GeoConnections: The Impacts of Geoscience Education Informed by Indigenous Research Frameworks
All of the work described in this dissertation involves the use of Indigenous research frameworks to design research projects, to facilitate communication with Indigenous communities that I have collaborated with, and also to teach and mentor undergraduate and graduate students. Indigenous research frameworks emphasize the importance of place in relation to the integrity of cultural values espoused by many Indigenous communities. This entails a respect for the spirituality component of Indigenous people because this is often directly tied to relationships between the land, animals, and plants of their local environments.
While some research has been conducted to help understand Indigenous people’s understandings of geoscience, less emphasis has been placed on recognizing and leveraging common connections Indigenous students make between their Traditional cultures and Western science. Thus, the research presented in this dissertation identifies connections Indigenous learners make between geology concepts and their everyday lives and cultural traditions in both formal and informal settings. Some of these connections have been integrated into place-based geoscience education modules that were implemented within an introductory environmental science course.
Qualitative analysis, using a socioTransformative constructivism theoretical lens, of semi-structured interviews after implementation of a Sharing/Learning program for an Acoma pilot project, implemented informally, and for a series of geoscience education modules at a private university provides evidence that elements reflective of the use of sociotransformative constructivism (e.g. connections between global and localized environmental issues) were acknowledged by the participants as particularly impactful to their experience during implementation of the geoscience-focused activities. In addition to the socioTransformative theoretical perspective, Indigenous research frameworks (i.e. Tribal Critical Race Theory) were used to contextualize the educational interventions for two different Indigenous communities, Acoma Pueblo and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. Tribal Critical Race Theory was not used to analyze the semi-structured interviews. Instead the Indigenous research frameworks were used to ensure that the research practices undertaken within these Indigenous communities were respectful of the Indigenous community’s cultural values, that Indigenous data sovereignty was paramount, and so that the research objectives were transparent. In addition, permission to publish the results of this research was sought from the governing entities of both Tribal Councils of Acoma Pueblo and the Yakama Nation.
The research presented in this dissertation provides evidence that academic research can be undertaken in respectful ways that benefit Indigenous communities. The connections that participants in the Acoma Sharing/Learning program could potentially be used to create more culturally relevant educational materials for the Acoma Pueblo community, if that is what the governing entities of the Acoma Pueblo community desire. The modules implemented more formally at a private university could potentially, with permission from the governing entities of the Yakama Nation, be integrated into geoscience programs at a broader level creating opportunities for contemporary Indigenous perspectives to be valued alongside Western modern science. Moving forward, this could potentially increase interest among Indigenous community members in pursuing academic pathways within geoscience disciplines.
The research pursued in this dissertation is only a beginning. Approaches to research that promote the agency of local communities in the types of research questions asked and how that research is conducted should be a priority for Western scientists to maintain a respectful relationship with the many communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in which they work. It is my intention to be part of this revolution in how academic researchers interact with contemporary Indigenous communities as well as the next generation of scientists. In the future, my research will continue to serve and benefit Indigenous communities, but I will also begin asking research questions that will help increase the use of diverse and equitable practices within academia. In this way, I hope to bridge the two worlds of Indigenous Knowledge systems and Western science with the primary purpose of maintaining respect among these two communities. In the future, my research will focus on how these respectful practices can move beyond academic research and pedagogy into the realms of professional development, mentoring, and community revitalization.