When Indians are invisible in science

When are American Indians invisible?

As a critic of mass media and Indian representations, I am mindful of the gross caricatures that persist.

Pocahontas. Chief Wahoo. The Land O’Lakes butter maiden.

These are memorable images of Indians.

But there are also instances when Indians are invisible, particularly when it comes to science.

Can you think of a scientist of American Indian heritage? Name one.

It’s not that we don’t exist: but we are silent. Hidden.

When my students and I looked at the news coverage surrounding salmon and sea lions at Bonneville Dam, we found that many scientists and politicians were invited to speak to the issue.

Knowing that half of the annual salmon catch is earmarked for Native Americans we figured that about 50% of the coverage would reflect Indian concerns.

We were wrong.

When we counted the sources that got to speak to the issue, about 75% were government scientists and workers.

Sources from fishing and animal rights groups were quoted much less frequently—about 17% of the time.

And American Indians?

Only about 8% of the stories included quotes from American Indians, who continue to be hidden. We just don’t fit the stereotype.

Here’s a slice of trivia to impress folks at the next cocktail party or coffee klatch: aeronautical engineer John Bennett Herrington was aboard the STS-113 Endeavour in 2002, the sixteenth Shuttle mission to visit the International Space Station.

Herrington is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation.


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.
This entry was posted in authenticity, Indian, Native Science, science, science communication, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s