Cherokee basket weaving

Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge. Shared Science.

Museum Services

Case Study


Build a deep, collaborative exhibit creation process with four very different, geographically dispersed communities.


Through collaborative working partnerships, the design and development process focused on the different communities, and the exhibit was designed to serve and benefit all of the partners.


An exhibition that reflects the voices of the Native communities and the priorities of the scientific community.


Experience Design
Research & Development
Evaluation Services

Project Leads 

Vicki Coats
Cecilia Nguyen
Jaclyn Barber

Roots of Wisdom highlights a synthesis of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Western Scientific Knowledge in a complimentary way. 

This exhibit was made possible through a working partnership between the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI); the Indigenous Education Institute (IEI); and groups from four Native communities—Native Hawaiian members of the Pacific American Foundation and Waikalua Loko Fishpond Preservation Society, the Tulalip Tribes in northwestern Washington state, the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) in eastern Oregon, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina. The partnerships were unique in that they were created at the very beginning of the project to engage Native voices as co-creators. This type of collaboration provided a unique structure and process that featured collaboration with mutual consensus.

The Roots of Wisdom project was designed as collaborative and inclusive in many different ways:

  • Project leadership was shared by two principal investigators at OMSI and two principal investigators at the Indigenous Education Institute (IEI)
  • Project evaluation was led by Native and non-Native evaluators and was designed to integrate Western and Native evaluation perspectives and emerge from reciprocal collaboration with project partners.
  • Project advisors were Native and non-Native scholars, scientists, and experts in TEK; tribal and science museum educators; and local Native youth.
  • Project content focused on Indigenous knowledge as a way of knowing the natural world and explored environmental restoration projects in four Native communities. The exhibits and other project deliverables were developed in close collaboration with partners from each community.

Some of the strategies we used to promote successful collaboration:

  • Look for “bridge people” who have experience in and knowledge of both cultures, and who can provide guidance and support to connect us with other partners.
  • Co-create the project with our partners from the very beginning and work together to design a project that serves and benefits all of the partners.
  • Use a collaborative evaluation model—the evaluation questions and methods should be shaped by all the partners, not just the lead organization.
  • Take sufficient time for relationship building, deep listening, and shared decision making—building trust and understanding each other’s communication styles is critical.

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