Spring 2018

If Indigenous Peoples Stand with the Sciences, Will Scientists Stand with Us?

Megan Bang, Ananda Marin, and Douglas L. Medin
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Indigenous sciences are foundationally based in relationships, reciprocity, and responsibilities. These sciences constitute systems of knowledge developed through distinct perspectives on and practices of knowledge creation and decision-making that not only have the right to be pursued on their own terms but may also be vital in solving critical twenty-first-century challenges. “Science” is often treated as if it were a single entity, free of cultural influences and value-neutral in principle. Western science is often seen as instantiating and equivalent to this idealized, yet problematic, view of science. We argue for engagement with multiple perspectives on science in general, and increased engagement with Indigenous sciences in particular. As scholars focused on human learning and development, we share empirical examples of how Indigenous sciences, sometimes in partnership with Western science, have led to new discoveries and insights into human learning and development.

MEGAN BANG is Associate Professor at the University of Washington College of Education. She is the author of Who's Asking? Native Science, Western Science, and Science Education (2014, with Douglas L. Medin). She has published widely in journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Behavior, Cognition and Instruction, Science Education, and the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

ANANDA MARIN is Assistant Professor at the ucla Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Her work on learning has been published in such publications as Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Journal of American Indian Education, and Harvard Educational Review.

DOUGLAS MEDIN, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2002, is Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University. His publications include Who's Asking? Native Science, Western Science, and Science Education (with Megan Bang, 2014) and The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature (with Scott Atran, 2008).

For many years, wildlife biologists who observed coyotes and badgers hunting in the same area hypothesized that they were competing for game and speculated that badgers would follow coyotes in hopes of snatching their prey. After further observation, the biologists realized that badgers and coyotes often hunt cooperatively and that this in fact makes them more successful. The logics in these studies mirrored reasoning patterns within some Indigenous communities: that is, Indigenous peoples often focus on and inquire about reciprocal relationships between entities. It is possible, therefore, that different cultural orientations may facilitate different insights into badger and coyote behavior. To further test this insight and place these findings in a cultural context, we removed all the text from a children’s book on coyote/badger hunting, asked U.S. college students and Indigenous Panamanian Ngöbe adults to look at the book’s illustrations, and listened to what they thought the book depicted. U.S. college students interpreted the story .  .  .