Intimate Connection to Mother Earth Demanded Action

Nov 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 20-2: Native Green
By Carrie Billy, J.D. (Diné)

Carrie Billy (Diné), J.D.

When they established the first tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) four decades ago, tribal governments exercised their sovereign right of self-determination as never before. They created an innovative form of higher education – tribal higher education.

The TCUs’ core mission is to sustain tribal cultures, traditions, and language, while bringing education, social, and economic opportunities to American Indians. Every initiative the TCUs pursue is in harmony with this core mission.

This edition of Tribal College Journal highlights one of our generation’s gravest responsibilities: preserving the health of Mother Earth. As the world’s populations and economies have grown in size and interdependence during the past few decades, all of us have begun to feel the effects of global climate change.

Out of necessity, traditional cultures have had an intimate connection to the land and water for generations. Now they may be impacted by climate change more than any other group. Stresses such as drought and extreme weather are threatening that intimate connection, calling for solutions that are both innovative and grounded in traditional understandings – two areas in which TCUs excel.

By integrating traditional knowledge, especially traditional ecological knowledge, into the curriculum, tribal colleges and universities are helping to foster culturally appropriate responses to energy and climate challenges.

AIHEC recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to further that effort by working with TCU faculty and National Center for Atmospheric Research researchers. Together, we will develop an Indigenous geosciences course series that integrates traditional American Indian knowledge and perspective on climate, weather, and water with state-of-the-art geosciences tools and practices.

TCUs are not only teaching sustainability; they are also practitioners. They are using straw bale and other sustainable building materials as they grow their campuses and adopting renewable energy technologies to power them. Fort Berthold Community College recently received a U.S. Department of Education grant to install a geothermal heat pump system, and Turtle Mountain Community College has erected a utility-scale wind turbine and has been using geothermal energy for years.

The examples of green activities at the TCUs described in this issue should provide ideas and inspiration to Native and non-Native communities everywhere. They underscore the vital role TCUs play in helping tribal communities meet emerging challenges while preserving core traditional values and relationships.

Ahe’hee!
Carrie Billy, J.D.

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