Karuk Traditional Knowledge to Be Incorporated Into HSU STEM Classes With Help of Grant


Humboldt State University [Photo by Oliver Cory]

Information from Humboldt State University:

Next year, more Karuk traditional knowledge and practices will be taught to HSU students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), thanks to a grant from the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE).

Announced in November, the grant will allow HSU faculty to partner with scientists and cultural practitioners from the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources to develop curricula that allows both HSU students and local tribal youth to increase their understanding of the relationship between Western science, traditional ecological knowledge and many cultural and social issues of particular importance to the Karuk Tribe.

The project is part of the NCSCE’s pilot Transcending Barriers to Success program, which aims to connect civic, sustainability, and cultural issues to STEM learning, increasing partnerships between Native people and local universities. HSU is one of only four sites in the nation to participate in this program.

Biology Professor Amy Sprowles, Pikyav Field Institute Program Manager Lisa Hillman, and Karuk Tribe Director of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy Leaf Hillman received the grant, expanding on their collaborative work through the Klamath Connection, an immersive, place- based program for first-year science students that centers around issues in the Klamath Basin.

Klamath Connection paved the way for this project. According to Sprowles, “Meeting with stakeholders, including scientists and cultural experts of the Karuk and Yurok Tribes, Klamath Connection students learn scientific process through a political, economic, ecological, and cultural lens. For example, the students study water quality with Karuk Tribal scientists, incorporating their cultural knowledge and practical applications with their traditional, lab-based studies at HSU.”

Sprowles says the grant will allow HSU to expand the scope of this kind of multi-disciplinary work in Klamath Connection, Stars to Rocks, Rising Tides, and other HSU place-based learning communities currently in development.

“Another component of the Transcending Barriers project is to develop cultural components for upper division STEM courses taken by incoming transfer students, of which we have many from our local tribal nations.” Sprowles says. “We hope to collaborate with HSU faculty; the Karuk, Wiyot, Yurok, and Hoopa Tribes; INRSEP and ITEPP; to identify questions of concern to local tribal communities that can be addressed in the classroom through both Western Science and traditional knowledge.”

The third piece of the program is to adapt these lessons for local tribal youth through the Pikyav Institute. HSU students will act as peer mentors for Native youth on projects at this new field institute in Orleans, learning from those students’ cultural experience as well.

By explicitly demonstrating how science, technology, engineering, and math can be used to address environmental, social, and cultural issues of concern, Sprowles believes the Transcending Barriers to Success program will help students appreciate how their academic disciplines can promote sustainability and environmental justice.

“Our ability to address complex social problems can only benefit by sharing knowledge and experiences across cultures. We hope this project will allow students from all backgrounds to appreciate that interdisciplinary study has the potential to profoundly expand the limits of disciplinary silos in addressing issues of common concern,” Sprowles says.

About Transcending Barriers to Success

The National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE) at Stony Brook University has received a grant to establish and advance robust partnerships between indigenous peoples and local formal and informal educators to improve educational outcomes for all students, promote cultural understanding, and foster long-term collaborations on issues of common concern. Local environmental and health issues will provide context for inquiry-based learning that transcends perceived conflicts between indigenous, local, and “Western” knowledge systems.

Cultural collaboration is not merely the awareness of traditions other than one’s own. It requires a deep understanding of and appreciation for the strengths that multiple perspectives bring to solving the complex, contested issues facing all communities. This includes recognizing the impact of past injustices and conflicts that indigenous people have experienced as well as a grounding in the cultural connections of relationships with the environment, traditions, and sacred spaces.

Read more about the Klamath Connection here.



  • I had an instructor at HSU tell the class that he thinks scientific theories on the populating of the new world, are plots intended to discredit “native” americans. I asked him which native creation story he believes (since they are clearly conflicting) he said all of them.

    • Aquaman knows the answers

      I can certainly see why you would be skeptical. On the other hand, National Geographic just documented that the aboriginal belief in “fire hawks” spreading wildfires is based in reality, with multiple types of raptors on that continent having adapted to pick up partially burning sticks and flying them to grasslands to spread fire and flush out small mammals. Just saying there can certainly be some wisdom to pass on.

      • I was very skeptical so I looked it up. You’re right. Wow. Just Wow. The most stunning part is the birds hunt this way in packs.

      • Great! That is basic anthropology. Why are you surprised that they would know something about their own habitat? It does not justify this garbage.

  • Scrupulous science can not pick and choose what material constitutes study. There is no reason that cultural traditions can not be taught and examined under scientific methods as long as all students are equally serious accepting about what that method has to say.

    But it’s an emotional field of landmines that can turn into a hate fest if not honest in intentions. Unfortunately there has been a history of rancor in Indian programs at HSU. Not very uplifting to get involved in turf wars and inter tribal disputes.

  • What a joke this is. “Education” is so corrupted it’s hilarious. You can teach this any day of the week if you want, but trying to give it a sheen of scientific basis by lumping it in with “STEM” is dishonest bullshit and everyone involved knows it. The scientific method is simple and clear and if you’re doing something different that may be well and good but it is not science.

    • The scientific method is, in a nutshell, testing things to see what happens and using the results to refine your next try. The point is that local Native American tribes have been informally following this process, as part of their relationship with the land, for thousands of years, and have accumulated a valuable body of scientific data and knowledge as a result. This knowledge is in danger of being lost, because many people don’t understand the validity of the methods used to gather it, and cultural annihilation is the tragic result of colonization. The scientific community does well to incorporate it as part of a rigorous program of study.

      • Look Mrs. Jackson, you clearly do not understand what the scientific method is. “Informally” is your problem. Basic observation is not science. It is what it is, but it’s not science. That’s ok, call it what it is. Don’t call it science. Christ, why is this so difficult? If they are using other methods than the scientific method, than they are not conducting science. End of fucking story.

        Secondly, the knowledge isn’t in danger of being lost if you write it down, which is easy and doesn’t require any sheen of STEM or college credit lol. I realize you’re trying to protect native interests but you’re do-gooder bullshit is not appreciated by actual natives like the one you’re talking to.

        • One of my degrees is in science, but okay! Yes, observation is science. Yes, bias must be considered. Yes, it’s important to incorporate the wealth of knowledge about the land gathered over the last several thousand years into current scientific practices. Are you familiar with the citizen science initiatives? This is where nonscientists gather data, and scientists interpret the data in a systematic way. Think of this as a retroactive citizen science initiative, utilizing a much broader and richer data set.

      • Incorrect. First one must remove bias. This already is flawed science. Terrible use of funds to further lace educators pockets.

  • More dam removal propaganda disguised as science.
    My tax dollars pay for this idiocy many times over. SMDH

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