How can you connect science with ancestral knowledge?

How can you connect science with ancestral knowledge?

Web-call with guest speaker Sebastian De Line, Research Associate, Indigenous Art, joined by Michelle Bunton, Zac Kenny, Sunny Kerr, Nadia Lichtig and Josèfa Ntjam.


How can you connect science with ancestral knowledge?
Web-call with guest speaker Sebastian De Line, Research Associate, Indigenous Art, joined by Michelle Bunton, Zac Kenny, Sunny Kerr, Nadia Lichtig and Josèfa Ntjam.

Note: This conversation was edited for content and length.

Josèfa Ntjam: I made the relation between the really hard science part of what we heard when we were in Canada, and I really want to ask you about how would you connect the Drift project and this ancestral knowledge? And how can you do that if you have to do that? How can you connect science and really hard science, not just the science of basic science, and ancestor, and maybe magical knowledge we can have in African continents or in America too? So, for me, it is a big question because we have this aspect of distance and surveillance in science. And last time, we were speaking with Mariam Diamond, and it was the first scientist who talked to us. Her relationship, maybe – comment-on dit (how do you say) — not magical relationship of the — with science, but it was a big part of mystery. And it was more philosophic than science when she told us about her relationship. So, I wonder, I was wondering how you can, if you have maybe some ideas about the drift project and your own research. So how can you link and connect them?

Sebastian De Line: Mm-mmh — You know, sometimes I think it is helpful to look at our stories, because our stories, you know, we did not maybe use the word science, but they very much were, they were scientific. You know, so, like, I am not an expert on this, I am also still learning this myself. But, you know, one of the things that we talk about that in the Haudenosaunee culture, right, is that we are star people. So what they say is that we come from the stars, and our creation story is descendent from Pleiades And so what they talk about is, right, how our first ancestors came from Pleiades And that it is, a way I can relate it to you is like — sometimes, I think people have a hard time when they hear a story in a certain way because, but if we think of it in a different way, we can also think of it like, you know, when the Earth was forming, and when they say that when Turtle Island, how Turtle Island was formed, right — I don’t know if you have heard people talking about this in your research here, but, you know, at the beginning, when the Earth, they say, was — did not have a landmass that we know of, there was only water — that is how the story starts in the creation story. And so, what it talks about is it talks about how these, let us say, we call them, I don’t know, atomic cosmic particles, you know, enter into the Earth’s atmosphere, you know, and they form different kinds of relationships with the elements and the, you know, the — those lively energies and beings — this electricity, this water, you know, these other elements that are already here. But in the Earth, on the bottom of the ocean, was, as we talk about the creation story — this is where they say, in the story, where the formation of the kind of beings that become us, like insects, you know, animals, four-legged, the swimmers, the fliers, us human beings, medicines, etc. — you know, what it is talking about is that, you know, it is talking about a kind of an evolutionary story that is formed on relationality. So, the reciprocity between the animal world helping, you know, Sky Woman so that she does not die, right? And helping her down to land on the turtle’s back. The relationship between one of the oldest beings that we still have from the dinosaur period is still living. You know, today, the turtle, right — The sea turtle. And that turtle is, you know, as we know, a very old ancestor that lives from a time period that their ancestors remember a very early time of the Earth. And so, in the — all these kinds of scientific knowledges are embedded, you know, within our stories, like when they talk about how, you know, the animals like the muskrat and the other beings that try to retrieve some of the ocean’s seabed to bring the Earth and put this little handful of Earth on top of the turtle’s back. There is actually an article I read about, I was researching about clay a while back, and there was an article, not that many years ago, like five or six years ago, from Cornell University — And the research is basically a scientific research that talks about the hydrogel formation of clay and how clay being wet and the oceanic formation of the hydrogel in clay created a stable environment enough for, in which life to be able to grow within it. And so basically what they did was their scientific research proved, you know, this part of the creation story that we are made from clay, right — and that story, you know, is not just a Haudenosaunee story, that is shared by many cultures all over the world talk about stories, right, of how we are descendent of clay. So, from a scientific perspective, they would say that in the bottom of the ocean, it was so tumultuous that it was the stability of, the plasticity of, the hydrogel within clay that was able to form a kind of a container in which life forms to flourish. So, when you take that idea, and that bundle of clay is brought up then unto the surface of the Earth, and then it is encountered with other living beings, and also air, etc, and there is another evolutionary kind of relations that happen. And so, within that story is science, very much, quantum science, it is, you know, it is evolution, it is biology, it is many different things encapsulated. Right, but it is how we interpret our stories.

>>Do you, are you all, have you looked at Leroy Little Bear? He used to, was one, I think the founder of the, this is not the correct title for it, but the Indigenous program at Harvard. And He is now retired. He is an emeritus of the University of Alberta.

Nadia Lichtig: Mm-mmh

Sebastian De Line: He wrote, he gave this lecture at Arizona State University, and it was called “Native Science and Western Science: Possibilities for Collaboration.” If you look on YouTube —

Nadia Lichtig: Mm-mmh, yeah.

Sebastian De Line:  I can send it to you all. But — I can — I took a transcript from it before for an article and I would like to read a really short paragraph for you because it is a really nice way from a Blackfoot perspective of how he talks about quantum physics. I will be interested to hear from your knowledges of that, what rings true or what stands out, you know, and how you might relate to it — Maybe we should strike the word true. What does that word even mean? It is so subjective. Okay, so he says, “The first tenet of native — of the native paradigm is what we refer to as constant flux.” So, he talks about three tenets of native science. “If you were to imagine this flux as animated, you would see a constant motion or energy waves, light, and so on, going back and forth. Things are forever in motion; things are forever changing. There is nothing certain. The only thing that is certain is change. Things are forever moving, things are forever dissolving, reforming, transforming. A second part of the native tenet of flux is flux itself. Everything in existence, everything in creation consists of energy waves. In classical physics, we talk in terms of matter, particles, and subatomic particles. In the native way, we talk in terms of energy waves. Those energy waves are very special because it is those energy waves, not you, that know. All of us are simply combinations of energy waves. Spirit is energy waves. Energy waves are still there. A third part of the paradigm is that everything is animate. There is nothing in Blackfoot, for instance, that is inanimate. Everything is animate. Everything, those rocks, those trees, those animals, all have spirit just like we do as humans. If they all have spirit, that is what we refer to as all my relations.”

Nadia Lichtig: Yeah. I mean, it is — I am missing the words for what I want to say in English but, yeah, I love the idea of, you know, like, you just have to zoom closely into a table or into anything and then you see that the atoms are moving, okay. So yeah. So, it is all a question of density, right?

Josèfa Ntjam: Yeah. I just want to say I really love the idea of fluidity. And when I have to talk about it, I always take the reference and I make the analogy of the spaceship from Battlestar Galactica because they are always moving, and there, they can’t hang anywhere else. So, they are always moving. So even the history in the spirit of people is always moving in the universe. So, this is not the same of Earth because when we are on Earth, we hang, we are hanging in Earth with a gravity, etc. So, they are in the spaceship, so they can’t really build a real territory so that they don’t have the concept of territory. And they really don’t have even the concept of frontier. And so, what’s the concept of time and territory in this spaceship always moving. So, from it, I really love the reference of the spaceship in Battlestar Galactica, and I am always using this reference in my writing, etc. So, I think the fluidity is, for me, the most beautiful concept I use in my work because I really love the fact that the particle can be both two thing in one time, and we can’t measure those two thing in one time too, so we have to make a choice. And this choice takes us in another way. And maybe if we made the other choice, we’d be in another way too. So, you have two time in one time. And I really love this.

Zachary Kenny: I just wanted to, sort of, come back to what you were, that excerpt from, is its Elder Little Bear? Was that — — the researcher that you were talking about there, Sebastian?

Sebastian De Line: Leroy Little Bear.

Zachary Kenny: Leroy Little Bear. Yeah. I thought that was so interesting because it is, it is a concept that I think — that it would be very accepted. Like, you know, I think of the physicists, you know, that I work with now and in dark matter research, if they would, if you were to read that excerpt, you know, they would be like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that is exactly right.’ Because I think that is becoming a more and more understood reality of matter in the Universe. And I think you are right, and when you are talking about classical physics, we talk about things in this kind of textbook, kind of, ‘we are looking down on them and they are in this flat plane and we can study with the bits and pieces and,’ but you are right. Like things now are fluid and moving and everything has an energy and, you know, the energy within a rock and the energy in, you know, in a lake and all these different things are really interestingly interconnected. And there is a lot of research, you know, about, even — so, there is a concept called quantum entanglement, which is like, the idea that — I don’t know exactly because I am not actually a physicist. But it is like, it is like the, you can, if there is this pair of particles that are kind of created at the same time, and if you send them out in different directions, they will behave identically.

Josèfa Ntjam: Oh, yeah. I heard that. I was like, ‘What!’

Zachary Kenny: Yes. And so, it is kind of this like weird, like telepathy or something.

Josèfa Ntjam: Yes. This is crazy. This is a really crazy story.

Zachary Kenny: Yeah.

Josèfa Ntjam: So, these two particles can be separate and really, like, really far away, and they behave, like, the same at the same time. So, it is really weird because I was looking at a documentary about a mushroom and this mushroom, it is name is the blob. And in fact, this mushroom has the particularity that even if He is cut in every piece, he always can reconstitute himself with his own information because in each particle of himself, he has all information to grow, like, in a really, really big mushroom. So, every particle of the blob is the entire blob, and in fact, is just a particle, but it is the entire shape of the mushroom too. I don’t really know how to explain that in English. It is really complex, even in French. So yes, I really love the connection between one particle separate in two parts, and these two parts could be still connected between them. So yeah.

Sebastian De Line: I sent you an article, because I heard you say swarm, by Dolleen Manning, who’s an Anishinaabe professor at York University. And she, her dissertation was about murmurations. So, she talks about, from an Anishinaabe perspective of worlding, she calls it Mnidoo-Worlding — and she relates that kind of similar wave theory, a lot like what Leroy Little Bear is talking about but talking about the phenomenology of bird murmuration and insect murmuration. So, where there is this kind of way in which they are in such close proximity, all the time that actually something else is going on phenomenologically in order for them not to crash into each other. Because, you know, this, so there is this kind of blob, like what you are saying, that has to do with the unifiedness, while at the same time, they are all distinct, distinct birds, you know. But within, you know, kind of moving fluidly, like within this kind of formation that is unified.

>>One way in a Haudenosaunee perspective, how I have learned it, that could be related to that is in, you know, when they talk about the Thanksgiving address, you know, you’ve ever heard of that? Like, so often —

Josèfa Ntjam: What is the Thanksgiving address?

Sebastian De Line: So, the Thanksgiving address, the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen is opening words. It is called the Words Before All Else. I am not an expert on this, I am just learning this, but I can relate it — what I know of it relates to what you are talking about from how I learned it from my elders. So, when they say that, what happens is, it is like a, some people call it a prayer, but it is not really like a prayer, it is more, it is really the words that you say because people believe that, you know, what you say, those words that you say, they create, you could say they create a movement too, you know. They create, they create, they set things in motion. Right? So, when we say that, they become actualized. Right? They have a mattering. Right? Because of how we relate. So, because we are having conversations, we are sharing knowledge with each other, those words, they are not immaterial, they have a relational effect on us. And they are really actually changing how we relate. Right? So that is a kind of a basis of one thing how we are taught. You can think of that even in terms of matter, but in another way too — So with that in mind, what people say is that in order to have a good mind, and what they call, the concept they talk about in Haudenosaunee perspective of the good mind, with the way I am taught about it is that the good mind is when they say those words to all of creation, and they say, they say gratitude, and they say thanks, and they acknowledge all the beings in the world, and to bring us all together what they say into one mind. So oftentimes, when like, there is a ceremony, or there is a meeting of more than two people, they say that you are supposed to say the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, the Thanksgiving address or the Words Before All Else. So, in a gathering of more than two people, and let us say even if this was done in Haudenosaunee way, the Zoom will start with Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen and some form of that. And then what it does, what they say it does is it brings everyone together in what they call one mind. And you can think of that one mind, kind of, like what you are talking about like wave theory coming together in this kind of, like, a murmuration, or maybe like a blob that you say where, it is what they are really talking about is like a collective consciousness. But it is a collective consciousness that you can relate to in terms of wave theory coming together, in terms of wave mattering, that we are already connected anyway through these wave theories. Right? I mean, that is what they are saying. Right? That is what Leroy Little Bear is saying. I hear it is that, you know, He is saying those words that we talked about like spirit or a creator, or other people have different words for it, God, Allah, he is saying that this is matter in waveform also. And that those energy waves are running through everything and everyone. Right? So, if you think of it in terms of, like, a perspective on more of a scientific perspective of that. And so, there are, I think there are in an Haudenosaunee perspective, there are stories that could be related to the twins, like we have a lot of twinning going on in our stories. In particular, like there is a story, you know, that talks about, you know, the two twins, or the two brothers in a Christian story. That were –

Josèfa Ntjam: Yeah.

Sebastian De Line: Right — right? And so, they, oftentimes, it is more psychological, the way that people relate to it, kind of like, you know, your consciousness around choice and stuff like that of, like, the so-called good and bad twin kind of thing. But it could also actually be in relationship to, you know, what you are saying, as well if you look at it in a different way, about this kind of twinning. And I think it is really interesting that, what you just — what you shared about the blob and about, you know, that even atoms having this — kind of particles having this twinning effect where they really share certain knowings, knowledges and being reciprocally, no matter where they are, and maybe still deviate from each other. Sometimes, like twins do.

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