Visit to Membertou, Cape Breton

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Students at Maupeltuewey Kina'matno'kuom, an elementary school (primary to 8) located in Membertou.

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.

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.

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.

Aqua Mess and the problem of plastic and pollution in the world’s oceans, part of a new Ocean exhibit at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Aqua Mess and the problem of plastic and pollution in the world’s oceans, part of a new Ocean exhibit at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. 

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David Pantalony, PhD

As Curator of Physical Sciences and Medicine at Ingenium – Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation, David Pantalony is passionate about the history of scientific instruments. He curated the Medical Sensations exhibition for the renewed Canada Science and Technology Museum. Following his work on the One Sky, Many Astronomies exhibition, David is now involved with an ongoing project on Indigenous star knowledge with the museum’s Indigenous partners — with plans to host an international symposium in 2020. Recently, the Canadian Museums Association honoured David — along with an Ingenium-McGill Fellow and an Ingenium research intern — with the Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Category of Research, for their work with the Petrovic Collection, which highlights the cultural connections that can be found through our shared mathematical heritage. David is also engaged in Ingenium’s growing fellowship and research program — recently overseeing the efforts of Jennifer Thivierge in researching the untold story of Canada’s keypunch girls.

As Adjunct Professor in History at the University of Ottawa, David teaches a collection-based Digital Museum Seminar. He has held curator positions at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire and the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis. David earned his PhD at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. He loves skiing and playing tennis with his family. Some of David’s own historic tennis racket collection (over 130 rackets dating back to 1880s) is on display at the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club’s seasonal restaurant, the Cameron.