The productive uncertainty of indigenous and decolonizing methodologies in the preparation of interdisciplinary STEM researchers

Abstract

This study, undertaken in the Northwest USA, explores how graduate students in an interdisciplinary social–ecological systems research course engaged with concepts of epistemic difference and Indigenous knowledge as part of a required module titled “Ways of Knowing” to engage social and ecological change in climate science. We describe how graduate students engaged with Indigenous ways of knowing and discussion of interdisciplinary equity across knowledge systems and methodologies. Analysis of student perspectives drawn from fieldnotes, student course work, and post-course interviews illuminates tensions in preparing interdisciplinary science researchers to navigate epistemic difference. Students embraced Indigenous ways of knowing as useful for conceptualizing complex tensions in social–ecological systems research, while simultaneously sidestepping deeply rooted issues of power and coloniality in research. We trace two primary ways Indigenous ways of knowing informed interdisciplinary processes in students’ conceptualizations of social–ecological challenges: Science as more expansive: Reflexivity and interpersonal dilemmas; and Grappling with power and settler colonial discomfort. We argue that continued engagement in epistemic difference, particularly Indigenous knowledges, is necessary for cultivating scientific engagement in complex notions of knowledge equity in climate sciences involving Indigenous peoples/lands. Finding underscore how changes in graduate research training can expand research imaginaries, however, such expansions need to be systematic and multi-stranded to interrupt the deep-rooted marginalization of non-Western knowledges in scientific research.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It is respectful to refer to Indigenous communities by their distinct, however, name only the communities of particular relevance to our research. Given the local nature of community relationships, we use general terms, such as Indigenous, with a capital I, to recognize the unique political and cultural relationships between Indigenous peoples and their homelands.

  2. 2.

    Intergrated Research (IR) is a STEM research program funded by the National Science Foundation. We chose to use a pseudonym to refer to the program and all participants in order to protect the privacy of the program, its collaborators, and the participants themselves. We recognize that not naming the program makes our commentary less “evaluative” and more contemplative. IR is a specific program, however, it shares characteristics with many similarly funded programs across the U.S. We think our contemplative critique is useful, even if we do not name the program specifically.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Chelsea Armstrong for her help preparing this manuscript. This research was would not have been possible without the support of Professor Barb Cosens and Dr. Timothy Link. Thank you to Dr. Beth Leonard for her early review and feedback of this paper and to Dr. Philip Bell for his suggested revisions. We would like to thank all participants for their willingness to enter the vulnerable space of critical social change. This research was supported by NSF award #1249400. Lastly, we acknowledge this research took place on the tribal homelands of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) and Schitsu’umsh (Coeur d’ Alene) peoples and recognize that the institution which provided us resources to complete to this study has not adequately compensated the tribes for the theft of their lands.

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Correspondence to Vanessa Anthony-Stevens.

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Anthony-Stevens, V., Matsaw Jr, S.L. The productive uncertainty of indigenous and decolonizing methodologies in the preparation of interdisciplinary STEM researchers. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 15, 595–613 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-019-09942-x

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Keywords

  • Decolonizing
  • Indigenous
  • Interdisciplinary
  • STEM
  • Social–ecological systems