Connecting traditional knowledge with the periodic table of elements
Many organizations and education programs are working together to build better connections for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students to recognize themselves in science. This initiative aims to create a model for how organizations, schools and STEM industries can connect with local community members to create a world where Indigenous students can see themselves and be themselves within science. The objective of this initiative is to bring together Indigenous Traditional Knowledge Keepers along with Indigenous scientists from all areas of science to have consciousness-raising discussions about Indigenous relationships to the elements within the periodic table.
About the initiative
Many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs are seeking to broaden inclusion and participation of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students. However, a major hurdle to success has been that common approaches to STEM education rarely incorporate the cultural views of Indigenous communities, and do not reflect the perspectives of traditional ways of understanding of the world.
In the summer of 2021, members of the science promotion team at The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the education team at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) saw an opportunity to collaborate on the development of a new educational tool that presents traditional knowledge alongside standardized scientific information. After a series of discussions, the concept of an interactive Indigenous Periodic Table of the Elements presented the strongest potential as a new educational resource.
To explore interest in their concept, NSERC and CLS partnered to host a workshop during Science Literacy Week with a panel of eleven Indigenous scientists, educators, and Traditional Knowledge Keepers.
Over the course of two days, panel members heard presentations delving into the stories behind some elements on the Periodic Table, and a scientist from CLS led a live demonstration of a sample analysis of berries using Canada’s only synchrotron and revealed the elements they are made of. Members also presented guidance on adapting science education to Indigenous cultures and languages and led discussions on content that should be included in a potential Indigenous Table of Elements along with examples of traditional stories related to periodic elements.
Images and translations provided by Anne Mack & Brittany Morgan
At the end of the workshop, the proposal was warmly endorsed by those in attendance. Members supported not only further development of an interactive Indigenous Table of the Elements but encouraged NSERC and CLS to expand the scope of the project so it could be adapted by Indigenous communities around the world.
*Traditional Knowledge Keepers
Elder Joan Lavalle is a Cree Elder and residential school survivor. Joan dedicated many years to working with incarcerated Indigenous women. Joan advocated and assisted connecting cultural and emotional supports for women transitioning through the criminal justice system of Kingston Women’s Prison and Pine Grove and the Prince Albert penitentiary. Joan has also been part of Indigenous rights movements within Canada. Joan’s experience has been sought to help guide organizations such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Indigenous Land Based Learning Navigator, Telus World of Science Edmonton
Lynn Lush (whose Indigenous name is Blue Thunderbird woman - ozhaawashko binesi ikwe) is originally from Manitoba. Lynn grew up in British Columbia with her adopted family. She is a survivor of the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop. At age 13, she started a journey to reclaim her traditional knowledge. She was taught by Elder Albert Lighting in Alberta, and several Elders from Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia.
Lynn has lived in Edmonton for 10 years and is very active with Indigenous organizations. She enjoys teaching and sharing her knowledge with students and others curious about Indigenous culture. Lynn is an accomplished craftsperson and teaches how to make fish scale art, dreamcatchers, medicine pouches, ribbon skirts. She also holds traditional knowledge in healing medicines.
*Anne Mack (Wii-tsuts-koom)
tyee ha’wilth (Hereditary Chief), Toquaht Nation
Anne has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Simon Fraser University. She is the Hereditary and Governing Chief of her Nation and was traditionally seated by her late father, Chief Bert Mack (Deets-kee-sup) in January 2009. She is a mother to six beautiful daughters and grandmother to seven grandkids.
Anne’s passion is learning her traditional language and she works with her language group to produce language resources for classroom use. She is an advocate for digitizing the language in a safe and cultural manner for preservation as well as creating a sustainable and accessible resource for all community members.
*Dr. Myrle Ballard, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Indigenous Scholar, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Manitoba
Dr. Ballard has a Ph.D. in Natural Resources and Environmental Management. She is currently on assignment as Director, Indigenous Science at Environment and Climate Change Canada, and is an Assistant Professor / Indigenous Scholar in the Faculty of Science, University of Manitoba. She is an Anishinaabe from Lake St. Martin First Nation. Her current research is about the use of Anishinaabe mowin in aquatic biomonitoring. She uses two-eyed seeing, along with another lens for three-eyed seeing. Ballard has researched and documented the flooding and environmental injustice of her traditional homelands at Lake St. Martin First Nation. She has experience working with UN organizations on biological diversity and Indigenous Peoples. She is currently a member of the COSEWIC Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee. She has served as an advisor with the Ecological Reserves Advisory Committee (Manitoba), and as Commissioner of the Clean Environment Commission. Dr. Ballard is a past board member of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
Dennis Ballard, B.Sc.
Wawatay Program Lead, University of Manitoba
Dennis Ballard is from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and has extensive experience in Education, Environment and Health in various capacities as Researcher, Programs Coordinator, and Policy Analyst; and presently in post-secondary education and training. The majority of his service has been focused on working with the 63 First Nation communities throughout Manitoba to identify and address community education and training needs. Following a career in the construction industry Dennis completed the requirements of a Bachelor of Science degree, specializing in geography and environmental sciences.
Throughout the years Dennis has served on various boards including: Manitobans for Human Rights (VP), 50 by 30 Organization (steering committee), Mount Carmel Clinic – Finance Committee and the Point Douglas Local Health Involvement Group.
Councilor, Waywayseecappo First Nation
Laura earned an Anthropology/Archaeology and Native Studies Bachelor of Arts in June 2012 and followed up with a Bachelor of Education from the University of Brandon. Laura is an educator and elected official for her community of Waywayseecappo First Nation. She was born in Brandon but was raised mainly on Waywayseecappo First Nation, which is an Anishinaabe community northwest of Brandon. Her background is Anishinaabe and Métis. One of Laura’s grandfathers was a fluent Michif and French speaker, and two of her other grandparents were/are fluent in Anishinaabe. Three out of four of her grandparents and her mother attended Residential School, and this legacy lives on in Laura and her children and grandchildren today. Laura’s passion for Traditional Knowledge, learning the Anishinaabe language and creating supportive educational environments for students to excel is her priority.
Wendy Gervais, B.Ed.
Regional Director for Métis Nation Saskatchewan, Region #3
Wendy is the daughter of Arnold (Max) and Loretta Gervais, she was born and raised in Regina along with her six siblings. She is a proud Metis woman whose values are grounded in her Metis roots that stretch from the Red River into Northern Saskatchewan. As a single parent, Wendy has instilled these values in her son, ensuring that not only our Metis culture but as well, our values are passed on. Wendy loves having fun and enjoying life.
Wendy Gervais is a Michif/Métis instructor at Saskpolytech in Regina who currently teaches Social 10 & 30, and Native Studies 30. Wendy has extensive experience developing and implementing educational and community programming from an Indigenous perspective. Wendy has spent 20 years as an educator in the Regina Catholic School Division (RCSD), where she collaborated on many initiatives promoting Indigenous perspectives in the curricula. In collaboration with The Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC), Wendy co-authored and implemented Teaching Treaties in the Classroom K-6 Kit; these teacher resources are now available to all K-12 schools in Saskatchewan. Wendy remains engaged and connected to her Indigenous roots through her community involvement: she is a former president of ANHTA (All Nations Healin’ Thru Artz), an after school program for Indigenous youth, she has served as a community board member on Circle of Voices (RCSD Aboriginal Advisory Committee), and most recently, she has been re-elected for a second 4-year term as a Regional Representative for the Métis Nation- Saskatchewan (MNS). It is through this role that she can fulfill her passion of promoting the advancement of the Métis peoples of Saskatchewan. Wendy is also a passionate advocate and educator of Michif history.
Brittany Morgan, MPH
Community Engagement Coordinator, Silent Genomes Project, University of Victoria
Brittany completed her Master of Public Health with an Indigenous Peoples Health focus area from the University of Victoria in September 2020. She is Nuu-chah-nulth and Secwépemc but grew up just outside of her Nations traditional territory along the West Coast of Vancouver Island. She is also the youngest daughter of six (‘baby’) to Chief Anne Mack.
Brittany’s passion is working directly with Indigenous communities and Nations to improve Indigenous Health Research and policies. Her research interests focus on Indigenous data governance, social determinants of health, and health equity. She also enjoys bringing her mom into her research and science world whenever she can.
Bernie Petit (Panel facilitator)
Education Coordinator of Indigenous Programs, Canadian Light Source Inc.
Bernie Petit is an Education Coordinator of Indigenous Programs with the Canadian Light Source Inc. She weaves her extended family’s Traditional Anishinaabe/Cree Knowledge, experience as a former Health Director and Director of Operations for First Nations into unique science research projects and teacher resources for First Nation, Metis, and Inuit organizations. Bernie creates Land-Based research projects for Indigenous students to learn how Traditional Knowledge can become a career in research using Canada’s only Synchrotron.
Dawn Pratt, M.Sc.
Dawn Pratt is a member of the Muscowpetung Anihsinapek Nation. She has forged a professional consultancy and an Indigenous STEM Educational expert for the past 20 years. Dawn earned a Master of Science from the University of Saskatchewan in 2011 with a specialization in the design of organic adsorbent materials directed toward the removal of arsenic from contaminated water. She has extensive experience in designing and delivering STEM programming for Indigenous youth and young adults, and was actively involved in both the University of Saskatchewan’s MentorSTEP and Science Ambassador programs. Dawn is fundamentally driven to reinstate Indigenous Elder and Knowledge Keeper teachings into STEM education for the benefit of Indigenous Peoples’ futures.
Indigenous Education Specialist, Telus World of Science Edmonton
A born and raised Edmontonian, Summer graduated from Concordia University of Edmonton with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science in May of 2020. Summer is a mother, Métis citizen, and informal educator. Summer has worked as an Indigenous Education Specialist at the Telus World of Science Edmonton since December of 2020, and is passionate about working with children and incorporating traditional knowledge into science education. When not working, Summer usually spends her time with family exploring the outdoors, gardening, and beading.