With its open prairies, leafy groves and evergreen forests, Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve is an ideal site for long-term ecology research. It’s also uniquely positioned to engage in a very different kind of work bridging science and culture. This summer, Cedar Creek hosted a science camp and a symposium designed to engage indigenous communities and create a dialogue about the multi-faceted history of the land.
“The Gida camp and the Weaving Communities Indigenous Research Symposium really serve a dual purpose,” says Caitlin Barale Potter, education and outreach coordinator for the field station. “They are a way for the indigenous community to be part of the work going on at Cedar Creek, but just as important, it’s an opportunity for scientists working here to better understand the broader context of our location and its history, and move toward a more culturally competent approach to mentoring, teaching and doing research.”
A different kind of summer camp
Twenty-eight students and teachers spent three days at Cedar Creek during the Gidakiimanaaniwigamig (Gida) STEM Camp. The camp offers Native American students the opportunity to gain research experience and learn about ecology in a context that respects their own traditions.
Jake Grossman, a CBS graduate student and mentor for the Gida camp, points out that the immersion in ecological research gives students a context that incorporates their own cultural understanding is a powerful professional development opportunity. “[Participants] network with undergrads, grad students and faculty at Cedar Creek, building networks that will help them succeed in science,” says Grossman. “They leave with greater clarity about whether they want to pursue a career in science and how best to do this.”
Cultural context and conversation
In addition to the Gida camp, students from Cedar Creek and participants from Leech Lake Tribal College came together in July to share ideas for integrating Western and indigenous approaches to science at the Weaving Communities Indigenous Research Symposium.
Wren Walker Robbins, vice president of the NorthStar AISES Professional Chapter and a scientist, teacher and consultant, facilitated the discussion. Participants worked through ideas for actionable research and education projects, including a walking trail that will give visiting school groups the chance to collect important scientific data on plants of interest to Western ecologists and also to learn about how those plants are used and studied by Ojibwe in Minnesota.
Potter points to this cross-cultural collaboration as a critical outcome. “Participants in the Gida camp and the Weaving Communities symposium are clarifying their own ways of integrating western and indigenous science,” says Potter. “A project like this trail would not have been conceptualized, let alone made a reality, without their ideas and input.” — Lance Janssen