Student Stories: En Cha Huná: Voices and Viewpoints

A Natural Resources student expands her global viewpoint through Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Edith M. 

March 1st, 2021

            Edith M. is not only an undergraduate eCampus student of Natural Resource Management, but also a practitioner of her family’s traditional indigenous knowledge (TEK) from her Uchinanchu heritage. She wanted to explore further ways to integrate TEK into her studies and her future career goals, and discovered an international program offered by the University of Northern British Columbia that fit the bill perfectly. Although due to the Covid-19 pandemic she wasn’t able to physically travel to Canada, she attended their virtual two-week certificate course, which taught industry standards that don’t yet exist in the United States. Although Edith would have preferred to attend in-person, the experience still exceeded her expectations! This was the first Edith applied for funding through the Dean’s Fund for International Engagement, and she expressed that it was a personally fulfilling experience. “I felt like I took a risk and the College of Forestry really showed up to support me in this journey.”

               Edith decided to attend a Canadian university for this short-term international program because many Tribes/First Nations have ancestral lands that span the US-Canada border. She revealed that the Native experience is quite different depending on which colonizing government the Indigenous peoples must deal with. “The biggest difference between use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in BC compared to the U.S. is the legal protections and cultural protocols that have been established in Canadian TEK work, as well as the more comprehensive integration of TEK into settler government and private interactions with ecosystems” Edith explained. She was very interested in learning more about the relationship between the Canadian government and various First Nations regarding Traditional Ecological Knowledge, intellectual property, Indigenous land management, and cultural preservation. In Canada, “TEK Advisor” is actually a government-supported career path and many self-governing First Nations employ members in this role as well. For Edith, this program offered her an experience which aligned with her interests and future career goals, but also a “safe space with an intimate cohort.”  “I was able to gain specific professional skills while exploring the intersections of very different world views” she noted. Furthermore, Edith had the chance to experience TEK put into action in a way that we are still fighting for in the U.S. She said her most valuable lesson was that she got to see a version of the future we want to enact in the U.S. alive and thriving in Canada.

               The biggest challenge for Edith during the program was the fact that she was the only international participant and at times wasn’t familiar with certain acronyms or how some agencies were related. She always made it a point to ask questions, and her instructor and fellow classmates were eager to share information. She said that the feedback was so interesting and robust that she continued to ask questions even if she had a general sense of the topic, just to hear the different perspectives – “There’s always more to learn!” Edith’s favorite part of the program was having the opportunity to interview elders of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, and the Teslin Tlingit Council.

“It is an immense privilege and honor to be invited to receive knowledge through storytelling. Spending time with older generations is also very nourishing and I was grateful for the spiritual rejuvenation it provided.”

Edith added that learning side-by-side with folks who serve their Nations’ departments of natural resources was an incredibly valuable experience and also really fun. She commented that the whole approach to learning in this class was from a place of curiosity and by enjoying the process. Edith relayed that this program would be an excellent experience for anyone doing work that involves intercultural interviewing or gathering qualitative data, anyone who values storytelling as a means of information transmission, students interested in an invitation into a different worldview, and anyone who intends to work in any ecological capacity. She said the structure was very well planned and easily executed, and she felt like the instructor was highly capable and deeply compassionate. “This experience exposed me to many TEK projects that are currently underway in Canada and connected me with individuals working on them in some capacity. I will continue to develop these personal and professional relationships and I anticipate this will impact the choices I make regarding my goals.”

               In the future, Edith plans on applying to international graduate schools to pursue a master’s degree and ultimately gain employment within the TEK community. She hopes to work with environmental/ecological sustainability within a project or organization that fully incorporates Indigenous perspectives and leadership into its management practices. This program supplemented her studies by filling in the gaps in OSU’s curricula and rounding out the skillset she hopes to have upon graduation. Paired with the excellent coursework and training in natural resource management and ecological restoration offered at OSU, this certification has prepared Edith so that she can engage with her future career pursuits in a way that is rooted in inclusive practices of reciprocity; she will be capable of amplifying the voices that matter the most.

University website:

Edith, conducting an aerial survey of the island of Kauaʻi to identify traditional natural resource management divisions of ahupuaʻa, a complex system of TEK developed by the kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiʻians).

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