Writing to agencies to beg for grant money means putting myself under scrutiny.

You keep telling yourself, it’s not about you: it’s about the work. But when I’m occupied with issues that impact Indians, then it is personal.

To tell you the truth, it’s not possible to separate me from my work.

If a granting agency isn’t interested in my research, I just have to chalk it up to the topic, not my soul. Maybe the topic just isn’t sexy enough.

One item that stood out to me when I was reviewing papers for a conference was the work a student completed when she paired scientists with artists and had them collaborate on a project. One creation that emerged was a choreographed dance to images from biology. That’s a good example of thinking outside the test tube, and asking how science intersects with art.

I’m interested in how science intersects with Indian knowledge systems, especially the ways in which these are translated in media: movies, textbooks, novels, exhibits, etc. My earliest memory in school was learning that the Indians showed the pilgrims that planting fish with seeds enriched the soil and made for better crops.

That meant Indians were smart, even scientific.

But the story didn’t mesh with the plains Indians on television who spoke in one-syllable paragraphs and refused to adopt the ways of the settler. Somehow the storytellers forgot that Indians were smart, even scientific, in their approach to living.

Some of us want to place this idea back on the table; that Indians had systems for cultivating the land, navigating by the stars and healing the wounded. My job, for now, is to make that sound riveting.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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