Partnerships built on a sharing of knowledge, goals, and resources between participants, their families, PPSR practitioners, community leaders, and organizations that serve underrepresented groups have been successful at bridging the gap between practitioners and underrepresented groups. Effective local leaders and organizations are ideally situated to be good interpreters and liaisons who can help develop new PPSR projects or adapt existing ones so that they are relevant to and accessible by the communities they serve. Developing an understanding of the needs and goals of local leaders and organizations and providing them with some of the resources to accomplish their missions are perhaps the most worthwhile investments that can be made towards engaging underrepresented audiences with scientific and environmental endeavors through PPSR. Similarly, developing partnerships between practitioners, participants, and their families, particularly within the context of existing community-organized activities, is another promising approach. People become more engaged in learning experiences when the content is personally relevant and/or when they have a say in the learning process itself, such as in choosing content or informing the development of activities. Developing opportunities for deeper involvement by participants and their families encourages a sense of shared ownership of the project.
Hopa Mountain and Blackfeet Community College Native Science Field Center are lasting partners in collectively designing and modeling year-round environmental science field programs that respectfully integrate traditional ways of knowing, Native language, and Western science methods to engage Native youth in environmental conservation and science.
Parents and representatives from Native community schools were intimately involved in the development of the project, key to informing staff of what participants would learn and how data was to be collected. Community advisory boards were also established to help provide in-depth knowledge of places, and to make connections to resources and people, especially those who could teach songs and language and stories that are thousands of years old. Anyone can come in and provide input at advisory board meetings. This keeps the program innovative and community members consistently engaged and willing to be engaged for feedback.
Through these collaborative efforts, and with funding from the National Science Foundation, the partnerships grew to establish three Native Science Field Centers serving the Blackfeet, Oglala Lakota, and Wind River Indian Reservations. Each of the three sites were able to focus the programming on strengthening the unique and diverse traditional tribal values through understandings of the relationships between plants and animals and the daily activities and cultural traditions of each of their tribes.
“We really focused on relationships with animals and plants. We would always choose a traditional technology to explore, like the relationship between willow trees, the backrests in lodges, the stability of the tipi, even down to the sinew that was used to tie the tipis. Then they went out into the field, they identified scat (animal droppings) and sheds (fur) – where we don’t see the mammal, but understand that it’s their habitat. In addition we were learning how we can use these remnants to improve our lives, both physically and spiritually, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between human beings and other animals. So we were exploring traditional technologies using scientific processes.
Starting with the cultural grounding helped to reinforce traditional values – how much we take, what is the protocol, only taking what you need, having a purpose for what you take, and leaving an offering… Kids had to know why all of this was important before doing scientific data collection.”
Kids, as well as parents, found value in this approach. They knew that there would be changes in the next season that would reflect the relationships they had built in the previous season.