A new science teaching resource developed by the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) is bringing together Indigenous knowledge and modern science.
It’s called the National Science Laboratory Video Lessons for Indigenous Youth. The material includes interviews with elders and knowledge keepers, laboratory manuals and videos for high school biology, chemistry and physics classes.
Arzu Sardarli, a physics and mathematics professor at FNUniv and leader of the project, said Indigenous knowledge on topics like the efficiency of dog sleds and retaining heat in teepees is rooted in science.
“People of course didn’t know about Newton’s laws,” Sardarli said. “But now we use those examples and try to explain to students that Indigenous people knew how to decrease the friction between the sled and snow.
“Or we know from elders’ interviews how Indigenous people could keep the heat in the teepee. And now using physics laws we can explain how it happened and of course we can improve that in our modern houses.”
Jana Sasakamoose, who is working toward her Masters in Science at FNUniv and was a research assistant on the project, said the material presents a different perspective and helps to decolonize Indigenous youth’s learning experience.
“The material is culturally appropriate and Indigenous youth can relate to it,” said Sasakamoose, adding there was nothing like this when she was in high school.
“[Having the resources] to read, to review and study on topics they may already have some knowledge of or interest in learning about, will help the students to further their education and support more Indigenous youth to enter into the field of science.”
The project began in 2017 by getting input from educators at First Nation high schools to select the lab experiments that would align with their curriculums. From there, five topics were chosen for each of three subjects — biology, chemistry and physics.
Elders and knowledge keepers were also interviewed for input.
The lab experiments were done by students at Carlton Comprehensive High School in Prince Albert, Sask., and recorded for online publication and hardcopy distribution.
Sardarli said Canadians are blessed that this knowledge has been kept through oral stories and knowledge keepers.
He said the project has incorporated some Indigenous land-based learning into the material.
“It’s important not only for Indigenous students, it’s very helpful for any student and I hope what we created within this project will be used by mainstream schools, too.”