For centuries, Native American people have been discredited and placed onto a pedestal as primitive and savage. Although a lot has changed, that image still hangs above Native people, and I, as a student, have felt its pressure. Fortunately, because of the teachings I have received throughout my life, the pressure never stays with me.
When I was twelve, I met a Native American woman engineer. She was the director of a science, math, and culture camp. In this camp, we traveled to our beloved sacred sites and learned how to see our world through a scientific lens that doubled as a cultural one. My mother and the elders who raised me have always told me that science and culture correlate. These two women and elders have nurtured my mind into knowing that my ancestors were naturally mathematicians, scientists, and engineers and, above all, survivors.
As a result, over the past few years I’ve been involved in a lot of scientific research, and I would have to say that it’s sparked the most interest for me thus far. In my spare time, and sometimes in assignments, I would find in my research that some scientific “discoveries” have been inspired by Native American people. (Aspirin is a good example.) Yet the best, and most unique, experience is making connections between ancient teachings and science.
For example, I was taught that everything is connected, everything is in motion, and everything has a spirit and is alive. If we looked at this teaching scientifically, it means every object on Earth has atoms that move at different velocities, defining the object's state of matter. Even in solids, the atoms move. Because of this, everything to us that may appear to be still is in fact in motion.
Our teachings weren’t wrong.
For me, science is intrinsically intertwined with how we describe the world. When I see these ancient teachings translated to this mechanical science, I see these two perspectives finally meeting. To me, that's amazing. Our ancestors were smart, but unfortunately, those who do not understand us (or even try to) only see what the media has historically portrayed us as: "the ancient, primitive savage."
This stereotype is harmful to the Native community. These images are well known and put Native youth and Native college students at risk. As Native people and generational thinkers, our attention is on protecting and building a foundation for our future grandchildren. We fight mascot issues, among many other issues, so that future generations don't deal with this dangerous portrayal of Natives. We do this for them, not us--we already know that our people were smart. We all love our culture, language, and land.
If I tell someone I am Native American and in their minds they picture what my ancestors were like 200 years ago, I don’t have a problem with it because, in my eyes, our ancestors were the wisest and smartest people to walk Turtle Island (Pre-America). Thinking about them is confidence. Being seen in their image does not offend me. However, the truth is that most people are not aware of the protocol, structure, techniques, and tactics within our culture. They only see the stereotype, and that is really unfortunate.