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Collaborative Projects with Indigenous and Tribal Partners

Program Objectives


  • To develop innovative, interdisciplinary programs that provide educational opportunities for Native American students in natural resources and the environment which integrate western and indigenous thought.
  • To become a leader in fostering cross-cultural competence and understanding of indigenous perspectives among mainstream environmental professionals
  • To develop relationships with tribal colleges and Native American-serving institutions to create a network of distance-learning offerings that can be shared with an audience of Native American students nationally
  • To enhance recruitment and retention of Native undergraduates and graduate students at ESF and to develop and disseminate successful models to the higher education community
  • To develop innovative coursework which incorporates traditional ecological knowledge into existing programs of conservation biology, environmental biology, wildlife and fisheries sciences, forest and natural resources management, environmental studies and environmental science at ESF


  • To evaluate educational strategies for bridging between western scientific and indigenous approaches in environmental disciplines
  • To promote interdisciplinary research which incorporates the intellectual traditions of both western and native science
  • To foster research collaborations with tribal environmental professionals on areas of shared interest including ecological restoration, wildlife conservation, air and water quality, environmental justice and land stewardship
  • To develop a research agenda that seeks to understand the sustainability of traditional resource management practices
  • To encourage the research community to incorporate TEK in the process of framing new research questions and approaches


  • To develop partnerships with K-12 educational institutions which serve Native American communities to foster interest, awareness and preparation for pursuit of higher education in environmental disciplines
  • To develop partnerships with Native American environmental organizations for projects of mutual interest
  • To broadly disseminate research and educational findings, tools and approaches for successful integration of science and traditional knowledge through publications, conferences and web-based services.

Sowing Synergy A Graduate Program to Integrate Indigenous & Scientific Knowledge for Sustainability and Biocultural Restoration

With support from a Higher Education Challenge award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the ESF Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, we are developing a new graduate program integrating indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge in service to sustainability. "Sowing Synergy" is ESF’s new collaboration with the Salish Kootenai College and Hopa Mountain Native Science Fellows in Montana. The Master’s level degree will be designed to incorporate research in the cultural and ecological landscapes of upstate New York where our college is located and the landscapes of our partners in western Montana. The program is collaboratively created, drawing on the wisdom and experience of tribal college educators.

USDA Learning from the Land

Learning from the Land A Cross-cultural Project in Forest Stewardship Education for Climate Change Adaptation

Climate change poses a significant threat to ecosystems and human well-being across theNorthern Forest and in many regions of the world, requiring new approaches to stewardship that sustain both ecosystems and human communities together. In this project, we are exploring models of forest stewardship that brings together traditional and scientific knowledge in pursuit of ecologically and culturally sustainable landscapes.

Our first step is to build a multifaceted higher education program to prepare Native American students to pursue higher education in environmental and forest sciences so that they can address climate change and other complex challenges. At the same time, the program greatly enriches the knowledge and expanding the cross-cultural capabilities of non-native students by increasing their experience with Indigenous environmental philosophy and practice. In close partnership with the College of Menominee Nation (Keshena, WI) and Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE), we have created a Forest Ecology Summer Institute and Research Exchange Program. The exchange is designed to build capacity at CMN for developing forest ecology and stewardship curriculum. The summer institute and research exchange program link the Menominee Forest - an internationally recognized beacon of forest sustainability based on traditional knowledge - and ESF's Huntington Wildlife Forest - home of over 75 years of research on the silviculture, wildlife, and ecosystem dynamics of Adirondack forests. The program links the two landscapes, Menominee and Huntington, as "sister forests." The team consists of undergraduate CMN and ESF students, mentored by Native American graduate students, faculty members, and forest managers, all of whom build their research skills and cross-cultural capabilities in the process. The partnership exposes students and faculty to the need and opportunity for scientific training that respects and incorporates Indigenous knowledge and cultures. The program also aspires to generate new educational and forest stewardship approaches, and build a 'bridge to the baccalaureate' for Native American students to ESF and other four-year and graduate institutions. The project is under the direction of PI's Dr. Robin Kimmerer and Dr. Colin Beier from ESF; Christopher Caldwell, Sustainable Development Institute; and Robert VanLopik, College of Menominee Nation.

Engaging Climber-Scientists and Indigenous Herders on Grazing and Climate Change Issues in the Altai Mountain Region of Mongolia

A project funded by the USAID Climate Change Resilient Development (CCRD) Project, with James P. Gibbs, Giorgos Mountrakis, Mikhail Paltsyn, and Jennifer Castner. Our focus is on:

  1. assessing the impacts of grazing on biodiversity to develop a policy for the sustainable use of pasturelands in the context of climate change,
  2. strengthening cooperation with civil society and in particular indigenous communities by leveraging their knowledge relevant to management, and
  3. strengthening management capacity within nature parks.

This intensive, one-year project focuses on the upper elevation, grassland-dominated areas along an axis between Sylkhemyn Nuruu National Park and Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in the Altai mountain region of western Mongolia. We are using satellite data to develop a region-wide assessment of climatic and rangeland conditions and combining it with measurement of on-the-ground rangeland conditions by local herders. During July and August 2013 we collaborated with 7 local herders as well as a biologist from WWF-Mongolia to collect grassland condition data on 99, 1x1 km sampling blocks. At each site we surveyed grassland conditions by walking a set of transects, stopping every 25 m along them to estimate % bare soil, % plant cover by plant type, plant height and a herder-generated estimate of forage quality for wildlife and livestock.

We found very strong relationships between the satellite-derived Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) and on-the-ground parameters (% bare ground, average height, % grasses) of great concern to herders and significant to both wildlife and livestock. Most significantly, we found a strong relationship between EVI and qualitative estimates by herders of pasture quality, suggesting that local knowledge and satellite-derived estimates are highly concordant.

Interviews with 25 different herders from across the study area showed remarkable consistency in personal assessments by herders of recent pastureland trend, on which there was clear consensus that conditions had improved over the last decade. This integration of evidence and knowledge systems (local people’s observations and remote sensed and field validated analysis) is providing more reliable and relevant investigations of climate change and enabling better planned adaptations. We are in the process of projecting likely future rangeland conditions under climate change scenarios and will depict predicted outcomes in terms herders can relate to (their own metrics of rangeland quality and suitability for various types of livestock). The approach represents a new strategy for integrating climate change research amongst outside experts and satellite data, traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous para-scientists, all while exploring and ultimately outlining strategies and guidelines to help local people and regional Protected Areas staff adapt to a changing climate.

The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign

The campaign is an ongoing project of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs and the Neighbors of Onondaga Nation with support from SUNY-ESF Center for Native Peoples and the Environment and ESF'sDepartment of Environmental Studies. The project focuses on the history of what the Haudenosaunee consider the original agreement that described the relationship between them and the incoming Europeans. The agreement was recorded in a wampum belt that illustrates the two cultures existing side by side, respecting each other’s ways, in peace and friendship forever. The campaign raises awareness of our responsibilities under this agreement, examines what happened over the centuries to undermine its implementation, and what environmental and Native rights policies, both governmental and personal, would now be consistent with the intent of the Two Row. In 2013 hundreds of Native paddlers and their allies traveled side by side down the Hudson River to enact theTwo Row agreement and ended by bringing the Two Row message to the United Nations on the UN's World Indigenous Peoples Day. Professor Jack Manno is the campaign's Educational Outreach Coordinator.

  • Dr. Manno's article "Imagining Governance to Save the Planet?"
  • Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign

Understanding the potential role of Mayan traditional ecological knowledge for ecological engineering of forest restoration in Mexico

Dr. Stew Diemont works with Mayan farmers in villages in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Together they are determining how traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) can be a part of local to regional conservation and restoration design. Both ESF undergraduate and graduate students work with Stew for undergraduate and graduate theses and doctoral dissertations. Mayan farmers, Stew, and ESF students have found that management strategies passed down over centuries show detailed understanding of ecological processes and seamless connection of human and natural systems. This TEK appears to be a sustainable model for rural to urban ecosystem design. Mayan farmers accelerate forest restoration through selective planting and management of certain tree species. The successional agroforestry systems, which bring together field, bush, and tree species in one highly productive dynamic system could reduce energy consumption to produce food and raw materials. Early data shows that low intensity burns in the Mayan agroforestry systems sequester carbon in the soil. This past summer, community members from Lacanja Chansayab, Chiapas, Mexico, ESF students and Stew set up a long term experiment to compare Lacandon Maya forest restoration strategies to restoration strategies commonly employed by governmental agencies. To understand restoration mechanisms, they sampled soil beneath trees used by the Lacandon to accelerate forest restoration. Stew takes ESF students to Mexico each year as part of his Ecosystem Restoration Design. As a project for this course, students are working to create a field guide for children in Lacanja Chansayab, Mexico. The field guide will be in Lacandon Maya, Spanish, and English. The field guide, an idea of Adolfo Chankin, a community member in Lacanja Chansayab, will teach children the TEK of the Lacandon Maya, while they are learning to read in elementary school.

Helping Forests Walk Building resilience for climate change adaptation through forest stewardship in haudenosaunee communities

The goal of this project is to engage Haudenosaunee nations in a process to assess opportunities for collaboration on issues of climate change mitigation and adaptation related to forest stewardship in tribal communities. The project draws upon traditional ecological knowledge and scientific ecological knowledge in identifying information needs in support of potential tribal responses to climate change, including engagement with policy development and capacity building for forest stewardship in a cultural context at the tribal, regional, national, and international levels. Conceived of as an initial step in a larger undertaking, this project emphasizes three objectives:

  1. Develop and document a process for collaboratively engaging Haudenosaunee nations in issues of mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
  2. Collaboratively develop a strategy to identify current climate change related activities in the Haudenosaunee territories, assess needs and concerns, and strategize ways to meet those needs.
  3. Identify and implement one or more projects such as educational outreach, forest restoration or inventories to create baseline data and establish monitoring programs for forest stewardship focused on culturally significant species.

In collaboration with the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force (http://www.hetf.org/), we have held community meetings to listen to the concerns and responses to anticipated climate changes. Community priorities include enhanced environmental education in support of monitoring climate change impacts on forests and the establishment of demonstration groves of tree species deemed to be at risk from shifting climates. Several Haudenosaunee communities are in the process of establishing these educational programs. This program is under the direction of PIs Marla Emery of the USDA Forest Service; Robin Kimmerer, Director, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, SUNY-ESF; Henry Lickers, Scientific Chair, Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force; David Arquette, Chair, Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force.