"Living in Relations" Research Project

Menominee Indian Tribe, Northwestern University, and The American Indian Center (AIC) Research Project
With Funding through The National Science Foundation - REESE and ISE Grants.

Check out our new "Early Science and Nature" video!  August 14, 2013

Want to know more about our research is about? See for yourself and watch the 9 minute video which is also located on our "videos" page. "Register Productions" was on the reservation and met with some of our staff and Community Designers last summer as part of a larger take on the research project we are part of. Very nicely done and informative if you are at all curious about how our kids learn about science. 

 The original video can be seen here Early Science and Nature

WBEZ's Gabriel Spitzer does a story on our project.....

On Friday, March 23rd, 2012, Gabriel Spitzer from Chicago's National Public Radio Affiliate WBEZ was on the Menominee Reservation, doing a story about our science project. Amy Miller-Cox, Karen Washinawatok, and myself (Brett Reiter) were all interviewed by Gabriel at the Menominee Language and Culture Building in the morning. After the interviews, Amy and I took Gabriel to Keshena Falls where we happened to run into Sheldon Webster and Richard Annamitta from the Menominee Tribal Conservation Department. Gabriel was able to interview those two as well as get some sound clips of the river and see the historic sturgeon spawning location. You may live stream the show on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 from 6:40am to 8:40am at http://www.wbez.org/clever-apes. Also see our photo gallery to see photos of Gabriel's visit.



Would you like to earn $$ and help us with our science research?! 

We are currently recruiting to interview a parent and their child (age 3-5). You can earn $20! Contact us to find out more 799-4849!

Living in Relations & Community Based Citizen Science (LiR and CBCS) 


Community Science Based Research for the Menominee People & Youth

For over 13 years there has been a collaborative effort taking place to understand how children interpret the natural world around them and how their learning methods are created and affected.  By understanding this process, we believe we can develop a science based curriculum that centers on cultural integration when teaching our children.

The study takes place in two communities: the urban area of Chicago, IL (both urban non-Indian and urban Indian), and the Menominee Reservation of WI.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides funding through two separate grants: Informal Science Education (ISE) and  Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE).  The Menominee Indian Tribe along with Northwestern University (NU), Department of Psychology, Evanston, IL,  provides technical support, as well as a vast amount of knowledge and expertise in the collecting and analyzing of data.

Support from local schools:

Local schools played an important part in the process.  They provided opportunities for the research to take place. The Menominee Tribal School, Keshena Primary School, and the Menominee Nation Early Childhood Program (Head Start) have worked closely with the research project for the past several years. With our new funding we will be focusing on parents and children outside of the school setting.

We are currently recruiting parents and their children (ages 3-8 and 14-18) to participate in our project. In addition to the personal satisfaction of being a part of this great project participants will be paid for their time after they complete a scheduled interview/task.

(All payments are made by check through the M.I.T.W.)


Menominee Community Involvement 


Balancing Life’s Traditions, Language, Technology in Creating Productive Learning Environments for Menominee People

The community provides valuable input.  This vision statement was created by members of the Menominee community through bi-monthly  meetings held to discuss our understanding of  science, its application, and how we can help ensure a quality, individualized science curriculum that will benefit future generations of Menominee children.  This community committee has worked very hard and has provided a tremendous amount  of  insight.

A balance between past and present has been a driving force behind the community's involvement with this project. 

As many people are aware, including the institutions that are involved, Indigenous People were the first scientists.  Our ability to observe and understand the world around us created a knowledge that has sustained our People for generations.  We need to ensure that our traditional teachings do not get lost in this rapid advancement of technology and learning. 

We need to use the past to our advantage, to brighten and better our future.

Community participation is essential to this ongoing project. 

Currently we are meeting with two design teams comprised of community members who have a vested interest in the community, traditions, culture and most importantly our children and their education.

For all children under the age of 18 involved with the research tasks a parental consent form must be signed by the parent or guardian. 

The consent forms must be completed before any interviews can begin.  The interviews are recorded and are used solely for research purposes, which is discussed with greater detail in the consent form.


Head Start Diorama:  Children ages 3-4 were asked to play with a forest diorama, complete with forest and exotic animals.  Their interaction and play were observed as they placed the animals in the forest.

Draw A Forest Task:  Children ages 5-6 and 9-10 were asked to draw a forest and all the things they felt were important to a forest and then explain what they drew and why.

Ice Fishing Interviews:  Children who were of age to ice fish (primarily age 3 and older) were accompanied by an adult and their ice fishing experience was audio taped.  This helped researchers understand how children learned about this activity and all the various teachings it encompasses.

Maple Sugar Camp: Researchers were able to assist with local Maple Sugar Camps through the schools and look at teaching methods as they are applicable to this activity.  

All research assistants conducting interviews are community members with an interest in tradition, culture and values.








New Funding, new direction for our project...

POSOH all! As you probably noticed, we have had some changes to our research project. Our funding ended in August and we were out of commission so to speak for a short time but we are back and have lots of exciting projects and tasks ahead of us. For one thing, we have received funding again through the National Science Foundation via a Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE) Grant as well as funding through a Informal Science Education grant (I.S.E.), also through the National Science Foundation. The Menominee Indian Tribe is now handling the grant so the project's Research Assistants are now Tribal Employees. Our tasks and duties will remain the same and although we are now Tribal employees, the research is actually a collaborative effort by Northwestern University, The Menominee Indian Tribe, and The American Indian Center of Chicago.  Douglas Medin is still the head of the research project.  We are dedicated to conducting our research with the utmost respect for the native culture and traditions and take pride in the fact that we ourselves are native and have a stake in this research. 

Check our "Staff" page to see changes to personnel; Sara Wescott has left for a job with the Menominee Indian School District and we wish her well in all her endeavors. At this time I am not sure about any new personnel but for the time being you will see Connie Rasmussen ( crasmussen@mitw.org ) and I, Brett Reiter ( b-reiter1@northwestern.edu ) in the schools again this year. Again we will be volunteering in the classrooms, collecting permission letters and conducting interviews. Additionally, we still have data that we need to process from our previous interviews but we have a whole set of news tasks that we will be conducting in the coming year.

As always, if anyone ever has any questions about what we are doing, they may feel free to contact us at the Menominee Language and Culture Commission, (715) 799-4849. Karen Washinawatok ( kwashinawatok@mitw.org ) is still the Primary investigator for the project and you may direct your questions to her as well.



Results of some of our research posted in N.U. Newsletter!

Below is an article posted in the Northwestern University's "News Center" portion of their newsletter on May 10, 2010.

(This can be found at Northwestern.edu/newscenter )  

 May 10, 2010 | Research Animals Talk, Sing and Act Like Humans? Young children's reasoning about biological world is influenced by cultural beliefs By Hilary Hurd Anyaso EVANSTON, Ill. --- How do children reason about the natural world? How do they understand the relation between human and non-human animals? For decades, the consensus was that as young children begin reasoning about the biological world, they adopt an "anthropocentric" stance, favoring humans over non-human animals when it comes to learning about properties of animals. But Northwestern University researchers have taken another look at the way children reason about biology. Research by Douglas Medin, Sandra Waxman and Jennie Woodring in the psychology department in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Karen Washinawatok of the Menominee Language and Culture Commission reveals that this style of human-centered reasoning is not universal. In a study, which appeared May 1 in the journal Cognitive Development, the Northwestern researchers teamed up with researchers and educators from the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin to determine whether this human-centered (or anthropocentric) reasoning is universal. They were interested in whether such reasoning is influenced by children's experience with the natural world and the culture and belief systems of their communities. To examine these potential influences, the study included children growing up in an urban setting (Chicago) as well as children from rural Wisconsin, who have more extensive direct contact with the natural world. To examine the influence of culture, the rural community included European-American and Native American (Menominee) children. The results were striking -- while young urban children revealed a human-centered pattern of reasoning, the rural European-American and Native American children did not. Children's experience, including the extent of their day-to-day interactions with the natural world and their sensitivity to the belief systems of their communities, influences their reasoning about the natural world. For example, the researchers noted that while children generally are taught in school that only plants and animals are alive, the traditional Menominee notion of "alive" includes natural inanimates, such as rocks and water, and may even include artifacts, depending on the purpose for which they were made. Such cultural differences provide strong evidence that the human-centered pattern displayed by young urban children is not a universal starting point for development, as researchers and educators had previously assumed, said Waxman, a co-author and professor of psychology. "Instead, this human-centered style of reasoning is itself culturally inflected," said Waxman. "It may, in fact, reflect a cultural model that is prevalent in the media for young children, for example, stories and films in which animals talk, sing and act like humans." Hilary Hurd Anyaso is the law and social sciences editor. Contact her at h-anyaso@northwestern.edu

Some of our work published on "Psychology Today" website!

The following is a re-post of an article called "Kids Think Humans Are Special" on the website "psychologytoday.com" Our Menominee Researchers assisted with the data collection for this study and our Keshena Head Start kids participated! Good Stuff :) Without any further adieu, here is the article:

Kids Think Humans Are Special

How can kids learn that humans are also animals?

Published on November 14, 2011 by Art Markman, Ph.D. in Ulterior Motives 


Humans and animals
There is no doubt that humans are special among all of the animals on Earth. We have come to dominate the planet, because of our abilities to communicate effectively, use tools, and create complex cultures. 


Although, we are special, we are also members of the animal kingdom. There are lots of reasons why that matters. We can learn a lot about the way the human body functions by studying animals.  There are also ethical issues. The more that we see humans as just another member of the animal kingdom, the more that we are likely to respect the rights of those animals to live and to protect their habitats.

Yet, language distorts the relationship between humans and the rest of the animals. In English, we usually use the word animal as a contrast to the word human. At the dinner table, parents will tell their children to eat like a person not like an animal. We say that a pack of wild teenagers was running around like animals. We witness a great performance by an athlete and say that he was ananimal out on the field.  

By the time we are adults, we understand that humans are animals, even though they are also special. Children, however, seem to take time to sort out the relationship between humans and animals.

An interesting set of studies by Patricia Hermann, Douglas Medin, and Sandra Waxman from the January, 2012 issue of Cognition explores this issue and suggests a way to help children bridge the gap between humans and animals.

In one study, 3- and 5-year-olds were taught a new word (blicket). They were introduced to a puppet, and were told that the puppet lives far away and has funny words for things. They were shown pictures of a dog and a bird (both animals) and were told that the puppet calls these things blickets. Then, they were shown a variety of pictures of other nonhuman animals, as well as a picture of a man and a woman, and a number of objects that are not alive.

In this study, the children applied the word blicket to the dog, the bird, and the other animals they were shown. They did not apply the word blicket to the objects. In addition, they did not use the word blicket for the people. So, the children clearly treated humans differently than the other animals.

In a second study, though, the same procedure was used. This time, though, the word blicket was applied to a person and to a bird or a dog. Again, the children were tested on a variety of other animals and objects. In this case, the children were quite willing to apply the word blicket to the human (as they were taught). They also applied the word to other nonhuman animals. The 3-year-olds tended to apply the word to lots of the objects as well, but the 5-year-olds did not use the word blicket for objects.

That is, by the age of 5, children were able to see that a word that applies to humans and other nonhuman animals should not be used for objects as well.

What does this mean?

By the time children are 5, they generally see humans as special. However, they also seem ready to recognize that humans and other animals have a lot in common. They just need a little push to help them learn to classify humans and other animals together. Giving them a word that applies to both is one push in that direction.

In the modern world, we need to reinforce the connection between humans and other animals. Obviously, learning this relationship prepares students to learn science to see that humans and animals share a deep biological bond. Equally important, though, in a world where children can live their lives seeing few other animals beyond pets and the occasional bird and squirrel, we need to strengthen the connection between our species and all of the other animals with whom we share the planet. 

 Published November 14, 2012.