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Friday, June 3, 2011

Native Science: Differs from the Western Paradigm

As a First Nations woman, who has only come to know the culture, traditions and the ways of her people in the last few years, I find that I struggle within about how native science is defined and is looked at through the Western paradigm.
 It states in the foreword, written by Leroy Little Bear in the text Native Science:  Natural Laws of Interdependence, that “Science has been and can be defined many different ways depending on who is doing the defining”(Cajete) and that “science is dependent on the culture/worldview/paradigm of the definer.” (Cajete) When reading this I wondered why ‘ differing views of science needs to be questioned at all?” and ‘why can’t differing paradigms just respect their own worldview without having to question those that have a different way of relating to the world than their own?”
As I have come to understand the indigenous worldview, science in the Indigenous paradigm plays a foundational role in Indigenous peoples lives and how they relate to the world. It is a way of life that encompasses the spiritual and material, the emotional and the physical. It is a worldview that is “not only one of livelihood but community”(RCAP) and the basis for the continuity of their cultures and societies.
With the above statement in mind, I now refer to how it was through colonial policies of assimilation that the Native paradigm suffered. It was through these colonial policies of assimilation that according to Paula Sherman in her book “Dishonour of the Crown” led to policies that enabled Europeans to profit from our lands and resources while economically and politically marginalizing us to the fringes of our own territory,”(Sherman) and also led to “jeopardizing our autonomy,”(Sherman) and “transforming our perceptions of our relationships with the land and even with each other.” (Sherman)
With this in mind, I think about how Indigenous peoples have had to straddle two worldviews due to the colonial discourse that saw their relationship to the land be taken away and I come back to the uneasiness I feel in regards to how a differing paradigm – in this case the Western paradigm can feel that they have authority to say in the words of Walter Cronkite “That’s the way it is.” (09/21/2010)
Science is a pursuit of knowledge and Native science was borne out of a different history than Western science. Therefore when comparing the two different paradigms, one should see the uniqueness in both, and treat them as such. It is easy to see that the modern description of science does not come even close to the Indigenous paradigm. The modern description is largely based on an intellectual discourse based in measurements and using mathematics, and the modern description leaves out so much—“it leaves out the sacredness, the livingness, the soul of the world,” (Cajete)
I like that Native science can be explained as being “born of a lived and storied participation with the natural landscape and that all aspects of one’s experience in the world is inclusive and that by being “open to the roles of sensation, perception, imagination, emotion, symbols and spirit as well as concept, logic and rational empiricism,”(Cajete) you are being a part of the story being told.
In conclusion, definitions of science are varied and that is very dependent on who is doing the defining. Cajete speaks of Western science and Indigenous science and how though they may have commonalities, they also have differences. To me, these differences are in the way science is perceived, and because of the colonial discourse that saw Indigenous people’s way of relating to the world; I believe a definition by an opposing worldview of what should be ‘science’ is problematic. It is problematic because in a way it becomes another way of forcing Indigenous people back into the colonial discourse that they have been fighting so hard to overcome.


Works Cited:

Cajete, Gregory. Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. pg. x. Clear Light Publishers. Sante Fe, New Mexico, 2000

Neegan, Erica. Class Lecture. University of Toronto. September 21, 2010

RCAP. Volume 2. Restructuring the Relationship Part Two: Chapter 4-Lands and Resources. 3.2 Significance of Lands and Resources to Aboriginal Peoples. pg. 1

Sherman, Paula, Dishonouring the Arbeiter Ring Publishing. Winnipeg, Manitoba. 2008


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