The Native Universe Project

Intellectual Merit

Native Universe: Indigenous Voice in Science Museums was a full-Scale Development Project designed to build institutional capacity in leadership and practice among science museums in order to increase public understanding of environmental change and the human relationship to nature from indigenous perspectives, while also providing access to science as practiced in the established scientific community. The project addressed a concern of the National Research Council (2009) that although Informal Science Education (ISE) institutions, such as science centers, libraries, and other places of learning outside the classroom, are making efforts to serve indigenous communities, these efforts typically fall short of the kind of deep systemic change necessary to fully infuse indigenous voice throughout ISE experiences.

Through a series of intensive long-term residencies at three Case Study Museums, project investigators worked with museum staff and volunteers, indigenous communities, and informal learning researchers to understand how cultural perspectives impact science learning about environmental change. The project documented the extent to which it is possible to transform institutional culture and museum learning opportunities to incorporate indigenous voice in a deep and sustained way. The project not only provided enriched visitor experiences, but in some ways ensured that these experiences are lasting and will grow with the institutions providing them.

Research to deepen our knowledge of how science museums can engage visitors in discourse around environmental change through cross-cultural perspectives addressed overarching questions of interest to the ISE field: 

  • What are the components across and within science museums that facilitate engagement and inclusion of the indigenous voice of their community with respect to environmental change? 
  • What is the process by which a museum moves through stages of readiness to change related to inclusion of minority voice in environmental issues? 
  • Across the Case Studies, does a model or models emerge that could inform how inclusion of indigenous voice moves across and within a science museum?  

What we learned from this research can enrich and sustain efforts to engage both the public and indigenous communities in culturally-based science beyond the impact of individual projects at each museum.

Collaborators included:

  • Indigenous Education Institute (IEI)—a nonprofit directed by Native leaders dedicated to the preservation and contemporary application of indigenous knowledge to science; 
  •  `Imiloa Astronomy Center, University of Hawai`i, Hilo (`Imiloa)—a pioneer in addressing cultural relevance to science at the institutional level; and  
  • Multiverse at the Space Sciences Laboratory, U.C. Berkeley (UCB)—a leadership group of interdisciplinary scientists and educators invested in Native perspectives.

Deliverables included:

  1. Museum Case Studies at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Durango Powerhouse Science Center featuring a one-week intensive experience at `Imiloa, 9-month residencies by the project team at each of the three museums, and video documentation; 
  2. Public Experiences for museum visitors; and 
  3.  Native Universe Community of Practice among museums committed to indigenous voice in informal science education.

Broader Impacts

Native Universe reached a primary audience of over 500 museum staff and volunteers at all levels at the Case Study Museums, and an additional 100 museum personnel in the Community of Practice. Based on visitors attending these three museums per year, we estimate that our project has reached a secondary audience of over a million visitors at the participating museums since the project started in 2012. These visitors include American Indian, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islanders. The COSI team and Native Pathways collaborated on the evaluation of the impacts on participants in the residencies at each museum, and assessed the degree to which the resulting public experiences increased public understanding of environmental change from a variety of indigenous and Western science perspectives. Please visit our Impacts Page to learn more about the impacts of this project.

The value of the project to the ISE field lied in a potential model for transformative change to enhance science learning about the environment through indigenous voice within each institution and across several institutions. The Native Universe model stems from a synthesis of research results, the residency exchanges, public experiences, and community of practice, providing a theoretical framework and practical methodology for science museums to deeply engage indigenous populations and the general public in environmental change through acultural lens. 


Goals for the Full-ScaleDevelopment Project Native Universe:Indigenous Voice in Science Museums reflect the Diné (Navajo) StrategicPlanning Process (Maryboy & Begay 2003). 

  1. East – Nitsahakees – a place of initiation: Assess how cultural background and experienceinfluence one’s perceptions of environmental change and the human relationshipto nature.     
  2. South – Nahat’a – a place of organization and growth: Explore how exposure to indigenous knowledge systemsjuxtaposed with mainstream science influences these perspectives.     
  3. West – Iina – a place of activation andimplementation: Develop in sciencemuseums institutional, systematic, and sustainable competence in bringing bothindigenous perspectives of environmental change and Western science knowledgeto the public.     
  4. North –Siihasin – a place of evaluation, renewal, and transformation: Build a sustainable community of practice among museums centered on deepinstitutional commitment to framing indigenous perspectives within the contextof significant changes going on in our environment.


  1. National Research Council (NRC). 2009. Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places and Pursuits. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  2. Maryboy, N. C. and D. Begay. 2003.  A Cosmic Planning Model for the World Hope Foundation. Indigenous Education Institute.