Camp merges environmental science, traditional native culture
Weaving baskets while learning about brown ash identification and habitat is one of the hands-on projects at the Wabanaki Youth Science Program (WaYS) wskitkamikww, or Earth, summer camp June 22-26, at Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott.
At the third annual WaYS summer camp, Native American youth in grades 9-12 also will use compasses and forest tools, learn about medicinal and edible saltwater plants, tidal ecology and climate change issues as they relate to fish.
WaYS, a long-term, multi-pronged program coordinated by the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine, integrates environmental science and traditional Native culture.
“It’s great fun. It’s intense,” says Wabanaki Center program manager tish carr, who earned a Master of Forestry degree at UMaine.
WaYs, says carr, seeks to connect the next generation of Native youth with their cultural heritage and legacy of environmental management and stewardship.
In addition to summer camps, seasonal mini-camps are open to junior and senior high school-age students. Each mini-camp focuses on one activity; topics have included shelter building, maple tree tapping, snowshoeing and fishing.
Internships also are available for Native high school-age boys and girls to work with area natural resource experts, including those from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as cultural resource professionals.
And, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) programs are offered to Native students year-round to continue the long-term connection.
The various approaches and offerings are intended to develop a model education program that promotes Native American persistence and participation in sciences from junior high through college and when choosing a career.
When Natalie Michelle was an EPSCoR graduate student in 2012, she had the concept for an Native American Earth Camp in Maine that combined complementary aspects of science and TEK, as a regional follow-up to the successful Native American Earth Camp coordinated by Professor Robin Kimmerer at State University of New York College of Environmental Science.
Michelle now is a New England Sustainability Consortium-Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (NEST-SSI) research assistant with the I.Ph.D. Program in Ethnobotany and Adaptive Practices in Climate Change.
The WaYS program also benefited from the input of John Banks, director of the Department of Natural Resources for Penobscot Nation; Darren Ranco, UMaine associate professor of anthropology and chair of Native American Programs; and members from each of Maine’s Wabanaki Tribal Nations.
For three days at summer camp, water will be the broad topic for activities for the 25 participants. One day will be devoted to wildlife topics and another day will be dedicated to forestry. Forestry activities, says carr, will utilize compasses and GPS units and include data collection, tree identification and possibly “forest forensics.”
Food at camp will be Native-based. “We’ll concentrate on a healthy lifestyle and talk about where food comes from,” says carr, adding that as many as four interns will assist educators during the week.
Barry Dana, WaYs cultural knowledge keeper, a Penobscot community elder and former tribal chief, teams with carr, a liaison with other natural resource professionals, to make the program a success.
The camp and WaYs are supported by National Science Foundation awards to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.
In related news, the Penobscot Nation, with support from the Wabanaki Center and the USFS, recently received a grant totaling nearly $46,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for a Native habitat restoration project in Penobscot Experimental Forest in Bradley, Maine.
For 18 months, Wabanaki students will work hand-in-hand with members of the U.S. Forest Service, other scientists and cultural knowledge keepers collecting and analyzing data on invasives, including Asiatic bittersweet and Norway maples.
The 3,900-acre forest is a site for U.S. Forest Service research; it’s one of 80 experimental forests in the U.S. and the only one in the transitional zone between the Eastern Broadleaf and boreal forests.
The grant, says carr, will help develop future Native environmental leaders by providing participants with the ability to participate in cutting-edge research and learn from various professional and cultural mentors.
This story has been edited to reflect Natalie Michelle’s contributions to the Wabanaki Youth Science Program (WaYS) Earth Camp.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777