In August, the Center celebrated the 11th anniversary of Native Earth, our flagship environmental summer program for Indigenous high school students. This year, 14 young people, 7 chaperones and family members, and Center staff gathered at the SUNY Newcomb Campus in the Adirondacks for a week of hands-on learning, community building, leadership development, and traditional skills acquisition. The youth represented Tuscarora, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Saponi, and Mohawk affiliations.
As in past years, Native Earth blended insights from traditional ecological knowledge and academic environmental science, with a strong emphasis on land-based and experiential learning as well as learning about traditional skills. The Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force is the Center’s leading partner for Native Earth. The week began and ended with a bundling ceremony for students led by Task Force Director David Arquette.
Highlights of the week included a Hudson River Watershed paddle with Associate Director of the Adirondack Ecological Center Paul Hai, a medicine plant workshop by herbalist Jeanne Shenandoah (Onondaga), participation in The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Summit, and a student screening of short digital movies produced by students during the week.
In addition to these more formal workshops, students also explored the Adirondack region by hiking Mt. Goodnow, canoeing at Rich Lake, playing traditional Indigenous games, and a two-night camping adventure on a pre-contact Haudenosaunee site on Tupper Lake. Special thanks to Dr. Tim Messner of SUNY Potsdam who paddled hard to secure the location for the students and shared the archeological story of the area.
The program benefited from support provided by the staff at SUNY-Newcomb, as well as the use of their facilities, notably the Adirondack Ecological Center. The Center’s partnership with The Wild Center in Tupper Lake also inspired multiple activities. Students participated in the Youth Climate Summit and explored the museum’s extensive exhibits, including those highlighting Traditional Ecological Knowledge of the Adirondack region.
At the conclusion of the week, students expressed that their participation in Native Earth had encouraged them to reconnect with traditional teachings about humans’ relationship with their more-than-human kin. The impact of participation in Native Earth will extend far beyond the week of the program. One participant summed it up: “I had a great time and I’ll never forget the experience.”
As in past years, this year’s program was free for all participants, thanks to generous funding from the NY DEC, and participants were offered the opportunity to enroll in the program for college credit. Native Earth began in 2010 to bring together Native American high school students to explore the intersection between traditional ecological knowledge and environmental science. The program brings together Indigenous environmental stewardship philosophy and the tools of western science, taught by Native elders, teachers and environmental professionals through wilderness field experience, traditional instruction, cultural and scientific activities.
Written by Neil Patterson Jr.
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