American Indian Science (PDF)

American Indian Science

Pamela Colorado, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

University of Calgary

Faculty of Social Welfare

Paper presented to 46th Congress of the Americanists

Amsterdam, Holland. July 4 – 8, 1988



Until the present time, we have had to stretch Western science so far that knowledge about Indian culture seems unreal. Research has been perceived and presented as monocultural, thus not accepted by the Indian community. All peoples including Native Americans have science or a way of coming to knowledge; each tribe has its specific methods, but for the purposes of introducing the concept of Native science, we will deal in generalization about “Native” metaphysics.

Reflecting on the implications of “sciences”, it is clear that a bicultural research model recognizing both Indian science and Western science needs to emerge. Newly evolved Western research methods such as ethnographic research, content/issue analysis, and the framework of Participatory Research can be drawn upon to complement or meet Indian science and culture.

Traditional Indian science must be articulated in contemporary terms to permit scholarly exchange growth and to empower Indian people in the scientific arena. further, an integration of Western and Indian ways of thinking must occur if we are to develop research strategies and outcomes which are acceptable and respected by both cultures. (“Integration” refers to a blending of research findings, not the domination or extension of ideological control by one culture’s science).

A bi-cultural research model must be both valid and reliable; strengthen traditional Indian science and enhance cross-cultural communication and understanding, and simultaneously promote the growth of both sciences. This paper will present an epistemological foundation of Indian science and will explore the possibility of creating a scientific, intercultural, infrastructure.


For the American Indian, there are compelling reasons for scientific pluralism. Practicing
Native science helps restrict scientific colonialism which, as Deloria discusses, has
confused and controlled Native minds. Beginning with Einstein’s theory and moving to
contemporary physicists, Western science has been searching for a new paradigm.
Quantum mechanics and genetic research, to name a few, demonstrate the limitations
of positivist, atomistic, Newtonian mechanics. And on a social scale one need only
observe the alienation of human beings and the destruction of the natural environment
to see that something else is needed.