National Science Foundation's new center connects Indigenous wisdom with Western science

The US National Science Foundation is launching a new research center designed to weave Indigenous peoples' wisdom with Western science. Based at UMass Amherst, the Center for Braiding Indigenous Knowledges and Science (CBIKS) will focus on projects around medicine, weather, climate, and biology.

"As Indigenous people, we have science, but we carry that science in stories," says archaeologist and center co-director Sonya Atalay who is of Anishinaabe-Ojibwe heritage. "We need to think about how to do science in a different way and work differently with Indigenous communities."

From Nature:

One project set to launch in the first year at the Pacific Northwest hub focuses on a type of clam farming that has been practiced for thousands of years by native peoples along the Pacific coast of Canada and the United States.

Marco Hatch, a member of the Samish Indian Nation and a marine ecologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, has spent nearly two decades working with Indigenous communities to investigate and revive this ancient technique. It involves using terraced gardens to extend and flatten a beach's intertidal zone — where clams grow — and it can be two to four times more productive than conventional methods, Hatch says[…]

As well as advancing Indigenous science, CBIKS will attempt to set itself apart in how knowledge and information are managed, disseminated and ultimately returned to Indigenous communities.

Atalay says that her nightmare scenario is a well-established one in which, for example, scientists tap into local plant knowledge and publish and ultimately appropriate it for profit through drug companies. The centre has already developed its own protocols for managing intellectual property, to ensure that Indigenous communities have a say in how and when information is used by outside entities, she says.

image: "Woven cedar root basket holding research clams on Quadra Island, B.C." (WWU)