Indigenous Women in STEM Part 1: Background

Wisconsin Water Library > Water Library Blog > Indigenous Women in STEM Part 1: Background

By: India-Bleu Niehoff, Water Library Student Assistant


There has been a long history of Indigenous knowledge being ignored, denied and outright lambasted. It has been posited as being diametrically opposed to Western science, and those with Indigenous backgrounds wanting to work in the field of Western science have been told to forsake their traditional knowledge (if they are let in at all). Yet traditional or Indigenous knowledge and Western science are not in competition but are complementary to one another. Western science has much to gain from incorporating both Indigenous scientists and the knowledge they bring.

According to a report by the U.S. National Science Foundation, only 0.6 % of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce in 2021 identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2023). More broadly, women have also had a long history of being denied places in STEM fields, and their contributions and ideas have long been underrepresented and unrecognized. The same report found that the percentage of women in the STEM workforce was roughly 35% in 2021 (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2023). Consequently, people who make up the intersection of Indigenous and female are an even smaller subset of the STEM field (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2023). Indigenous women traditionally hold positions of leadership in Indigenous communities, as noted by Sarah EchoHawk, CEO of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), making these almost negligible numbers particularly alarming. This showcases the bias, stereotypes and prejudice that have been and currently are present in STEM fields. 

In this blog series, the Wisconsin Water Library will explore the background of Indigenous women in STEM. These resources examine both the integration of Indigenous knowledge into Western science scholarship and the experiences (and contributions) of Indigenous women scientists. In this first part, we provide sources that explore the history and challenges of Indigenous women in STEM. Part 2 of the series offers organizations and scholarships that support Indigenous women in STEM fields. And part 3 showcases important and upcoming Indigenous women scientists that are making an impact in their fields.


Epistemological Tensions in a Professional Development Pairing Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science for Education by Sara Krauskopf. Madison: Dissertation, 2020.

Integrating Indigenous and Western Education in Science Curricula Relationships at Play by Amy Eun-Ji Kim. Springer International Publishing: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.  

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions, 2013. 

Online Resources

A short piece introducing the underrepresentation of Indigenous women in STEM while highlighting a few figures and their experiences.

An article highlighting the experiences of Aboriginal women in STEM and the impact of COVID-19. While focusing on Australia, and from a few years ago, this is still an important piece. Women’s Agenda

Another Australia-focused article, this one looks at the role of Indigenous women in science, and how they are (not) incorporated into academia. Indigenous Women in Science

A short article discussing the intersection of traditional and local women’s Indigenous knowledge and how they interact with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Centre for International Governance Innovation 

A short report about Indigenous women in STEM and Indigenous science from the Indigenous Science Division at Environment and Climate Change Canada. Sacred Science

An editorial, Time to support Indigenous Science, by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Kyle Artelle, that discusses how Indigenous science (and scientists) can be supported and not hindered. Time to Support


Full Citations

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). 2023. Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities 2023. Special Report NSF 23-315. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at