Native/Aboriginal students are underrepresented in Western science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), due in part to perceived cultural irrelevance. Yet many Native people continue to engage in Indigenous science, such as through traditional medicine and food systems. Recently it was shown that Aboriginal university students are significant users of natural health products (NHP) and learn about NHP from Elders. Thus, in post-secondary educational settings, the presence of Elders may positively impact Native students' interest in science-related topics. At the First Nations University of Canada, partnering of STEM-trained faculty with Elders occurs in community-based research and education endeavours. This paper highlights these efforts, which include a traditional medicine room teaching laboratory. Medicine walks with Elders have been videotaped and used in live and online classes. Workshops have led to the development and publication of traditional foods and medicine booklets. A prairie medicine wheel garden on campus serves to reinforce Aboriginal values in the appreciation of native prairie plants. An evidence-based ethnomedicine course engages STEM-trained PhDs and Indigenous science Elders as co-educators in the online environment. In these applications, Elders share cultural knowledge to ensure relevance to Natives and to positively impact student interest in science. Future directions include a pedagogical experiment to determine the impact of Elders as educators upon post-secondary student interest in STEM. This ongoing work should facilitate a discourse regarding Aboriginal science education, and illuminates downstream policy implications regarding science literacy, Native retention in science, indigenous science, and the role of Elders in post-secondary STEM education.
Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Higher Education | Indigenous Studies | Science and Mathematics Education
Ferreira, Maria Pontes, McKenna, Betty, and Gendron, Fidji. 2014. Traditional Elders in post-secondary STEM education. International Journal of Health, Wellness, and Society 3. (publisher's pdf in advance of publication)