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Project Background

Avaluation and Impact

Cosmic Serpent (NSF No. DRL-0714631 and DRL-0714629) is a professional development effort led by the Indigenous Education Institute and the University of California at Berkeley that supports collaboration with between science museum professionals and Native communities and/or tribal museums. Cosmic Serpent aims to create awareness of the value of Native science paradigms among museum practitioners, support them in connecting Native worldviews to Western science learning; and nurture sustainable collaborations between science museums and Native communities around featuring multiple worldviews of knowledge-making in informal settings. The primary component of the project was a series of intensive workshops, including an initial 5-day workshop in each of the three geographic regions of focus—Northwest, Southwest, and California/Hawai’i—followed by a 3-day follow-up workshop in each region one year later. Other deliverables included a 3-day Culminating Conference attended by participants representing all three regions, and a legacy document that shares project outcomes and lessons learned with the broader field. In total, the workshops served 162 Cosmic Serpent Fellows, including 115 practitioners from 19 tribal museums and 41 science, natural history, and cultural museums; 23 tribal community members; and 24 "bridge people" with knowledge of both Indigenous and Western science.

Project Outcomes

Project development and evaluation were guided by the Dine (Navajo) Model (Maryboy and Begay, 2007), which is a strategic planning model based on the four cardinal directions. : 1) East—Ha’a’aah, a place of initiation; 2) South—Shadiah, a place of growth and organization; 3) West—Ii’ii’aah, a place of activation; and 4) North—Nahookos, a place of transformation, renewal, and evaluation leading to sustainability. In keeping with Native worldviews that honor holistic processes, the evaluation was emergent and organic, rather than seeking predetermined outcomes. Following is an overview of project outcomes based on the four directions.

In the East (Ha’a’aah), a place of initiation, project participants (Fellows) and team members (leadership and evaluation) deepened their awareness of worldviews, began building relationships across cultures and across institutions, broadened their understanding of the project’s aims, and experienced new learning, mainly in the areas of Native ways of knowing. The leadership and evaluation teams also gained awareness that several of the initial project goals would need a longer timeframe to be accomplished in a substantive way. Particularly, they realized that more time was needed to immerse all three groups in environments that supported relationship building, which could then form a foundation for creating collaborative programming in a sustainable way.

In the South (Shadiah), a place of growth and organization, team reflection and evaluation identified a critical need to spend more time in this direction, focused on relationship building in particular. The Leadership team recognized that most Fellows were not ready to activate the collaborative work or to create products, but needed more time to build trust and deepen relationships. In response, they focused on creating environments where open and honest dialogue could be shared around the two worldviews. Findings from the workshops showed that Fellows made connections with collaborating partners, developed ideas for collaborative work that links Indigenous knowledge and Western science, became more reflective practitioners, and deepened their understanding of relationship building from Native worldviews.

In the West (Ii’ii’aah), a place of activation, outcomes centered on continued growth in knowledge, understanding, and awareness around relationship building and worldviews. For Fellows, activation included generating new ideas, enhancing programs, deepening relationships, developing grants, creating new projects/programs, creating advisory positions, and creating docent/staff training around inclusion of multiple worldviews. Fellows also encountered a number of challenges in the area of activation, including funding limitations and lack of institutional buy-in to support their work. The leadership and evaluation teams also deepened their engagement of partnership, particularly engaging and documenting diverse perspectives, understanding collaboration, and becoming more aware of one’s own roles, strengths and weaknesses.

In the North (Nahookos), a place of transformation, renewal, and evaluation leading to sustainability, the project focuses on lessons learned and future pathways. Future collaborations between Indigenous knowledge and Western science partners need to be considerate of the time and space needed for creating relationship, purposefully constructed into program environments. Another area of learning was all project activities need to be considerate of balance of voice, creating environments where all voices are heard, shared and experienced. Further, sometimes there may need to be more time spent on orienting the audience to Indigenous worldviews. At the funding agency level, the considerations of the amount of time needed to activate sustainable cross-cultural collaborations needs to be considered in terms of funding timelines, budgets, and evaluative frameworks (e.g. intended impacts).