Author Archives: Brianne Aldcroft

Module 4: Eco Farming and the Future Vandan Shiva

Vandana Shiva is India’s David Suzuki.  This woman is an amazing holder of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, scientific knowledge, political knowledge and economic knowledge.  Her farm in India serves as an ecological farm to feed the people that live there, a research base on ecological farming, and a seed bank.  Through her research, she has proven that industrialization of farming does not produce a higher yield than ecological farming as is promised by producers of herbicides and pesticides.  Her approach, to know the land and work with the land, has shown that that is the most effective way to increase the yield of the land.

Her seed bank is likely the most important contribution she is making in my opinion.  Genetic modification of seeds has led to the patenting of genes and thus the ownership of the seed, and thus life, of a few very wealthy people.  The sale of the GMOs (genetically modified organisms) as high yielding crops has resulted in the extinction or endangerment of many other species of plants and thus has destroyed the diversity of the various ecosystems.  Her seed bank seeks to save the seeds and thus the diversity, so that there is not a monopoly on seeds (life) and the knowledge in the non-GMO seeds is preserved.

This woman is amazing.

Module 4: Preserving TEK

Here is an interesting article that has quantified and verified that Traditional Ecological Knowledge is being lost in First Nations communities.  The researcher tested Elders on their knowledge about an indigenous bird, and then tested young adults on their knowledge of the same bird.  Elders far outscored young adults with respect to knowledge that should be common to this cultural group.

These results spurred the Elders, with the help of the researcher, to create a Cree curriculum for the TEK that should be passed down to future generations.

This is one of the better articles about TEK that I have read for a few reasons.  It acts on results with the formation of a curriculum that is driven by the Elders, it links TEK with culture, it considers the historical events that have contributed to the degredation of TEK, and it points out the global significance to people beyond the culture that hold the TEK.

Module 4: TEK and Restoration

There is a plethora of research, articles and websites touting the way Traditional Ecological Knowledge can be used as scientific evidence of the climate change that is happening in extreme envirionments (such as the Arctic and Sahara), and lands that are relied upon for sustinance by indigenous people (such as Samoa and Tasmania).

What is lacking in the research, is evidence as to how TEK can reverse or slow the process of climate change and how the particular ecosystems should be managed and maintained.  This website, Indigenous Peoples’ Restoration Network, briefly outlines how altered practices from Western to Indigenous, has slowed, stopped or reversed the negative changes associated with climate change. 

I think sites like this one could prove to be more valuable than ones pointing out the doom and gloom of the climate change situation.  People know that the climate is changing in a detrimental way, but they don’t know what they can do about it.  This provides valuable information and hope to people that hopefully can be acted upon.

Module 4: Third World Farmer

Third World Farmer is a game that makes use of Indigenous knowledge and teaches gamers about the struggles of a farmer in a developing nation.  The game bridges technology and IK in many layers.  The first layer is that of the actual game design–it is a game on a computer, but the rules of the game are dictated by environmental and social factors that influence the livelihood of an African farmer, and to overcome the difficulties, the gamer must discover the Indigenous knowledge to be successful.  Within the game IK and technology are also linked.  When the gamer starts, all she has is her family and a bit of money.  She must research the various crops and decide how best to spend her money.  Through trial and error, the gamer develops a very rudimentary form of Indigenous knowledge.  As the gamer makes more money, she can buy various technologies that will make her life easier and help her yield better crops and thus make more money.

Some of the criticisms I have of this game are that the fact that it is a game may trivialize the plight of the third world farmer.  There is not a lot of education going on to really inform the gamer of the social implications of the GAME itself.  There is infomation about the severity of the situation in Africa, and a critical thinker would understand the message, but the average gamer would not see that while he or she may have just lost their entire family to a plague, the actual farmer the character represents can’t escape this reality.  Another criticism is that the issues behind the struggles are not very well articulated.  It does show that these farmers are being forced to work with in the confines of mechanization, but it doesn’t reveal that the increase in length, frequencey and severity of droughts is caused by industrialization and capitalism.  You also can’t save your game and pick up where you left off later.  This is frustrating from a game point of view, but also from a learning point of view.  To get the full effect of the game, several hours are required, which I’d like to expend over a few weeks, but because I can’t save the game, I have to start over each time, but I also don’t have the stamina (or time or patience) to spend 7 consecutive hours playing the same game.

Module 4: Mythology Proving Science

TEK and Science

This video is made by a caucasian biology teacher in Alaska who writes curriculum that integrates TEK and science.  He is a bit of a rambler, but near the end he links supposedly superstitious behavious and myths with scientific evidence.  The two examples he uses is that every 25/30 years, the Inuit Shaman would tell the village to burn all of their fishing gear at the end of a fishing season.  Given the scarcity of resources to make this gear, this would seem preposterous.  However, they would make new fishing gear, and not to catch the same fish.  They would alternate between crustaceans and vertebrates every 20-30 years as their main sustenance.  Modern science now shows that the Arctic ocean goes through 20/30 year temperature cycles that influence whether crustaceans or vertebrates flourish.  The Inuit would fish for whatever fish was plentiful.  This explains how the crab fishery is in ruins today–the Western market demanded it when the natural stocks were low.  Now they have been fished to the point where they may not recover. 

While I love the beauty of tradition and science corroborating each other, his description lacks insight into the spiritual nature of the myths and behaviours.  Many of the comments about the video are positive, but question the “superstitions” of the Inuit.  Being that he is caucasian, he likely isn’t versed on the spiritual nature of the myths and behaviours, but this is such an important concept for the Inuit, and given that it is brought up by viewers, it does need to be addressed properly so that the behaviours/myths aren’t “explained away” or commodified and dismissed as superstitions.

Module 3: Intellectual Property and Indigenous Knowledge

Simply marrying up science and traditional/indigenous knowledge is not an option.  Too often, science has sifted through the sandbox of traditional knowledge and taken what was seen as valuable (bio-active ingredients in plants that can be used for profit) and discarded the rest.

Often discarded was the cultural and spiritual base of traditional knowledge.  Science has long claimed to be culture free, and logical and thus the best world view, when in fact this in itself is a cultural assumption!  We need to “listen to our own historians and philosophers of science, then we must acknowledge that science has another face that is not the one most commonly presented for public consumption. Science has its own historical, social and cultural context. From its very origins, science is anchored in a dualistic worldview that separates Culture and Nature, sets humans apart from other living organisms, and opposes the rational and the spiritual. This will to separate, reduce and compartmentalise is both science’s force, as witnessed by enormous advances in Western technology, and its weakness” as can be seen by the problems that modern science has gotten us into recently!

What also needs to be considered are the intellectual property rights of the owners of the knowledge.  Just like the patent of a drug must be respected, even though it can save lives, so to must the intellectual property of a group of indigenous peoples.

Module 3: Daniel Wildcat, Indigenous Students and Science


In this video, Daniel Wildcat explains two unique ways that science and indigenous knowledge are working together to combat/adapt to climate change.

The first is a research project at the University of Kansas that is looking at the movement and changes of ice sheets using satellite imaging.  The University of Kansas asked the Haskel Indian Nations University to partner up on this project, and Wildcat’s idea was to have students and academics on the research team helping to explain how culture and land coexist.

The second had students at the Haskel Indian Nations University and Northwest Indian College working directly with technology to understand and solve local issues.

Both of these projects are valuable ones to the Native and non-native communities, not to mention all of humanity.  The first project has First Nations people explaining the link between land and culture and how and why this is necessary.  Perhaps if Westerners had more of a connection to a region, there would be more regard for the land.  The second project skips the middle man–the non-native researcher–and has the First Nation people working directly with the technology to solve real problems that affect them daily.  This has many positive repercussions in my mind, including, but not limited to celerity of problem solving, relevance of the issues being solved, bolstering of the local FN economy, bolstering of the local autonomy…

Module 3: Winds of Change and Daniel Wildcat

This pdf is a bit of a review of the discussions and events at the Seven Generations Conference in 2008.  Of particular interest to my research is the interview with Daniel Wildcat who is a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas.  His specialty is in Indigenous knowledge, technology, environment and education.  The epiphany he describes through story in this interview is my thesis for my paper.  While working with NASA and remote sensing satellite images of Earth, he decided that First Nations people were “local sensing” experts and that the two forms of knowing–scientific and indigenous–work together to create a larger, more accurate picture.

Indigenous knowledge can certainly give scientists more specific, holistic information about what is happening at ground level or “in real life” (as opposed to in satellite images on on pages of data), but the rapid rate at which things are changing, and the extreme nature of the changes often renders the problem solving skill set of the particular indigenous knowledge ill equipped to deal.  Thus, scientists and indigenous thinkers need to collaborate in order to problem solve and troubleshoot the solutions to this massive issue.

Module 3: Indi ge nous?

Here is a YouTube video about indigeneity clashing with government policy in Africa.  The issue at hand here seems to be that because the governments in Africa are run by ethnic Africans, they view themselves as indigenous and that all Africans are the same and should be treated all the same.  This definition of Indigenous is too liberal for African people who truly are still living in the traditional methods of their ancestors.  I wish the video was longer or that there was more information on this!

Module 3: IK Supporting SK

Being that I’m both a science and humanities teacher, I appreciate both the scientific method and other forms of gathering knowledge and information.  As such, I chose my topic for this course’s research paper to look at how indigenous knowledge supports scientific knowledge.  My hypothesis was that science would provide the data and quantitative analysis of climate change and that indigenous knowledge would provide the human, spiritual and qualitative analysis of climate change.

This article explains how the scientific community researching climate change actually needs to go to Indigenous peoples first to find out what needs to be researched.  One of the researchers gives the example of rainfall averages in her home town of Boulder, Co.  In July, her city usually gets an average of 1 inch of rain.  If this rain is dispersed through out the month, her lawn is lush and healthy.  However, if Boulder gets an inch of rain on July 1, and then none for the rest of the month, her lawn is dead.  Weather stations and other tools would not effectively differentiate in this case between 1 inch of rain distributed through the month and 1 inch in one day.  In this situation, traditional or Indigenous knowledge would be needed to explain that the data are not actually reflecting the changes that are happening.

Here is yet another example of why we need to look to the human experience of life and the land and rely less on supposed empirical and objective data.

Also notable in this research is the attempt to answer some of the questions that Linda Smith (1999) suggests are necessary when doing research with Indigenous people.  This research appears to try to answer the questions “Whose interests does it serve” and “how will its results be disseminated”.  There is a serious concern for the traditional ways of the Inuit people, and the research is attempting to help them adjust their weather predicting strategies so they can continue on with traditional ways of life.