Research In Service to the Land

Figure 5. A photograph made in 1890, when naturalist Lewis Lindsay Dyche was mounting the skin of the horse called Comanche, showing what is inside it.
Figure 5. A photograph made in 1890, when naturalist Lewis Lindsay Dyche was mounting the skin of the horse called Comanche, showing what is inside it.

Last year, organizers for the 2016 meeting of the American Indigenous Research Association asked me to share my experience in science as a Native woman. As I started preparing the paper, which I delivered at the end of last month, I asked myself: “What do I wish I had known, going in, that could have prepared me for the hidden obstacles that face a Native person in science research?”

I decided it’s not the “how-to” of the concrete ways I applied Indigenous research methods to studies of plesiosaur and dinosaur locomotion, sabertooth jaw mechanics, and evolutionary theory. It wasn’t actually hard to apply Indigenous ways of knowing and learning to my work. Like many Indigenous people, I do it in my regular life. So of course I do it when I teach, and of course it’s how I approach my research. It’s second nature. I think all you have to do is open yourself up to it and it happens.

What I wish I had understood is how deeply Western science was going to resist my methods and how relentlessly it would try to change them. And I wish I’d known why. Because this is the key to realizing you can’t fix the problem. What looks like a stone you can dislodge with a bit of effort when you trip over it is actually the visible tip of a buried mountain.

You can read more about my thoughts and experiences in science as a Native woman in the published version of this presentation, “In Service to the Land: Indigenous Research Methods in the Natural Sciences,” which is now online in full format.

Mythic roots of Western culture’s alienation from nature

noco_red_mountainAs Earth Day approaches this Friday, April 22, 2016, you may be reading a lot about Western culture’s disconnection from the natural world.  You may wonder why Western culture became disconnected from the natural world all around it.  The Mythic Roots of Western Culture’s Alienation from Nature, written and published by Dawn Hill Adams, Ph.D. (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) and Jo Belasco, Esq. in the Tapestry Institute Occasional Papers, Volume 1, Number 3, July 31, 2015, provides powerful insight concerning this disconnection.

“This paper uses Mythic Ways of Knowing as a powerful tool to explore and analyze Western culture’s relationship to nature. We describe and document the presence of two primary views of nature, four motifs of human-nature relationship, and an important mythic story called ‘Dark Forest, Fiery Desert’ that’s been told by and for people of Western culture for over 4000 years. We identify and define humanus and humana in Western culture’s mythic stories and actions, as parts of the human psyche that perceive nature in fundamentally different ways. We also recognize the part of human psyche that sees nature holistically, discovering its voice in the same Mythic stories used to identify humanus and humana. We designate this very significant part of the human psyche the nana moma.”

You can read the paper in its entirety here.

Connected Through Horse Ibachakali

“I’m here, I thought to the horse. We’re here. Please, tell me who I really am. Please tell me I’m OK.”

Click to read Connected by Shawna Ervin.  Copyright remains with Ms. Ervin, who is graciously allowing us to post her story in support of Horse Ibachakali.

With those words, Shawna Ervin asked for help from Cisco, her horse partner in Tapestry’s Horse Ibachakali program. The way Cisco answered her plea for help was so healing that Shawna wrote a powerful essay entitled Connected. The Delmarva Review, a literary journal, published Connected in their winter 2015 edition, and the essay went on to be nominated for the annual Pushcart Prize for the best-published essay in the country.

Shawna participated in the program through Tapestry’s partnership with the WINGS Foundation of Denver, Colorado, which helps adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Horse Ibachakali teaches people how to reconnect to nature through the unique combination of horses, mindful awareness, and Indigenous worldview.   Ibachakali is a Choctaw Indian word for “connected” or “connection.” The program explores connections of many kinds between people and the natural world, which includes the inner as well as outer landscapes we all inhabit.

With Shawna’s permission, we are posting Connected for you to read so you can get a glimpse of how Horse Ibachakali transforms lives. When you read it, pay close attention to what Cisco does with Shawna.





The Power of Story: Procrustes in the Land Between the Mountain and the Sea

Last fall I had the great privilege of making a keynote address to the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment at their meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Although I developed my presentation on different ways of knowing and the ways that contemporary practices of assessment relate to them with that audience in mind, this particular talk expressed information that I’ve learned is of tremendous interest to everyone. In particular, I focused on not just explaining, but demonstrating the power of Story as a way of learning and knowing. Story is, after all, a universal language for transmitting vitally important information. And Indigenous understandings of Story take our understandings of its power and even its very nature much farther than does most contemporary academic research.

I have now published this presentation as a new Tapestry Occasional Paper. The first paragraph is below. Please click the link at the end of the paragraph to read the rest, and to experience the images, music, dance, and (yes!) story that form the structure of this learning experience.

Let us begin our journey together today with one of Western culture’s favorite stories, as it was told in 1985: the really Western – as in “it has horses in it” Western movie — “Silverado.” (1) I will tell you right now, by the way, you’re going to see a lot of horses in this presentation. Learning always employs a vehicle. Mine happens to be alive and have four legs. You might actually start to wonder after a while, when you see the story return in other places, if I am in fact beating a dead you-know-what with this one movie. And maybe I am and don’t know it. But what I’m hoping to do is build up enough layers of complexity in your mind that a new understanding about the reality of Story will emerge. N. Scott Momaday (2) has said in “The Way to Rainy Mountain” that the most deeply mythic stories are about epic journeys “made with the whole memory, that experience of the mind which is legendary as well as historical, personal as well as cultural.” So let us begin with a short video clip that summarizes the movie’s opening scenes and then reveals its truly mythic nature.

Continue reading…