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NACC keynote: Native perspectives matter in academics

Collegian | Ava Puglisi
Gregory Cajete presents his presentation on an ecological philosophy, Native science, living the earth, facing the sun and seeking the light Nov. 6.

Native American educator Gregory Cajete delivered the Colorado State University Native American Cultural Center’s Native American Heritage Month Keynote discussing Native sciences and the importance of embracing valuable diverse ideas.

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, the NACC partnered with the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office for Inclusive Excellence to organize the event with Cajete and Indigenous leaders and educators. 


Cajete is a Tewa author and professor of Native American cultural studies at the University of New Mexico. He has lectured and worked with Indigenous students, organizations and scholars all over the world, from the U.S. to New Zealand and Russia.

During his keynote address, Cajete took the opportunity to spread greater awareness of the thoughts and perspectives of Native science. He shared that all cultures in the world have established unique forms of science, and those diverse ideas should be recognized in the context of teaching and learning science.  

Cajete addressed the diverse expressions of Native science and the value of honoring how each tribe describes their knowledge through stories, songs, ceremonies and tapestries of the Native eye. He spoke on how the development of knowledge through Indigenous science is guided by spirituality and ethical relationships.

“Each tribe has its unique expression of Native science, and the conservation of knowledge was through time and through generation,” Cajete said. “Indigenous science integrates a spiritual and ethical orientation to the interactions with nature.” 

Cajete wanted the attendees of the event to realize that other sciences in the world exist outside of the dominant Western sciences. To embrace true diversity and equity in the world, Indigenous history needs to be understood, appreciated and integrated in the context of science. 

“My hope is that as this awareness grows, science will incorporate other knowledge to use and to help it balance itself,” Cajete said. “It will appreciate the contributions of other cultures to the Western knowledge system but will allow for us as human beings to be more expansive in the way we think about science and technology.” 

Following his address, Cajete was joined by Gilbert John, moderator and assistant dean of research in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; tribal elder Lessert Moore; and CSU educators Dominique David-Chavez and Lindsey Schneider. The panel discussed how to improve engagement with Indigenous knowledges and cultures.  

David-Chavez received her Ph.D. from CSU in human dimension of natural resources and currently leads the Indigenous Land and Data Stewards Lab. During the discussion, David-Chavez spoke on how Native people have frequently been a part of ideas in Western science but have not been fully recognized.

“There was often a Native person by their side showing them a species, or they were observing the technique of our lifeways,” David-Chavez said. “We need to remember those invisible contributions, reconciling and healing those lifeways when we can really ground this work in truth and reconciliation.” 


Heather Pidcoke was one of the collaborators for the keynote event as the chief medical research officer for the Office of the Vice President for Research. She said her appreciation for Indigenous science deepened after the keynote event; she recognized how this address speaks on the community’s necessary engagement with Native science in the future.  

“We should be looking toward emulating that balance and approaching it as partners with everyone coming to the table with expertise and knowledge,” Pidcoke said. “It should not be a one-way benefit but rather a true collaboration in that the goal is for better balance, outcomes and a better life for all of us.” 

Pidcoke said that the keynote will soon be available for CSU faculty and students on the Office for Inclusive Excellence website. Cajete said he wanted the CSU community to have access to the important messages of Indigenous science and understand different approaches to scientific knowledge.

“We see this and talk about this in our Native stories,” Cajete said. “To survive and to sustain (Indigenous knowledge), we have to honor and really have to engage that more positive side of ourselves and our spirit to answer what kind of ancestor we want to be.” 

Reach Sananda Chandy at or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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