A Closer Look at Indigenous Science: Culture, Context, and Euro-Science’s Hidden Assumptions

By Kenneth S. Cohen
Sacred Earth Circle
December 10, 2022

Indigenous science” or “native science” have become hot topics; yet everyone seems to use the term in a different way. Sometimes the definition is too restrictive, based on an assumption that scientific method is the only valid form of inquiry or access to truth. I have heard both indigenous and non-indigenous speakers championing early indigenous knowledge of architecture, geology, and wildlife biology because it conforms with Western epistemology while being dismissive of explanatory models based on indigenous cultural concepts. For example, “Of course we used the bark of the Pacific Yew Tree to treat cancer. It is the source of the chemotherapy agent Taxol”. True, in a sense, but I am wary of scientific fundamentalists that acknowledge indigenous understanding of the plant because of the modern discovery of a chemical constituent, rather than honoring an alternate viewpoint. That is, from an indigenous perspective, the plant may have communicated its proper usage directly to dreamers and healers.

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