It is important to respect Indigenous science practice

21 Aug 2020

Our ancestors navigated across the land using the stars and the planets, they recognised the link between the phases of the moon and the tides. They predicted changes in the weather and identified the variable nature of distant stars in the night sky.

This week is National Science Week. From the 15th of August to the 23rd hundreds and hundreds of science themed events are being held around Australia and now, more than ever, these events have become more accessible as they move into an online experience during the coronavirus pandemic. No longer are the big science events limited to those who live in the big cities where these events are hosted, or to those who have the privilege of being able to travel to these locations. Anyone from around the country can tune in!

Science Week provides great opportunities to expand your horizons and learn something new about the world around you, whether it’s about health and medicine, agriculture, or my personal favourite, space and astronomy. Attending events throughout Science Week allows you to interact with scientists and ask questions about their field of research and learn from the source of new knowledge. There are also lots of opportunities to learn from Indigenous scientists around Australia.

One series of events organised by the National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP), Macquarie University, and Redfern Community Centre, showcases a wide range of Indigenous science topics. In the “Indigenous Science Experience” you will be exposed to bush medicines and pharmaceuticals, and global Indigenous Engineering as well as Indigenous Astronomy. This is just one great example of the type of event that amplifies the wonderous nature and complexity of science from Indigenous culture in Australia.

Our ancestors navigated across the land using the stars and the planets, they recognised the link between the phases of the moon and the tides. They predicted changes in the weather and identified the variable nature of distant stars in the night sky. And yet, some people still disregard the great knowledge of Indigenous people that is held within our culture and claim that it is “not real science”. And that is the attitude Indigenous scientists and communicators are trying to change in our society.

Science Week is one of the busiest weeks of the year for me. Every year I, along with countless other deadly Indigenous scientists, are invited along to speak and present at events around Australia.

Our knowledge and passion for our culture and the science that is birthed from our culture is highly sought after during this time of the year. I personally feel honoured to be invited along to events where I can share my passion for astronomy both from the perspective of my Wiradjuri ancestors and my formal education in astrophysics.

Each year the interest in learning more about science within Indigenous culture is increasing. More and more events are popping up and a lot of them are reaching capacity and selling out quicker than ever. All of the events I’ve been involved in this National Science Week have reached capacity well before the day they commence, and I couldn’t be happier about this. Australian’s are making a change and actively trying to improve their understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture.

But what happens after National Science Week? Where does that interest go? The science of Indigenous culture doesn’t just disappear, it’s been around for tens of thousands of years. So, how can you keep the conversation going?

For a start – why don’t you find ways to engage with science.

There are some fantastic DIY science resources available that you can use all year round – just look here. As we continue to experience changing weather patterns and take more notice while we fight against corporate interests to avoid reversible climate change, a great activity for kids and adults alike is to build your own backyard weather station to track the patterns.

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to understand the inherent relationship between our humanity and the scientific universe is to reflect on what lies beyond our atmosphere. The activities you can do from your backyard to understand where we fit into the universe.

When engaging with science in the modern sense, it is important to reflect on the fact that the foundational knowledge of science was simply part of being for Indigenous peoples. Our ancestors practiced science without labelling it as such as it was so inherently interwoven with daily life and our cultural identity. Ecological sustainability and astronomy are complex areas of science that were part of life for our ancestors so this science week – give some thought to how we can incorporate our Indigenous knowledge systems into science education (such as through Kooriculum™) to ensure that caring for country is the thread that ties it all together.

We all look up to the same sky and National Science Week is the perfect time to respect the origins of science.

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