Visit to Membertou, Cape Breton
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is home to some of Canada’s more cutting-edge programs and projects related to Indigenous knowledge and science. This past spring, I visited Membertou (a Mi’kmaw community next to Sydney) to meet with educators and students and learn more about their innovative work in science and education. I was there through Ingenium’s collaboration on Ocean School with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
One of the high-lights of my visit was a meeting at the Membertou Heritage Park with people connected to the innovative Integrative Science program at Cape Breton University . Carola Knockwood, First Nations School Success Program, Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey brought together scientists, educators, and senior community members for an exchange about Indigenous science. I learned about their efforts to bridge Western and Indigenous perspectives through education, research projects, industry and the broader life and environmental sciences. At the same time, I sought their input on several of our initiatives such as Ocean School, our exhibit on ocean science at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, recent ocean-related acquisitions, as well as our project and exhibit on Indigenous star knowledge.
Membertou Heritage Park is the cultural heart of this thriving Mi’kmaw community in Cape Breton.
On the education front, I was reminded of the pressing challenge for museums and educators to diversify and make our work relevant to all Canadians. While showing slides about the history of ocean science in Canada (from a fairly Western perspective), one high school teacher asked pointedly about her challenge to make this kind of material relevant to students - “what’s this got to do with us?” This question lead us into a lively discussion about Mi’kmaw coastal knowledge, the human dimensions of science and technology, and the “power of the Indigenous perspective” and ways of knowing.
Another highlight was my visit to Maupeltuewey Kina'matno'kuom, an elementary school (primary to 8) located in Membertou. It is a striking new school, equipped with the latest smart technologies, hallways and classrooms filled with creative student projects, several innovative teaching programs such as the Martin Initiative Literacy Project and incredibly curious and smart students. I met with and presented to students in grades 5, 6, 7 and 8.
Students at Maupeltuewey Kina'matno'kuom, an elementary school (primary to 8) located in Membertou.
I loved meeting with the students. My presentations were happily derailed by their wide-ranging, insightful, personal and surprising comments and questions. Many of our discussions about Indigenous knowledge returned to health and medicine, and the need for a broader picture of all the sciences. We also discussed the health of water supplies and the ocean, a large part of their lives on Cape Breton. They responded with keen interest to our display of ocean plastics – Aqua Mess -which points to one of many potential areas of future discussion with young, environmentally conscious audiences.