animals, gathering plant food, fishing, or scavenging. A more general term for this is ‘foraging’ and such peoples are also sometimes referred to as ‘foragers’ – or often ‘post-foragers’, given that most such societies no longer survive through these subsistence techniques alone. Though extremely diverse, such groups share some common characteristics in regards to their social structure, and their relations with surrounding groups and state governments. It is these commonalities, and how they influence access to resources and possibilities for self-determination, are our focus. In this proposal, we use the terms referring to hunters and gatherers, because this is a common usage and because the group is under the International Society for Hunter Gatherer Research.