The role of story and place in Indigenous science education: Bigfoot in a youth-designed ecological restoration plan

  • Melinda HowardEmail author
  • Anne Kern
Original Paper


This study explores some of the ways in which the dominant science education system in the United States suppresses Indigenous knowledge systems and privileges Western knowledge. Using anti-oppressive inquiry through critical self-reflection, this study is situated in experiences I have encountered as a non-Indigenous doctoral student, curriculum developer, educator, and budding educational researcher on a 3-year STEM education project with Native youth in two tribal communities in the Pacific Northwest. I describe the cultural tensions experienced between project stakeholders in attempting to plan and implement a culturally-relevant curriculum dominated by Western STEM, and how a pivotal moment in which youth incorporated Bigfoot stories into a stream restoration activity challenged my awareness of this paradox. Therefore, Bigfoot became my teacher in provoking my recognition and appreciation of Indigenous knowledge systems, the role of communal narrative in Indigenous education, and the importance of displacing cognitive imperialism. This study adds to the dialogue that science education must be accessible for diverse learners, including culturally-appropriate and culturally-relevant pedagogies and curriculum, by challenging the status quo of hegemonic knowledge in the dominant system. Indigenous knowledge provides place-specific and contextually meaningful insights about the natural world, which is shortchanged if not provided consideration in its role within science education. As a result, this paper provides a space to consider how acknowledging and accepting diverse knowledge systems as ways of understanding the natural world, including those outside of the dominant system, provides a more holistic and meaningful approach to science education.


STEM education Culturally-relevant science curriculum Place-based learning Indigenous knowledge 



We would like to acknowledge the tribal youth, leaders, and community members who shared their stories, challenged our thinking, and guided this project. Furthermore, we would like to thank the Tribal Business Council for their approval to proceed with this manuscript. We are also grateful to Dr. Melodi Wynne, Dr. Cynthia Annett, Dr. Georgia Johnson, and Dr. Fritz Fiedler for providing essential support in the analysis and development of this paper.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1139657. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of IdahoCoeur d’AleneUSA

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