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Mother Earth, Grandfather Sun

Originally appears in the Fall 2009 issue

Western sciences tend to emphasize matter and energy and to encourage us to develop object-oriented minds, whereas consciousness is at the heart of the Indigenous sciences. Learning to ascribe consciousness to natural objects can change students’ attitudes toward nature by fostering respect and reverence. This in turn may help to bring about the transformations in values and actions that are needed for more sustainable living.

“Two-Eyed Seeing” asks teachers and learners to acknowledge both Western and Aboriginal ways of knowing about nature. This exercise about solstices and equinoxes has students ascribing consciousness to an object which in the Western scientific view is inanimate — the sun. It is useful both in teaching the science concepts related to the seasons and in introducing students to Indigenous ways of “coming to know.” While physical models for teaching this topic are plentiful, this exercise encourages learners to shift their consciousness to animate the sun — to “become” Grandfather Sun — and thereby enable him to see the Earth (Mother Earth). The exercise also provides an experiential foundation for discussion of the utility of models in the learning and doing of science, regardless of cultural perspective.

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Cheryl M. Bartlett is the Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science and a Professor of Biology at Cape Breton University in Sydney, Nova Scotia.