Learning Indigenous Science
from Place
Dr. Herman Michell – Principal Investigator
First Nations University of Canada
Yvonne Vizina – Co-Investigator
University of Saskatchewan
It has become possible for Indigenous people
to refuse to speak about ourselves
in ways foreign to us,
to explain ourselves in terms not appropriate to us,
to judge ourselves by criteria we did not institute,
or to accept that our traditional knowledge
is not knowledge at all.
We can hold firm our own Indigenous ways of
knowing and,
in so doing, protect and preserve those ways.
(Dr. Eva Marie Garroutte, 1999).
Learning Indigenous
Science from Place:
• An action research study examining
Indigenous-based Science Perspectives in
Saskatchewan First Nations and Métis
Community Contexts
• The Project Team: FN & Métis
communities, FnUniv, UofS, FSIN, STC,
MLTC, GDI, Min. of Educ., Public/Catholic
schools, Teachers & Elders;
Research Questions
• What is a First Nations perspective of learning Indigenous
Science from Place?
• What is a Métis perspective of learning Indigenous Science
from Place?
• How can learning from place help create a foundation for a
science curriculum that is contextualized to place and to the
people of that place?
• How can these perspectives inform teachers of processes and
content needed in science curriculum?
• What supports are needed for educators to engage in
Indigenous science?
Cultural-based Approaches to
Science Education
• The idea of cultural-based approaches
to science education is a new
development in a long history of
Indigenous education and reflects an
evolution of thought related to
self-determination, community-based
education and the preservation of
cultural identity. (Cajete, 1999)
Importance of Science in
Aboriginal Communities
Increased Control of Land & Resources
Increased Control of Health Programs
Increased Need for Science Professionals
Community Infrastructure Development
Global Bio-diversity & Sustainable Issues
Low Numbers of Aboriginal
individuals in Science Careers
Despite a rich backdrop of cultural traditions,
languages, values, practices and holistic ways of
connecting with natural reality that could serve as a
foundation for scientific learning and achievement...
Aboriginal Peoples are chronically under-represented
in virtually all fields of science.
Aboriginal individuals are systematically locked out of
high paying jobs in science related fields.
Why?…...What’s the Problem?
The Problems are Complex ….
• Systemic Factors - Social/Political/Economic
• Linked to Colonized / Marginalized Status in Canada
• Assimilation through Education
• Euro-centric Schooling Practices & Policies
• 100 Years of Residential Schooling
• Loss of Culture, languages, values, practices
• Loss of Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Reviews of First Nations &
Métis Education
• 1988 - NIB Review
• 1987 - Barmen, Hebert, McCaskill Review
• 1992 - Canadian Education Association
• 1995 - Battiste Review
• 1996 - Royal Commission Report
• 2005 – Canadian Council on Learning
Some Key Problems...
• Provincial Science Curriculum: Inclusive Issues
• Chronic Under-funding in Schools
• Inadequate Facilities, Equipment & Materials
• Shortage of Indigenous Science scholars
• Lack of Indigenous Science teachers
• Indigenous Science in Teacher Education
• Appropriate Cultural & Linguistic Content
• Elder & Parental Involvement
• Teacher Turnover & Consistency
Some Key Problems...
• High Drop-out rates in High School
• Poor Attendance - High Absenteeism
• Poor Academic Achievement Levels
• Lack of Preparedness for Post-secondary level
• Alcohol & Drug Abuse Problems
• Overcrowded Housing Conditions
• High Suicide Rate among Youth
• Single Parent Families with limited Supports
Creating a Pathway...
• The problems are systemic and will require
systemic solutions...
• Science Education must be re-defined based on
First Nations & Métis community foundations;
• Context Specific & the Idea of “Place”
• Community-based Articulation of Indigenous
ontology, epistemology, methodology, and
• Community Involvement in the Planning,
Development, Implementation, Evaluation of
Indigenous science curriculum;
Re-defining Science
• The Myth of Science as “non-cultural”
• Towards Science as Cultural & Political
• Indigenous Science needs no validation from
Western Science
• Honoring & Creating Space for Indigenous
Knowledge Systems to Flourish
• Towards an Inter-connected Consciousness
• Nourishing, Life-giving & Sustainable
Stereotypes of Indigenous
• Primitive Folklore
• Static View - Something of the “Past”
• Irrational & Irrelevant
• Religious Assimilation & Fear Mongering
• Evil, Demonic, Witchcraft, Voodoo
• Worshipping “Other gods”
What is Science?
• Science is a tool. It is used in coming to know
the natural world.
• Science is also a cultural extension of particular
human groups.
• There are Diverse cultures with Diverse tools.
Multi-science perspectives.
• Indigenous people have their own set of tools
in coming to know natural world.
Indigenous Diversity &
• A Shared Worldview of Interconnectedness
• Diverse Knowledge Systems
• Diverse Values
• Diverse Languages
• Diverse Environments
• Diverse Practices & Technologies
Clash of Worldviews
Indigenous Worldviews are fundamentally different
than the Euro-Western worldview promoted
through contemporary science education.
Western science is a “sub-culture”
Western science & worldview dominates all spheres of
society….& curriculum.
“Clash of Worldviews”
First Nations vs. Western Science
Métis knowledge dismissed by ‘experts’
We live in a world of many cultures,
all of which have different standards.
It is not necessary to devalue
the standards of Western society,
except insofar as they claim to be the only
worthwhile standards.
(Hampton, 1995)
Euro-Western Science
• Science is a subset of Euro-Western Culture.
• People are separate from the World Around them.
• What counts as Science - Is what can be Measured.
• Focus on Physical World - Absence of the Sacred
• Scientific Method - Compartmentalized Knowledge
• Fragmented Worldview - Linear - Hierarchical
• Mechanistic - Reductionist - Rational - Impersonal
Mathematical idealized - De-Contextualized
Exploitative - Materialistic - Ideological - Elitist.
Indigenous Science
• Abundant examples exist of scientific thought in
First Nations & Métis communities….
• Indigenous people used scientific processes of
investigating, discovering, experimenting,
observing, defining, comparing, relating, inferring,
classifying, and communicating in order to develop
technology that enabled them to survive within
particular environments (Ovando, 1994).
Indigenous Science Examples
that Resonate with…..
Medical Practices
Indigenous Science...
• Physical & Spiritual Are Not Separate
• Holistic - Communal - Contextual
• Inclusive - Cooperative - Peaceful
• Focus on Natural Laws & Land
• Respect & Reverence for all Life
• Reciprocity & Interdependence
• Balance & Wholeness - Inner & Outer Harmony
• Sustainable
Indigenous Science Approaches
• Indigenous Local Concepts & Examples
• Experiential & Hands-On Activities
– Multi-sensory - Multiple Anchors of Retention
Indigenous Elders
Indigenous Methodologies
Indigenous Languages
Learning Styles & Teaching Styles
Role Models & Mentors
Textbook & Visual Classroom Materials
Trans-disciplinary Curriculum
Indigenous-based Assignments
Indigenous Methodologies
Experiential - “On the Land”
Traditional Technologies
Indigenous Contributions
Storytelling & Sharing Circles
Supervised & Unsupervised Participation
Intergenerational Teaching
Observation & Natural Inquiry
Dreaming & Imagination
Ritual & Ceremony
Traditional Knowledge Protocols
• There are Protocols around Traditional Knowledge;
• It is crucial to consult with Elders what parts of
traditional knowledge should be addressed and how such
issues should be taught in public.
• Cultural expressions that include drumming, ceremony,
sacred songs, dances, prayers, dreams and creation
stories teach people about relationships with Natural
• However, Caution must be taken: There are cultural
expressions that belong to certain clans, societies, and
knowledge keepers and can only be shared by certain
people under certain conditions & protocols;
• Ensure students are fully prepared and understand the
significance of specific practices that relate to what you
are trying to teach them.
• In some cases, individuals will share freely expecting you
will know the ethics around knowledge use.
More Research is Needed...
• The main weakness of current research
around cultural-based approaches to
science education is the lack of
quantitative data about how, why, and in
what contexts cultural-based approaches
are more effective than Western
approaches (Cajete, 1999).
Province Wide Articulation…
• It is time to articulate Indigenous Science
Education from the foundation of First
• Community-based research;
• Locally-developed Options;
• The Answers Lie “Within”.
Sharing the Burden...
• Community-driven - Direct Benefits
• Long-term Funding Mechanisms
• Partnerships with Industry
• Partnerships with Universities
• Partnerships with Schools
• Partnerships with Governments

Indigenizing Science Education