Science Through an Indigenous Lens: Natasha Donahue Uses Two-Eyed Seeing to Share Physics
“Around the time I was eight was when I really firmly had in my brain that I wanted to be a scientist,” recalls Natasha Donahue, a Métis science educator in the field of science. For the last decade, she’s focused on educating Indigenous populations through an Indigenous lens through worldview and culture.
She works at the Telus World of Science Edmonton, after completing her Bachelor of Science. “[It} took me quite a while to get and now that I have it, I have the opportunity, the privilege to take my passions and actually work on them,” she beams, sharing about her research projects with Athabasca and Harvard Universities that explore astronomy, space and geophysics.
After dropping out of high school, she went to Athabasca University part time. A single parent in her mid-twenties, it took her eight years, with a break to work at the University of Alberta. “It was a long road. I won't lie, it was hard at times. I thought I wasn't going to be able to get through it. But I just persevered and I'm really happy I did that. The moment I finished my last class was one of the best feelings of my entire life and here I am now,” she recalls.
She was inspired to go back to school after she had her son. She wanted a job that didn’t feel like working, after eight years of working in the service industry not loving what she was doing. Donahue decided to pursue physics.
“I love science. I love nature. I love feeling connected to the universe. I love understanding the different layers of the universe, and how they work together and systems. But I didn't like the Western approach where everything is really fragmented, and compartmentalized…. just learning about the history of imperialism and colonialism and how that impacts how science works was really eye opening for me, and it made me realize that I didn't see myself there,” she explains.
"Now something that I'm more interested in is how do we interpret science? How do we interact with science in western context through Indigenous worldview? How do we open the conversation up so that Indigenous people across Turtle Island, across North America, but also around the world, feel more comfortable coming to the table and giving their perspectives on nature, their philosophy about the universe and cosmology...?" Donahue continues.
“I think including the voices of Indigenous people in that conversation is so incredibly important, because Indigenous peoples have known since time immemorial that the universe is inherently interconnected, and everything affects everything else. I feel like Western science is sort of awakening to this realization, but it's a very slow progress. Unfortunately, we have a lot of difficult situations across our planet right now that need their remediation,” she concludes.
Donahue struggled academically due to learning disabilities and challenges with the way information was organized and compartmentalized. She longed for a more holistic way of learning and found the way physics is taught to be inaccessible. With the help of the disability services office, she was able to graduate.
Her advice for Indigenous students going into post secondary is to get prepared for the transition and find out what resources are available at school. Transitioning to a Western academic environment is something she describes as “challenging” for many people and she suggests preparing emotionally for the experience.
In approaching science education, Donahue talks about “two-eyed seeing”, a concept that encourages using the strengths from two or more worldviews, like a Western worldview and Indigenous worldview, to create progress in a field of study. “It's an extremely powerful tool in reconciliation and understanding how we can work together to make a better future for everybody,” she relays.
She had to learn to take care of herself to raise her son and succeed at school. Donahue encourages proper diet, exercise and sleep. Reaching out for mental health services when needed is something else she recommends and discourages suppressing emotions. She tries to connect with her body and be in the moment, going with the flow as much as she can while practicing kindness and self-compassion.
Her closing words are full of hope. “No matter how difficult you think it will be to achieve the things you really want in your life, have the courage to throw yourself toward them. Sometimes, part of that courage is asking for help as well. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The people around you want to see you succeed… It probably will be challenging at different points. But that's going to be part of life no matter what. What kind of path do you want to be on when you're experiencing those challenges? That's really the question….There are so many possibilities out there for you and you have so much potential to achieve your goals… Courage is one of the… most important ways to achieve your goals, even if they seem really difficult."
When she was eight, Natasha Donahue knew she wanted to be a scientist. Even though she dropped out and took a slow but steady pace through university, she accomplished her goal. When she didn’t connect with the way she was being taught, she forged her own path towards a better way of communicating about science that considers Indigenous perspectives. Now she educates about science in a way that makes sense to her, with an opportunity to inspire a new generation of Indigenous scientists at Telus World of Science.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.