Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament,Volume 148, Issue 55
  Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Statement: Aboriginal Knowledge and Western Science
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, on February 18, I gave an invited topical lecture entitled "The Medicine Wheel and Western Science" to the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. The theme for this year's conference in Vancouver was "Flattening the World: Building a Global Knowledge Society." The challenge of this year's theme, for example, is how to address global-scale problems, such as climate change, which affect many things such as agriculture, public health, survivor of coastal cities, and so on. In other words, the conference theme recognizes the interconnectedness of climate change and the rest of the earth's systems and human existence.

I briefly presented three different ways of viewing and doing science: Western science, feminist science and Aboriginal science. In Western science, it is incorrectly assumed that scientific knowledge is value-free and that personal or cultural beliefs are irrelevant. However, scientists, like everyone else, do have gender and cultural biases that can lead to false interpretations of their data and wrong conclusions. An example of gender bias is the recent belief that women are not susceptible to heart disease. We now know that is not the case. An example of a racial bias felt by most Western scientists is that Aboriginals become obese because they possess a faulty "thrifty gene" that makes them store extra calories. Now, it is widely recognized that diet and lifestyle are the main factors in obesity, regardless of race.

In feminist science, the male bias in Western science and its hierarchical approach have been exposed. In feminist science, instead of having research lead only by a principal investigator, the questions or problems to be researched are generated in collaboration with the community affected by the research. Feminist thinking has changed the way science is done. Collaborative team approaches, with accountability to communities, are now the norm.

Finally, using the medicine wheel of the Plains Indians to analyze Western science, I concluded that Western science is unbalanced because it does not include the intuitive or spiritual aspects of thinking. Moreover, Western science is based on reductionist thinking, rather than the holistic, interconnected mode of thinking of traditional Aboriginal peoples. I gave examples of how spiritual insight has helped Western scientists solve problems. I concluded that, to have more creativity in scientific thinking, it would be smart to fully include intuition and spiritual insight in scientific thinking. Furthermore, it would be smart to have culturally diverse teams in order to maximize solving complex problems, such as climate change and quantum physics. Such an approach would bring many different perspectives, or preconceptions, and different ways of thinking that would likely lead to better and more comprehensive or effective solutions.

Honourable senators, Western scientists are beginning to see the value of traditional Aboriginal environmental knowledge and are actively seeking input, for example, from the indigenous peoples of the North. It is good to see that Aboriginal knowledge is finally being recognized as being scientifically valid, but there is a real danger of exploiting the gatherers and keepers of Aboriginal knowledge. Such Aboriginal elders, hunters, and others ought to be full partners in scientific investigations. That is, they should be involved not just in providing data but in formulating the research questions, designing the methods, interpreting the data, and making conclusions, and they should receive equitable benefits, such as sharing authorship and receiving a share of the research funds to pay for their labour or the expenses incurred in their work with Western scientists.

I look forward to the time when Aboriginal knowledge and ways of knowing are fully respected and honoured by the Western scientific community.