Indigenous Science Network Bulletin
August 2005
(Volume 8, Number 4)
ISSN  1449-2091

Editor: Michael Michie

Tiwi designs by Jennifer Coombs, Munupi Arts & Crafts Association, Pirlangimpi, Melville Island, NT







Valerie Stone

Anthropologist Graham Townsley writes that the modern world is a place where two processes are happening simultaneously: the world's indigenous peoples are adopting ways of the modern world in an effort to get the material comfort and commodities of that world, and people in the modern world are trying to understand the ways of the world's indigenous peoples in a search for meaning.[1]  I am not just interested in searching for meaning, but also in broadening our definition of what does it mean to know something?  Scientific knowledge is one kind of knowledge, and it has wonderful qualities and uses. It does, however, have limitations.  One of its limitations is linguistic and cultural; thus it makes sense to try to understand indigenous ways of knowing in order to have a better grasp of all the ways humans can know

English is the language of most scientific writing, and English has impoverished ways of talking about relationships, where some indigenous languages build ecological relationships or family relationships into the structure of the language itself.  In the Yurok language of Northern California, whose speakers live beside the Klamath river, a verb has to be conjugated differently depending on whether the speaker is talking to the listener in an upstream or downstream direction.  They have fifteen different ways to count, so that the number words for three people are not the same as for three redwood trees.[2]  In some Aboriginal languages, verbs have to be conjugated differently depending on who is speaking to who, and certain tenses and conjugations may be forbidden between certain speakers.  The relationships between certain groups of people and totem animals is built into the language in Mati Ke, a northern Australian language: "Aboriginal languages have fewer words in them than English does.  But those words are held and balanced in an intricate web of relationships.  Lose the vocabulary and you lose the relationships."[3] 

The ways that English describes events and time are also different from those in many indigenous languages.  Benjamin Whorf noted this fact about Hopi: not all of their verbs require a subject who is doing the verb; some verbs just happen.[4]  This is also true of Aboriginal languages in Australia. Michael Christie, of Northern Territory University in Darwin, Australia, says, "There are amazing things about Aboriginal languages.  Their concepts of time and agency, for example.  They go right against our ideology of linear time - past, present and future.  I reckon they'd completely revolutionize Western philosophy, if only we knew more about them."[5]  Even in learning Spanish, I am discovering that I have to think carefully about whether an action is continuous or discrete to choose  the right verb tense. 

For all of the diversity of language and thought, languages are inter-translatable, with effort.  The problem is that almost no one in the colonizing world makes the effort.  Other ways of thinking may be unfamiliar, but we can learn to think in those ways. "There are grammatical forms in Athabascan languages, notably to do with motion and time, or in Algonquian, to do with the animate and the inanimate, that are indeed difficult for a speaker of Indo-European languages to grasp.  Grammatical categories in these languages are deeply unfamiliar to most other peoples of the world.  Yet even in these cases, the difficulty of translation relates to unfamiliarity, not to any seeming intrinsic incomprehensibility.  I can set out what a grammatical distinction is doing, even though I may not be able to reproduce that distinction in ordinary English grammar.[6] We can learn the ways of thought instantiated in other languages, but often we do not.  And yet, our knowledge of the world might benefit from trying to understand the concepts held in indigenous languages.

Some languages in Northern Canada have many different words for knowing: knowing because you saw something, knowing because somebody else saw and told you, knowing because you saw it in a dream, and I can't even remember the others, because we don't "lexicalize" this in English.[7]  And yet, these are important distinctions, with most of science falling in the "knowing because somebody else saw and told you" category.  It is important that we not lose these other ways of understanding knowledge.  An English-dominated world is an ontologically impoverished world.

1  Graham Townsley, "Kamaroa: A revival in the Western Amazon," 2001, p. 50.  Quoted in Jeremy Narby, 2005, Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, pp. 170-171.
2  Malcolm Margolin, 1995, "The spirit of bioregionalism," in Bridges to the Future: Proceedings of Shasta Bioregional Gathering IV,September 1995, pp. 9-19. Glen Ellen, CA: Bob Glotzbach/Regeneration Resources. 
3  Mark Abley, 2003, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, London: Arrow Books (Random House), p. 6. 
4  Benjamin Whorf, 1956, "Languages and Logic," in Language, Thought & Reality: Selected Writings, Cambridge, MA: Technology Press of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
5 Quoted in Abley, 2003, p. 277. 
6  Hugh Brody, 2000, The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World, NY: North Point Press, pp. 49-50.
7  Brody, 2000.

May all your trails be crooked, winding, ...dangerous, leading to the most amazing view...where something strange and more beautiful and full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you. - E. Abbey

Annual conference of the Society of Ethnobiology, Alaska, 2005: A report

Daphne Nash
Australian National University

In May this year I attended the Annual conference of the Society of Ethnobiology ( which was held at the University of Alaska , Anchorage from 11-14 May 2005. I presented a paper on my current fieldwork relating to Indigenous knowledge and the environment on the south coast of New South Wales . Although not primarily focused on education, my research outcomes will feed into the Indigenous Knowledge and Science Pedagogy project currently underway at The Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at the ANU in Canberra (

Prior to the conference I travelled to Barrow, the northern most community in Alaska where I visited various community centres including the local high school. I spoke with science teachers about the integration of indigenous knowledge in the curriculum and participated in a mapping exercise with a group of senior students on the nearby frozen lagoon. (It was so cold that the liquid in the compasses became viscous!)

The school student population is 72% Indigenous (Inuit or Eskimo) and the Indigenous community priorities are reflected in the curriculum. Various topics covered such as Bowhead whales and the Aurora borealis, include a focus on indigenous knowledge and values and connect with curriculum outcomes and goals. During the time I was visiting, the senior indigenous students could opt to take an accredited course involving participation in the seasonal whaling activities of their community. They follow a set program of learning activities under the guidance and tutorship of an indigenous elder, such as a whaling captain. The science teachers reported very favourably on this innovative program.  

The following is the abstract of Daphne's paper:

By exploring their living environmental knowledge with Yuin people, this project illustrates how indigenous knowledge transforms and also demonstrates the modes of transmission that are ensuring knowledge creation and maintenance.  My preliminary fieldwork shows both continuity and change in a distinctly modern and indigenous environmental worldview. I propose that indigenous people of south coast New South Wales possess a system of environmental knowledge which is neither wholly traditional nor western but which is identifiably indigenous and that indigenous people are actively involved in its formulation and transmission.

Other abstracts from the conference can be seen at the Society's website.


Nitsitapiisinni - Stories and Spaces: Exploring Kainai Plants and Culture

Dawn Wiseman from Concordia University, Canada, recently wrote:

I was at the annual meeting of the the Association for Media and Technology in Education in Canada (AMTEC). I had the great pleasure of going to a session where a team from Kainai Blood reserve (Narcisse Blood, Alvine Mountain Horse and Carolla Calf Robe) and the University of Calgary (Sherri Mackay and Brenda Gladstone) presented a project created by grade 4 students on the reserve.

The project focuses on the identification, harvest and use of Kanai plants, and shows the children working with local Elders to learn and share knowledge about the plants.

It is one of the best projects I have seen in terms of content, engagement and use of web space and I think it would be a great resource for your readers.

Nitsitapiisinni - Stories and Spaces: Exploring Kainai Plants and Culture,

Living Knowledge,

This site is part of a three year Australian Research Council (ARC) research project Indigenous knowledge and western science pedagogy: a comparative approach. The project aims to determine the most effective ways of incorporating Indigenous knowledge within the NSW secondary school science curricula. This website will be accessible during development of the project from 2004-2006, after which it will be archived online.

Engaging with Australian Indigenous Science

This is the title of and link to a recent workshop I presented at CONASTA 54 in Melbourne early in July this year. (MM)

Recent Research Papers

Dawn Sutherland. (2005). Resiliency and collateral learning in science in some students of Cree ancestry. Science Education, 89(4), pp.595-613.
ABSTRACT: In the context of schooling, resiliency refers to the ability to thrive academically despite adverse circumstances. In this study the relationship between academic resilience and student’s collateral learning is explored in 20 students of Cree ancestry. The individual resilience of each student was examined by identifying protective factors for school leaving within the microsystem of each student’s ecological framework. Student responses to questions related to motivation and engagement were ranked. In addition, students’ perception of the influence of family and peers on individual attributes toward schooling was ranked. To gain insight into the collateral learning aspects of science learning in Cree students, the participants in this study were asked to reflect on their learning strategies through the use of critical incidents. The relationship between collateral learning and resiliency was also explored. This study found that students possessing a greater number of protective factors were more likely to learn science in a way described by Jegede’s collateral learning theory. Responses to critical incidents indicate some Cree students hold at least two sources of knowledge to explain some science concepts and therefore may adopt a collateral learning strategy. The importance these students place on earned or experiential knowledge is evident in the interviews. Some suggestions for classroom instruction are offered in conclusion.


Soikava Pauka, David F. Treagust, & Bruce G. Waldrip. (2005). Village elders’ and secondary school students’ explanations of natural phenomena in Papua New Guinea. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 3(2), 213-238.
ABSTRACT. This research investigated the sources of explanations and understanding of natural phenomena in terms of the students’ cultural and school science experiences. The first phase involved interviews with eight village elders that probed their explanations and understanding of natural phenomena. The second phase involved the design, development and administration of two questionnaires on natural phenomena to 179 students in a rural boarding high school in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Most village elders gave explanations of many of the phenomena in terms of spirits, spells, magic, religion, and personal experiences. Most school-aged students choose scientific explanations of natural phenomena in terms of what they had learned in school or from personal experiences. However, many choose explanations of the same phenomena about spirits, spells and magic that came from the village, family or home. The study revealed that students’ ideas about natural phenomena are strongly governed and controlled by their school science knowledge in the school setting. It is likely that their own traditional knowledge cannot be identified in a school setting but that questionnaires in the students’ local language be given to students in their villages (as opposed to school). In addition, so as not to diminish the value of this traditional knowledge, science education programs are needed that are able to consider and harmonise traditional knowledge with school science.  


Australasian Science Education Research Association (ASERA) Papers


A number of papers were presented at the recent annual ASERA conference which may be of interest to members of the network. The abstracts that follow are from some of these papers an e-mail contact is given to the authors. If other authors would like to have their abstracts included, please contact me as soon as possible.


Liz McKinley: Caricatures, culture and classrooms

Recent exploratory research projects focusing on science education and Maori students indicate that mainstream schools and teachers are struggling to incorporate matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) into the curriculum. It was found that teachers often resort to textbook examples of matauranga Maori and pedagogy that is based on identified characteristics of `being Maori'. These have resulted in a number of topics, contexts and pedagogy becoming `caricatures' of Maori culture. Despite the high visibility of Maori culture in the mainstream society many science teachers have little personal experience with Maori knowledge to draw on as a classroom resource. This paper will give an overview of the findings of the projects and discuss some possible ways forward.


Michael Michie: Writing about Australian indigenous science for a junior secondary textbook: Some considerations

After being invited to write a chapter on Australian Indigenous Science for a year 9 textbook, I reflected on the process and the ground rules which I set for myself as I undertook the project. The process is examined but of greater importance are the ground rules which are considered in terms of the concerns of other researchers, particularly as problems of representation. These problems include essentialising indigenous people, representation of their lifestyles and the temporal location of indigenity. (Available here online in html format.)


Kathy Paige and Mike Chartres: Inspirational teacher stories in science and mathematics from the Eastern Cape of South Africa

This paper focuses on one aspect of a 7 year collaborative AusAid project between Fort Hare University and University of South Australia. The Distance Education Project set out to improve qualifications of indigenous primary teachers in rural and township schools. Researchers spent a month documenting the evolving beliefs and practices of 8 inspirational teachers. A key characteristic in writing up the stories was to ensure each of the teachers' voices was heard. Being aware of the difficulties of collecting and documenting stories across different cultural backgrounds presented many ethical challenges. The steps taken to work with these teachers in an ethical and capacity building way will be the basis of the paper.


Melanie Sadeck: Border crossing in pre-service science teachers at Peninsula Technikon, Cape Town, South Africa

This paper reports on an aspect of a larger study undertaken at with first year pre service teachers in Cape Town, South Africa. This particular part of the study seeks to investigate the applicability or otherwise of the concept of cultural border crossing as proposed by Aikenhead (1996), the Contiguity Hypothesis (Ogunniyi, 1996) and the Collateral Learning theory (Jegede, 1995), in the context of a science pre-service education course. The data for this report was gleaned from responses to semi-structured interviews, which were conducted with five subjects. The results seem to confirm that i) border crossing does occur; ii) that students are able to hold both views simultaneously without interaction and iii) that there are instances of contiguity i.e. interaction between the two worldviews where the selected worldview is often chosen on the basis of the human interest being served (Ogunniyi, 2002).


Bruce Waldrip, Joe Timothy and Wilson Wilikai: Negotiating pedagogical conflict in cross-cultural teaching: A Melanesian case study

This paper draws on the personal experiences of three researchers: an ‘outsider’ (or Western-oriented) science teacher, a science teacher educator who has lived in Melanesian countries for almost a decade, and a national researcher who was born and educated in Melanesia. During a recent interpretative research study of the problematic relationship between the traditional world-views of Melanesian villagers and the official school science views of young Melanesian people, Bruce became increasingly aware of the importance of conducting culture-sensitive interpretative research. Bruce and Joe describe three people with different experiences and approaches to education. Mindful of the important role, of the outside teacher researchers in providing essential information for the local contextualisation of school science curricula, we propose a number of culture-sensitive practices when working in Melanesian cross cultural contexts.




The Action Learning, Action Research and Process Management Association (ALARPM) annual conference, in conjunction with the Centre for Popular Education, UTS, University of Technology, Broadway Campus, Sydney, 30 September – 2 October 2005

The ALARPM annual conference provides an exciting opportunity for human service and other practitioners to share their experience and enhance their work by:

  • Telling stories of their practice

  • Hearing of successful/effective programs and activities

  • Linking with other practitioners

A full programme of activities will include:

  • Workshops:  Training workshops with some of Australia ’s leading action research and action learning proponents

  • Presentations: Innovative and exciting presentations and performances by a diverse groups of practitioners

  • Networking:  Structured processes to extend practitioner  support networks

Proposals: You are invited to send proposals for presentations and workshops by email to or mail to: PO Box 1748 , Toowong, QLD 4066. Closing date: 21.8.05. Visit

Australasian Science Education Research Association conference, 5-8 July 2006

Next year, ASERA is being sponsored by the University of Canberra and will be held in Canberra ACT. Visit the website at 

CONASTA55: Conference of the Australian Science Teachers Association, 9-13 July 2006

It is South Australia's turn to host CONASTA in 2006 at Adelaide University. The theme is Science + Education <---> Inventing the future. For more information visit

World Conference on Science and Technology Education, July 2007

The World Conference aims to address serious global issues that teachers and other educators can use as springboards within their own countries or regions. The conference is hosted by the Science Teachers' Association of Western Australia, the Australian Science Teachers Association and the International Council of Associations for Science Education (ICASE) and will be held in Perth WA.  The conference will feature world-renowned keynote speakers , including Lord Robert Winston (UK), distinguished scientist and host of TV science programs, and  Professor Howard Gardner (USA), eminent educator and creators of the multiple intelligences theory. 


This is mostly a summary of upcoming conferences. More details may have been given above or in previous bulletins. A web-based contact is usually included.

August 2005

9 August: International Day of the World's Indigenous People

13- 21 August: Australian National Science Week 2005. School theme - Energy: Future Challenges

September 2005

23 to 25 September: 1st International Conference on School Effectiveness and School Improvement in China, Shenyang Normal University, Shenyang, China (June05)

30 September – 2 October: The Action Learning, Action Research and Process Management Association (ALARPM) annual conference, in conjunction with the Centre for Popular Education, UTS , University of Technology , Broadway Campus, Sydney . Visit (august05) 

November 2005 

27 November - 1 December: World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education, Aotearoa New Zealand

December 2005

6-8 December 2005: International conference on Maths and Science Education, SEAMEO RECSAM, Penang (Malaysia). (June 05)

January 2006

22-25 January 2006: NZ Association of Environmental Education biennial conference - Turning Point - "Taka huri haere mai te wa" which will be held in Auckland. (June05)

April 2006

3-6 April: National Association for Research in Science Teaching annual meeting, San Francisco, (

8-12 April: American Educational Research Association Conference, San Francisco, (

July 2006

5-8 July 2006: Australasian Science Education Research Association conference, Canberra ACT.  (August05)

9-13 July 2006: CONASTA55: Conference of the Australian Science Teachers Association, (August05)

July 2007

8-12 July: World Conference on Science and Technology Education (ICASE/CONASTA56), Perth WA. (August05)

Last updated: 1 August 2005