‘Decolonization of science’: Federal agency releases records about developing policy about indigenous knowledge and ‘helicopter science’



The National Science Foundation released another monthly installment of records about federal policy toward indigenous knowledge, which reveal a desire on the part of some to restrict the free flow of information. The records are found at this link.

Last December, the Biden administration released guidance designed to promote the use of indigenous knowledge and beliefs in federal agencies’ decisions, but also to give tribes more control over the public release of their indigenous knowledge.

As the Daily Caller earlier reported, the Biden administration hosted “indigenous knowledge” seminars that warned scientists about “disrespecting spirits.”

In pages 3-4 of the most recent installment of records, a National Science Foundation grant reviewer urges the National Science Foundation to restrict “helicopter science” in which non-Native researchers collect data or knowledge in an area inhabited by natives without native consent, arguing that “The taking of Indigenous knowledge by settler scientists is unethical, antithetical to the mission of the NSF, and cannot and should not happen any longer.”

That NSF reviewer, Michelle LaRue of the University of Canterbury, writes, “I am writing to you as both an NSF grantee (awards #1744989 and #1543311) and also as a reviewer of NSF proposals to request  greater oversight of proposal activities and award activities that ultimately result in “helicopter science” – the idea of western scientists traveling to a region, taking information, data, and analysing back in their home countries without including or acknowledging local communities or cultures….

“As you are likely aware, there are substantial efforts worldwide to decolonize science….

“The taking of Indigenous knowledge by settler scientists is unethical, antithetical to the mission of the NSF, and cannot and should not happen any longer. To this end, I am requesting that NSF take action by providing scrutiny to proposals and research activities that involve research on Indigenous lands, involving Indigenous communities, or about Indigenous cultures – in the same way other ethical considerations are made in the proposal process.”

This letter was forwarded by NSF official Karla Heidelberg to other NSF staff for their consideration. If the NSF were to adopt LaRue’s proposal, it could restrict scientific collection of information in the vicinity of indigenous populations, stunting the free flow of information and reducing the stock of knowledge.

This information-restrictive mindset is echoed in a March 4, 2022 “Dear Tribal Leader” letter from the White House, which states, “The Administration recognizes that the Federal Government should engage with ITEK [indigenous traditional ecological knowledge] only through relationships with Tribal Nations and knowledge holders.” (see page 72 of the most recent OSTP release).

It is also echoed in a source cited in a federal guidance document for tribal consultation, which says in in footnote 43 that “For Native American communities, the public release of or access to specialized information or knowledge — gathered with and without informed consent — can cause irreparable harm. . .Each community will understand and use the term ‘culturally sensitive’ differently…” (See page 38 of the most recent OSTP release, citing Protocols for Native American Archival Materials). This language is also found in footnote 54 of the Biden administration guidance on the use of indigenous knowledge released in December.

These records were released in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit. When two federal agencies failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request about federal policy on indigenous knowledge, the Bader Family Foundation sued them in federal court, compelling the agencies to produce the records covered by that FOIA request. The two agencies sued — the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy — began producing those records in monthly installments (such as this record and this one and this one).

Indigenous knowledge and beliefs can be useful, or they can be quackery or harmful superstition. Examples of harmful traditional beliefs include using cautery as a “remedy” for illnesses. Cautery “involves placing a heated metal object …. on the patient’s skin. The procedure is painful, burning the skin and leaving a permanent scar.” And it doesn’t cure the sick.

Despite the uneven quality of indigenous knowledge, the Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Indigenous Knowledge issued by the Biden administration in December says that “Agencies should also include Indigenous Knowledge as an aspect of best available science,” and that “Indigenous Knowledge … may be used in HISA [Highly Influential Scientific Assessment] documents.”

Some tribal governments have asked the Biden administration to provide federal subsidies for tribal review of federal projects and for access to indigenous knowledge. They have also asked the administration to curb access to information under the Freedom of Information Act. (See this record, for example).

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for CNSNews.com and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”  This story first appeared in https://libertyunyielding.com


    • An odd aside. Leech therapy is common in some US hospitals for the treatment of certain blood related illnesses.

      Seems it’s less invasive.

  1. Ms. LaRue works for an institution located in NEW ZEALAND. At some level, I could care less about what she thinks. At a minimum, her comments are gratuitous and should not be used as a basis for policy decisions in the United States.

  2. The United States is currently in a domestic “propaganda” bubble where science can be whatever a gullible public is willing to believe!

  3. Not any more ridiculous than any other religious beliefs. Only others beliefs are superstitious and tribal, not ours, right? See also Christianity, Islam, Mormonism.

    • No, so-called ‘wokeism’ is FAR more ridiculous than any religion, because there is always a chance that one or more of those religions are fundamentally true, whereas ‘wokeism’ is an abject and complete denial of reality itself, and was intellectually and morally dead right out of the starting gate.

  4. It would be kind of nice if the family (tribe) had forensic access first. You know: like being able to access your family records, property catalogs first. Wouldn’t it be nice to read family historic data before the museums and public first etc. What happens now is that contemporary in situ family with storage constraints wants to hide data and collections from progeny of those being wiped from family trees. Combined with intelligent mindful legal harms, per government policy the planned obsolescence of regional families is going ahead of planned eugenic schedule.

  5. With continued good fortune the pale complexion ones will no longer need to make room for work schedules in public or private sectors for declining dark skinned employees (or the reverse) nor will disinterested publics be annoyed with complaining comments throughout the declination. And, a more homogeneous population will be achieved.

  6. Sad thing is, Grandpa Bloodstains came close to something, but as his style, F’d it.

    Many common remedies do have basic in native treatments. Devils Club is good for things rash to lowering BP.

    Pepto has origins in kaolin. A clay the Cherokee in Georgia would eat.

    But instead of just acknowledging contributions to medicine from native culture, Grandpa Bloodstains goes too far.

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