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Two-Eyed Seeing: A Cross-cultural Science Journey

Originally appears in the Fall 2009 issue

The science familiar to most of us from school is often referred to as “Western” because of its origins in Western Europe. Yet with its objective approach and mechanistic view of the world, Western science can seem like a foreign culture to many students. According to the Canadian Council for Learning, “the acquisition of science knowledge is often symbolic, abstract and counter-intuitive, unlike the acquisition of everyday knowledge, which is usually pragmatic, personal and based on experience.”1 There are many different ways of knowing, and one of the challenges for teachers is building bridges among them with their students. This challenge is being faced in the Integrative Science program at Cape Breton University as a small group of educators, academics and Mi’kmaq elders build bridges between Western sciences and Indigenous2 sciences. Guided by the Mi’kmaq culture, Integrative Science represents the coming together of Indigenous and Western sciences in a type of co-existence, a functioning of both systems side by side, as recommended by Battiste.3 This bridge building began as a way to address the serious under-representation of Aboriginal students in scientific fields. However, the approach is beneficial to all students because it adds an engaging cultural dimension to science studies, provides context for learning about other nations, and demonstrates that all knowledge has a cultural context.

In the Mi’kmaq language, Toqwa’tu’kl Kjijitaqnn (Integrative Science) means bringing together Indigenous and Western knowledge using the guiding principles of “Two-Eyed Seeing,”that is, to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western ways of knowing, and to use both of these eyes together. By concentrating on common ground and respecting differences, we have begun to build a bridge between these two ways of knowing. In this and several companion articles, we present concepts and lessons that lie in the common ground between the two.

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Annamarie Hatcher is an Assistant Professor of Integrative Science at Cape Breton University in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Cheryl Bartlett is a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science and Professor of Biology at Cape Breton University. Murdena Marshall is an elder and spiritual leader of the Mi’kmaq Nation in Eskasoni, Nova Scotia, and former Associate Professor of Mi’kmaq Studies at Cape Breton University. Albert Marshall is a Mi’kmaq elder and advisor for Cape Breton University’s Integrative Science program, a spiritual advisor for Mi’kmaq youth and the Environmental Spokesperson for the Una’maki Council of Chiefs.

Acknowledgements: Integrative Science developed with the guidance of many Mi’kmaq elders. We thank them for their interest and contributions. In particular, we thank Jane Meader, spiritual leader of Membertou First Nation, for her input, and Sana Kavanagh and Rod Beresford for stimulating discussions and ideas.