Start with a rock

Laurie Montemurro

The Relationship Between Indigenous Knowledge and Scientific Knowledge

“Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.” (1)

People tell stories to share information. Sometimes this information is exploited for its sensational value. Or we learn a story only to change it for our own gain. Or we forget parts. Or decide some of it is boring and delete it. Today, I am offering you an introduction of facts, followed by a story.

I want to share the facts first, so that you, the reader, can make your own decisions. It is important to choose a path that is based in self-knowledge and not sensationalism. Indigenous cultures believe intuition is a key element of wellness and is as important as formal education. Which makes sense, given that there are more neural cells lining your gut walls than anywhere else in your body. Science refers to this area as our second brain.

This is our first connection between Science and Indigenous knowledge. Both agree we think with our guts and our brain. And both are necessary for determining the right choice of action for our mental wellness.

Elder Jim Dumont defines the four directions of the medicine wheel as four behaviors expressed through personal actions and beliefs. Physical action brings about a sense of purpose; Spiritual belief allows us to feel hope; Mental attitudes provide meaning to our life and Emotional connection equals a sense of belonging to the world around us. All four of these need to be in balance and working together for mental wellness to be present.

The World Health Organization has three definitions of health in their Constitution. To be free of disease, to be able to function in all aspects of daily life and “that health is a state of balance, an equilibrium that an individual has established with himself and between himself and his social and physical environment.” (2)

The Anishinaabe believe that for health to be present “there needs to be a focus on community and the relationship between community and land.” (3) Living well is to thrive and enjoy satisfaction in all areas of life.

These relationships between those around us and the land we live within are meshed with our own healing. Elder Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes shared with me that you heal everyone in your circle when you heal yourself. Traditional knowledge holds that we have a responsibility to witness, participate and take part in our healing.

Be alert! There is a difference to being selfish and listening to self. If we take the time to listen, to connect and recognize the truth and honesty in ourselves, we will be able to recognize it in the world around us.

‘I can only start where I am.’ Both traditional Indigenous beliefs and science tell us we are in the middle of a circle, surrounded by family, community and the land we live in. To cultivate our own mental wellness, we must recognize and take action towards supporting the health of everything and everyone around us.

A CNN report from 2017 states seven reasons the world is now more at risk of pandemics. Six of these reasons intersect with traditional beliefs.

1. Growing population and urbanization – care of our community members.
2. Encroachment into new environments – respect for the planet and all life on it.
3. Climate change – taking care of the planet, only use what we need.
4. Civil conflict – respect for all people.
5. Fewer health care providers – taking responsibility for our own health builds a more resilient population.
6. Faster information brings about higher levels of fear and multiple ways to spread it – to share knowledge without exploiting it for our own gain.

Elder Cheryle says we are all part of a multi-dimensional being on a continual journey for truth. Science is also on a continual journey for truth. Their approaches are worlds apart, yet their end point is the same, the truth.

The pandemic is offering us the opportunity for change. We can merge the worlds of science and traditional knowledge, use them equally as powerful forces working towards a common goal. Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall of Nova Scotia defines this as Two-Eyed Seeing.

“. . . learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing, and to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all”. (4)

The following story is based on the teachings of the Medicine Wheel as a definition of wholeness between the character and the world around them. They establish a personal relationship with their world, one that is balanced between their spiritual, physical, mental and emotional states. Wholeness requires us to see how all of the parts connect. Once we establish a relationship to the whole, it becomes mutually sustaining. What we contribute is what we
will receive.

The story opens with an example of knowledge. The character has to use reason to figure something out. Wisdom follows with the movement to do something about it. The third step is awareness, the character opens their eyes to see the world around them. They then take the step to relate to this world, to understand what is required and take the time to participate in it.

We cannot choose what will happen in our day. But our response has power. And it will affect the world.

The rock

I’m lying in my bed, face pressed into my pillow. I can’t breathe very well, and the sheets smell funny. Kind of like the locker room after gym class. There’s something small and hard pressing into my cheek. It hurts.

I’m here because life sucks. School sucks. Not hanging out with my friends sucks. COVID sucks. My life is a black hole and I’m falling in. May as well be comfortable when I crash at the bottom.

This thing is really starting to bug me. It’s probably going to make a hole in my face, and I’ll die of some weird infection that eats my brain. I should really move and check it out. Though, why bother? I’m going to die of COVID anyway. Sure, they’ve got a vaccine but I’m at the end of the line to get it. By then, there’s probably going to be some new strain that turns us all into lung sucking zombies.

I decide to stay in bed until it’s all over. It’s safe in here. Quiet. Dark.

Except this thing hasn’t moved. It’s there, like a fact in my face. Oh jeez, maybe my skin is growing over it. I’m going to end up with a thing permanently stuck in my face. It’s going to grow inside of me, and I will have to have my face removed.

My feet are sweating. My fingers twitch and I am no longer comfortable. I need to deal with this if I’m going to stay here forever.

I roll onto my back and pick the thing out of my cheek. I squint at it in the dark. It is small and looks gray. I turn on my lamp and bring it closer to my eyes. I can see tiny pits in the surface, hard angles in all directions. It’s white with black flecks. I try crushing it with my fingers. Nope. I put it between my teeth and bite down hard, pull it back out. Now it’s slimy but nothing else has changed. It’s a rock.

I put it on my table and gently feel my cheek. There is a small indent, the depth of the rock. It’s sore to touch. I figure now that I’ve removed it, I can go back to not moving. Get comfortable forever.

I squeeze my eyes closed, try to find the centre of my black hole. The smells drifting into my bedroom make my stomach growl. Mum’s making lasagna.

I squeeze my eyes tighter. Focus on my crap life. Cheesy meat filled pasta is not going to help. The rumbling in my gut sounds like a motorcycle revving. My cheek hurts, I’m sweaty and my bed stinks.

“Dinner!” Mum calls.

I rip off the duvet and fling my door open, ready to tell Mum off for disturbing me. I see Grandma standing at the top of the stairs. She’s eighty years old and a little shaky when she walks. Grandma hears my door slam open and she turns her head to me.

“Oh honey, can you help me down these? My legs aren’t working well today.”

I can’t say no to Grandma. Once the pandemic hit, Mum moved her in with us so she wouldn’t be on her own. Family is super important to Mum.

I offer Grandma my elbow and we go down, one stair at a time. She doesn’t seem to notice my mood, her attention is on the stairs. She hums a quiet tune, it keeps time with our steps.

At the bottom, she holds my arm tighter. Now I feel like she’s guiding me into the kitchen. The lasagna sits in the middle of the table, steaming. I drool a little looking at it.

The kitchen is bright. There’s a lit candle in the centre of the table. My little brother has taped about a hundred more drawings to the fridge today. He sees me and runs over, throwing himself at me. I manage to stay upright and keep Grandma moving to her chair with fifteen kilograms locked around my legs. Grandma giggles. Mum is busy putting water glasses on the table.

I get Grandma seated and bend down to scoop five years-worth of boy into a bear hug. I growl in his neck. He squeals and wriggles. I am not about to invite him into my black hole with me. What little kid needs to be lost in negative space? I set him down opposite Grandma and sit beside him.

“What happened to your face?” Mum stops by my chair, her gentle finger brushes my cheek. “There’s a bruise there. Let me get some ice.” Her voice is kind, it soothes my skin.

Mum gives me a tea towel packed with ice cubes. Little brother babbles beside me, telling me the same super hero stories he’s told me all week. Grandma watches us with a smile on her face. Then Mum serves me a slab of lasagna. My stomach growls in thanks.

We all eat, taking care to pay attention to each other, passing bread, salad and water without anyone having to ask first. By the end of the meal, all of the ice has melted, and my cheek doesn’t hurt.

I feel warm and relaxed. My black hole is a pin point far in the distance. I help Mum clear the table. Grandma teaches my brother a song about ducks following a leader to stay safe.

Mum points out that a rock in my bed is proof it’s time to take action and clean my room. I enlist my little brother to help me. We chase each other around the house, throwing dirty socks and barking like crazy animals. It feels good to move around and laugh.

Later, I gather up the socks and put on a load of laundry. I read a bedtime story to my sleepy sibling. It’s about a brother and sister and the things she tells him to make them both feel safe in the world.

Now I’m back in bed. My room smells clean. Mum gave me some salve for my bruise. It seems to help. I lay on my back and look out the window. The moon is full, and I can see stars. Beside me the rock sits on my table. A reminder that I can change my world.


  • 1 Collins, Suzanne, Mockingjay, 2010


  • Charles, Anthony. Loucks, Laura. Berkes, Fikret. Armitage, Derek. Community Science: A typology and its implications for governance of social-ecological systems. Environmental Science and Policy, Vol. 106, April 2020, p. 77 – 86.
  • Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes, Elder, Interview, Feb. 19, 2021