Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Developing an Archetype for Integrating Native Hawaiian Traditional Knowledge with Earth System Science Education

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Developing an Archetype for Integrating Native Hawaiian Traditional Knowledge with Earth System Science Education

Article excerpt


There is a recognized need by educators to increase interest in the sciences among underrepresented minority groups, and thus increase the number of minorities (including indigenous peoples) going into geoscience-related professions. For example, populations on Pacific islands are one of the most vulnerable to climate change; yet they often lack the "in-house" scientific expertise to monitor their local environments. We believe that the weaving of Western science ideals with traditional knowledge through a culturally appropriate curriculum can be a highly effective way to convey Earth system science topics to indigenous peoples, such as Native Hawaiians. We developed a curriculum which emphasized the integration of traditional knowledge, geospatial technologies, and Earth system science. The resulting summer institute course, Kaha Ki`i `Aina, was ranked highly by the Native Hawaiian students. Further integration of traditional knowledge with Western science in the curriculum should create a pathway to attract more indigenous peoples, like the Native Hawaiians, into the geosciences.


Covering nearly one-third of the Earth's surface, the Pacific Basin is one of the most crucial regions of the world for environmental studies. Populations on Pacific islands are among the most vulnerable to climate change effects even though they contribute very little to the greenhouse gases that are increasing in Earth's atmosphere. The very existence of some low-lying islands will be threatened by even a small rise in sea level, and the underground fresh water supply on nearly all islands will suffer from salt water intrusion. Natural climate variability, including the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, can have a considerable impact on the social and economic activities of the islands (Aalbersberg et al., 1993; Brook et al., 1991).

The populations on these islands are intensely interested in understanding and monitoring their local environments, yet most lack the "in-house" expertise in geoscience disciplines or analysis techniques (Chew III, 1999). On the other hand, there is an understanding about certain geoscience-related topics that Native Hawaiians (and other Pacific Islanders) possess that comes through traditional (environmental) knowledge and cultural perspective. In traditional Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island folklore, there are interpretations and predictions of natural phenomenon. It is important that valid links between traditional knowledge and science be investigated in the area of geosciences to support the perspectives and predictions tnat arise through the oral history of the islands. As noted by one kupuna (elder), Hawaiians use science in their normal, everyday life; they don't necessarily see what they do as part or their culture as being linked to Western science (Personal Correspondence, Ulunui Garmon). Weaving modern technology with traditional knowledge and perspectives can bring subject matter and learning strategies towards a culturally appropriate model for teaching and learning (where culturally appropriate is defined as using the traditional norm and ways of knowing of a particular indigenous people). Such a dove-tailing of traditional knowledge and cultural perspectives with quantitative Earth system science learning was attempted and tested during a two-week summer institute through the Na Pua Noeau Program at the University of Hawai`i.


Traditional Knowledge (TK) can be a valuable resource for scientists and educators. This is especially true in places where there is currently little to no recorded information for a specific area or environment (Calamia, 1999). The Native Hawaiians passed on TK through non-written methods, including chants and hula (Calamia, 1999; Poepoe et al., 2001). Moreover, since subsistence living was the basis for Hawaiian TK, they collected and passed on information that was important for their survival. …

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