Oral narratives: reconceptualising the turbulence between Indigenous perspectives and Eurocentric scientific viewsCult Stud of Sci Educ


R. Bechtel
Cultural Studies


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Oral narratives: reconceptualising the turbulence between Indigenous perspectives and Eurocentric scientific views

R. Bechtel

Received: 18 February 2014 / Accepted: 13 December 2014  Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Abstract Mitigating the borders that exist between scientific cultures can be a difficult task. The purpose of this paper is to look at the differences and similarities that occur in language use when two scientific cultures communicate in the same forum on a topic of mutual concern. The results provide an opportunity to share knowledge of an Indigenous culture that relies on barren ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus) as a way of life in

Northern Canada. Analysis of language use led to the identification of framework categories that can be used to increase awareness in different perspectives of science knowledge. Reconceptualization of the narratives presented can be used to calm the turbulence that exists between Indigenous People and other cultures and provides an opportunity for science educators to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into the classroom. It was found that autobiographical approaches in particular could provide an opening for cultural borders to be lessened.

Keywords Indigenous knowledge  Science  Oral narratives  Autobiography

Science as culture

Few Canadians would have difficulty in identifying Indigenous groups in Canada as distinct cultures. Possessing distinct languages, history, artists, heritage and traditions makes it is somewhat easy to define them as discrete entities. However, fewer might recognize that the scientific community is also a distinct culture. Glen Aikenhead (2001a, b) suggests science has its own way of discussing, publishing, relating and engaging in research, and can be thought of as a distinct culture with its own language and ways of communicating for the purpose of social interaction within a community of scientists. The language of

R. Bechtel (&)

Centre for Mathematical, Science, and Technology Education, University of Alberta, 382 Education

South, Edmonton, AB T6G 2G5, Canada e-mail: rbechtel@ualberta.ca 123

Cult Stud of Sci Educ

DOI 10.1007/s11422-014-9659-z science, both in terms of technical terminology and grammar, can alienate those who are not fluent with in it (Halliday and Martin 1993). Science possesses its own set of values and even when scientists are knowingly trying to simplify the jargon and terminology when communicating with another culture they need to ‘‘be aware of the values and norms that are potentially inherent in the language conventions of scientists (their discursive practises)’’ (Aikenhead 2001a, b, p. 27).

As a result, when two cultures work together with a common theme in mind, it is imperative that the differences in the cultures does not hinder or impede cooperation. But crossing a border into a cultural group that not only has a different language but an entirely different way of knowing can be a sizable task. In the case where the two groups congregate to share experience and knowledge it is critical to understand that they are coming from two different cultural perspectives. Paul Nadasdy (2003, p. 117) believes that ‘‘one cannot examine the question of traditional knowledge for long without being confronted by a barrage of such dualistic comparisons (often arranged neatly in the table) purporting to sum up the differences between traditional and scientific knowledge’’. Although these differences are real and need to be understood in order for a sharing of knowledge to occur, the borders that exist between the two cultures possess a much deeper history. For example, Aikenhead (2001a, b) identifies Indigenous and Eurocentric science as having different social and intellectual goals. Indigenous science tends to be concerned with the survival of people and the co-existence with nature, while Eurocentric science is often more concerned with the gaining of knowledge for power and the explaining of nature.

Greg Cajete (2000) identifies Indigenous science as a distinct culture of its own that ‘‘is a reflection of the metaphoric mind and is embedded in creative participation with nature’’ (p. 14). Furthermore, subjective, interrelated Indigenous science differs from objective, decontextualized Eurocentric science in other ways as well. Indigenous perspectives are holistic and possess a gentle, accommodating, intuitive, and spiritual wisdom, while

Eurocentric science is associated with aggressive, manipulative, mechanistic, and analytical explanations that operate within a reductionist framework (Aikenhead 2001a, b). The oral tradition represents the teachings passed down by Indigenous People for thousands of years, from generation to generation, and is a collection of material that ‘‘explains the nature of the physical world as people have experienced it and the important events of their historical journey’’ (Deloria 1995, p. 51).

With these distinctions in mind, this research attempts to compare the oral presentations of both Eurocentric science speakers and Indigenous speakers in a public forum on caribou hunting practices in Northern Canada. The purpose of the exploration is an attempt to create awareness for both teachers and scientists, whether they be Eurocentric or Indigenous focused, so that they may better communicate with one another and perhaps build bridges of understanding that would lead to an improved shared experience. Of particular interest is the sharing of Indigenous knowledge through autobiographies as a means to influence and educate members outside and within the borders of Northern communities.

Oral narratives of two distinct cultures

Two distinct cultures are examined in this research and can be divided into two different modes of thought. Jerome Bruner (1986) says this includes our knowledge of both

Eurocentric science culture and our knowledge of Indigenous science cultures. The theoretical framework underpinning this research is built upon this concept and represents two ways of knowing applicable to the discourse analyzed here. The first mode, the