by Rose Thater Braan-Imai
The Native American Academy was founded by a group of Native scholars and Traditional Knowledge Holders dedicated to increasing understanding of the Indigenous worldview and to broadening the contemporary concepts of science and learning. Since its inception, it has grown into a network of Native and non-Native people using research, dialogue, writing, and action projects focused on making Indigenous knowledge visible to the Western-trained mind.
The Academy is planning Sculpture Gardens of Native Science and Learning at six sites across North America, the first one in Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. Envisioned as emblematic libraries, these Gardens will use an inter-tribal collective art project to communicate Native Science: in Cree, wahkohtowin, “knowing how you are related to all creation.”
Eye of Our Ancestors
Our Ancestors are always with us.
This image represents our Ancestor watching over us.
We must honor our Ancestors
by doing everything with respect and reciprocity —
this was the way of our ancestors.
— Robin Rorick
What I offer you is a collage of thoughts
that though related follow a spiral rather than a linear progression.
I do this because it more closely models my way of perceiving
and provides an experience of art, science and
learning that reflects a world in innate relationship
and known through feeling.
I invite you to walk the circle with me and explore
from the perspective of a Native woman.
Understanding the knowledge contained
in a Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning
starts with an awareness of the quality of consciousness
that guides a relationship with the whole
in which time and space are inextricably bound,
where time is nonlinear, and can be described as movement
within a flux of layers upon layers of flashing webs
that appear and disappear in an infinity of patterns.
Imagine a lived experience of a constantly transforming universe
guided by a field of harmony that births all life,
and of humans born with the memory of that harmony embedded in their cells.
That memory is the basis of knowing.
A spiral more closely models my way of perceiving and provides an experience of art, science, and learning that reflects a world in innate relationship and known through feeling.
From this perspective it becomes possible to look more deeply at the
ways in which knowledge can be carried and revealed.
For instance, whales as living libraries,
wind as sculptor, and the earth’s voices as bringers of language.
To know that the sound corn makes at the moment when it is pollinating
has a particular sonance, its song.
To know that the dances conducted by the Pueblo peoples are calculated
to bring the moisture needed
to ripen the corn and assure a healthy harvest.
It is a memorable experience to witness the people
dancing from morning to evening under an August sun.
Then to awaken in the night to the sound of thunder
and feel the moisture thicken the air as the rain comes.
Such an experience belies the belief that Native people are primitives with no knowledge
of physics, astronomy, chemistry, or biology.
And realize that such a view reflects the distortion that occurs when we interpret through an
unexamined cultural lens.
Our Ten Relatives
The study of native science is the study of relationship.
The Cree people use the word wahkohtowin,
which means “knowing how you are related to all creation.”
Relationship is also the search methodology.
Re-search infers studying what is known for new information.
Search is exploring the Unknown for new knowledge.
— Rose Thater Braan-Imai
Art and Science are not separate in the Indigenous world.
They are birthed by the same mother and take their expression
from the rich consciousness of the flux.
The Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning
uses symbol, glyph, form, sound, and light
to communicate the way Indigenous people perceive the world.
But there is a deeper purpose:
to illuminate the way we learn.
The garden will advance a learning process that is unreflected in the Western education system.
A void with severe consequences.
Grandmother, How Do I Learn?
Depending on their history and function, places are believed to be very healing.
And the objects embedded into these places, be they stones, rivers, hills, or thunders, have a language
that can be understood by those connected to those places.
— Leroy Littlebear (Blackfoot)
The Indigenous learning process is driven by learning spirit(s).
These are energies that Elders say create thought,
through a synthesis of intuition and spiritual resonance.
It can be conceptualized as the gravity of human consciousness
that allows a person to find his or her gifts
Learning is a mastery of the transformation
of dreams and vision into rational thought and
pragmatic actions and behaviors to improve life and well-being.
The process utilizes the sensing capacities of the entire body.
Derma, gut, bone, organ, blood and its rhythms all are intelligences.
And it includes the deeper senses of duty, honor, justice.
It is the mastery of human potential.
Earth, Air, Fire, and Water represented in
their emergent form, bringing balance.
Everything in our lives is made of these elements.
When we lose respect for any of the four,
we disrupt the balance of life.
— Robin Rorick
There is a commonly held assumption that Western science is
supra-cultural. Yet actually science emerges from culture.
There are bodies of knowledge
held by the Indigenous Peoples of the Earth
that share the same principles and employ the precision and rigor
associated with Western science.
A critical difference: the knowledge is embedded in a social and human context.
There is a commonly held assumption that Western science is supra-cultural. Yet actually science emerges from culture.
Art is made through the senses, for the senses.
It is the magnificent struggle to capture an awareness
and reveal it with an integrity that sustains its dignity and worth.
To make art is to learn the pathways inspiration follows
to create a conversation.
To communicate Indigenous scientific knowledge through art
in an earth garden is more than a form of expression.
It is a portal to a place of study
where responsibility, respect, harmony, and balance come to life
in what to some seems mystical.
Yet within an animate universe in which all is related,
what is mystical is merely
a shift in the bandwidth of consciousness.
To communicate Indigenous scientific knowledge through art in an earth garden is more than a form of expression. It is a portal to place of respect, harmony, and balance come to life.
Within a universe where all life is equal in value, and diversity is intrinsic,
to dismiss knowledge communicated by multiple intelligences,
and gathered through the fineness of human senses,
is to live bereft of the insights and wisdom of a sentient world.
To know the world in terms of the responsibilities and obligations
of kinship is not unfettered romanticism,
but a way of knowing that consistently yields explicit knowledge
honed by a pragmatism born of deep respect for the boundaries and limits
of the natural world and of the consequences of following
hubris, ignorance or desire beyond those boundaries.
To live considering the ethical, spiritual, physical, societal
impacts of each choice demands commitment and discipline.
To study in this way strengthens character and creates
a reliable moral compass.
In this living terrain where the invisible cultivates and strengthens the unique skills and talents gifted to us by a generous universe, we know again, in its pure state, the sense of belonging.
A learning ecology that uses
the complementarities of art and science to discover and reveal
provides fertile ground for creative acts of magnitude
and contains within it
the capacity to generate a space in which transformation can occur.
The Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning
holds the promise of a place
where we experience the renewal of our deep connection
to the field of harmony that births all life.
A place that stirs the memory of that harmony embedded in our cells.
In this living terrain where the Invisible cultivates and strengthens
the unique skills and talents gifted to us by a generous universe,
we know again, in its pure state,
the sense of belonging.
Rose Thater Braan-Imai (Tuscarora) is Director of the Native American Academy, devoted to exploring Indigenous Knowledge and the nature of science and learning. Earlier, as Director of Education at UC Berkeley’s Center for Particle Astrophysics, she focused on cultivating diversity of perception, thought, and expression in the scientific community. As an artist, her quest is to create expressions of our kinship with the natural world.
Learn more about the Native American Academy at http://www.silverbuffalo.org/NativeAmericanAcademy.html
Cajete, G. (1994). Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education. Durango, CO: Kivaki Press.
Cajete, G. (2000). Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light.
Kimmerer, R. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.
Senge, F. R., Hawkins, L. B., & Thater-Imai, Z. (2005). Is Native science, science? Retrieved from http://www.silverbuffalo.org/NSA-NativeScience.html