Why STEM Needs Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Case Study of Ichishkíin Math

Jennifer L Ruef, Stephany Runninghawk Johnson, Michelle M Jacob, Joana Jansen, Virginia Beavert


In our paper, we discuss the benefits of applying an Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) framework to STEM fields. We draw from our shared experiences with feminist praxis and in building an Indigenous TEK Initiative at the University of Oregon; in this paper we focus on a case of how an Indigenous Tribal Elder contributes to our project on Ichishkíin math. We place this project in a broader context of how Tribal Elders are deeply engaged in STEM education and research including: Indigenous language documentation, natural resources management, and traditional Tribal stories that explain how all parts of ecology are relatives. In our paper, we share examples of TEK contributions to STEM and conclude that TEK makes the following impacts in STEM fields: 1) shifts the narrative of who “belongs”; 2) (re)situates Tribal Elders as experts; 3) reclaims Indigenous cultural and language knowledge as inherently important. We urge all STEM researchers, teachers and practitioners to consider the importance of TEK and the vast knowledge and wisdom of Tribal Elders. Doing so subverts the damaging logics that perpetuate exclusionary practices in STEM. All students, scholars, and STEM professionals can benefit from engaging Indigenous Knowledges, and doing so in partnership with Indigenous peoples will have the greatest benefit.  


TEK, Mathematics, STEM education, Indigenous language

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