Weaving Indigenous Identity, Cultural Values, and Environmental Science Together for Sustainable Tribal Land Management and Resource Career Pathways

September 1st, 2021 - August 31st, 2023 | PROJECT

This innovations in development project will develop and study the Wéetespeme Stewardship Program (Wéetespeme: “I am of this land”). Tribal led, the project supports and studies climate science learning experiences grounded in traditional ecological knowledge, culturally relevant pedagogy, and land education pedagogy. Nez Perce high-school youth and college-age adults will choose specific species and places; work with tribal resource management offices to learn to monitor, assess, and mitigate climate impacts; and receive mentorship from tribal elders, as they co-develop climate-science adaptive management plans for local concerns. Adaptive management plans may include topics such as: drought and extreme weather impacts, shifts in animal populations and migration patterns, cultivating traditional foods, and managing important cultural sites. The Tribal research team will collaborate with curriculum developers and Indigenous graduate student(s) from the University of Idaho and Northwest Youth Corps to explore how a STEM curriculum centered on cultural identity and traditional knowledge can align with Indigenous youths’ identities, resource responsibilities, and understanding and interest in STEM career pathways within the Tribe and in the region. As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understanding of deeper learning by participants. This project’s approach to curriculum development, and youths’ identity and career interest development, will contribute to the informal STEM learning field’s nascent understanding of Tribal-driven education efforts, and approaches to blending or bridging traditional ecological knowledge and Western ways of knowing. With co-funding from the Directorate of Geosciences’ (GEO), this project will further advance efforts related to the application of traditional ecological knowledge to the geosciences, including Indigenous workforce development opportunities and research experiences for Indigenous graduate students.

Over a two-year duration, the study will address two research questions. 1) How and in what ways does a culturally relevant out-of-school curriculum support Indigenous youths’ understanding of their own identity, resource responsibility, and possible career pathways, including those on Tribal land? 2) How and in what ways does a culturally relevant out-of-school curriculum develop Indigenous youths’ ability to monitor and address climate change impacts, to protect, preserve and recover land relationships that are central to their cultural identities and values? Thirty-two college-age young adults and high-school youth (sixteen of each age group) will participate in the Wéetespeme Stewardship Program and research study. Indigenous research methodologies will guide the approach to investigating and sharing Indigenous youths’ understanding of their own identity, resource responsibility, possible career pathways, and learning experiences within the Wéetespeme Stewardship Program activities. Two Indigenous graduate students will play a central role in conducting the research, supporting systemic impacts within, and beyond, the Tribe. Methods will be embedded in learners’ experiences and will include field journals, adaptive management plans, story maps, and talk circles. Youth will also participate as research partners: understanding the research questions, assisting with the analysis, contributing to interpretation of the findings, and co-authoring manuscripts that share their stories and this work. The informal STEM curriculum will be shared regionally, allowing for Tribes in the plateau region to benefit from culturally relevant approaches youth engagement to support climate resilience. The results of the research will also be shared more broadly, contributing to the emerging knowledge-base about the ways that cultural practices and values, guided by land education pedagogy and the mentorship of traditional ecological knowledge keepers, and embedded in informal STEM learning experiences, can contribute to Indigenous youths’ identities and understanding of, and investment in, local and meaningful environmental resources and STEM career pathways.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Nakia Williamson, Principal Investigator, Nez Perce Tribe
Karla Bradley Eitel, Co-Principal Investigator
Jeff Parker, Co-Principal Investigator
Josiah Pinkham, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL, Integrat & Collab Ed & Rsearch
Award Number: 2117322
Funding Amount: $315,968.00


Access and Inclusion: Ethnic | Racial | Indigenous and Tribal Communities
Audience: Museum | ISE Professionals | Seniors | Undergraduate | Graduate Students | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Climate | Ecology | forestry | agriculture
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Afterschool Programs | Community Outreach Programs | Public Programs | Summer and Extended Camps

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within InformalScience.org are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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