Science, myth, and Native American knowledge

Finished this up over the weekend. Deloria is always a good read, and whether or not you agree with what he has to say, you can’t say he’s not provocative. To sum this one up: “We do not know the real history of our planet and we know very little about the historical experiences of the various societies and races which constitute our species. This information is lacking because our scholars and scientists are wedded to an outmoded framework of interpretation and spend their time arranging facts and evidence to fit these old ideas…Most American Indians, I believe, were here ‘at the beginning’ and have preserved the memory of traumatic continental and planetary catastrophes.” (231-232) So he wants to challenge some of these existing scientific models that purportedly explain Native American origins and claim monopolies on explanations for geological formations. Instead, he’s arguing that Native American traditions already address much of what science grapples with, and so should be taken into account–whether they can easily be reconciled with scientific knowledge, or whether they contradict it in ways that force it to be reconsidered. But most of all, he’s arguing that Indian traditions should not be simply dismissed (or even just dredged up as an addendum to further confirm scientific theories)–and that they should be a central factor in guiding our inquiries into the past, and into geological and natural histories that are human histories as well.

I think I’m less dismissive of scientific theories than Deloria appears to be at times; I think there are fewer problems with them than he suggests (though the book is 17 years old at this point, and I’m no authority on these fields). Which is not to say science doesn’t have its many many issues. Nonetheless, Deloria’s basic point–that we should be taking into account Native American traditions and knowledge–I think is impossible to deny.

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