Posted on February 19, 2014 by Tia Lalani

Augustana’s 2013 Distinguished Alumna discusses integrating Indigenous knowledge and Western science.

Produced as a Second Thoughts column in the Camrose Booster.

cheryl_bartlett(1)Recently, my two close colleagues and I have been pondering how to best explain to Environment Canada the reasoning behind, and success of, the unique four-year “Integrative Science” degree program at Cape Breton University (CBU) that integrates Indigenous knowledge and Western science.

“The foundational basis for any relationship is an exchange of stories,” says one of my colleagues, Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall. Albert coined the phrase as a guiding principle years ago and it has now been picked up across Canada by organizations and individuals interested in transcultural collaboration, many of whom are asking to hear more. Albert indicates that Two-Eyed Seeing refers to a traditional Mi’kmaq understanding about the gift of multiple perspectives – a gift treasured by many Indigenous peoples. In Mi’kmaq, this is “Etuaptmumk”. For our current times, he explains that Two-Eyed Seeing refers to learning to see from one eye with the strengths of, or the best in, the Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and from the other eye learning to see with the strengths of, or the best in, the Western (mainstream) knowledge and ways of knowing. Most important is learning to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all.

Humans are storytellers and science is story. It can be viewed as dynamic, pattern-based knowledge shared through stories about our interactions with and within nature. Our science stories are, however, told very differently depending upon who we are, where we are, and where we were because we are influenced by our culture and education. Both bring sanctioned perspectives, intelligences, or ways of knowing.

Mainstream science prides itself in stories told in a rigorous manner using the language of mathematics, emphasizing hypotheses, and producing publicly available theories and models – it is a systematic way of knowing that excludes the personal stories behind and within its public stories. Science within traditional Indigenous world views looks to tell stories rich with vigour using the language of the tribal nation, emphasizing relationship, responsibility, reciprocity, and reverence while on one’s personal journey within past-present-future of community-life-land-love – it is a dynamic way of knowing that interweaves personal within kinship extending to all.

Albert, who is the designated voice on environmental issues for the Elders in Unama’ki and who holds an Honorary Doctorate from Cape Breton University, has immense concerns that many of our human actions today have the potential to disrupt the ecological integrity of Mother Earth. He encourages people to understand that our stories show how we value and share the world – indeed, our stories become us. He passionately suggests that we need to “to hear the stories from cultures other than the mainstream” and recognize, as the Mi’kmaq people were taught, that nothing is black and white.

My other colleague,  Elder Murdena, an Associate Professor of Mi’kmaq Studies at CBU, says, with respect to the collective tribal consciousness of the Mikmaq people: “We are, therefore I am” and agrees that yes, one could add “I am, therefore I participate; I participate, therefore we are”. Compare that with the saying often tied to the name René Descartes: “I think, therefore I am”. Current research in neuroscience suggests Elder Murdena and the Mi’kmaq people have the richer grasp on how our brain-mind works: relationship is essential.

While retired, I continue to work with Albert and Murdena to share, explain, and advocate Two-Eyed Seeing as a guiding principle for transcultural and transdisciplinary science education, research, application, and outreach. I believe passionately in what the Integrative Science academic program at CBU represents and has achieved. I know the lives of many people have changed for the better as a result of hearing about these innovative ways of understanding, collaborating, and co-learning.

I have come to understand that from my one eye within Two-Eyed Seeing some science stories must be told in mandatory third person, the language of “it” that characterizes mainstream science. But from my other eye within Two-Eyed Seeing my science stories need and want to be told in first person, the language of “I”.

I believe the lessons learned at CBU can and should be shared for the benefit of post-secondary institutions elsewhere or other organizations that might be considering similar transcultural initiatives. I emphasize the need for on-going, meaningful, and participatory networking among university and community; i.e., that the foundational basis for any enduring relationship has to be an on-going exchange of stories. We participate, we dialogue, therefore, we can and will co-learn. Together.

25Feb - Science in Story - Distinguished Alumna Lunch and Learn

25Feb – Science in Story – Distinguished Alumna Lunch and Learn

Dr. Cheryl Bartlett, Biology
Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science
Director of the Institute for Integrative Science & Health
Cape Breton University, Sydney, NS.

Join us!

Please join Dr. Bartlett for a Free Public Lecture, titled “Science in Story”, on Tuesday Feb 25th, 12:00 – 1:00pm, Lunch provided for those who register with or 780.679.1105.

PLEASE NOTE: The room has been changed from the Epp Conference Room to the Augustana Faith & Life Chapel.

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