The 2022 Turtle Island Indigenous Science Conference will be the first of its kind.
Speaking on the Manitobaville podcast on Podcactville.ca, Dr. Teresa De Kievit, Associate Dean of Special Initiatives at the UofM, says Western science and Indigenous science can work together.
The conference, running from June 14 to 16, focuses on the Indigenous approach to understanding the five elements of the world: fire, water, earth, air, and spirit. The idea is that Indigenous science rivals western science, and both have been considered together by many in what is termed two-eyed seeing of the issue. The conference intends on making everyone more aware of this, including many of the Indigenous population who've not heard of the concept.
She says both approaches can be blended together Indigenous aspects look more at the whole and the overall picture of other factors related to the specific issue of concern.
"From the scientific approach, we might look at tree bark or things at the cellular level, and look at a protein in the cell and how it functions," says De Kievit. "So, it's very kind of dissecting and microscopic, and many times we're looking at things in isolation. Whereas on the Indigenous framework, everything is part of a system and it's all interconnected. You would never just look at the bark on the tree. You would look at where the tree is. Is there water? Is there sunlight? Is there a stream nearby with fish that may be feeding and spawning. Everything is interconnected, including people. So. it's a systems approach to everything, and you can't pull one thing out without impacting everything else. You don't just look at the tree. You would look at the snowbank, the melting snow, the mold on the grass, and the deer droppings because the deer are foraging."
She says that describes the biggest differences in approaches to science.
"In Western science, I have noticed that there's a bit more of a move to that," says De Kievet. "The term is Systems Biology. I'm a microbiologist. Systems approach means you look at it as part of a bigger whole. But I wouldn't say that's inherently the way we've been doing things for the last several decades."
She explains it's holistic.
"There's just an amazing amount of knowledge that gets passed down through storytelling," adds De Kievit. "We're learning as we have the Indigenous scholars give talks. It's really amazing what gifted storytellers they are, and that is how information is disseminated and shows the impact of storytelling."
De Kievit notes the power of storytelling and narrative is involved in Indigenous approaches to science.
"A lot of true Western scientists or mainstream Western scientists might balk at the idea of storytelling because you're supposed to present the data as hard data. A graph is a graph. But really, it's very powerful if you're trying to persuade people of things you know, you want to make an impact, and make the information tangible to different groups. The differences in the past have been the common way of recording data and documenting versus oral communication. I think those are two of the most high-level substantial differences between the approaches with Western and Indigenous."
She adds this openness is growing among scientists.
"In the Faculty of Science, we are trying to embrace the idea of this two-eyed seeing. It's not that one or the other is correct, but there's room for both. It's a lot stronger if you combine the two in all situations, basically -- in our teaching and our approach to looking at things."
De Kievit adds Western scientists write and have to look at it on the micro-scale.
"How does that small part fit into the bigger whole? The thing that we're trying to embrace is that there's a lot of power. There's one thing to say the stream is contaminated and now there are algae growing on it. It might also then be, well what's happening with the weather and the sunshine and the leaves dropping down? There are so many other things that could be causing it, that if you look at the whole, you might see things very differently than if you come at it just by deep-diving right away when I think you're going in a little bit with blinders on."
She notes there's certainly more room for both approaches blended together.
The 2022 Turtle Island Indigenous Science Conference taking place at the UM Fort Garry Campus in person, pending public health restrictions.