Science or Religion?

My talk this past weekend at Lincoln City gave me a chance to put my promise into action: Encourage folks to view events through a Native American lens.

As part of Native American Heritage Month I was asked to talk about Kennewick Man at the North Lincoln County Historical Museum. And I asked the audience to see if they could shift their perspectives by viewing their interactions through Indian eyes.

And what better venue than this charming museum punctuated with Indian histories and images?

Local citizens who came to the talk were attentive, polite, interested.

Some were perplexed about Indian ways-of-knowing, so I was reminded that I take for granted that publics understand Indian worldviews.

Not so.

When I noted, for example, that news coverage surrounding the discovery of the 9200-year-old skeleton framed the story as a contest between science and religion, an audience member asked me why I took umbrage at the coverage.

News coverage tends to make scientists the objective interpreters of history, while the Indian perspective is often relegated to superstition.

Problem is that the argument is more than simply science and religion: it’s about cultural ways of knowing.

And science is infused with culture, so the contest becomes one of values versus values.

Local tribes who fought to have the skeleton returned to their communities argued that their cultural beliefs about treatment of ancestral bones were dishonored by the scientific community.

Not so hard to understand: non-Indians get twitterpated when their grandparents’ bones are dug up for highways and malls.

Same with Indians.

[Day ten of Native American Heritage Month. I pledge one blog per day.]


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, ethics, framing, human origin, Indian, journalism, Kennewick Man, NAGPRA, Native Science, news bias, science, science communication, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Science or Religion?

  1. Idebenone says:

    supported educating native children and adults, in efforts to ” civilize ” or otherwise assimilate Native Americans to the larger society (as opposed to relegating them to reservations ). The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 promoted this civilization policy by providing funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked on Native American improvement.


  2. Just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a Liebster Award. You can find more info on my blog about it.


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s