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The Color of Science is Indigenous

The Color of Science is Indigenous


Indigenous knowledge is often excluded from the mainstream scientific community. The ancient knowledge that different cultures have retained and maintained over thousands of years is often scoffed at or simply ignored. I’ve seen it first hand when I was a student at a University in California. At the time, I was working on my Master’s in Cultural Resource Management and witnessed conversations mocking the observations, beliefs, and knowledge of First Nation people as “superstitious” and “unscientific.” I’ve read articles where indigenous populations have tried to share their knowledge but have been met with distrust and ridicule. Take for instance the case of the long-lost British polar explorer ships the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus. The ships both disappeared in 1848 and the British Royal Navy searched for the vessels and their missing crew for 11 years. The Inuit people of the region testified and gave the exact location of one of the ships but were ignored, even though their knowledge of the region would have been comprehensive. It wasn’t until 2016 that one of the ships was relocated using data procured from the oral traditions of Inuit lineal descendants. It took almost two hundred years for researchers to listen to indigenous people that knew the ice, the currents, and the land better than anyone else.

In the third installment of this series, we visit an indigenous perspective on the scientific community provided by the Director of Indigenous Education at the University of West Oahu, Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer. Dr. Meyer received her Master’s of Science in Physical Education from the University of Northern Colorado and went on to get her Doctorate of Education from Harvard. Her doctorate thesis titled “Native Hawaiian Epistemology: Contemporary Narratives”  focused on Native Hawaiian knowledge. Amongst her achievements as a champion of indigenous knowledge, Dr. Meyer developed an applied indigenous knowledge master’s program for a Maori university in New Zealand; received the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations Award and has dedicated herself to building education programs focused on indigenous epistemology.  Here’s what her perspective on the scientific community and indigenous knowledge.

Name:  Manulani Aluli Meyer

Occupation:  Director of Indigenous Education at UH West Oahu

Ulu a’e ke welina a ke aloha. Loving is the practice of an awake mind.

Where are you from?

I am from Mokapu on the island of Oahu. Our ohana is also from Kailua, Hilo, Kohala, Wailuku and Kamamalu. I have spent 25 years along Hilo Paliku so I feel ma’a to the muliwai and streams there.

What is your education background? What degree(s) or training do you have or are working on?

I am a P.E. major from UH Manoa.  My Masters in Exercise Physiology is from UNC – Northern Colorado.  My Ed.D. from Harvard is within the field of Philosophy of Education.  Sports saved my life, as did my years as a wilderness instructor and coach.  I finally learned from brilliant cultural teachers about Hawaiian and Indigenous epistemology, and that shaped my path on life.

What inspired you to do what you do?

My work is to think through and describe different versions of knowledge so that waking up is possible.  I was inspired when a Professor at Harvard called Hawaiians anti-intellectual.  My work is a result of that statement, and the insights gained changed my life completely.

What do you think about the scientific community and how it has treated indigenous/people of color in the past and the present?

I don’t think we have been on their minds.  The idea of objective knowledge is quite compelling and it has produced our modern society.  Indigenous scholars seem to ‘muddy’ the waters with our insistence in alternative ways of viewing empiricism, knowledge, science, methodology and understanding phenomenon.  The state of our world allows the scientific community to broaden their scope of interests and beliefs.  It is time to be clear about what we believe and how we practice.  It is time for ike kupuna, for the knowledge of our elders, to be expressed….in song, in science, in education, in health, in the world.

There are conversations that are being had in regard to indigenous science and natural resource management. What are your thoughts/contributions on these discussions?

Indigenous science is an ancient idea.  We here in Hawaii have many communities and practitioners who understand their resources, history and the impact of climate change.  We have been around for generations and generations, and our lands/oceans/waterways are our schools. I believe it is time to exchange in meaningful and profound ways.  This is also the case within education, health and social sciences.  We simply have a treasure trove of philosophies, beliefs, practices and ideas that are untapped and unexplored by those outside our culture.  Who knows….maybe it’s time to share?

What message would you like to give to the scientific community?

The world is a magical place we are just now beginning to understand.  We are now viewing it through the lens of Holographic Epistemology where the trilogy of Physical/Mental/Spirit acts simultaneously. Understanding this will bring us to a changed consciousness.  Why not suspend our disbelief in this possibility so we can evolve – together?

What message would like to give indigenous youth with an interest in the sciences?

Be of service to something beyond yourself.  Find joy in that.  Experience how Science connects us.  Know that you are light and forever.  Find out how to love. 

Manulani Aluli Meyer

You can learn more about Dr. Meyer and her work by clicking here.

Next Time on The Color of Science…

Join us as we meet a bird specialist and a medical anthropologist. Until then, check out the two previous installments of The Color of Science series on Black Girl Nerds. Thanks for reading!

The Color of Science (Part I)

The Color of Science: Empowerment (Part II)

Jahkotta Lewis is a professional archaeologist, an amateur astronomer, and an aspiring writer. When she is not documenting Pacific Island archaeology, she spends her days hiking through native forests, spelunking within the depths of an active volcano, and watching/reading all things fantasy and science fiction. Follow her on Twitter @jahkotta

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