Weaving Indigenous knowledge into the scientific method

By | January 18, 2022

Nature reports:

Many scientists rely on Indigenous people to guide their work — by helping them to find wildlife, navigate rugged terrain or understand changing weather trends, for example. But these relationships have often felt colonial, extractive and unequal. Researchers drop into communities, gather data and leave — never contacting the locals again, and excluding them from the publication process.

Today, many scientists acknowledge the troubling attitudes that have long plagued research projects in Indigenous communities. But finding a path to better relationships has proved challenging. Tensions surfaced last year, for example, when seven University of Auckland academics argued that planned changes to New Zealand’s secondary school curriculum, to “ensure parity between mātauranga Māori”, or Maori knowledge, and “other bodies of knowledge”, could undermine trust in science.

Last month, the University of Auckland’s vice-chancellor, Dawn Freshwater, announced a symposium to be held early this year, at which different viewpoints can be discussed. In 2016, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) launched Navigating the New Arctic — a programme that encouraged scientists to explore the wide-reaching consequences of climate change in the north. A key sentence in the programme description reflected a shift in perspective: “Given the deep knowledge held by local and Indigenous residents in the Arctic, NSF encourages scientists and Arctic residents to collaborate on Arctic research projects.” The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment have made similar statements. So, too, have the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

But some Indigenous groups feel that despite such well-intentioned initiatives, their inclusion in research is only a token gesture to satisfy a funding agency.

There’s no road map out of science’s painful past. Nature asked three researchers who belong to Indigenous communities in the Americas and New Zealand, plus two funders who work closely with Alaskan Natives, how far we’ve come toward decolonizing science — and how researchers can work more respectfully with Indigenous groups. [Continue reading…]

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