When Dawn Pratt was in Grade 4, her parents bought her a chemistry set. That little collection of tubes and chemicals changed everything.
Pratt’s natural curiosity about the environment led her to a master’s degree in chemistry. Now she’s started her own company, Askenootow STEM Enterprise, to promote Indigenous knowledge in science for schools by developing lesson plans for teacjers and parents.
“I was always just curious about, I guess, the world you can’t see with your naked eye,” Pratt said. “I was more curious about the world in the chemical world and the microscopic world.”
Pratt is a member of the Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation in Saskatchewan. She said there are several intersections between Western science and Indigenous knowledge.
“I see it a lot in even the science of tanning buffalo hide,” Pratt said. “I see it in the beading, the mathematics of the beading. I see it in the star blanket. The symmetry and geometry of the star blanket, the way it’s designed.
“Even the language is designed after pretty much, like, a mathematical thinking.”
Pratt said she doesn’t think people talk about these things enough. She said such discussion is highly needed in schools, especially First Nation schools throughout the province. That’s why she became an entrepreneur and an Indigenous science engagement co-ordinator.
“It’s really important that we start making those connections and finding those intersections and bringing our Elders and our knowledge keepers and our language keepers to the schools and into the classroom.”
She said we can empower students by showing them their ancestors were scientists and understood the science needed to survive harsh climates, Pratt said.
“Our grandmothers were biologists and pharmacists and they were astrophysicists and they understood the stars,” she said. “There’s just so much knowledge there.”
Pratt also brings the knowledge into her own life as a mother. She said she tries to immerse her daughters into experiencing science centres, including the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas.
“They come home and they tell me what they’re teaching in science. And I put my twist on it and I try to show them how our ancestors studied weather,” she said. “I really try to encourage them and try and show them that our ancestors and our grandparents were scientists.”