What is Indigenous Knowledge?
What is Science?
What is Indigenous science?
What is the relationship between Indigenous Knowledge and science?
Why teach Indigenous Knowledge in science?
How has it been taught in the past?
Indigenous Knowledge has become the accepted term to include the beliefs and understandings of non-western people acquired through long-term association with a place. It is knowledge based on the social, physical and spiritual understandings which have informed the people’s survival and contributed to their sense of being in the world. Indigenous Knowledge goes by many different names, such as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), Indigenous People’s Knowledge (IPK), and even ‘folk knowledge’. While Indigenous knowledge sometimes contrasts with scientific knowledge, it can also be complementary and provide supplementary information about the world.
Science or Western science is the system of knowledge which relies on certain laws that have been established through the application of the scientific method to phenomena in the world around us. The process of the scientific method begins with an observation followed by a prediction or hypothesis which is then tested. Depending on the test results, the hypothesis can become a scientific theory or ‘truth’ about the world.
The history of the development of Western science demonstrates that it developed in Europe, in particular over the last 150 years. Its ‘truth’ relates to certain values and ideas and is not necessarily objective. Although scientists may admit that there are many ways of understanding the natural world, they believe that science is the best way because it is testable knowledge.
Indigenous science is the science that Indigenous people developed independent of Western science. If we understand ‘indigenous’ to relate to people who have a long-standing and complex relationship with a local area and ‘science’ to mean a systematic approach to acquiring knowledge of the natural world, then Indigenous science is the process by which Indigenous people build their empirical knowledge of their natural environment. As is the case with Western science, Indigenous science is the practical application of theories of knowledge about the nature of the world and increasingly Indigenous people are incorporating Western scientific knowledge into their practices.
Scientists generally distinguish between scientific knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge by claiming science is universal whereas Indigenous Knowledge relates only to particular people and their understanding of the world.
There are occasions when science takes on board some aspect of Indigenous knowledge but only when it meets the criteria of western science. Generally, however, Indigenous Knowledge does not fit the criteria for science and therefore is classed as a different kind of knowledge.Another approach is that science and Indigenous Knowledge represent two different views of the world around us: science focuses on the component parts whereas Indigenous Knowledge presents information about the world in a holistic way. With this analysis it is possible to see how one system can complement the other. Finally it is important to remember that in today’s world there is no isolated system of knowledge and that the knowledge systems of all people are constantly changing in response to new knowledge.
There are two main reasons to include Indigenous Knowledge in the science curriculum: firstly, by introducing students to the concept of Indigenous Knowledge in their science education they will have an increased awareness of Aboriginal culture and identity, and secondly, modern day environmental problems have social and cultural dimensions which benefit from perspectives other than Western science. While scientific knowledge is needed to solve these problems, science alone is often not sufficient and Indigenous Knowledge may make a useful contribution.
Although education policies in Australian states and territories require teaching of Indigenous perspectives within a broad range of curricula including science, it seems that curriculum content, teaching methods and resources have been focussed on a Western, scientific view of Aboriginal cultural knowledge.
In science education, educators have treated the concept of Indigenous Knowledge as another body of ecological knowledge divisible into categories that correspond neatly to scientific categories. Taking the example of fire knowledge, science educators have concentrated on people’s knowledge of how to create fire as well as their knowledge of the seasons and fire behaviour. However, this approach not only denies the cultural significance of fire knowledge but also denies opportunities for significant learning.An alternative strategy is to explore other aspects of fire in the cultural life of the local Indigenous community. Certainly Aboriginal people burn the landscape to create better hunting areas and to increase production of valued resources but they also believe that they have a responsibility to their ancestors. Indigenous knowledge of fire has been passed on through language, songs, rituals and social organisation in which words, designs and relationships are the keys to knowing how to interact with the environment. Individual people have rights to burn in a particular location not only on the basis of their ecological knowledge but also because of their relationships to the traditional owners of that country. To understand Aboriginal use of fire ecology science students need this broader understanding of cultural knowledge which is essential to understand the ways in which Indigenous people have successfully managed the environment over the long term.
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