indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Rosalyn LaPier: Tradition mixes with science in tribal communities

Filed Under: Education | Opinion
More on: nagpra, religion, rosalyn lapier, sacred sites, the conversation
     
   

Salish and Kootenai College on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. Photo: U.S. Department of Education

Why Native Americans do not separate religion from science
By Rosalyn R. LaPier (Harvard University)
The Conversation
theconversation.com

Last year five Native American tribes in Washington state managed to repatriate the remains of the “Ancient One,” as they called him, or “Kennewick Man,” as scientists called him. The Conversation

For the tribes, the Ancient One is to be revered as a human ancestor. But for the scientists, the rare specimen of a 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man was important to understanding the history of North America. After a 20-year court battle, the tribes finally reburied the Ancient One. However, this could be done only after scientists had created his multi-dimensional model for future study.

For a long time, the relationship between Native Americans and scientists has been a contentious one. It would appear from this case that what matters most to Native Americans are religious beliefs and not science.

While this might be the case with human remains, which are a sensitive issue with most tribes, scientific endeavors are very important to Native Americans.

That is why indigenous scientists and scholars including myself are supporting the March for Science this Saturday, April 22.

Sacred ecology

Scientists began thinking and writing about how Native Americans understand the natural world in the 20th century. Instead of seeing a conflict between Western science and Native American knowledge, they started thinking about ways to learn how Native Americans addressed environmental and ecological issues differently.

Ecologist Fikret Berkes pointed out these distinctions in his seminal book “Sacred Ecology,” where he noted that both Western and indigenous science can be regarded as “the same general intellectual process of creating order out of disorder.”

He provided his own research as an example. He stated that the Native Americans he worked with knew far more than he did about aquatic ecological systems, even though he had academic training. He noted their knowledge was both scientific and viewed through a religious lens.

“One important point of difference is that many systems of indigenous knowledge include spiritual or religious dimensions (beliefs) that do not make sense to science…. This is ‘sacred ecology’ in the most expansive, rather than in the scientifically restrictive, sense of the word ‘ecology.’”

Traditional knowledge

Native American scholars are now writing about this blending of science and religion.

Native American scientist Robin Kimmerer, for example, tells her story as a trained botanist learning about Native American worldview in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” She describes how she learned words in her native language, Anishinaabe, that explained biological processes better than Western science could in English.

As a Native American scholar, I, too, have spent the past year at the intersection of science and religion at Harvard Divinity School, researching “ethnobotany” and “ethnopharmacology” – the scientific study of the medicinal qualities of plants and Native American belief.

I learned from my grandmother, Annie Mad Plume Wall, who was regarded as a “doctor” on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana, that certain plants were medicine. She understood the ethnopharmacology of plants that were used as analgesics, antibacterials or anti-inflammatory agents. She knew which plants to use when one of her patients was ill.

The knowledge of the medicinal qualities of these plants clearly grew out of a process of observation and experimentation. She learned how to distill the essential elements of a plant to create an extract of its medicinal properties. In fact, her refrigerator was filled with bottles of extracts.

However, some of these plants also had mythological stories that spoke of their origin in the supernatural realm. These stories instructed the Blackfeet how to communicate with the plant, to care for it, how to protect its ecosystem, restrict knowledge of the plant and its over-harvesting.

My grandmother believed that a powerful supernatural being, “Ko’komíki’somm,” gave humans certain plants to use as medicine. She also understood, based on their scientific properties, that a plant was indeed a medicine.

Alternative paradigm

It is true that Western science and Native Americans have a complicated history, as the struggle over the Ancient One attests. Anthropologist Chip Colwell discusses in “Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture” that the problem is that the items scientists consider “objects” for study, such as human remains, Native Americans would view through their own worldview, their own belief system.

More recently, there has been a better recognition of the role of indigenous sciences. In 2016, a U.S.-Canada joint statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership recognized the importance of both Western science and indigenous science to help solve global issues. It urged that both “science-based approaches” and “indigenous science and traditional knowledge” be incorporated in efforts to both address commercial interests in the Arctic, such as oil and gas development and shipping lanes, and protect the Arctic and its people.

Native American scientists and scholars have also weighed in on this debate. For the March of Science, many Native American scholars, including Kimmerer and myself, have written a declaration of support that states:

“Let us remember that long before western science came to these shores, there were scientists here….Western science is a powerful approach, but it is not the only one. Indigenous science provides a wealth of knowledge and a powerful alternative paradigm.”

For many Native Americans, like my grandmother, myth and medicine, religion and science, are not viewed as separate, but are interwoven into the fabric of our lives.

Rosalyn R. LaPier is a Research Associate of Women's Studies, Environmental Studies and Native American Religion at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...

Latest Headlines:

Appeals court ruling opens door for tribal jurisdiction over public schools
Cronkite News: Navajo Nation prepares for changes at coal power plant
Steven Newcomb: Federal Indian law comes from a White man's mind
Dakota Access security firm was denied license but kept working anyway
Lawsuits expected after President Trump changes Bears Ears boundary
Voters of Blackfeet Nation reject changes to decades-old constitution
Oneida Nation challenges Oneida Nation over use of 'Oneida' trademarks
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe shifts course on casino land-into-trust bid
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe announces hotel as part of casino expansion
Tribes celebrate as governor in Connecticut signs new casino bill into law
Kickapoo Tribe casino bus crash lawsuits on hold amid insurance dispute
Family from Crow Tribe wins right to pursue lawsuit against federal agent
Mark Trahant: Republican health care reform bill impacts Indian Country
Steve Russell: Republican answer to Obamacare only benefits the wealthy
Hualapai Tribe learns more about citizen who was killed on duty in Vietnam
Zia Pueblo wants symbol removed from flag of city in far-away Wisconsin
Northern Cheyenne Tribe won't touch coal deposit despite economic woes
Life-saving road for Native village inches forward in Alaska and in D.C.
Two more Pueblo tribes challenge state's demand for gaming revenue
Wilton Rancheria won't comment on status of gaming compact talks
Trump administration rolls out first rule under historic trust reform law
Interior Department sends out another $13.1M in Cobell buy-back offers
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs headed to New Mexico for hearing
House committee again leaves out Indian Country in hearing on Interior
Mark Maxey: Oklahoma tries to crush Native protesters with new law
Carletta Tilousi: Havasupai Tribe threatened by uranium development
Opinion: Don't be fooled by Jimmie Durham's claims of Cherokee heritage
Opinion: Economic development for Indian Country in upcoming farm bill
Government worker suspended after calling Native principal a 'rabid s----'
Kiowa citizen Tristan Ahtone to report on tribes for High Country News
New York Times features Dina Gilio-Whitaker in editorial on health care
Tribes break ground on monument to their history in Virginia's capitol
Warm Springs Tribes battle large wildfire that broke out behind casino
Spokane Tribe casino doesn't bother Air Force despite claims in lawsuit
Tribes in for long haul as oil continues to flow through Dakota Access
Mark Trahant: Don't plan on getting sick if you're from Indian Country
Tiffany Midge: I shall joke as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow
Director of Office of Indian Energy deletes offensive Twitter account
States cheer decision on grizzly bears amid tribal concerns about hunts
Washington asks high court to overturn Yakama Nation treaty victory
New York Times editorial board reconsiders stance on racist trademarks
Colville Tribes remove council member a week before citizens go to polls
Marijuana firm promises big investments with help of ex-Seminole chair
Lumbee Tribe ordered to release voter list to opponents of chairman
National Indian Gaming Association chooses David Bean as vice chair
Eastern Cherokee citizen promoted to vice president of casino marketing
Tribes in Connecticut waiting on governor to sign bill for new casino
Secretary Zinke removes protections for grizzlies over tribal objections
Court sets final deadline for remaining payments from Cobell settlement
Mary Annette Pember: Indian Child Welfare Act strengthens our families
Peter d'Errico: Navajo authors offer fresh perspective on sovereignty
Native woman was jailed and forced to ride with assailant during trial
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe challenges new permit for uranium operation
Montana tribes get new member of Congress who pleaded to assault
Connecticut tribes welcome court decision favoring new casino law
Pueblo tribes dispute state's demand for $40M in gaming revenues
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe remains confident of approval of casino
Nooksack Tribe accepting slot tickets while casino remains closed
Key House committee under fire for moving slowly on tribal agenda
>>> more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.