Native Universe: Indigenous Voice in Science Museums – IEI is proud to announce their recent award from NSF for a four year Informal Science Education (ISE) grant to fund the project “Native Universe.” We are the lead institution in collaboration with the `Imiloa Astronomy Center, Hilo, Hawaii, and the Center for Science Education at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. Native Universe will help three major science centers build their capacity to educate the public on issues of environmental change as well as the human relationship to nature from the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. The museums selected to participate include the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM). Other partners are the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC). Evaluation will be conducted by the Lifelong Learning Group at COSI, Columbus, OH, and Native Pathways, Laguna Pueblo, NM.

The project builds on the previously funded and very successful Cosmic Serpent collaboration between IEI, CSE at SSL and our partners and evaluators. The Cosmic Serpent project explored commonalities between Native and western science and enabled participants from both perspectives to use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as an entry point for museum programs and exhibits that also highlight longstanding Indigenous knowledge.

Native Universe addresses a concern of the National Research Council that although ISE institutions are making efforts to serve and connect to Indigenous communities , these efforts typically fall short of the kind of deep systemic change necessary to fully infuse Indigenous voice throughout ISE experiences. Through a series of intensive, long term residencies at the three partner museums, the project team will collaborate and work with the museum staffs at all levels (from Executive Director and other leaders to floor staff and volunteers), local Indigenous communities (including carefully selected knowledge holders) and other ISE researchers to understand how cultural perspectives impact science learning about environmental change. The project’s ultimate goal will be to document the extent to which it is possible to transform institutional culture and science museum learning opportunities to incorporate Indigenous voice in a deep and sustained way. In addition the project will provide enriched visitor experiences at the partner museums that are lasting and will grow with the institutions providing them. It is anticipated that this project will impact over 1.2 million visitors at the partner museums, in addition to the hundreds of museum staffs.

NSF ISE grants of this nature are extremely competitive. Almost 350 proposals were submitted to the NSF ISE program during 2010, and in the end just over 50 (or 15%) were given awards in 2011. We were extremely honored to be in this group of awardees.

Panel Reviewers recognized the potential and innovation of Native Universe with comments such as:

*…the panel noted and was again impressed by the effort of the [project’s Principal Investigators (PIs) to involve the world view perspectives of a host of Indigenous tribes as opposed to trying to present a monolithic view representing all Indigenous perspectives.

*…the panel noted that the potential for making transformational change at the institutional level is tremendous…. the residency model represents a refreshing departure from the traditional models of “training the trainer” or developing models for implementation.

*…the panel was extremely impressed with the PIs commitment to working with the entire range of museum works (upper management through volunteers). This is an innovative addition.

*…in terms of environmental science as the area of STEM content being addressed, the panel saw great value in this approach for not only helping people to better understand the knowledge of nature held by Indigenous people, but also for helping people to better understand the knowledge of nature held by Westerners. As pointed out in the proposal the Indigenous perspective provides an insightful counter narrative to the Western view that is traditionally taught.

*…The project is significant. …[It] is thoroughly conceptualized, innovative and promises to meet a well-defined need in a meaningful way. The PIs have a strong history of collaborative work with one another, active scholarship in the proposed area of work, and effective management of large grants. This project will be a welcome addition to the filed of informal science education.

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