Native Americans and Science: Enhancing Participation of Native Americans in the Science and Technology Workforce through Culturally Responsive Science Education

  • Gregory Cajete University of New Mexico
Keywords: Native Americans, science education, culturally responsive education


 A major issue that directly affects the participation of Native Americans in the science and technology workforce is the lack of preparation in science and math. This lack of preparation has many causes, but one of the most strategically important issues is the lack of culturally relevant curricula that engage Native American students in learning science in personal, social and culturally meaningful ways. This essay explores the needs, issues, research, and development of culturally responsive science education for Native American learners. A curriculum model created by the author at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 1974 to 1994 based on Native American cultural orientations is explored as a case study as one example of how to engage Native American students in science learning and become more prepared to participate in science and technology-related professions. As such, it presents a methodology for how trans-systemic work might be approached in building conceptual bridges between Indigenous and Western views of science. 

Author Biography

Gregory Cajete, University of New Mexico

Gregory Cajete is a Native American educator whose work is dedicated to honouring indigenous knowledge foundations in education. He is a Tewa Indian from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico and has lectured at colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Italy, Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, England, France and Germany.  He worked at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for 21 years. While at the Institute, he served as Dean of the Center for Research and Cultural Exchange, Chair of Native American Studies and Professor of Ethnoscience. He is the former Director of Native American Studies and Emeritus Professor in the Division of Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Cajete has authored or co-authored ten books, including Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education (Kivaki Press, 1994), Ignite the Sparkle: An Indigenous Science Education Curriculum Model (Kivaki Press, 1999), and Indigenous Community: Rekindling Teachings of the Seventh Fire (Living Justice Press, 2015). Email: 


Aikenhead, G. (1997). Toward a First Nations cross-cultural science and technology curriculum. Science Education, 81, 217-238.

Aikenhead, G., & Mitchell, H. (2011). Bridging cultures: Indigenous and scientific ways of knowing. Pearson Canada.

Bohm, D. (1983). Wholeness and the implicate order. Ark Paperbacks.

Brandt, C. B., & Kosko, K. (2009). The power of the earth is a circle: Indigenous science education in North America. In The World of Science Education (pp. 389-407). Brill Sense.

Burk, N. M. (2007). Conceptualizing American Indian/Alaska Native college students' classroom experiences: Negotiating cultural identity between faculty and students. Journal of American Indian Education, 1-18.

Cajete, G. (1994). Look to the mountain: An ecology of Indigenous education. Kivaki Press.

Cajete, G (1999). Ignite the sparkle: An Indigenous science education curriculum model. Kivaki Press.

Cajete, G. A. (1999). The Native American Learner and Bicultural Science Education. Chapter 6 in: "Next Steps: Research and Practice To Advance Indian Education"; see RC 021 798 URL:

Cajete, G. (2000). Native science: Natural laws of interdependence. Clear Light Publishers.

Capra, F. (1982). Turning point. Simon and Shuster.

Costa, V.B. (1995). When science is ‘another world’: Relationships between worlds of family, friends, school, and science. Science Education, 79, 313-333.

Dunn, R. (1983). Learning styles at both ends of the spectrum. Exceptional Children, 49(6).

Greene, R. (1981). Culturallybased science: The potential for traditional people, science and folklore. London: Proceedings of the Centennial Observation of the Folklore Society.

Hall, E.T. (1976). Beyond culture. Anchor Books/Doubleday.

James, K. (Ed.) (2001). Science and Native American communities: Legacies of pain, visions of promise. University of Nebraska Press.

Hennessey, S. (1993). Situated cognition and cognitive apprenticeship: Implications for classroom learning. Studies in Science Education, 22(1), 1-41.

Jenkins, E. (1992). School science education: Towards a reconstruction. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 24, 229-246.

Leshner, Alan. (2011). We need to reward those who nurture a dive: teaching in multiversity of ideas in science. Retrieved from

Longino, Helen E. (1990). Science as social knowledge: Values and objectivity in scientific inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

MacIvor, M. (1995). Redefining science education for Aboriginal students. In M. Battiste & J. Barman (Eds.), First Nations education in Canada: The circle unfolds. (pp.73-98). UBC Press.

Mansfield, R.S. (1978). The psychology of creativity and discovery. Nelson-Hall.

Maruyama, M., & Harkins, M. (1978). Cultures of the future. Mouton.

Medin, D., & Bang, M. (2014). Who’s asking? Native science, western science, and science education. M.I.T. Press.

Milne, B.T. (2017). Dynamics to justify strategies to close the Baccalaureate attainment gap in tribal communities of New Mexico. (Unpublished manuscript). April 27, 2017.

Ovando, C.J., & Collier, V. (1985). Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in multicultural contexts. McGraw-Hill.

Phelan, P., Davidson, A., & Cao, H. (1991). Students’ multiple worlds: Negotiating the boundaries of family, peers, and school culture. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 22, 224-250.

Pomeroy, D. (1994). Science education and cultural diversity: Mapping the field. Studies in Science Education, 24, 49-73.

Read, H. (1945). Education through art. Pantheon Books.

Sanders, D. A. (1986). Teaching creativity through metaphor: An integrated brain approach. Longman.

Van Peursen, C.A. (1981). Creativity as a learning process in the concept of creativity in science and art. Martinus Nijhoff.

Whorf, B.L. (1956). Language, thought and reality. M.I.T. Press.

Zais, R. (1976). Curriculum principles and foundations. Harper & Row.

How to Cite
Cajete, G. (2021). Native Americans and Science: Enhancing Participation of Native Americans in the Science and Technology Workforce through Culturally Responsive Science Education. Engaged Scholar Journal: Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Learning, 7(1), 122 - 139.