The Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning

a Library of Indigenous Knowledge of Place

 Altar at Proposed Site for Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning from top left: Beaded Wedding Bag, Gleason Family, Print of “Gramma, how do I learn?” Rose Imai Taken by Bears, Dempsey Bob, little girl: Ellie Madril Ancestor Mask, Tim Paul, Model for Ten Elders Poles, Tim Paul Bear Basket, Isabel Rorick, Robin Rorick, Woman sitting: Rose Imai

Altar at Proposed Site for Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning
from top left: Beaded Wedding Bag, Gleason Family, Print of “Gramma, how do I learn?” Rose Imai Taken by Bears, Dempsey Bob,
little girl: Ellie Madril
Ancestor Mask, Tim Paul, Model for Ten Elders Poles, Tim Paul
Bear Basket, Isabel Rorick, Robin Rorick,
Woman sitting: Rose Imai

The Indigenous peoples or First Nations of the Northwest, particularly in British Columbia are renowned for their epic wood sculpture and carvings, notably their totem poles. This artistic tradition can be traced to their ancient ways of transmitting their genealogies, cultural knowledge and native science.  When a group of  Northwest Coast Artist / Knowledge Holders were presented with the opportunity to join the Native American Academy’s project to create a Sculpture Garden devoted to the study of Native Science, they did not hesitate.

The formation of a carving team is altogether an interesting story. Originally, it was master carver Joe Martin who was tapped to lead, then Martin recommended his relative,  Nuu-chal-nuth  knowledge  holder and artist Tim Paul as lead carver.  Tim in turn invited other renowned sculptors, carvers and educators to attend the initial presentation to meet representatives from The Native American Academy. Robin Rorick, Chuutsqua Rorick, Charles Elliott and Dempsey Bob, internationally known Tahltan/Tlingit artist and teacher all joined the project. Further meetings  resulted in the artists mapping out notions and ideas for their designs and for the education elements.

The first work done in Port Alberni,  British Columbia  were of two small models of the Hesquiat  teaching of the Ten Elders, which speaks of the Hesquiat relationship to Nature and names the ten relatives. Initial public documentation of the project came in an article published in Langscape Magazine, followed by a video overview of the project which was produced in partnership with The Cultural Conservancy. Community engagement was through a series of meetings with members of the San  Francisco  Arts  Commission,  Native California tribal leaders  and the Port  Alberni  Carving  Team in  Victoria,  B.C. Other artists and knowledge holders, including language experts from the Nuu-chal-nuth,  Tahltan/Tlingit,  Haida  Gwai’i, nations conferred about language revitalization and educational focus.

A collaborative partnership was formalized with The Cultural  Conservancy joining  the  project. Fully integrating their support was the International Funders of Indigenous Peoples who hosted  a community  meeting in San Francisco  to  introduce  the Sculpture Garden  to  a  regional  community  of  funders. Local tribal  leaders attended meetings with interest,  enthusiasm, and a desire  to  participate. The indigenous youth who have a penchant for modern  technologies, their imaginations triggered by the possibilities, eagerly  began envisioning their contribution to the project and educating the  public  about their culture. 

According to the implementors, “The entire project  is  an  organic  process. The  creation  of  a  Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning as a library of Indigenous knowledge of place, is  more  than an objective goal, it  is an ongoing shift  in consciousness from thinking that the science of measurement, numbers, machines and instruments is the only trustworthy way to know the world to the understanding that the bodies of knowledge held by  Indigenous peoples is scientific knowledge, its study and practice requires precision and rigor.  Its processes are deductive, experimental, pragmatic, coherent and relevant.   And, the  critical differences: that Native Science is holistic, focused on interdependencies, harmony and balance and includes meaning, purpose,  and social implications makes it a powerful context and provides a values matrix for linear, fragmented western thought. To continue to imagine that Native people have no  knowledge of Mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, or to accept the unexamined assumption that there is only one way to know the world becomes life threatening as the Earth shifts to  restore herself. “ It  is  important  that  the  Sculpture Gardens  are  understood as invaluable places for the study of native science.  

Despite periodic bouts of uncertainty in funds, the project  is achieving its goals. The project holders comment: “Fortunately, indigenous  peoples  are  resourceful  and  generous  and  accustomed  to  working  with  limited  funds.” 

The participation of women cannot be understated as the knowledge is incomplete without them.  Traditionally, among  the  British  Columbian tribes, women weave their knowledge in baskets, hats, shawls, dance curtains, etc.,  and a few  women  carve.  The men are then given the woven piece to add their knowledge through painting, and this completes the whole.

All in all, the project remains rich in dynamic partnerships and consistent participation of the youth, elders, women and persons with disabilities. New leaders are emerging through consistent engagement and community  ownership is evident in their sustained support of the project. Documentation (photography, film, video and podcast) and social  media  networking are bringing young Native IT specialists and  modern technologies into the project.

Knowledge  systems  are integral  in  the  project such as food  production/preservation;  sustainable  resource  management;  handicraft  development  as  part  of  cultural  heritage,  distinct  patterns  and  symbols,  and revitalization  of  indigenous  language.

Those currently involved in the Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning: the Tuscarora,  Anishinabe, Yaqui,  Mi’kmaq,  Nuu-chal-nuth,  Haida,  Tahltan  Tlingit,  Blackfoot,  Chickasaw,  Tewa, Ohlone, Pomo, Mewuk, Lakota, nations  see this first garden as a model for a network of libraries across North America, and a learning process for all those  involved, as they bring the knowledge and ways of life of their ancestors into the 21st century.

 Taken By Bears - Dempsey Bob Tahltan/Tlingit

Taken By Bears - Dempsey Bob Tahltan/Tlingit

 Explanation and translation of Ten Elders – Hesquiat teaching – Tim Paul (by permission)

Explanation and translation of Ten Elders – Hesquiat teaching – Tim Paul (by permission)

 Bear Basket – Woven by Isabel Rorick, Haida Painted by Robin Rorick, Haida

Bear Basket – Woven by Isabel Rorick, Haida Painted by Robin Rorick, Haida

The project “The Sculpture Garden of Native Science and Learning” was implemented in December 2017 by The  Native  American  Academy with support from PAWANKA Fund.

for further information: vnthater@berkeley.edu,   www.silverbuffalo.org melissa@nativeland.org