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Native Youth in Science—Preserving Our Homelands
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center (WHCMSC) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to develop and deliver a summer science pilot program for Mashpee Wampanoag tribal youth in grades 6, 7, and 8. The program was developed by Renée Lopes-Pocknett, Director of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Education Department, and Monique Fordham, USGS National Tribal Liaison, and was guided by Chris Polloni, WHCMSC Outreach Coordinator. Troy Currence (WHCMSC) provided initial contacts and advice for the science staff about tribal customs. The program was designed to help reconnect Mashpee Wampanoag youth with the ecology and geology of their traditional homelands through classroom and field presentations, with an emphasis on hands-on experience. The program wove scientific information and data collection together with traditional ecological knowledge provided by tribal culture keepers, to ensure that information was provided in a context that stressed the ancestral relationships between the Wampanoag people and the ecosystems of their homelands.
Titled “Native Youth in Science—Preserving Our Homelands,” the summer 2012 pilot program strived to present science as a tool by which to protect and preserve the ecosystems and homelands of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. It also challenged the students to develop ways of thinking and being studious about their surroundings while achieving habits of mind and skills for understanding how science works.
Points of inquiry were developed for six “experience units,” with an overarching focus on traditional ecological knowledge. Kristen Wyman (Freshwater Consulting), a tribal environmental educator, worked with Ben Gutierrez (WHCMSC) to develop the program curriculum; Lopes-Pocknett and Polloni provided additional input. The team also identified scientists to develop the scientific content for each experience unit and then consulted with the tribal culture keepers to place the science content in a context that supported the presentation of tribal traditional ecological knowledge. In addition, Wyman provided guidance in ensuring that the program was compatible with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content standards for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (for more information on Massachusetts curriculum frameworks, see http://www.doe.mass.edu/omste/ca.html).
The program included the following six experience units:
The pilot program included 14 Mashpee Wampanoag youth and ran from the initial orientation session on July 9, 2012, to the closing ceremony on August 9, 2012. Each unit began with a morning energizer coordinated by Kristen Wyman and held at the offices of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Natural Resources Department. The first unit began with an opening ceremony, led by the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, that reinforced the purpose of the program and emphasized the need for the participants to respect both the traditional knowledge they would be receiving and the scientific inquiry on which they were about to embark.
The classroom activities were held at the tribe’s Natural Resources Department offices. Other units included field trips to nearby scientifically significant locations, all of which also had tribal significance as part of the Wampanoag traditional homelands. Lunch in each unit was provided by the tribal members and typically included traditional tribal foods that were obtained locally and prepared using traditional methods.
The tribal culture keepers for the program were Earl “Chiefie” Mills, Jr., jessie “little doe” baird, Jonathan Perry, Darrel Wixon, Kitty Hendricks, Tony Perry, Sr., and Ramona Peters. The culture keeper coordinator was Errol Hicks. The science staff included Richard Williams, Larry Poppe, Erika Lentz, and Wayne Baldwin (all USGS), along with Christina Stringer (Bureau of Indian Affairs), Pamela Polloni (Marine Biological Laboratory/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution [WHOI] Library Herbarium), and Jim Rassman (Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve [WBNERR]). WBNERR provided an important component to the program by granting access to its research facilities, which are in proximity to local marshes and beach sites that are being studied by a number of scientists. David Gray, a retired WHOI employee and tribal member, provided still photography and videography for the entire program. The whole team functioned extremely well and laid a foundation for future collaboration on tribal educational initiatives.
We gratefully acknowledge the invaluable support of the staff at the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Natural Resources Department, especially the Director, Quan Tobey, and Assistant Director, George “Chuckie” Green, who were instrumental in the development and implementation of the program.
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