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Collaborations: An Overview

Due to the bi-cultural nature of the Cosmic Serpent project, the NSF collaborative proposal —where two institutions share the responsibility for carrying out the proposed work— seemed to be exactly what this project required. With the Indigenous Education Institute as the lead institution and the University of California, Berkeley as the Co-Lead, we came together to collaborate, worked as a close team to ensure we were meeting the goals of our program. This type of collaborative process was imperative to the success of our project that involved different ways of understanding the world, including different ways of communicating and understanding relationship.

Drawing of two intertwined snake-men, Spiro Mound, Oklahoma, from ancient engraved whelk shell, National Museum of American Indian

Collaboration is a thread that was woven throughout the Cosmic Serpent project. Collaboration is built on a web of relationships all working towards the same program and goal. It is found in our work with each other, with our Cosmic Serpent team partners, with the participants of the Cosmic Serpent workshops, with the Cosmic Serpent advisors, and with the Cosmic Serpent regional networks.

Collaborative projects take more time and money than non-collaborative projects. They require more time spent building and maintaining relationships. They require more local and regional travel for face-to-face meetings. They require more time for teleconference calls and emails than in other modes of working.

In the face-to-face meetings , we can read each other’s body language as well as hear each other’s words, in order to work side-by-side, respectively sharing thoughts and creative ideas. In teleconference calls we can hear our voices to better understand different points of views. In emails, we provide text and graphics in more efficient (but sometimes less effective) ways. It is in these collaborative working relationships that we do our work, for example: create agendas, and find locations for our workshops, get advice about follow-up with workshop participants, and provide support to participants.

Presentation at International Planetary Society Annual Conference, Chicago 2008 Dr. Nancy C. Maryboy, Chad (Kalepa) Baybayon, Pepe Huichim, and Dr. Isabel Hawkins

We felt strongly that the collaborative process was more efficient than a non-collaborative process. As we pooled our resources, we became more efficient. The collaborative relationships allowed more to be accomplished because the work propagated out through the relationship networks in a way not possible without collaboration. The collaboration provided authenticity on all levels and provided a means to meet community needs, whether in a scientific setting or a rural tribal community. It was through our modeling of collaboration that we honored the two ways of knowing. A collaborative input provided a strong sense of buy-in to the project and the development of the workshops. This sense of ownership pervaded all our work, and led to multi-faceted objectives and activities, anchored by a collaborative planning process and evaluation. The strategic plan that had been developed for the Cosmic Serpent project was based on a Navajo cosmology model of nature, which is fluid and provides ongoing assessment and corrective action at many levels. The nature of the collaborative process has ancient roots in Native America and we showcased it to bring awareness of Indigenous processes and how they can be used with great success today.

We can offer several excellent examples of collaboration between western scientists and Indigenous knowledge holders that hold promise as examples for the museum world. One is the NASA-funded One Earth One Universe collaboration with the Native American Science Academy, led by Silver Buffalo’s Rose Von Thater-Braan. Another example is the work of the Indigenous Education Institute with Dr. Phil Sakimoto of the University of Notre Dame to develop a prototype digital planetarium show based on Navajo Astronomy, funded by a NASA’s IDEAS grant. Still another example is the development of Sharing the Skies: Navajo educational materials developed by the Indigenous Education Institute and the World Hope Foundation, funded by the Kellogg Foundation. And still other examples exist such as the emerging collaboration of the Indigenous Education Institute and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, for exhibit proposals to NASA and to NSF.

We found that through our Cosmic Serpent workshops, participants built relationships with each other, formed learning communities, and followed our lead, working collaboratively with one another in mutual respect to produce effective and relevant museum and science center programs or products.