The “Aboriginal Knowledge and Science Education Research Project” was a collaborative venture between the Aboriginal Education Enhancements Branch of the British Columbia Ministry of Education (Canada) and the University of Victoria (Canada), and was created to address issues associated with the under-representation of Aboriginal peoples in the sciences. The project had a three-fold purpose: (1) to broadly describe why Aboriginal students are under-represented in high school science biology, chemistry, and physics classrooms, (2) to find ways to improve significantly their involvement and achievement in both elementary and high school science leading to post-secondary, and (3) encourage Aboriginal people to consider science and health related occupations.
According to Cajete (1999), “Native science evolved in relation to places and is therefore instilled with a ‘sense of place’. Therefore, the first frame of reference for Native science curriculum is reflective of their place” (p. 47). Thus, a key component of the research project was to document the Aboriginal science knowledge of specific home communities and to construct an epistemological framework and pedagogical orientation for developing school science programs pertaining to the learning and use of scientific knowledge in the local Indigenous community.
It is anticipated that the project will contribute to the realization of increased participation of Aboriginal peoples in the sciences by generating: (a) understanding of the underlying reasons for the lack of participation in upper level sciences courses, (b) knowledge about the lack of participation of Aboriginal people in science and health related careers, (c) knowledge of the Indigenous Science of British Columbia Aboriginal peoples, (d) knowledge about how children of Aboriginal ancestry have a worldview other than the Western scientific worldview, (e) significant research opportunities for Aboriginal graduate students, (f) research partnerships amongst Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers and scholars, (g) directions for leadership and career opportunities in science for Aboriginal graduate students, and (h) more effective science education curricula and programs by and with Aboriginal scholars and Aboriginal communities to be developed, implemented and evaluated.
With the aging population of the Elders in the community, Indigenous Science (IS) knowledge is vulnerable and the urgency to research and document this knowledge is vital to Indigenous peoples and to the global society. We take the view that unless IS is acknowledged as science, Western Science (WS) will continue to completely dominate the science curriculum, and IS will continue to be excluded or given tokenistic inclusion at best. Thus, we take the view that IS and WS can co-exist side by side in the science classroom.
Building a Community of Researchers
By working with Indigenous graduate students, rather than with practiced researchers, this project was unique in that it was designed to provide opportunities for Indigenous peoples to participate in a research project. Although this was an important key element of the research project, it had challenges of working with a cadre of inexperienced graduate students, many of whom were at the beginning stages of taking graduate level research courses.
In an attempt to address the stated purpose of this research, the research team developed an implementation strategy consisting of the following elements: (a) build culturally appropriate research skills amongst graduate students; (b) collect and analyze what Indigenous knowledge based curriculum materials and programs already exist; (c) design a graduate level program of courses to teach basic research techniques and concepts associated with the project; and (d) locate and encourage networks with and amongst researchers and research centres focusing on Indigenous knowledge and science education projects. Seven Indigenous graduate students and two non-Indigenous graduate students volunteered to research specific components of the project deemed relevant to their personal career goals and the needs and goals of their home communities.
During the summer of 2004, an off-campus Graduate Program in Environmental and First Nations Education was offered to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in ‘Yalis (Alert Bay), British Columbia, home of the Kwakwaka‘wakw people. The Kwakwaka‘wakw, against enormous pressures, have remained close to the essence of their traditional and still viable life-ways. Like other Indigenous peoples who retain their traditional identity, they are in a position to share many of their beliefs and values. They teach through a wide range of means and expressions, and their relationship to the larger society. A key tenet was that environment and culture could not be considered separately, there could be no course on Kwagu’ł culture that was not also about the Kwagu’ł environment. Common experiences included direct experiences with Elders and scientists, and conducting archival and research associated with historical events related to colonization and decolonization.
The aim of this graduate program was to bring together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal persons to work together in learning about the forest and ocean environments, respecting the cultures of Aboriginal people, and educating future citizens to make wise decisions regarding long-term sustainable communities and environments. The design of the program and courses followed Indigenous ways of learning; learning by being on the land; learning together by forging a sense of community within the program; learning from the expertise of First Nations communities and the university community. Because the majority of graduate students were full-time teachers, the program was developed to take place in three summer sessions (Snively, 2006; Snively & Williams, 2006). (See Appendix D for a more elaborated description of the research project and graduate program).
Since Indigenous peoples have developed time-proven approaches to sustaining both community and environment, Elders and young people are concerned that this rich legacy of Indigenous Science with its wealth of environmental knowledge and the wisdom of previous generations could disappear if it is not respected, studied and understood by today’s children and youth. A perspective where relationships between home place and all other beings that inhabit the earth is vitally important to all residents—both inheritors of ancient Indigenous Knowledge and wisdom, and newcomers who can experience the engagement, joy and promise of science instilled with a sense of place. This book takes a step forward toward preserving and actively using the knowledge, stories, and lessons for today and future generations, and with it a worldview that informs everyday attitudes toward the earth.
Over the past two decades many jurisdictions worldwide have placed Indigenous Knowledge in their science curricula, for example: New Zealand, Australia, and in the United States, Alaska, Hawai’i, New Mexico and Washington. In the spirit of reconciliation, a number of ministries of education and departments of education in Canada have increasingly recognized Indigenous Knowledge as fundamental content in school science.
Indigenous Science encourages a welcoming and interested attitude toward the local, the timeless, and the emotional. All science educators must strive to design new curriculum that represents a balanced perspective, exposing students to multiple ways of understanding science. Indigenous perspectives have the potential to give insight and guidance to the kind of environmental ethics and deep understanding that we must gain as we attempt to solve the increasingly complex problems of the 21st century.
Knowing Home: Books 1 and 2
Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science is far more than a set of research papers or curriculum studies. The project outputs include both, but they are incorporated into a theoretical structure that can provide the methodological basis for future efforts that attempt to develop culturally responsive Indigenous Science curricula in home places. It is not just one or two angels to organize, but multiple interwoven approaches and cases that give this project its exceptional importance. Thus, the project outputs have been organized into two books.
Book 1 provides an overview of why traditional knowledge and wisdom should be included in the science curriculum, a window into the science and technologies of the Indigenous peoples who live in Northwestern North America, Indigenous worldview, culturally responsive teaching strategies and curriculum models, and evaluative techniques. It is intended that the rich examples and cases, combined with the resources listed in the appendices, will enable teachers and students to explore Indigenous Science examples in the classroom; and in addition, support the development of culturally appropriate curriculum projects.
Book 2 provides supportive research, case studies and commentary that extends and enriches the chapters presented in Book 1. The chapters provide rich descriptions related to Indigenous cultural beliefs and values; an Aboriginal concept of time; transforming teacher thinking about Indigenous Science; the use of digital video as a learning tool for secondary Aboriginal students; the perceptions and experiences of post secondary Aboriginal students during science instruction; a WSÁNEĆ concept of “knowledge of most worth,” and a study of successful Aboriginal students in secondary science.
Aikenhead, G., & Ogawa, M. (2007). Indigenous knowledge and science revisited.Cultural Studies of Science Education, 2, 539-591. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11422-007-9067-8
Berkes, F. (2012). Sacred ecology (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Cajete, G. (1999). Igniting the sparkle: An Indigenous science education model. Skyland, NC: Kivaki Press.
Ogawa, M. (1995). Science education in a multiscience perspective. Science Education, 79(5), 583-593. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/sce.3730790507
Snively, G. (2006). The Aboriginal knowledge and science education research project. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 29(2), 229-244.
Snively, G., & Williams, L. (2008). Coming to know: Weaving Aboriginal and Western Science knowledge, language, and literacy into the science classroom. L1–Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 8(1), 109-130.