Skip directly to content


Dave Oberbillig, NEH Summer Scholar 2015

Indian Education for All in the Science Curriculum

Plan by Dave Oberbillig

Goal: To infuse the entire Biology curriculum with components of IEFA to help students develop a better sense of place.

The lessons below represent sample curriculum elements with the ultimate goal of integrating the required high school biology curriculum with components of Indian Education for All (IEFA) requirements as mandated by Montana OPI. When considering the major topics of General Biology; Ecology, Biodiversity, Genetics and Inheritance, Evolution, and Cell biology, incorporation of the Essential Understandings from IEFA is not only possible but would likely enrich the curriculum. By teaching Biology from a multicultural perspective, all students begin to see themselves and others as part of a broad and rich tapestry of human experience. From a science perspective, students begin to understand that science processes are not solely a textbook approach to an empirical method, but are rather value-laden social processes that can take on different observational approaches and hence, interpretations, depending on the cultural values and paradigms from which those observations originate. This approach helps students understand why science explanations can change and why those explanations are often debated.

Student Outcomes

  1. Students will compare the nature of western science to the unique approach to science practiced by indigenous cultures.
  2. Students will develop investigations that engage thinking about indigenous perspectives.
  3. Students will explore the biodiversity of their local environment and compare with the sense of place central to indigenous cultures.

Curriculum Outline

  1. Essential Understanding 1. There is great diversity among the twelve tribal nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.
  2. Essential Understanding 3. The ideologies of Native traditional beliefs and spirituality persist into modern day life as tribal cultures, traditions, and languages are still practiced by many American Indian people and are incorporated into how tribes govern and manage their affairs. Additionally, each tribe has its own oral histories, which are as valid as written histories. These histories pre-date the “discovery” of North America.


  1. Develop an understanding of differing cultural views about the nature of science.
  2. Consider why knowledge of place and historical connection to place develops place-based knowledge and spiritual connection.
  3. Provide a multicultural view about the importance of sustaining biodiversity.

Student Activities

  1. Lesson 1: Biodiversity index. Outdoor observational/comparative experiment to draw students into potentially different conclusions from two worldviews.
    1. Begin with a natural place (in this case, John Toole park near Hellgate high school) and have students consider; if you had thrive here, how would you organize the living things from this place?

i.Categorize elements of the natural world for practical use.

ii.Consider how various plants, animals and physical components of the landscape would be useful for a comfortable life (this will likely be a very elementary perspective since students will have little frame of reference for the variety of uses of plant and animal parts).

  1. Biodiversity transects --- the western science view. Using the same area, categorize organisms according to species composition.
  2. Compare the benefits and shortcomings of both characterizations.

i.What prior knowledge is required for each type of classification

ii.What experimental methods are required to classify the landscape in each way?

  1. Student research on individual plant types to explore medicinal and practical uses for local plants.
  2. Video “Jewels of the Jungle” about phytomedicinals and Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
  1. Lesson 2: Cultural Perspectives on the Nature of Science

a.   Read an abbreviated version of Gregory Cajete’s,  Philosophy of Native Science (prepared by the teacher), and a collection of short articles from the website, Understanding Evolution, University of California, Berkeley,that describe western science.

b.   Compare and contrast approaches to science from the differing cultural perspectives, listing similarities and differences.

i.Students to develop Venn diagram to consider, compare, and contrast indigenous science perspectives and western science perspectives.

ii.This diagram (Barnhart, 2005) presented following student work.

iii.Students to consider values of differing world views.

iv.Students to consider benefits and limitations of each view.

  1. Lesson 3: Biodiversity and Sense of Place

a.  Sense of place

i.  Mapping your bioregion – expanding from “home” to region

1.  Students identify local nature with home as the center.

2.  Students study local Missoula Valley natural areas.

3.  Students consider Western Montana natural areas, including tribally held lands.

ii.  Organizing the landscape.

1.  Map comparisons/information – adding to the bioregion map

a.  Finding patterns in the world – reorganizing the bioregion map

b.  Alternative methods of organizing place. Students reference Singing the Land, Signing the Land (Watson and Chambers, 2008)

b.  Biodiversity

i.   Classifying life – General taxonomy from biological science view.

ii.  Organizing life for practical uses.  Buffalo in Salish culture and history (Buffalo in Salish Culture and History)

1.  Food

2.  Materials

3.  Medicines

4.  Relationship and reciprocity (thinking life as relatives)

   iii. Indigenous homelands and biomes

1.  Biological resources – interconnectedness; reciprocal exchange CSKT fish and wildlife resources (CSKT home page)

2.  People – introduce timelines. People in place (student research).

3.  Place – integrating biomes; interconnectedness (student research).

iv.  Ecosystem Services (National Wildlife Federation; Ecosystem Services)

1.  Cultural

a.  Religion

b.  Relationship

c.  Intimate knowledge of home (traditional ecological knowledge - TEK)

2.  Provisioning – Video: Return of the River.

3.  Regulating

4.  Biome/People/Food project

5.  Continued projects in Genetics and Evolution. Genes as cultural resources. The evolution of people in place.


  • Outdoor investigations and in-class labs to relate these concepts.
  • Map and data resources
  • Linking short literature works with the lessons. Developing inquiry and response questions.
  • Incorporating the sacred alongside western science.


Barnhart, R. 2005. Indigenous  Knowledge Systems/Alaska Native Ways of Knowing.

Combining Two Ways of Knowing; Using Indigenous Knowledge to Enhance High School Science Curriculum.

Cajete, Gregory. 2004. Philosophy of Native Science. In, Waters, 2004. Native American Thought.

Understanding Evolution. University of California Museum of Paleontology. 2004.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 2004.

Explore the River. 2014. CSKT Explore the River Project.

Whealdon, B. 2001. I will be meat for my Salish. Chapter 1. Buffalo in Salish Culture and History.

National Wildlife Federation; Ecosystem Services. 2015.

Watson, H. and Chambers, D. 2008. Singing the Land, Signing the Land; A Portfolio of Exhibits.

Return of the River. 2015. Video resource:

State IEFA resources

Indian Education for All Materials Development, Mike Jetty, (406) 444-0720

Indian Education for All Implementation, Jennifer Stadum, (406) 444-7909

Indian Education for All Implementation, Justine Jam, (406) 444-7490

Professional Development, Mike Jetty, (406) 444-0720

Curriculum Coordinator, Julie Mitchell, (406) 444-0754