Discovering Indigenous Science: Implications for Science

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Snively, Gloria; Corsiglia, John Discovering Indigenous Science: Implications for Science Education. 1998-04-00 53p.; Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (71st, San Diego, CA, April 19-22, 1998). Opinion Papers (120) -- Speeches/Meeting Papers (150) MF01/PC03 Plus Postage. Biology; *Constructivism (Learning); Cultural Influences; *Curriculum Development; *Ecology; Educational Change; Epistemology; *Knowledge Representation; Learning Strategies; Multicultural Education; *Science Education; *Science History; Secondary Education Nature of Science

ABSTRACT This paper explores different aspects of multicultural
science and pedagogy and describes a rich and well-documented branch of indigenous science known to biologists and ecologists as traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Indigenous science relates to both the science knowledge of long-resident, usually oral culture peoples, as well as the science knowledge of all peoples who, as participants in culture, are affected by the worldview and relativist interests of their home communities. Given the urgency of the current environmental crisis, as well as growing worldwide recognition of TEK among scientists, government, and international aid agencies, the paper argues for the inclusion of TEK in school-based science education programs. A lengthy discussion of TEK literature that focuses on documenting numerous examples of time proven, productive, and cost effective indigenous science is also included. Contains 115 references. (DDR)



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Discovering Indigenous Science: Implications for Science Education

Gloria Snively University of Victoria
John Corsiglia First Nations Education and Cultural Consultant


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Paper presented at the 1998 National Association of Research in Science Teaching
San Diego, CA, April 19-22, 1998.

Discovering Indigenous Science: Implications for Science Education
Gloria Snively and John Corsiglia Abstract
This article explores aspects of multicultural science and pedagogy and describes a rich and well documented branch of indigenous science known to biologists and ecologists as traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Indigenous science relates to both the science knowledge of long-resident, usually oral culture peoples; as well as the science knowledge of all peoples who as participants in culture are affected by the world view and relativist interests of their home communities. Since living TEK practitioners tend to be inaccessible, their observations, data, and strategies have been difficult to access; however educators are fortunate in that a growing TEK literature documents numerous examples of time-proven, productive, and cost effective indigenous science.
Although the TEK literature provides concrete examples of important indigenous science; it can be difficult for Westerners to appreciate. It is contextual rather than universal; and is moral rather than supposedly value free. Generally TEK is refined over very long periods of time and, because of the nature of oral information systems, may be stored and transmitted in what print oriented people feel are unfamiliar ways by story, metaphor, example, ritual, or in formal teaching sequences relating to mastering successful activities which themselves serve to store past experimentation. Also there is an historical element: Western (and possibly other) expansionist colonizers seem to include the marginalization of subject peoples and the diminution of their indigenous knowledge systems.
Disputes on the universality of a standard scientific account are of critical importance for science educators because the definition of science is a de facto "gate keeping" device for what can be included in a school science curriculum and what

cannot. When western modern science (WMS) is deemed universal it certainly displaces creation science, however, it also displaces any local indigenous knowledge. Thus, in most science classrooms around the globe, western modern science has been taught at the expense of indigenous knowledge. However, since WMS has been implicated in many of the world's ecological disasters, it is possible that a dedicated universalist "gate-keeper" serves neither human or environmental communities when it also excludes relativistic science knowledge.
The intense philosophical debate around the inclusion of multi-cultural science in mainstream science education has not always been sufficiently wedded to practical science knowledge issues. All too frequently educators have developed science programs and curricula with little understanding of imbedded cultural assumptions, and the philosophical debate that has taken place has occurred in relation to few concrete examples. Fortunately, the burgeoning TEK and Indigenous Knowledge (IK) literature now provides educators with conceptual stepping-stones to rich collections of multi-cultural science perspectives, approaches, examples and data that can assist educators to design science curricula that explore critical science, technology, and community issues related to sustainability and bio-regionalism.
Given the urgency of the current environmental crises, as well as growing worldwide recognition of TEK among scientists, governments, and international aid agencies, the authors argue for the inclusion of TEK in school based science education programs to provide examples of local and relativist, multicultural science. Following the work of Ogawa (1995) the authors view every culture as having its own science. Thus, learning science is viewed as culture acquisition that requires all students to cross a "cultural border" from their everyday world into the subculture of science. A conceptualization of science education is provided that attempts to take full account of the multi-dimensional cultural world of the learner, applies this principle with concrete visible examples, and concludes with specific recommendations for helping all students

move back and forth between the culture of Western modern science and the culture of local indigenous science.
Introduction One of the emerging issues in the science education literature is multicultural
science education, as evidenced by the number of papers submitted to this and other science education journals. For some, multicultural science is seen as important both because it can provide valuable scientific knowledge and because it can function as a pedagogical stepping stone especially for multicultural students of science (Atwater & Riley 1993; Hodson, 1993; Stanley & Brickhouse, 1994). Certain other science educators who champion modern western science as the last and greatest of the sciences, tend to dismiss multicultural science as faddish or heretical (Good, 1995a, 1995b; Gross & Levitt, 1994; Matthews, 1994; Slezak, 1994; Wolpert, 1993). Suspending consideration of the intrinsic importance of multicultural science Ogawa (1995) stresses that all science students must work through both individual and indigenous science understandings in the course of constructing their knowledge of modern western science. Ogawa proposes that every culture has its own science and refers to the science in a given culture as its "indigenous science" (Ogawa, 1995, p. 585).
It would seem that the dispute over how science is to be taught in the classroom turns on how the concepts "science" and "universality" are to be defined. The debate rages over the nature of reality and knowledge, definitions of science, and the so-called universalist vs. relativist positions. The reader finds detailed challenges issued by writers such as Good (1995a) inviting opponents like Stanley and Brickhouse (1994) to be specific with their "few well-chosen examples of sciences from other cultures ":
What are these few well-chosen examples that should be included in our school science curriculum? Additionally, it would be very nice to learn how these examples of neglected 'science' should change our understanding of biology, chemistry, physics, and so on. Just what

contributions will this neglected science make in modern science's understanding of nature? (p. 335)
As one example of how far the universalist Vs relativist debate can be pushed, the authors have learned that Richard Dawkins is fond of saying: "there are no relativists at 30,000 feet". No doubt that without an airplane of conventional description, a person at 30,000 is in serious trouble, but when universalists take off and land on vulcanized rubber tires they make use of a material and process discovered and refined by indigenous Peruvians (Weatherford, 1988, 1991). Without multicultural science contributions enabling airplanes to land and take off there would be neither airplanes, nor for that matter, universalists at 30,000 feet.
Historically, expansionists have been of two minds about multicultural science. It has been commonplace for the world's expansionist peoples to adopt the knowledge of food, fiber, medicine, resources, and technology (as well as the actual lands, resources, and labour) of long-resident peoples (Weatherford, 1988, 1991) while at the same time disparaging the capacities of their benefactors (Horseman, 1975). Westerners freely acknowledge the existence of indigenous art, music, literature, drama, political and economic systems in indigenous cultures, but somehow fail to apprehend and appreciate indigenous science. Elkana writes: "Comparative studies of art, religion, ethics, and politics abound; however, there is no discipline called comparative science" (Elkana, 1981, p. 2). Thus, in many educational settings where western modern science is taught, it is taught at the expense of Indigenous science which may precipitate charges of epistemological hegemony and cultural imperialism.
Thus, we face three fundamental questions: First, is science an exclusive invention of Europeans, or have scientific ways of thinking and viable bodies of science knowledge also emerged in other cultures? Second, how realistic are assertions about the universality of science? Are they ultimately verifiable2? Further, if modern western science is taken to be universal what is the status of the vast quantities of local

knowledge that it subsumes, incorporates and claims to legitimize? And third, if viable bodies of useful science knowledge emerge in other cultures, how can science educators develop programs that enable all students to cross borders between the culture of western modern science and the culture of local indigenous science?
While science educators have been fighting epistemological battles that could effectively limit or expand the scope and purview of science education, events on the ground appear to have overtaken us working scientists have themselves been involved in wide ranging exploration and reform. Fortunately, we can report here on a branch of science research little known to educators that can provide us with promising data and even time-tested conceptual tools. Especially during the last twenty five years, biologists, ecologists, botanists, geologists, climatologists, astronomers, agriculturists, pharmacologists and related working scientists have labored to develop approaches which are improving our ability to understand and mitigate the impact of human activity upon environment. By extending their enquiry into the timeless traditional knowledge and wisdom of long-resident, oral peoples these scientists have in effect moved the borders of scientific inquiry and formalized a branch of biological and ecological science that become known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK, which can be thought of as either the knowledge itself, or as documented ethno-science enriched with analysis and explication provided by natural science specialists. The interested reader can find numerous detailed examples of TEK in the following volumes (Berkes & Mackenzie, 1978; Andrews, 1988; Berkes, 1988, 1993; Inglis, 1993; Williams & Baines, 1993). Additionally, the present bibliography provides the reader with a number of specific examples of TEK in Canada, and worldwide.
Since Western modern science (WMS) is here to stay and interest in indigenous science can be described as burgeoning, it becomes important for science educators to introduce students to the perspectives of both WMS and indigenous science during instruction (Aikenhead, 1995, 1996; Atwater & Riley, 1993; Bowers, 1993a, 1993b;

Hodson, 1993; Ogawa, 1989, 1995; Smith, 1982, 1995; Snively, 1990, 1995; Wright, 1992). This paper discuses some attributes of indigenous science, including aspects of this body of knowledge which are referred to as TEK. In the process, we offer many examples from Canada and around the world of traditional people's contributions to science, environmental understanding, and long-term sustainable societies. We argue the view that Western or modern science is just one of many sciences that need to be addressed in the science classroom. The intention is not to demean WMS, but instead to point out a body of scientific literature that provides great potential for enhancing our ability to develop more relevant science education programs.
Towards Defining Western Modern Science, Indigenous Science, and TEK Since the phrases "western modern science," "indigenous science," and "traditional ecological knowledge" all have multiple meanings it will be useful to linger briefly with definitions. For clarity, we shall distinguish between "modern western science" which is the most dominant science in the world, "indigenous science" which interprets how the world works from a particular cultural perspective, and a subset of indigenous science referred to as "traditional ecological knowledge", which is the science of long-resident oral peoples.
What is Science? As is well known, there are numerous versions of what science is, and of what
counts as being scientific (Woolgar, 1988). Also, definitions are in flux. The Latin root, scientia means knowledge in the broadest possible sense and survives in such words as omniscience and prescience. The word science, like the words medicine, law, and government can all be used generally, or also, when capitalized, to denote specificity and official status. Certainly the meaning of the science is mutable. Terms such as "modern science," "standard science", "western science", "conventional science" and

"official science" have been in use only since the beginning of the twentieth century. For some, scientific abstractions began with Sumerian astronomy and mathematics, for others scientific theorizing began with Greek atomism, and for yet others it began towards the end of the nineteenth century when scientists began to grapple with abstract theoretical propositions--for example evolution, natural selection, and kineticmolecular theory. What confidence could one have in theoretical statements built from or based on unobservable data? Care was taken to develop logically consistent rules outlining how theoretical statements can be derived from observational statements. The intent was to create a single set of rules to guide the practice of theory justification (Duschl, 1994). Science can also refer to conceptual constructs approved by logical empiricism (positivism) which, in addition, has the capacity to carry science beyond the realms of observation and experiment. Also, we have come to refer to western science as officially sanctioned knowledge which can be thought of as inquiry and investigation that western governments and courts are prepared to support, acknowledge and utilize. Some authors have represented "science" with the acronym WMS, which either means "Western modern science" (Ogawa, 1995) or "white male science" (Pomeroy, 1994). Striving towards comprehensive definitions, certain sociology of science scholars have described WMS as institutionalized in Western Europe and North America has been described as a predominantly white male middle-class Western system of meaning and symbols (Rose, 1994; Simonelli, 1994).
In sharp contrast to the exclusive definitions of science above, Ogawa (1995) points science educators toward a broadly inclusive conceptualization of what science is by defining science rather simply as "a rational perceiving of reality", where "perceiving means both the action constructing reality and the construct of reality" p. 588. The merit of the use of the word "perceiving" gives science a "dynamic nature" and acknowledges that "science can experience a gradual change at any time" p 588. Another point put

forward by Ogawa is that "rational" should be seen in relativistic terms, as discussed in the preceding section.
However, an isolated definition of science may not be meaningful unless examined in relation to the ongoing debate about differing approaches to science. Approaches to science seem to be proceeding along two fundamentally different coursesby the timeless procedure of relying on observation and experiment; and during this century, by the theoretical examination of queries and assertions. If, as Nobel Laureate Medawar put it, "Science is really the art of the experimental", then it is seen to generate confirmed bodies of knowledge with the science of biology representing what we know about living things and astronomy comprising what we know about the stars and the universe. However, in recent years science is increasingly conceived to be a method of thinking rather than a collection of thoughts (Doyle, 1985). By examining the methodology and logic of assertions, questions, and concepts; logical empiricism (positivism) has come to function as a vigorous "gate keeper" that has certainly succeeded in screening out metaphysical, pseudo-science during this century. But if as Karl Pearson has said, as cited in Doyle, "The unity of science consists in its method, not its material" p. 12, then a way is opened for the powerful gatekeeper to insist upon theory over traditional experimental thinking. In point of fact, logical empiricism (positivism) seems to be so effective a gate keeper that even experimental science itself appears to be very considerably diminished. Experiment cannot prove the [absolute] correctness of assertions, it can only help to rank or disconfirm theories. Hacking alludes to the general difficulty in Boyd (1991):
No field in the philosophy of science is more systematically neglected than experiment. Our grade school teachers may have told us that scientific method is experimental method, but histories of science have become histories of theory.
(p. 247)
Certainly, we may rejoice that logical empiricism (positivism) has been able to screen out historically destructive pseudo-science by exposing the meaninglessness of its

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Discovering Indigenous Science: Implications for Science