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Indigenous Methodologies: Oceania & Polynesia

Feature photo credit to John Englart (Takver)

Indigenous Methodologies

Often, discussions of Indigenous methodologies and epistemologies position indigenous scientific methods as supplementary to mainstream Western science as opposed to legitimate sciences on their own. Because of this misconception, the way non-Indigenous researchers engage with Indigenous communities often ignores the scientific developments and contributions of Indigenous peoples and cultures.

To challenge this, the Indigenous Epistemologies and Methodologies Reading Group aims to assert the validity of Indigenous scientific methods. To achieve this, the reading group will be run by two Indigenous scholars at Cambridge and will incorporate the scholarship of Indigenous North Americans primarily, while also including workshops for teaching attendees how to engage with various Indigenous communities in practice.

Through this reading group, our ambition is that we de-center ‘decolonial theory’* as the primary means of engagement with Indigenous methodologies and epistemologies, recognizing that Indigenous epistemology predates colonialism and deserves to be interrogated as a stand-alone group of scientific methods.

*We follow Tuck and Yang’s scholarship asserting that ‘decolonization is not a metaphor’ and that co-opting such language while simultaneously not advancing the sovereignty of Indigenous communities depends harm to our communities.

Oceania & Polynesia

Dive into the rich tapestry of Polynesian wisdom and scientific thought with our captivating Indigenous Methodologies Reading Group! Embark on an enlightening journey as we explore the unique perspectives and profound insights embedded in the Indigenous scientific traditions of Polynesia. Our interactive sessions will be brought to life through engaging workshops, where you'll have the opportunity to actively participate and learn from one another and unlock the depth of knowledge through thought-provoking key readings.

Enrich your perspective, broaden your horizons, and be a part of this empowering journey towards embracing diverse ways of understanding the world around us. Let's learn and grow together!

Learning Outcomes

  • Analyze and critically evaluate key readings on Indigenous scientific methodologies in Polynesia, demonstrating an understanding of the unique perspectives and insights embedded within these traditions.

  • Engage in thoughtful discussions and collaborative workshops to synthesize knowledge and actively apply Indigenous scientific principles in contemporary contexts, fostering an appreciation for the relevance of Polynesian wisdom in modern academia.

  • Cultivate a more inclusive and culturally sensitive worldview, reflecting an enriched understanding of diverse ways of comprehending and interacting with the natural world, thereby contributing to a broader perspective on global scientific discourse and indigenous knowledge preservation.


Unit 1: Introduction to Polynesian Scientific Methodologies


This session will provide a survey overview of the scientific approaches developed by Polynesian cultures. With readings on ethno-archaeology, the development of Polynesian fishing strategies, and leveraging the knowledge of Indigenous peoples to improve forest biosecurity, participants will gain insights into the empirical observation techniques and ecological knowledge that characterised Polynesian scientific practices. Through a balanced presentation of anthropological findings and contemporary interpretations, attendees will grasp the significance of these methodologies in both historical and modern contexts.

Join us in the first session of our exploration of the distinctive scientific methods of Polynesian societies and their enduring contributions to our understanding of the natural world.

Unit 1 Discussion Questions

  • How do the readings on ethno-archaeology and Polynesian fishing strategies shed light on the empirical observation techniques employed by Polynesian cultures, and how can these insights inform contemporary approaches to sustainable resource management?

  • In what ways can the knowledge and practices of Indigenous peoples, such as those discussed in leveraging Indigenous knowledge for forest biosecurity, be integrated into modern conservation and ecological efforts, while respecting cultural heritage and fostering environmental resilience?

  • Considering the seminar's aim to highlight the historical and modern significance of Polynesian scientific methodologies, can you identify specific instances where Polynesian ecological knowledge and practices have influenced broader global scientific understanding or contributed to contemporary sustainability initiatives?

Unit 2: Polynesian Voyaging and Star Gazing


This seminar delves into the intricate intersection of cultural heritage and navigational expertise and provides a comprehensive analysis of the navigational techniques employed by Polynesian voyagers, with an added focus on star reading. Through meticulous examination of historical records and navigational tools, participants will gain a clear understanding of how Polynesians harnessed celestial bodies for precise wayfinding across vast expanses of ocean.

Join us in this second session as we unravel the practical applications and cultural significance of Polynesian star reading in an academic setting that fosters insightful discussions and knowledge exchange.

Unit 2 Materials

Unit 2 Discussion Questions

Unit 3: Workshop: Indigenous Community-led Conservation


This session immerses attendees in a transformative learning experience through our workshop on Indigenous community-led conservation. The immersive session delves into the profound synergy between traditional ecological knowledge and modern conservation practices, spotlighting the pivotal role of Indigenous communities as stewards of the environment. Participants will engage in dynamic discussions and hands-on activities that elucidate the principles, challenges, and successes of community-led conservation efforts. By examining case studies from throughout Polynesia, attendees will not only gain practical insights into sustainable resource management but also foster a deeper appreciation for the invaluable wisdom embedded within Indigenous perspectives.

Join us in this third session as we embrace a holistic approach to conservation that respects age-old traditions while addressing contemporary ecological imperatives.

Unit 3 Materials

Unit 3 Discussion Questions

Unit 4: Tuvalu Climate Change


This session will shift the conversation from Polynesia broadly to Tuvalu specifically. Case studying the country, which has been sharing publicly the threat of rising sea levels to the health and future of the island nation for three decades, offers a glimpse into the relationship between Indigenous past, present and future. At COP26, Tuvalu’s Minister for Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs, Simon Kofe, declared, “We are sinking, but so is everyone else.” This sinking has led the nation to become world’s first digitised nation by preserving what remains of it in the metaverse.

Join us in this fourth and final session as we delve into Tuvalu’s digitisation and the implication for Indigenous Polynesian peoples.

Unit 4 Materials

Unit 4 Discussion Questions

This syllabus was co-authored by London Vallery and Myesha Jemison.

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