Tag Archives: Worldwide Indigenous Science Network origin

Native Science Saves the Planet (PDF)

Sacred Indian view of life may save planet, academics say
by Dana Flavelle
Toronto Star
They couldn’t be more unalike. Pam Colorado, small and dark, is a North American Indian who grew up in the wilderness learning the ancient ways of her people at her grandfather’s side.
David Peat, tall and pale, is an Englishman from Liverpool who spent his early childhood cultivating a passion for modern science.
But years later, as accomplished academics in very different fields, Colorado and Peat have found a bond in their mutual search for new ways to heal our troubled planet.
War, environmental disasters and the high cost of technologically based health care are a few of the problems that must be addressed in radically new ways, and quickly, they say.
“In my opinion, the problems facing the Earth are critical,” says Colorado, who is now a professor of social work and native studies at the University of Calgary.
“Conventional science has missed something,” says Peat, a physicist, author and consultant based in Ottawa. “It has given us an incredibly detailed map of the world, which is very useful. But it has had a lot of unpleasant side effects… deterioration of the ozone layer, global warming and things like that.”
To share their views, the pair were in Toronto to address a group of 30 other interested academics, environmentalists and futurists at a conference sponsored by the Institute for Cultural Affairs.
Providing forums for leading edge thinkers such as Colorado and Peat is one of the functions of the independent, non-profit institute.
The cause of many of the world’s problems is modern scientific thought, with its overly simplistic, mechanistic view of nature, Peat believes. Every time we try to fix one problem, we seem to create another.
Colorado thinks the solution may lie in the past, in what she calls “indigenous science.”
Put simply, indigenous science refers to the native people’s view that everything in the world is sacred and interconnected and, in many ways, beyond our control.
It’s a concept that, coincidentally, is in vogue among leading-edge Western scientists such as Peat, who have come to some of the same conclusions through the chaos theory of physics.
“It’s that sense that we’re all part of a great web of life in which everything plays a role and has to be respected,” Peat says.
Take the problem of acid rain, for example. The conventional approach is to pass laws limiting emissions from coal-fired hydroelectric plants. The indigenous approach might be to re-examine the lifestyle that creates the high demand for those plants in the first place.
“By looking at the world differently, you begin to change your values. You may become less concerned with the whole notion of progress,” Peat says.
He and Colorado are also trying to spread their ideas through the World Wide Indigenous Science Network, a group Colorado founded two years ago in Alberta. Intended to bridge the gap between modern Western and ancient native thinking, the network counts about 60 academics, business people and anyone else interested in healing the planet among its members.
Its lines of communication now reach as far as California, Mexico City, Hawaii, New Zealand, Nigeria, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines. By starting this dialogue between native and non-native people, Colorado hopes to create profound social and personal change around the world.
The notion that there might be an indigenous science with something positive to contribute to society came to her slowly and painfully.
For many years, while struggling up the academic ladder toward her PhD in social sciences, she worked hard at hiding the fact, even from herself, that she is Indian.
“As a native person, I was raised with the same myths and stereotypes you were: that we were stupid, primitive types and all we did was follow the animals around. I watched the Lone Ranger and Tonto and all that stuff growing up, so that was my idea of what being Indian meant.”
Suddenly, in the late ’70s, on the verge of finishing her thesis, she hit a roadblock. She couldn’t write the required outline for the last four chapters.
It took a year and half of agonizing over blank pages before she realized what was holding her back: A sacred native belief that you can never presume the outcome of any endeavor.
I’s like the Dene hunter who, faced with an empty larder, puts on his parka, packs up his gun and says: “I’m going for a walk.” He would never say “I’m going hunting.
“I realized then that we don’t just have different cultures, we native people have a science of our own, a way of coming to knowledge of our own… We go for a walk. We come prepared, we keep ourselves open… but it’s not up to us to decide what the conclusion will be.
“In a Western social scientific way I was being told to outline where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. It was exactly the opposite.”
That revelation marked the beginning for Colorado of a long journey back to embrace her native origins as an Oneida Indian and member of the Six Nations.
It has sometimes been painful. Watching the army and Quebec police battle it out with Mohawk Warriors over disputed Indian land in Oka this summer both saddened and terrified her.
Over the next few years, the indigenous science network is planning to stage three major events aimed at boosting public awareness of some of the problems the world is facing.
There will be a walk along an Inca trail, a trek across North America from Canada into Siberia and a voyage around the Pacific in ocean-going canoes, in each case following the routes taken by indigenous peoples centuries earlier.

Remembering Who We Are: Recovering Indigenous Mind (PDF)

Traditional Greeting

It’s good to be here. My name is Apela Colorado; I will open this talk in a traditional Native way with a chant — a prayer. Foster Ampong, a Ka ko’o, or helper, is going to do that for us.

(Hawaiian chant, “E ho ‘i Mai,” a request to enter and to merge with the sacred wisdom.)

Can you feel that good, strong feeling in the room? It seems like Foster’s been doing this all his life, right? In reality, Foster just came back to his culture in January. I’m acknowledging this because the most powerful thing I can share with you is the belief in ourselves as native people and the proof that anything is possible when we’re in our indigenous minds. We can remember our power. We have an hour and a half to spend together and when I’m done with my presentation, I will ask Choctaw Elder, Pokni, Mary Jones, who has worked with me, taught me,and helped me for so many years, to listen, to reflect, and to close off our session prayerfully. We’ll also have a question-and-answer time at the conclusion.

I was excited to hear about Coumba Lamba; in fact, I’ve waited for more than 20 years for this day to happen. In the 1970s, I was doing my doctoral research on native alcoholism. I believed, and was trying to prove, that the answer to healing Native American addiction, which is the leading cause of death, was the return of true culture and spirituality. At the time it was a very radical claim to make. But I faced a difficult personal reality, one that ultimately brought me to this gathering. I wanted to find out why almost everybody in my family that I loved was either actively alcoholic or had died of addiction, and I didn’t want it to happen to me or to my children. So I started researching everything I could get my hands on. I read every study I could find, not easy in the pre-internet age, and besides I was living in a remote Native community without library or bookstore. After reading more than 250 scientific studies of Native alcoholism, I found out there were 247 differing opinions on what caused Native addiction. It seemed more like personal opinions than rigorous research. My sense of this was heightened by the fact that all of the research was conducted by non-Natives. None of the millions of dollars for the studies ever went to Native people, and certainly, none of it went to treatment for our suffering. The context of cultural control and domination evident in the research process drove home the point that addiction among American Indians had to do with being an invaded, oppressed people. Before contact we didn’t have addiction, after contact we did have addiction. Not hard to figure out, but none of the studies addressed it.

When I began my doctoral dissertation research, experts were telling us, “It’s your biology. You

lack the proper genes to metabolize alcohol – you are weaker, that’s why you become addicted.”

The subtext being that drinking alcohol is normal (at the time the Harvard University had

received a multi-million dollar grant, the largest ever to look at the genetic causes of alcoholism.

The donor was Seagram’s whiskey company.) I wanted to find evidence to support the view that

Native addictions resulted from invasion and expropriation – loss of culture, spirituality and life.

I succeeded, but what happened to me in the search, and how it happened, opened up the mystery

of the ”Great Knowledge.”1


I grew up in Wisconsin, and the one cultural person left in my family was my grandfather, who

chose me from his grandchildren and taught me Native values and ways. I wasn’t aware that was

what he was doing. I just knew that I loved him and wanted to be with him. Out of all of his

grandchildren, somehow, I was the only one that was born with a cultural leaning, with that kind

of calling and role in life. He saw it.

My grandfather died when I was just a young teenager, but before he died he relapsed and went

back to drinking. So, I actually lost him much earlier in a terrible way. The one person, in our

huge extended family, I could connect with emotionally was taken from me by alcohol. And then

I was alone. But because of that, I became totally committed to doing something about addiction.

But my grandfather was cultural and knew he should pass on what he knew of the Great

Knowledge. Just before he died, he made my grandma drive him three hours through a

dangerous snowstorm – to come talk with me. I was about twelve years old and really angry with

him for drinking. I did not want to be with him and he knew it. He sat in the easy chair, looked

hard at me (this made me madder) and leaned forward on his cane, and began to speak. What he

said scared the wits out of me. He described my life, naming things he could not possibly know,

and then laid out my future. He wanted my attention and he got it! Then he said, “Remember the

Pipe, Remember the Pipe, Remember the Pipe,” the Pipe being a central way to American Indian

Great Knowledge.

I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I had never seen an Indian pipe in my life. Until

1978, it was illegal in North America for Indians to practice our spiritual ways. It was made

illegal through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Administrative Codes and Practices. You could get

penalized, be imprisoned, or have food rations withheld for practicing indigenous ceremonies.

The ceremonies went underground and missionaries made certain that we grew to fear our own

ways. They justified this to stop the “reckless giving away of things.” A Blackfoot woman once

said, “the worse thing the white man ever did was to kill the buffalo and put us on welfare. They

only give us enough to live and we can’t share with each other.”

As I matured, I felt such loneliness. I kept looking for my reality, for the unconditional love that

underpins Native culture and that I felt with my grandfather. I recalled that he had wanted me to

go to university. So I did. Even though I was not conscious of it, I kept pursuing advanced

education trying to find him and to realize that love in my life. At age 27, I was accepted into and

entered a doctoral program at an Eastern Ivy League school. The wealth and privilege of the

place was beyond any experience I had had. I wondered why I had been accepted and learned

that the personal statement to my application is what did the trick.

1 Private conversations with Credo Mutwa, Great Sanusi of the Zulu, he refers to the ancient

indigenous wisdom as the Great Knowledge.

I had been afraid to apply, thinking I was not smart enough or good enough. The fear was so

great that I procrastinated until the night before the deadline when I picked up a pen (I didn’t

even type it) and wrote about my grandfather and I, and how he wanted me to go to university.

This was a completely unexpected thing and paradoxical. I was sitting in a busy airport, using

my lap as my desk, but was in a liminal state—a light, energetic, feeling came over me. I felt

alive again, and I had a hunch that I would be accepted. I was.

Getting in the door was one thing. Surviving was another. I didn’t know much about being

American Indian. There were no other Indians and few people of color. My identity and values

were challenged in every way. I did not fit and became more and more angry. This was a Jewish

university filled with brilliantly educated people, who were also intellectually competitive. In

class discussions, I never said a thing. I kept waiting for my chance, but was in a culture that

operated by different ways. People argued, asserted, cut each other off, and never, ever, left a

space open for someone like me to speak.

So, I started to fight. When the professor lectured, up went my hand, the only way to get the