Tribal Colleges and Universities: Fostering Difficult Dialogues Regarding the Use of Indigenous Knowledges (IKs) in Climate Adaptation Policies and Programs

Tribal Colleges and Universities: Fostering Difficult Dialogues Regarding the Use of Indigenous Knowledges (IKs) in Climate Adaptation Policies and Programs


Haskell Indian Nations University, Kansas, USA

As the de facto national tribal university in the United States, Haskell Indian Nations University, serves over 100 of the 567 federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native villages every year. At the convening of the ICE (Impacts of Changing Environments on Indigenous People) Symposium at Haskell in 2006 a tribal college and university (TCU) centered network called the American Indian and Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group formed, now simply known as the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Working Group. Based on Haskell’s leadership role and “on-the-ground” experience in preparing Indigenous students to address  environmental issues in their homelands and communities over the past two decades and climate change during the last decade, this paper suggests few institutions are better located than tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), literally and figuratively, to serve as the places with institutional spaces for the serious examination of how TEKs, IKs and LKs can be respectfully and usefully employed to prepare societies to respond to global climate change. TCUs can play a vital role addressing the difficult issues confronting those nonindigenous governmental, nongovernmental and private sector organizations that seek to understand and use these different ways of knowing and the resultant knowledges in addressing the ‘wicked’ climate change problems confronting humankind. While recognition of the validity of Indigenous knowledges and their practical efficacy has grown tremendously in the last two decades, the very real difficulties confronting holders of IKs and the nonindigenous organizations and institutions that want to work together in respectful cooperative efforts to address climate change are seldom directly addressed. This avoidance, regardless of its source, threatens the cooperative employment of indigenous knowledges. This presentation will suggest the failure to address profound worldview differences between IK holders and those modern primarily Western worldview-informed scientific, policy and program/project driven organizations will almost certainly ensure failure in the respectful and efficacious inclusion of IKs in the development of climate change adaptation strategies. These issues are far from esoteric and indeed are among the most practical issues to be negotiated if the inclusion of IKs in regional and broader climate change adaptation policies is to occur. Issues of context, trust, responsibilities, respect, attribution, particularity (non-universal and local knowledge features), spirituality and the instrumentalities of IKs must be understood and sadly often remain superficially addressed, if at all.  This paper will suggest there are real reasons why not only between the holders of IK and scientific knowledge-holders, but within both parties, the difficult discussions around inclusion of IKs in climate change continue to more talked about than negotiated and enacted.  This presentation contends TCUs can prepare young people to tackle these very new and urgent issues that knowledge-holders, both scientific and indigenous, have seldom had to face. TCUs must be recognized as key institutions in addressing these difficult issues if humankind is to address the “wicked” problems of global climate change.



Daniel R. Wildcat is a Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation. He is director of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Center and member of the Indigenous & American Indian Studies Program at Haskell Indian Nations University.  Dr. Wildcat has been an invited speaker on American Indian worldviews at many institutions of higher education. In 1994 he helped form a partnership with the Hazardous Substance Research Center at Kansas State University to create the Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Center. In 1996 Dr. Wildcat helped plan and organize an American Indian educational program to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.  Dr. Wildcat helped plan and design a four-part video series entitled All Things Are Connected: The Circle of Life (1997), which dealt with land, air, water and biological issues related Native nations. His recent activities have revolved around forming the American Indian and Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group: a tribal college-centered network of individuals and organizations working on climate change issues.  In 2008 he helped organize the Planning for Seven Generations climate change conference sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  He co-chaired with Winona La Duke the national Native Peoples-Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop at the Mystic Lake Hotel &Casino, November 18-21, 2009.He is the author and/or editor of Power and Place: Indian Education In America, with Vine Deloria, Jr.;  Destroying Dogma: Vine Deloria’s Legacy on Intellectual America, with Steve Pavlik.  His most recent book, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge, suggests current global climate change issues will require the exercise of indigenous ingenuity – indigenuity.

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