TCUs Challenged to Join Sustainability Effort

Nov 15th, 2010 | By | Category: 22-2: Crossing Borders, Winter 2010
By Carrie Billy, J.D.

Carrie Billy (Diné), J.D.

This edition of the Tribal College Journal focuses on travel. As important as it is to experience the rich diversity of our world, one of the best things about traveling is coming home. As American Indians, we are people of place. Our connections to the land and our environment are keys to defining who we are as a people. Our knowledge, our ceremonies, our songs, and our sense of balance – harmony – are intimately connected to the natural world.

Sustainability has become much more difficult to implement in the modern world. But it is absolutely necessary for any community or people hoping to endure.

The concept of sustainability applies to all living systems: Individuals, communities, and entire ecosystems must find balance between what is contributed and what is consumed. American Indians traditionally left a very small footprint on the land we called home. With few exceptions, our hunting and agricultural practices adapted to what was available without causing major disruptions to the ecosystem. Most importantly, Indian communities did not grow beyond what the land could sustain.

Today, with global economic instability and with climate change disrupting major food supply chains, sustainability has become a matter of great urgency – and even survival – for a rapidly growing number of communities worldwide.

The nation’s tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are in a perfect position to both support sustainability initiatives within American Indian communities and to share solutions with others. Indeed, I believe TCUs should be leading the sustainability effort in American higher education. Who better than people who are from and of the land?

Tribal colleges already have taken many steps in this direction: They are joining the national effort to build a green workforce, infusing sustainability principles across the curriculum, using renewable energy, and promoting a minimal carbon footprint lifestyle. They are working with the elders and other cultural experts in their communities to identify and teach traditional practices.

Two tribal colleges, the College of Menominee Nation (CMN) and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), have taken a leadership role in the national effort to achieve sustainability by signing the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The presidents of these 674 colleges have committed their institutions to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from specified campus operations and to promote research and educational efforts to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate. They believe that taking bold leadership in addressing climate disruption is a key part of the mission of higher education, in addition to stabilizing and reducing their long-term energy costs.

I encourage all of the 37 tribal colleges and universities that collectively are the American Indian Higher Education Consortium to actively join CMN and IAIA in the global sustainability effort. It will require a combination of traditional wisdom, emerging scientific understanding, and the focused effort of all concerned people to ensure that future generations will have interesting and exciting places to visit and a home to which they can return.

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