Harris Conservation Forum shines a light on indigenous knowledge and its lessons for sustainability – UMSL Daily


Kyle Whyte (top left), George Willis Pack Professor of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, joined Tiffanie Hardbarger (bottom left), Assistant Professor of Cherokee and Indigenous Studies at Northeastern State University , and Robin Kimmerer (bottom right), distinguished professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, as presenters at the Whitney and Anna Harris Conservation Forum 2021. Ed Spevak of the Saint Louis Zoo served as moderator for the event. (Screenshot)

The growth of the human population and associated industrial development have strained the Earth’s resources and contributed to climate change, water scarcity, land degradation and the destruction of biodiversity.

This has led scientists and policymakers to think more carefully about sustainability as they face the dangers of extreme weather conditions, manifested in more severe droughts, floods and forest fires, and to work towards ensuring an adequate food supply throughout the world.

This Whitney and Anna Harris Conservation Forum 2021 explored what answers to these challenges can be drawn from the knowledge of indigenous peoples, who for centuries have maintained a more harmonious relationship with the world around them.

This year’s annual forum, hosted virtually last Thursday night by the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and the Saint Louis Zoo, was part of a five-day collaborative virtual conference “Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainability – Food”.

The conference was hosted by a partnership that included the Harris Center and Zoo as well as the Native Studies Program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the Center for Spirituality & Sustainability, the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at the Brown School at the University of Washington. in St. Louis and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

“We wanted to look at a different way of interacting with nature because the mainstream culture’s worldview – our culture – is to use it,” said Patricia Parker, director of the Harris Center and Professor E. Desmond Lee in zoological studies.

Attendees who logged into Thursday’s conservation forum heard presentations from three faculty members of Indigenous descent: Tiffanie Hardbarger, assistant professor of Cherokee and Indigenous studies at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma; Robin Kimmerer, distinguished professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York; and Kyle Whyte, George Willis Pack professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan.

Ed Spevak, the curator of invertebrates at the Saint Louis Zoo, guided the discussion as the evening’s moderator.

Hardbarger presented the first and highlighted the Euro-American relationship with land and sustainability.

“When using the term sustainability, many can link the concept to the practice of sustainable development, as sustainability is often presented as the goal, with sustainable development being the process to achieve that goal,” he said. she declared. “The dominant paradigm in development – even one that is touted as sustainable – still remains built on very specific sets of value assumptions about how the world works.

“This often unchallenged way of seeing the world has a specific foundation, and that foundation is an anthropocentric and hierarchical view that the earth is not only dead, but that nature has no inherent value beyond it. of the value that it can be extracted and acquired for man. lawsuits.

Indigenous culture, on the other hand, believes in reciprocity, as Kimmerer pointed out in his speech.

“We have to be able to give back in return for all that we have received and all that we have taken,” she said. “But how do we do it? How do we return the gifts of the earth? This question is fundamental to indigenous pedagogy and indigenous philosophy but rarely present in our environmental science programs.

Kimmerer, author of “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,” argued for adopting the view that people belong to the land, rather than the other way around, which leads to a moral responsibility to take care of them through their practices. .

It does not mean leaving the earth untouched. Instead, using the example of sweetgrass, she shared an experience that showed how traditional harvesting stimulates plant growth better than not harvesting at all.

Whyte discussed the importance of restoring a sense of kinship with the environment.

“We have been talking about climate change for generations,” he said. “It is one of our oldest sciences, and we understood each other as having a kinship relationship with the climate system. But it is also a violation of kinship for a colonial society like the United States or other European powers to have taken measures which allowed this dangerous industrialization to occur.

“But now, in much of the work that I do, we find that in a world still lacking in the kinship between cultures, many solutions to climate change are also engaged in the dispossession of land, in the creation of conditions of pollution or flooding on the lands of indigenous peoples.

The three field questions submitted via audience members for over 30 minutes.

“I know how important these conversations are to look at in a different way – and it’s not a new way,” Hardbarger said. “It comes down to examining the ways in which Indigenous peoples viewed sustainability from their own perspective before these systems were strategically destroyed. There are more and more Aboriginal students and teachers getting involved in this field, and I am extremely happy to be a part of it.

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