Indigenous college uses NASA grant to bridge traditional knowledge and Western science
Living Landscapes is a project that aims to bridge Indigenous knowledge and Western science to help monitor climate change and its effects.
The online curriculum for high school and college students that combines Indigenous knowledge and Western science is currently being developed by Salish Kootenai College.
The project, called Living Landscape: Culture, Climate Science and Education in Tribal Communities, is funded by a NASA ESTEEM award.
The team is about two and a half years into the three-year process of building the course and website. Once it's complete, it will be open to anyone.
"We come from a tradition of give away. So when we finish the project we're just going to give it away," said White, the information and education program manager for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
"Very importantly, we have Native science and cultural advisors, so we have our elders and culture bearers that live here on the reservation," providing their knowledge and guidance in building the project.
Using the "nine essential principles of climate science," White said they have asked elders which "cultural values ... should be the foundation or the framework for each one of those principles."
One example, "the sun is primary, the cultural value that the elders have assigned to that is gratitude," said White. "So, we're grateful for the sun that provides warmth to the Earth and to the plant and animal communities."
Ultimately, White said she and the team hope to empower communities to understand climate change in relation to their surroundings.
"When I was going to school there was not a single thing I learned about science that had to do with the place I lived or who I was. We'd like to change that with this project," she said.
Her community has already seen the impacts of climate change and its effects on traditions. White said the seasonal cycle revolves around "a set of coyote stories – they're the stories that tell about the making of this place."
"The elders tells us we're to bring them out in the winter time when there's snow on the ground and we put them away when the thunder wakes the hibernating animals," said White.
With winters with no snow on the ground and thunder before spring, White said this means difficult decisions must be made.
"The elders, who for 12,000 years, have kept the tradition of bringing out these precious stories of our history every winter and putting them away every spring … are faced with having to decide how we change 12,000 years of culture and language and history and tradition."