2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 2:10 PM


SEMKEN, Steven, Department of Geological Sciences, Arizona State Univ, POB 871404, Tempe, AZ 85287-1404, semken@asu.edu

Very few American Indians pursue geoscience majors and careers. Their representation in the geoscience community is miniscule, even when compared to their population demographics, and in spite of the recognized deep connections between the cultures of indigenous peoples and the physical environments and phenomena of their homelands. Cultural discontinuity theory holds that the means and practitioners of mainstream science constitute a distinct culture that is in many ways incompatible with traditional indigenous norms, and thus unappealing to American Indian students. Our experience in the Navajo Nation and other Native communities also indicates that socioeconomic pressure to learn workforce skills and find local jobs quickly also deters students from more academic pursuits such as geoscience. But this same phenomenon, coupled with the youthful population of many Native communities, makes K-12 teaching an attractive profession. We have found that many pre-service and in-service Navajo teachers are enthusiastic about learning geoscience when it is taught in an "Indigenous" (place-based, culturally-responsive, inquiry-rich, and standards-referenced) way that complements their worldview, and that they can translate to their own classes. Several NSF-funded initiatives and an ongoing academic partnership between Diné College and Arizona State University have made Indigenous Geology a component of pre-service teacher education and in-service teacher enhancement in a number of venues across the Navajo Nation. Tracking and follow-up classroom support of these teachers have not kept pace, but a program now underway in the Four Corners region offers a viable model. Promotion of geoscience literacy for American Indian teachers and their students is a long-term investment in diversity and a practical response to the current socioeconomic and sociocultural circumstances in Indian country.