The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) gives Native American students an opportunity to work in the field of environmental sciences. The campus is located directly behind Syracuse University, which SUNY ESF shares resources with. While the physical campus is small, SUNY ESF holds 25,000 acres of research land. There are also five regional campuses and field stations located in Central New York and in the Adirondack Mountains. This includes a 2,800-acre Ranger School located in Wanakena, New York.
SUNY ESF also hosts the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The center’s mission is to combine indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge to provide a better earth for all of its inhabitants.
Research performed at the center includes integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge with forest ecology to help indigenous basket makers in Maine manage black ash trees for their craft. There is also an effort to restore sustainable forests with Mayan communities in Mexico. The center also works with the College of the Menominee Nation on a shared course in forest ecology using Traditional Ecological Knowledge and scientific knowledge.
Dr. Robin Kimmerer, a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, is the director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She is also a distinguished SUNY professor, an author and plant ecologist. She told ICMN that creating openness between traditional knowledge and the scientific community has been something she focuses on. Kimmerer recognized the need for a graduate program that would support Native American students that come from tribal colleges. A program that would encourage what Native American students have learned in their own communities and combine it with the scientific approach.
In the fall of 2017 the center will have their first graduate students from the Salish Kootenai College as the two colleges begin a new partnership. This program will be focused on bio-cultural restoration. But how can indigenous culture integrate into restoring an ecosystem? Kimmerer said that through Native language and ceremony a better relationship can be built with the environment.
The center will not only teach the students from SKC but will also learn from the smaller colleges. Kimmerer mentioned the resource of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe’s wilderness, Wetlands Conservation Program and endangered species restoration program on the reserve. The tribe emphasizes the relationship between the forest, tribal sovereignty and cultural preservation. Integrating these aspects into the Center will be beneficial as the program continues to advance.
Neil Patterson Jr., Tuscarora, is the assistant director of the center and teaches a seminar on Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Patterson told ICMN that there are many non-Native American students in his seminar and that he would like there to be more Native American students.
For Native American students looking for an opportunity to work for the environment, SUNY ESF is a good option. Students also have access to the Indigenous Students at Syracuse organization that helps provide a sense of community for Native American students.