The goal: bridging traditional ecological knowledge, conventional science.
Syracuse Post Standard
By Delen Goldberg
Robin Kimmerer has a goal.
She wants to make sure that every environmental scientist who graduates from the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry has an understanding of issues facing Native Americans. She wants students to leave the college with a knowledge of treaty rights, environmental justice and native sciences.
Kimmerer just might get her wish.
SUNY ESF officials on Tuesday named Kimmerer director of a new Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The center – the only one of its kind in the Northeast – will draw both on native wisdom and conventional science to explain, teach and study environmental protection and restoration.
“What makes this center unique is the bridge between Western, scientific knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge,” Kimmerer said Tuesday. “This is a way to increase our ability to learn from each other and work together to solve environmental problems.”
College officials announced the center’s creation Tuesday during a daylong teach-in focusing on environmental stewardship. Kimmerer, a SUNY ESF botany professor, spoke during several of the sessions.
The Center for Native Peoples and the Environment will focus on education, research and public outreach. Staff members will expand the college’s curriculum to include courses such as indigenous issues and the environment, ethnobotany (the plant lore of indigenous cultures) and traditional ecological knowledge. The first of the new classes will begin in spring 2007.
The college also will create a minor, Native Americans and the Environment.
Currently, only about 1 percent of the scientific work force is Native American, according to Kimmerer. She said she hopes the center will help increase that number.
“It’s absolutely (designed) for training more native environmental scientists,” Kimmerer said of the center. “But it’s also really important that mainstream environmentalists and policymakers learn about traditional ecological knowledge, too.”
About 200 undergraduate students who are enrolled in SUNY ESF’s environmental studies program, as well as a significant number of biology students, will benefit from classes and programs sponsored by the center, SUNY ESF President Cornelius B. Murphy Jr. said.
“It could certainly touch as many as 25 percent of our students directly,” Murphy said. The college enrolls about 1,750 undergraduates.
SUNY ESF paid $25,000 to establish the center, spokeswoman Claire Dunn said. The college also will provide $10,000 to create two scholarships for students from the Onondaga Nation.
College officials said they hope the scholarships will provide another chance to bridge any divides between SUNY ESF and the region’s Native Americans.
“One of the things that’s most important to me is that the center gives us an opportunity to create an academic environment where traditional knowledge is valued and welcomed,” Kimmerer said. “That’s not always the case.”