Explorer's Club: Science Program for Reservation Children
By Eleanora Robbins and Edited by Roy Cook

Explorer's Clubs are on four reservations in San Diego County: Pala, Jamul, Campo, La Jolla. The purposes of this free monthly program are many: nourish interest in love of outdoors, introduction to outdoors science as a career, share the values that protect the earth, and to provide outdoors scientists as role models. The program is the brainchild of Dr. Eleanora (Norrie) Robbins, a geologist who retired in 2001 from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the Washington, DC area. She is now adjunct faculty at San Diego State University.

The activities are designed for children, 6-12 year old. These include: exploring the four directions, collecting rocks, discovering what people add to the streams, digging to learn about soil and underground water, panning for gold and minerals, learning outdoors photography skills, and hunting for lizards. The children are free to roam, get wet and dirty, and to make obs ervations; if they don't think they are having fun, they vote with their feet.

Norrie Robbins was concerned that she rarely met Native American scientists in her 36 year career with the Federal Government. Social Worker Mona Osbourne, Pawnee, BIA-retired, taught her that children on Tribal reservations often meet social workers and lawyers but rarely scientists. So Norrie decided to demonstrate by example and be a scientist around Native American kids. Additionally, she wanted to bring this opportunity a Native American Tribal reservation.

One recent formal activity included participating in National Water Monitoring Week, Oct. 18, 2002. EPApersonnel from five reservations joined in to teach the six to twelve years of age children how to keep water safe and to measure water quality.

Tribal Education Directors on each reservation structure their programs individually. Some feed the children lunch or snacks, and some provide a van and driver to transport the children. Their funding is through MESA, JOM, or Head Start Boys and Girls Clubs. Some request an hour after school programs and some reserve a longer block of time on Saturday. Future proposed urban meetings of the Explorer Club may include trips to traditional village sites in San Diego city: Old town, Balboa Park, Mission Valley and so on. These meetings continue to hold the promise of increased awareness of tradition and the positive encouragement of self esteem. More volunteer biologists and Tribal elders are needed. She is inviting, with tribal encouragement, other scientists from San Diego State University, United States Geological Survey, Santa Ana Water Quality Review Board, and Palomar College.

If you would like to help organize a program on your reservation or community contact:norrierobbins@cox.net.

These photographs will demonstrate a diversity of participants, including some from the urban area.

Campo children exploring the mudflat around the shore of shrinking Lake Morena. Danika Cuero (Campo) measuring diameter of oak tree to learn how to assess: age, distribution and properties of this important traditional food source.
Jamul children with their rock and mineral collections. La Jolla children, organized by Elder Henry Rodriguiz, at La Jolla Campground utilized the USGS mobile lab and measured water quality for National Water Monitoring Week.
Southeast San Diego children used buckets and water bottles to pan for gold and magnetite. Pala children, EPA personnel, and SDSU students measured water quality at the Pala Casino pond for National Water Monitoring Week.

La Jolla children at La Jolla campground utilized the USGS mobile lab and measured water quality for
National Water
Monitoring Week.


Final thoughts by Roy Cook

Many books claiming to be fair, and even some labeled pro-Indian, are riddled with half-truths and mistruths based on false assumptions. Many Web pages also perpetuate the stereotype that American Indian accomplishments are inferior to those of Europeans. Subtle bias is every bit as dangerous as the obvious kind - perhaps even more so.

No matter how carefully educators and librarians choose materials and no matter how diligently we work to eliminate subtle academic bias, we need to know that in an open society students will encounter it. Here are a few examples:

1. American Indian knowledge and inventions spring from hunches or intuitions, rather than rigorous and systematic study.
Undoubtedly many American Indian scientific discoveries were initially based on intuition, as are many modern Western discoveries today. Intuition is a critical part of science. If knowledge based on hunches, intuitions and lightning bolts of inspiration doesn't count, then organic chemistry is invalid. (Freidrich August von Kekule's dream of a snake biting its tail enabled him to visualize the structure of the benzene molecule and birth the field of organic chemistry.) So is the periodic table of elements, an inspiration revealed to Russian chemist Mendeleev in a dream.

We can forget about neurochemistry. (A dream showed Nobel prizewinner Otto Lowei that the chemical messengers, we now call neurotransmitters, are responsible for the flow of information in the human brain.) We can write off pasteurization, penicillin, and hundreds of other modern discoveries and inventions. for example: Alexander Graham Bell used intuitions that he called "a conquering force within" to invent the telephone and Henri Poincare, the mathematician who created the science of topology, said, "It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover."

2. Holding American Indians to a narrower definition of the scientific discovery process than is used for Europeans is unfair scholarship.

American Indians did not know about the scientific method, so their knowledge and inventions could not be scientific. Europeans didn't use it either because it hadn't yet been invented. Historical researchers seldom mention this critical fact.

Most scholars credit Francis Bacon, an English philosopher and statesman who lived from 1561 to1626, as the father of the scientific method. Sometimes Galileo, an astronomer, who lived from 1564 to 1642, is also credited. Both were born well after Columbus landed in the Americas. The fact that Galileo was arrested by the Catholic Inquisition in 1633 for heresy and held prisoner until he died in 1642 indicates that the scientific method was not only unwelcome in Europe for at least 150 years after 1492 the scientific method was considered a sin and a crime.

Insisting that pre-contact American Indians ought to have used the scientific method before it existed is irresponsible and sloppy scholarship.

It can be difficult to detect because it often omits critical facts about both American Indian and European history. The fact that these articles and books are frequently written by well-respected scholars and authorities makes it even more difficult to detect. Like a low-grade infection, it works below the level of awareness, affecting students from elementary school to graduate school.

Thanks to: Kay Marie Porterfield for excerpts.
WebMaster: Ben Nance