Guided Inquiry Prompts: Weaving Indigenous and Western Sciences

By: Josh Mogyoros

Josh Mogyoros

Education Collaborator

I am a deeply curious human being. Although I do not think it is necessarily a healthy practice to see one’s job as a defining component of their identity, I identify as both a teacher and a student outside of the context of academia (and I am slowly beginning to identify as a writer). I have completed a Bachelor’s and Master of Science in physics at the University of Guelph; however, it was through completing the Master of Teaching program at OISE that I have come to appreciate the skills developed through my science education while simultaneously identifying the cognitive gaps that have formed by focusing my academic career on a singular way of knowing.

Subject Area


Grade Level

Adaptable across 7-12 / Sec V

A Two-Eyed Seeing Approach

Two-Eyed Seeing, or Etuaptmumk, is the weaving together of two ways of knowing, both Indigenous and Western (or settler). This learning experience focuses specifically on Indigenous and Western ways of knowing around the sciences. 

The Institute for Integrative Science and Health has outlined a framework for curricular development to support those who wish to teach through the philosophies of Two-Eyed Seeing as outlined by the following key elements:

  1. An on-going acknowledgement of the role everyone plays as capable agents of our knowledges or as storytellers of our knowledges. These knowledges are contextualized within a larger community of knowers, or “the knowledge collective.”
  2. An on-going effort to deepen our understanding of our common ground.
  3. An on-going effort to deepen our understanding of our differences and build respect for them.
  4. An on-going recognition of our need to talk and walk together—the necessity of co-learning. Here, co-learning is based on principles of:
    • reciprocity (learning from each other),
    • collectivity (learning together),
    • creativity (learning to see linkages, complementaries, and discontinuities between knowledges), and
    • weaving capacity (integrating these understandings into a framework that supports the principles of Two-Eyed Seeing—learning to weave back and forth between cultural values and knowledges).

These principles are essential in order to work on an integrative approach rather than one that is assimilative or dominating, which would ultimately lead to new undesirable forms of hegemony.


The five (5) sets of guided inquiry prompts below incorporate components of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk) with the goal of inviting discourse about the nature of science. They have the flexibility to be incorporated into any intermediate or senior science lesson; however, the topics covered are interdisciplinary in nature and could be included in a variety of courses. For the purposes of this experience, it focuses on Indigenous and settler ways of knowing around the sciences.

Each section begins with an excerpt from Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2015) by Robin Wall Kimmerer followed by related principles of Two-Eyed Seeing, suggested questions for inquiry and conversation, and additional resources.

These questions and conversations can be integrated into individual lessons throughout a semester, or at the start of a course and positioned as an overarching lens. Incorporating these experiences can take a variety of forms, anywhere from a 15 minute introductory task to a full period investigation. For example, they can be presented as a three part minds-on activity: “engage” (where the excerpt is read as class), “work on it” (where students can work individually/in groups/as a class on the suggested questions for inquiry), and finally “reflect and share.”   

 The intention of these learning experiences is to provide an accessible resource for discussing the nature of science supported by a Two-Eyed Seeing approach with the overarching goal of cultivating open-minded and compassionate scientific thinkers who embody intellectual courage (i.e. willingness to take risks in pursuit of knowledge despite threats to one identity) and intellectual humility (i.e. willingness to judge one’s own fallibility) (Sharon & Baram-Tsabari, 2020). 

“Doing science with awe and humility…”

Because we can’t speak the same language, our work as scientists is to piece the story together as best we can. We can’t ask the salmon directly what they need, so we ask them with experiments and listen carefully to their answers. We stay up half the night at the microscope looking at the annual rings in the fish ear bones in order to know how the fish react to water temperature. So we can fix it. We run experiments on the effects of salinity on the growth of invasive grasses. So we can fix it. We measure and record and analyze in ways that might seem lifeless but to us are the conduits to understanding the inscrutable lives of species not our own. Doing science with awe and humility is a powerful act of reciprocity with the more-than-human world.

I’ve never met an ecologist who came to the field for the love of data or for the wonder of a p-value. These are just ways we have of crossing the species boundary, of slipping off our human skin and wearing fins or feathers or foliage, trying to know others as fully as we can. Science can be a way of forming intimacy and respect with other species that is rivaled only by the observations of traditional knowledge holders. It can be a path to kinship” (Kimmerer, p.252).


An overarching goal for science education is ensuring that “all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science” (National Research Council, 2012, p.9). This exercise can serve as a reminder of the joy (and importance) of learning science through a sense of “awe and humility.”

Principles of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk)

As per the Guiding Principles for Learning Inspired by Etuaptmunk, this learning experience is:

Questions for Inquiry

Additional Resources

Indigenous People’s Knowledge on the Arctic Council

National Science Education Standards – National Resource Council

Star Size Comparison 1 (HD) – Example of awe-inspiring video

Understanding the Scientific Enterprise: The Nature of Science in the Next Generation Science Standards – NGSS

“My questions were bigger than science could touch.”

“To walk the science path I had stepped off the path of indigenous knowledge. But the world has a way of guiding your steps. Seemingly out of the blue came an invitation to a small gathering of Native elders, to talk about traditional knowledge of plants. One I will never forget—a Navajo woman without a day of university botany training in her life—spoke for hours and i hung on every word. One by one, name by name, she told of the plants in her valley. Where each one lived, when it bloomed, who it liked to live near and all its relationships, who ate it, who lined their nests with its fibers, what kind of medicine it offered. She also shared the stories held by those plants, their origin myths, how they got their names, and what they have to tell us. She spoke of beauty.

Her words were like smelling salts waking me to what I had known back when I was picking strawberries. I realized how shallow my understanding was. Her knowledge was so much deeper and wider and engaged all the human ways of understanding. She could have explained asters and goldenrod. To a new PhD, this was humbling. It was the beginning of my reclaiming that other way of knowing that I had helplessly let science supplant. I felt like a malnourished refugee invited to a feast, the dishes scented with the herbs of home.

I circled right back to where I had begun, to the question of beauty. Back to the questions that science does not ask, not because they aren’t important, but because science as a way of knowing is too narrow for the task. Had my adviser been a better scholar, he would have celebrated my questions, not dismissed them. He offered me only the cliché that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and since science separates the observer and the observed, by definition beauty could not be a valid scientific question. I should have been told that my questions were bigger than science could touch” (Kimmerer, p.44)


It is important to discuss the limitations of a scientific way of knowing, especially a Western scientific perspective. For example, science plays a different role in creating a novel vaccine and in determining how to distribute it. Science can act to inform political and individual decisions, and ignoring the ethical and cultural values at play may give rise to public distrust in science (Kienhues, Jucks, & Bromme, 2020).

Principles of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk)

As per the Guiding Principles for Learning Inspired by Etuaptmunk, this learning experience is:

Questions for Inquiry

Additional Resources

What is Indigenous Science? (We Are Fire)

What is Indigenous Science? (Worldwide Indigenous Science Network)

How Indigenous knowledge advances modern science and technology

Sealing the gateways for post-truthism: Reestablishing the epistemic authority of science – Kienhues, Jucks, & Bromme

Science can answer moral questions | Sam Harris

“A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science” – Infographic

“Science pretends to be purely rational.”

“In the old times, our elders say, the tress talked to each other. They’d stand in their own council and craft a plan. But scientists decided long ago that plants were deaf and mute, locked in isolation without communication. The possibility of conversation was summarily dismissed. Science pretends to be purely rational, completely neutral, a system of knowledge-making in which the observation is independent of the observer. And yet the conclusion was drawn that plants cannot communicate because they lack the mechanisms that animals use to speak. The potentials for plats were seen purely through the lens of animal capacity. Until quite recently no one seriously explored the possibility that plants might “speak” to one another. But pollen has been carried reliable on the wind for eons, communicated by males to receptive females to make those very nuts. If the wind can be trusted with that fecund responsibility, why not with messages?

There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right—the trees are talking to one another. They communicate via pheromones, hormonelike compounds that are wafted on the breeze, laden with meaning. Scientists have identified specific compounds that one tree will release when it is under the stress of an insect attack—gypsy moths gorging on its leaves or bark beetles under its skin. The tree sees out a distress call: “Hey, you guys over there? I’m under attack here. You might want to raise the drawbridge and arm yourselves for what is coming your way.” The downwind trees catch the drift, sensing those few molecules of alarm, the whiff of danger. This gives them time to manufacture defensive chemicals. Forewarned is forearmed. The trees warn each other and the invaders are repelled. The individual benefits, and so does the entire grove. Trees appear to be talking about mutual defense. Could they also communicate to synchronize masting? There is so much we cannot yet sense with our limited human capacity. Tree conversations are still far above our heads” (Kimmerer, p. 19).


This exercise discusses three inherent nuances regarding the nature of Western science: the social nature and distribution of science, the provisional nature of science, and the interrelationship between values and evidence in science (despite scientific knowledge being based on empirical evidence) (Kienhues, Jucks, and Bromme, 2020).

Principles of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk)

As per the Guiding Principles for Learning Inspired by Etuaptmunk, this learning experience is:

Questions for Inquiry

Additional Resources

Please note that some of these resources refer to difficult subject matter in regards to scientific testing and experiments. Teachers should always review resources ahead of sharing with their students and engage in age and stage appropriate preparation and learning.

Teaching Controversial Topics – ​​Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning

Nutrition researchers saw malnourished children at Indian Residential Schools as perfect test subjects – The Conversation

The immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks – Robin Bulleri

Medical experiments / History / Auschwitz-Birkenau

“Experiments are not about discovery but about listening and translating.”

Together we designed experiments to compare the effects of the two harvesting methods the basket makers had explained. Laurie’s education so far was full of the scientific method, but I wanted her to live out a slightly different style of research. To me, an experiment is a kind of conversation with plants: I have a question for them, but since we don’t speak the same language, I can’t ask them directly and they won’t answer verbally. But plants can be eloquent in their physical responses and behaviors. Plants answer questions by the way they live, by their responses to change; you just need to learn how to ask. I smile when I hear my colleagues say “I discovered X.” That’s kind of like Columbus claiming to have discovered America. It was here all along, it’s just that he didn’t know it. Experiments are not about discovery but about listening and translating the knowledge of other beings.

My colleagues might scoff at the notion of basket makers as scientists, but when Lena and her daughters take 50 percent of the sweetgrass, observe the result, evaluate their findings, and then create management guidelines from them, that sounds a lot like experimental science to me. Generations of data collection and validation through time builds up to the well-tested theories(Kimmerer, p. 158).


This exercise is intended to help students recognize that scientific investigations use a variety of methods—a lot of what we do in science is very much part of our everyday lives. Authentically representing how science is practised allows students to recognize how these skills can be transferable outside of an academic context as it “embeds it more deeply into their worldview” (National Research Council, 2012, p. 42).

Principles of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk)

As per the Guiding Principles for Learning Inspired by Etuaptmunk, this learning experience is:

Questions for Inquiry

Additional Resources

Teaching About the Nature of Science –National Research Council

Sweetgrass: The hair of Mother Earth

Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer

“The language scientists speak.”

Listening in wild places, we are audience to conversations in a language not our own. I think now that it was a longing to comprehend this language I heard in the woods that led me to science, to learn over the years to speak fluent botany. A tongue that should not, by the way, be mistaken for the language of plants. I did learn another language in science, though, one of careful observation, an intimate vocabulary that names each little part. To name and describe you must first see, and science polishes the gift of seeing. I honor the strength of the language that has become a second tongue to me. But beneath the richness of its vocabulary and its descriptive power, something is missing, the same something that swells around you and in you when you listen to the world. Science can be a language of distance which reduces a being to its working parts; it is a language of objects. The language scientists speak, however precise, is based on a profound error in grammar, an omission, a grave loss in translation from the native languages of these shores.

My first taste of the missing language was the word Puhpowee on my tongue. I stumbled upon it in a book by the Anishinaabe ethno-botanist Keewaydinoquay, in a treatise on the traditional uses of fungi by our people. Puhpowee, she explained, translates as “the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.” As a biologist, I was stunned that such a word existed. In all its technical vocabulary, Western science has no such term, no words to hold this mystery. You’d think that biologists, of all people, would have words for life. But in scientific language our terminology is used to define the boundaries of our knowing. What lies beyond our grasp remains unnamed” (Kimmerer, p.49).


Science is a way of knowing and a human endeavour and as such, scientists approach their work with specific goals in mind, and those goals themselves sometimes limit the language scientists use. This exercise seeks to prompt thinking about the language of science—the words we have, the words we don’t have, and how that impacts what we know and what we can imagine.

Principles of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk)

As per the Guiding Principles for Learning Inspired by Etuaptmunk, this learning experience is:

Questions for Inquiry

Additional Resources

Mi’kmaw Moons

Months & Moons –

Inuktitut Words for Snow and Ice –  The Canadian Encyclopedia

Richard Feynman Magnets

Imagining A Grammar of Animacy – Embodiment Matters

Environmental Scientists And Policymakers Have A Shared Responsibility To Reconciliation Too –Larissa Crawford (p.39)