Native American Complexity

Computation, Complexity and Coding in Native American Knowledge Systems by Ron Eglash

I found this article/paper interesting because it delves deeply into the science and mathematics of a number of Native American peoples.  This is background knowledge that is useful to me as an upper level math teacher as I can use the examples authentically in class and tie them in to the curriculum.  I also found this article interesting because it begins with a discussion of stereotypes and assumptions that are common in the portrayal of Native Americans.  The following is a quote from the first paragraph:

“We see these assumptions at work in many popular television documentaries, where one hears of the “vanishing native” who “lived at one with nature.”  … We need to take special efforts to open our eyes to the dynamic histories and technological sophistication of indigenous cultures–for example, to think about active indigenous ecological knowledge rather than the passive portraits we so often hear, e.g. “Indians lived as part of the ecosystem.” ” (Eglash, 2002)

I think it is important to fight the common stereotypes by contradicting them with information about how sophisticated Indigenous knowledge systems were (and are), in a way that places those systems in context and respects the values associated with them.  This article dovetails with my research interests and with the emphasis of Module 2.


Eglash, Ron. “Computation, Complexity and Coding in Native American Knowledge Systems.” in Judith Hankes and Gerald Fast (ed) Changing the Faces of Mathematics: Perspectives on Indigenous People of North America. Reston, VA: NCTM 2002.  Retrieved online at:




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