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Science as technology, doesn’t threaten tribal beliefs

James Giago Davies

Science has few friends among traditional Indigenous communities. It is generally seen as a culturally alien expression of a colonizing invader, and sadly lacking in sacred truth. However intelligent a scientist might think he is, there is always some elder from a remote corner of the reservation, who, as a young man, routinely spent many days chanting on some mountain top, where he experienced visions, and so now understands the mysteries of reality so much better than any wasicu scientist.

Colonizer science is more than welcome where it makes an impact on the quality of day-to-day life. This type of science is called ‘technology.” Cars, refrigerators, TV, cell phones, lap tops, airplanes, electricity, indoor plumbing—all of these things are acceptable science because as technology not a one of them challenges traditional beliefs.

Painted into a culturally restricted and disrespected corner, Natives have responded by creating a protective framework of bombastic rhetoric and hyperbole. They attempt to redefine their identity for each other and then for others to accept. They are not Indian, they are “Native,” even though science says we are all native to only one continent, Africa. They are not just Native, they are “Indigenous,” even though science says we are all indigenous to only one continent, Africa. When attempts are made to validate these scientific claims, when linguistics and DNA indicate a past contrary to tribal belief, then this science is rejected. Any person who points this out, is told they are being disrespectful.

I once attempted to do a story on a Native organization, but just got tired of the rhetoric being fed as sacred truth from two young Natives I was interviewing. They asserted the dominant culture did not share traditional Native values. I asked what those values were, and they told me, in English. I pointed out if you can deeply articulate these values you allege the colonizer doesn’t have, using their language, you’ve pretty much disproved your assertion. They then engaged in a long and heated defense of their indefensible positon, using of course, the language of the very culture they claimed didn’t understand these concepts.

The problem with Native activism is it tends to formulate in myopic echo chambers, where any perspective based on logic and reason is weeded from the purity of the hyperbole-addled whole. Misguided wasicu activists validate this distorted perspective, ignorantly believing this is honoring and validating the activists. For them, the only genuine Indians are activists, and all others are assimilated betrayers of their own culture.

Time and again I see wasicu turn to the bombast of activism for the answers that they can only get from tribal members who are educated professional advocates, men and women of genuine intellectual caliber, who understand the tribal perspective from an overall macro-perspective, incorporating all the deep history, rich cultures, and brilliant observations of the other seven and a half billion people on earth, because these seven and a half billion people didn’t become magically suspect just so the tribe can feel special about itself.

(Contact James Giago Davies at


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