Western medical science must embrace Indigenous healing, says education professor

Western science and Indigenous science are two very different methods of studying human health and the natural world.

But as Canada continues its reconciliation process with Indigenous communities, a professor at the University of Calgary says the two perspectives on wellness are converging. 

"We're seeing, increasingly, respect and acknowledgment and partnership between Western science-based ecologists and Indigenous local knowledge-holders," Gregory Lowan-Trudeau told CBC's Radio Active Thursday.

Lowan-Trudeau said that "Indigenous science" has a few different interpretations; it could involve studying traditional uses for plants, or it could involve spending time on the land with elders and other knowledge-keepers.

"Often, Indigenous science is locally based and locally developed over thousands of years of contact with particular areas," he said. "Whereas Western science often has a broader perspective that is attempted to apply in particular areas.

"That's where they often work well together."

One collaborative approach between the two perspectives is "Two-Eyed Seeing," created at Cape Breton University.

Lowan-Trudeau said students of the hybrid method could learn about what specific plants mean to Indigenous cultures, and then take samples and bring them back to a health sciences lab focused more on Western approaches for study. 

While Indigenous science can benefit from Western science's rigid methodologies, Lowan-Trudeau said the benefits can be mutual. 

"We tend to think in silos when we're thinking through a Western lens on education — when we separate, say, science and social studies," he said.

"[In Indigenous science], there's a very deep understanding of the patterns of that particular area in connection with a broader sense."

Controversy and discussion

Lowan-Trudeau said notions of Indigenous science can sometimes cause confusion — findings often come from thousands of years of observations and are only passed down orally. But they also raise important discussions.

"We're raising awareness around Indigenous science knowledge," he said.

As Indigenous and Western science move toward further collaboration, Lowan-Trudeau hopes to see both continue to grow — and for Indigenous knowledge-keepers to be credited for the knowledge they share.

"Indigenous knowledge-holders haven't always been recognized in the past in terms of how that knowledge is used for profit," he said.

"But I've continued to see and experience a lot of [collaboration] happening in schools, whether it's in urban centres around Canada or Indigenous communities."