We Are All Mathematicians

  1. At the beginning of the reading, Leroy Little Bear (2000) states that colonialism “tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews. … Typically, this proposition creates oppression and discrimination” (p. 77). Think back on your experiences of the teaching and learning of mathematics — were there aspects of it that were oppressive and/or discriminating for you or other students?
  2. After reading Poirier’s article: Teaching mathematics and the Inuit Community, identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes mathematics and the way we learn it.

Looking back at my experiences of the teaching and learning of mathematics I do not think there were any aspects of it that were oppressive and/or discriminating to me or other students. I say this mainly because I and my fellow students were all white, English speaking, and all of us were born in Canada. We all grew up learning the base 10 system and our first language was English. The only part of it that may have been discriminating is the equal expectations between students of different learning abilities. In my class, we had students who were grade levels above others because of intellectual disabilities, yet, those individuals were expected to perform the same outcomes as those performing at much higher grade levels. No amount of teacher instruction is going to get that student to the same level as the others, it is simply a developmental issue. The student will get there on their own time and should not have to conform to the developmental stage that the government deems as important.


In Poirier’s article: Teaching Mathematics and the Inuit community, I noticed three main concepts that challenged Eurocentric ideas about purposes in mathematics and the way we learn it. The first is that Inuit mathematics does not rely on symbols but rather they use oral words to count: “Their tradition being essentially an oral one, the Inuit have developed a system for expressing numbers orally. They do not have other means of representing numbers;
they have borrowed their number symbols from the Europeans.” (p. 57) Before Europeans colonized North America they had no need to represent numbers with written symbols.

The next way that Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideals is perhaps one of the most noticeable differences. They have a base-20 numeral system instead of base-10 like ours. This means that re-grouping occurs when numbers reach groups of 20 instead of 10. In one of my math classes in university we were taught to count in different bases such as 6, 8, 2 (binary), and even 20, changing your way of counting was one of the most unnatural and difficult processes I have ever had to do. I could not even do simple addition problems on different bases without a lot of practice.

Lastly, a major challenge to Eurocentric mathematics is that Inuit Calendars are based on the natural and cyclical nature of the environment. Instead of numbered days in months, the months change based on changes throughout their environment. Instead of January-December. Months on the Inuit calendar are as follows:

• coldest of all months
• when baby seals are born but are dead
• when baby seals are born
• when bearded baby seals are born
• when baby caribou are born

• when birds lay their eggs
• when the ice breaks
• when sea elephants rest on land
• when the caribou’s antlers lose their velvet
• when male caribou fight for a female
• when the caribou’s antlers fall
• when two stars appear in the sky

What I find interesting is that these months do not need specific dates or numbers, yet, everyone can identify the time of year they take place. Eurocentric ideals often need specific labels for everything, yet, the Inuit calendar proves that we can still orient ourselves in the time of year without clocks or days of the week.




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