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Indigenizing STEAM concepts

Assistant Prof. explores Indigenous knowledge in story & science

March 11, 2019 — 

In explaining the connection between science, the arts and Indigenous knowledge, Assistant Prof. Amy Farrell-Morneau recounts a sacred story of two sisters.

Drawing on a story from the book Sacred Legends of the Sandy Lake Cree, authored by James Stevens and illustrated by Carl Ray, Farrell-Morneau recalls the younger sister was always trying to outdo and compete with her older sister, noting this wasn’t acceptable behaviour, traditionally. The story continues as follows: 

One evening, lying on their backs, eyes gazing into clear, twinkling night sky, the sisters singled out two stars—one gleaming ablaze like a white flare, the other, a large orb softly glowing a dim red. Giggling and laughing, the younger sister declares, “We’ll choose which one to make love to, and I choose the small, bright star.” The older sister concedes, agreeing to engage the red one. Shortly thereafter, both drift asleep, awaking next morning to find themselves alongside their chosen celestial partners, who have now taken on human form. The young one wakes up next to a wrinkled, old man, suffering the throes of death, while her older sister finds her star embodying a fetching constellation of attractive qualities—youthful, handsome and fit, a young man with whom she falls in love and marries.

The story reflects an Indigenous understanding of lifecycles, Farrell-Morneau says, imparting to audiences characteristics of the lifespan of stars, specifically the youthful and healthy red-giant stage, and the phase of a star’s life when, lying at death’s doorstep, they are known as white dwarfs.

“We know from history that the Earth ages, rocks age, people here age and animals age—so too must things in the sky,” says Farrell-Morneau, a new professor in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning department at the Faculty of Education.

Inspired by her mother’s teachings in traditional arts-and-crafts, and her father’s love of science, Farrell-Morneau focuses on Indigenizing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) concepts in the classroom.

Teacher-candidates taking a course with Farrell-Morneau might learn how creating traditional arts and crafts with natural materials can lead to science lessons in topics such as ecology and engineering. Working with cattails, for instance, she notes that while there are many natural species in any given area, there are also some invasive species—broaching environmental issues with art.

Just the structure of cattails alone present a marvel of engineering, says Farrell-Morneau, adding that despite growing tall and thin, they seem to defy gravity, standing tall and erect—demonstrating that an understanding of the structural engineering of the cattails that could be applied to architecture.

Farrell-Morneau says that Indigenous students will see their culture and values reflected in her classes and for non-Indigenous students, the courses present an opportunity to gain a broader understanding of elements of Indigenous culture.

 

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