Title

Contested Domains of Science and Science Learning in Contemporary Native American Communities: Three Case Studies from a National Science Foundation grant titled, "Archaeology Pathways for Native Learners"

Date of Completion

January 2012

Keywords

Anthropology, Cultural|Education, Sciences|Native American Studies

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

This dissertation provides a critical analysis of three informal science education partnerships that resulted from a 2003-2006 National Science Foundation grant titled, "Archaeology Pathways for Native Learners" (ESI-0307858), hosted by the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. This dissertation is designed to contribute to understandings of learning processes that occur within and at the intersection of diverse worldviews and knowledge systems, by drawing upon experiences derived from three disparate contexts: 1) The Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona; 2) The A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center on the Zuni Reservation in Zuni, New Mexico; and 3) Science learning camps at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center for Native youth of southern New England. While informal science education is increasingly moving toward decolonizing and cross-cutting institutional boundaries of learning through critical thinking and real-world applications, the construction of "science" (even within diverse contexts) continues to be framed within a homogenous, predominantly Euro-American perspective. This study analyzes the language of Western science employed in these partnerships, with particular attention to the use of Western/Native binaries that shape perceptions of Native peoples and communities, real or imagined. Connections are drawn to broader nation-state interests in education, science, and the global economy. The role of educational evaluation in these case studies is also critically analyzed, by questioning the ways in which it is constructed, conducted, and evaluated for the purposes of informing future projects and subsequent funding. This study unpacks problems of the dominant language of "expert" knowledge embedded in Western science discourse, and highlights the possibilities of indigenous knowledge systems that can inform Western science frameworks of education and evaluation. Ultimately, this study suggests that research methodologies and epistemologies that acknowledge and integrate indigenous ways of knowing can advance and broaden Western constructions of science, the academy, and educational research and praxis on a national and global scale. ^