The Swinomish Tribe and OSU researchers have been awarded over $1.6 million to expand a traditional native foods environmental education program!

The Swinomish Tribe and OSU researchers have been awarded more than $1.6 million from the National Science Foundation to expand an environmental education program that focuses on traditional native foods. About the Program: This program expansion is a five-year project with the goal of tackling the issues that place-based people face when their culture, community, […]

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September 9, 2019

The Swinomish Tribe and OSU researchers have been awarded more than $1.6 million from the National Science Foundation to expand an environmental education program that focuses on traditional native foods.

About the Program:

This program expansion is a five-year project with the goal of tackling the issues that place-based people face when their culture, community, and personal health are closely linked with the state of their local environment. Not only do traditional foods provide sustenance but they play an important part of the cultural traditions that promote the health and well-being of tribal members. A big part of gaining sovereignty is food sovereignty for consumption, medicine, and food to pass on the knowledge and culture associated with those foods. 

“This is not a health grant, but in the indigenous way of thinking, everything is connected – the health of the environment, the health of individuals, the health of the community, spiritual health.”

– Jamie Donatuto, environmental health analyst for
the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the project’s lead investigator.

This most recent grant is the second awarded by the National Science Foundation to Jamie Donatuto and Diana Rohlman, another environmental health researcher who has worked with the Swinomish since 2013. The first grant was almost $300,000 in 2015 to develop an informal educational health education model for the tribal communities to utilize. 

 A depiction of 13 Moons materials, including a cedar bentwood box and traditional medicines. Photo by Myk Heidt.

In general, tribal communities are disproportionately affected by environmental issues in comparison with other groups. These issues are closely linked with the health of an individual and result in a higher rate of health problems among tribal members, according to Rohlman. 

The biggest challenge with environmental sustainability education is that the current existing curricula are more often than not, culturally inappropriate and not relevant to tribal members, she said. This means that an effective curriculum needs to essentially be completely reworked to be more effective and applicable for this community. 

The original project featured a curriculum that combined indigenous knowledge with their practices and learning styles to create a holistic educational program.  The curriculum was based on the Swinomish Tribe’s 13 Moons calendar and the concept of “First Foods”. The 13 Moons curriculum was specifically designed to engage youth with tribal elders through traditional practice lessons and relevant STEM curriculum as well. 

Researchers associated specific First Foods to each month of the 13 Moon calendar and assign activities based on those foods. Image credit: Todd Mitchell and Jamie Donatuto.

The first project was extremely successful among Swinomish tribal members and drew interest in other place-based curricula for other tribal communities. The new grant of $1.6 million will allow this team of researchers to do four things. 

  1. Conduct an assessment of the already existing environmental health curricula and identify where the gaps are. 
  2. Bring together the Coast Salish people across the western Washington state region that are interested in developing and sharing curricula. 
  3. Combine their resources to develop a toolkit and a set of workshops for groups or schools to facilitate environmental education within their communities.
  4. As part of the project, the researchers will develop a museum exhibit at Seattle’s Burke Museum that details the importance of traditional foods for public health and sustainability.

About the Swinomish Tribe:

They are a community representing the four aboriginal bands, Swinomish, Samish, Lower Skagit, and Kikiallus, who joined together to form the present day Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. More information about them can be found at their official website.

Read the original OSU Newsroom article to learn more about this environmental education project.

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CATEGORIES: education Food Native Tribes Research


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