'savages' To Scientists; Mainstream Science Moves Toward Recognizing
According to Phil Duran (Tiwa Pueblo), "The world tries to
be round. Everything we do is in a circle because the power of the
earth is a circle." A science instructor at Northwest Indian
College (Bellingham, WA), Duran believes that tribal colleges want
people to remain who they are. "We want to teach science in
a tribal college so it blends the cognitive and the circle of life
in bringing back the future."
1848, when American Indians were being pushed to the brink of extinction
and referred to as "ignorant savages," the American Association
for the Advancement of Science was founded by a small, cross-disciplinary
group of scientists. It only took 127 years, but the AAAS formally
recognized the contributions of Native Americans to the field of
science by passing a significant resolution on Jan. 31, 1975. AAAS
vowed to "encourage and support the development and growth
of natural and social science programs in which traditional Native
American approaches and contributions to science, engineering, and
medicine are the subject of serious study and research."
of the 3.2 million scientists and engineers in the United States,
only 10,000 are American Indian/Alaska Native (0.3%). Overall, one
in four of those is a Native American woman. Hoping to attract more
Native Americans to the field of science and to recognize the outstanding
contributions of tribal colleges producing Native American scientists,
the Directorate for Education and Human Services Programs of AAAS
invited 20 Native American scientists to attend the 2003 annual
conference in Denver, CO, last February to present papers on Native
American science and traditional knowledge.
included representatives of several tribal colleges, mainstream
universities, and various other agencies and organizations. They
focused on the roles that tribal colleges and universities play
in educating Native Americans for the future as they preserve the
wisdom of our pasts. The speakers also addressed the philosophy
of Native science and its relationship to Western science as well
as the neglect and under-funding of tribal colleges.
threads weave the tapestry of Native American science," said
Duran, who has master's degrees in physics and in computer science.
"Tribal science is linked to the needs and goals of the tribal
community; it understands Indian ways and recognizes the treaty
relationship. Native science incorporates traditional knowledge
our Native languages, Native science or traditional knowledge refers
to scientific skills that Native people value and have used since
the beginning of time to discover the dependable, repetitive, and
tested way things work in the world. When speaking about Native
science or traditional knowledge, one is really talking about the
entire body of indigenous knowledge.
science is most akin to what Western science calls environmental
science or ecology. The understanding that indigenous people have
of the natural world is profound. It impacts our philosophies, our
cultural ways of life, and our customs, languages, and all aspects
of our being," says Gregory Cajete (Tewa), Ph.D., a professor
at the University of New Mexico, who has written several major works
on indigenous science and ways of knowing, including Igniting the
Sparkle, Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence, and Look
Toward the Mountain.
environmental science class at Salish Kootenai College (Pablo, MT)
explores how Native science is tied to the spirit of the people
and the heart of ecological values. For instance, skilled Inuit
hunters watch polar bear behavior as they hunt seals. The bears
wait and watch at the seal's blowhole, not moving, perhaps hiding
their black noses behind the ice. Inuit learned to hunt seals from
polar bears. The hunters stand for hours with a ptarmigan's wishbone,
or strands of hair on a pole. When the wishbone springs or the hair
moves, the hunters observe that the seal is about to take a breadi
out of the blowhole. They are ready with their harpoons. Their weapons,
carved with ivory tips and highly decorated, proclaim the death
of an animal is no small thing and must be done with beautiful tools
and a technique that honors the animal.
Hudson Bay residents note that caribou, which are not intimidated
by mining activity, migrate very close to work camps and may feed
in chemically contaminated areas. Since 1990 they have postulated
a link between the caribou ingesting lichens and water originating
in poisonous mine tailings and the high rate of cancer-related deaths
among elders who eat caribou. Western science calls this knowledge
environmental health. Inuit interpret aquatic environmental indicators
and predict animal behavior, hunting, and travel outcomes by their
traditional knowledge of currents and sea ice. Western scientists
call this study oceanography.
kind of indigenous science education isn't just for indigenous people.
It's for everyone, and it must become part of science education
in the 21st century. Indigenous science education has the kind of
meaning and context necessary to address the problems of the 21st
century, including our relationships to the earth and to each other,
the ability to understand and deal with 'other.' We are just at
the very beginning of seeing how these two ways--indigenous and
Western science--can come together to make a new world." added
turn Native science into curriculum, to contrast Native science
with Western science, is very difficult. For example, knowledge
in the Lakota way is different than in the Tewa way. It is specific
to that community and belongs to that group. It is relevant to the
daily struggle of a particular people. It is in a great deal of
danger because it is local knowledge," Cajete said.
Wildcat told the group, "The reductionist view of science cannot
answer the fundamental, critical problems we have in the world today.
We American Indians will do science our way. We need to bring Native
people into science because of what they can bring to Western science.
We need to reunite reason and spirit ...and address the gap between
knowing and doing." An Euchee member of the Muscogee Nation
of Oklahoma, Wildcat directs the Haskell Environmental Research
Studies (HERS) Center at Haskell Indian Nations University (Lawrence,
people are naturally scientists. We begin with the big picture.
We need scientists who begin their practice of science by asking
'What does it mean to me, my family, the place I live?'" Wildcat
COLLEGES INDIGENIZING SCIENCE
colleges like Northwest Indian College, Salish Kootenai College,
and Haskell Indian Nations University are in a strategic position
to indigenize science as tribal-centered learning, where spirit
and reason are reunited. Students discover how traditional values
can contribute to solving tribal environmental problems there.
Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, WA, the Tribal Environmental
and Natural Resources Management (TENRM) model teaches Native science
and Western science simultaneously. "Students can practice
ways of knowing science beyond dissection and experiment and pass
down knowledge through customs and ceremony," according to
Gigi Berardi, Ph.D. She and Duran are both faculty members in TENRM.
Their colleague at Northwest Indian College, Roberto Gonzalez-Plaza,
Ph.D., played a major role in organizing the Native sessions at
the AAAS meeting.
must begin with a dialogue among indigenous wisdom keepers, scientists,
and non-indigenous scientists. It won't be easy because of the fundamental
'worldviews of the various entities such as the National Science
Foundation and private foundations," Wildcat said. He advised
the AAAS group in Denver to "recognize the important work of
tribal colleges and fund innovative curriculum and research projects
told the group in Denver, "A tribal college education is the
kind of education that is needed by everyone if we want to solve
the problems of the 21st century."