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Differing World-Views of Native Americans,Scientists to be Explored at Conference Feb. 13-14


Differing World-Views of Native Americans,Scientists to be Explored at Conference Feb. 13-14

(February 5, 1999)

NOTE TO EDITORS: Reporters are invited to cover the conference "Scientific and Traditional Interpretations of Southern California Landscapes, Geology, and Natural History." To receive a conference program, call Kathy Barton at (909) 787-2495 or send e-mail to barton@ucrac1.ucr.edu

A two-day conference that sets out to bridge a cultural gulf between earth scientists and Native Americans is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 13-14, at the University of California, Riverside.

"Scientific and Traditional Interpretations of Southern California Landscapes, Geology, and Natural History," the first of three conferences to be organized by the UCR Indigenous Earth Sciences Project, is open to the public free of charge. It will be in Humanities and Social Sciences Room 1500 on the UCR campus.

The conference will bring together geologists, geographers and other scientists with Native Americans to address the differing cultural and scientific interpretations of the natural history and geology of the southwestern United States the ancestral lands of Native Americans. Specific topics include the Colorado River and surrounding geology, rocks of the Anza-Borrego desert region, and fire ecology and fire management in Southern and Baja California.

"This very exploratory session is designed to mutually educate earth scientists and Native Americans alike in each group’s world-views and cultural sensitivities concerning the use and interpretation of significant landforms and geologic formations," said Eric Riggs, a UCR graduate student in earth sciences and coordinator of the project with UCR history graduate student Dawn Marsh.

The cultural barriers between scientists and Native Americans are formidable, said Marsh, but at the same time each group has a great deal to learn from one another. Traditional indigenous knowledge of the land can inform the practice of earth science, she said. For instance, geologists would find useful the historical facts and events and observations of earthquakes, floods or other major environmental changes that are handed from generation to generation by oral history. "From an academic point of view, we thrive on having diversity," she said. "For any discipline to be dynamic, you need new blood and new ideas."

Many Native American communities that wish to use their land to sustain their communities economically such as developing mines want to do so in an environmentally sensitive way, and scientists can help them achieve those goals, she said.

"Part of the goal is to get people to know each other. There is a level of distrust on both sides we are trying to address," Marsh said.

In a sense, the conference will also nurture the new discipline of ethnogeology combining indigenous knowledge with mainstream scientific methods.

Founded with major funding from the a National Science Foundation program to facilitate geoscience education, the Indigenous Earth Science Project (IESP) also aims to increase Native American representation in the earth sciences through discussions of the different interpretations of natural history, educational issues and economic activities related to the geology of Southern California.

The second conference, scheduled for April 17-18, will address classroom teaching and approaches to geoscience education in Native American communities. The third conference, set for May 22-23 in conjunction with the annual UCR Medicine Ways Powwow, will focus on the many issues surrounding economic and environmental earth science activities on and around Native American-controlled lands. Topics are expected to include water rights, mining, landfill siting and archaeological remains.

"In all human affairs, the more informal discussions that can happen before real conflicts erupt on the ground, the greater the likelihood that all parties can reach an agreeable resolution," Riggs said. "It is the goal of the IESP to assist Native Americans in taking control of their own geologic, scientific information and cultural resources to further empower native people across the larger Southern California region."

The upcoming conference begins with registration at 9 a.m. Feb. 13. The first day concludes with a 6 p.m. presentation by the Cahuilla Bird Singers. The conference resumes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 14.

For more information, call the IESP at (909) 787-5401, Ext. 1580.


The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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