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Reconciliation Through STEM Education

In the Media | September 20, 2021 | Share on:

Written by Tammy Webster, Director of Equity at Let’s Talk Science

It is recognized that education is a key component of reconciliation, but why are science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) so critical? Scientific literacy and innovation are key to addressing critical issues in many Indigenous communities such as health, the impacts of climate change, and food insecurity. However, too many young people are withdrawing from STEM in school or do not see themselves reflected in STEM. This is especially true for young Indigenous people.

Reconciliation is about relationships - redefining, reimaging, reinvigorating. As a First Nations educator, consultant, Director and certified principal in Ontario, understanding and living relationships are critical to moving the needle on equity and increasing the number of Indigenous in STEM fields. STEM has been a part of our lives for millennia. However, a western view of Indigenous people has attempted to extinguish our knowledge and ways of existing. However, STEM from a variety of perspectives can help to address some of humanity’s most pressing issues. Both Indigenous ways of knowing and western science were constructed by people to understand the world. And both rely on observation and communication. Perhaps, seeking to find shared values and commonalities will help us align different perspectives to understand the world better.

For First Nations, we have concepts like Two-Eyed Seeing to connect these two worlds. Two-Eyed Seeing is an approach of inquiry and solutions in which people come together to view the world through an Indigenous lens with one eye (perspective), while the other eye sees through a Western lens. I was educated in a colonial university but still have my traditional understanding and knowledge, with which I can view the two worlds and how those two worlds can work in harmony. As a school leader and administrator, an environment of progressive and equity-based thinking will give space for more students and staff to see themselves reflected in their education. It is the leader of the school that can set the tone and direction for all the students, staff and families to see and feel a different relationship.

To reimagine STEM education, one of many pieces to the puzzle, is an increase of Indigenous representation in STEM. This can happen at many different levels and in many different ways, from including a reference from an Indigenous scientist in a lesson to hiring more Indigenous science teachers to understand how the world around us informs STEM and not STEM informing the world. It is becoming more apparent that while increasing Indigenous representation in STEM can be instrumental for Indigenous people themselves, it is critical for the rest of society as well. For too long, the dominant society has placed a greater emphasis on Western science, while viewing Indigenous Knowledge as less.

STEM education also requires validating oral histories and uplifting Indigenous contributions to science. It involves considering Indigenous perspectives alongside mainstream or western schools of thought, acknowledging that Indigenous knowledge can provide a more wholesome understanding of issues in STEM. Indigenous peoples have thousands of years of experience observing and adapting to their surroundings and developing complex knowledge systems. During that time, an incredible amount of knowledge comes from within Indigenous languages, understanding and perspectives that are passed down. The names of places, plants and animals contain hints and descriptions of what they are, how they can be used, and how people can relate to and care for them.

June is National Indigenous History Month and on June 21st, we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is a time to honour the heritage, culture, traditions and contemporary realities of Indigenous peoples. It is also time to recognize the feats, achievements and resilience of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples across the country. We invite you to approach the day with an open mind and an open heart. Find the commonalities and celebrate the differences as we all seek to make sense of our world. Redefine, reimagine and reinvigorate the relationships that may have historically impacted your understanding of First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

There are thousands of families, who are grappling with the ongoing effects of Residential Schools and who are seeking their own positive way forward. Please consider how your actions on this month, and every day, can provide support to ensure that children grow up in a world where they realize that they matter and that they can become anything they want to become - including a scientist or engineer!