Speaker Series Highlights Indigenous Knowledge

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Indigenous Knowledge and Community Conversations helps bridge the gap between Indigenous knowledge and Western knowledge.

Western Washington is a beautiful place.  We’re surrounded by stands of lush fir and aromatic cedar.  The endless blue of the Pacific is our backyard. The Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges poke holes in the cloud filled sky. Home is a thousand different types of precipitation, each one doing its part to water the landscape, keeping it green and plentiful. The place we live is more than just scenery, a well-timed photo on Instagram, nor is it a mere resource, something to take. “We have a responsibility to show respect for the environment,” said UW Tacoma Assistant Professor Michelle Montgomery. “We have a responsibility because it’s a relative and you have a responsibility to take care of your relatives.”

“Only recently did you study to be a responsible environmentalist or you studied environmental science and that said you were a credible person in this particular area. Indigenous knowledge is a process you learn throughout life.  You are a forever learner.” --UW Tacoma Assistant Professor Michelle Montgomery.Montgomery noticed something when she came to UW Tacoma a few years ago. “There wasn’t a huge amount of discourse around Indigenous knowledge specifically in regards to climate change or the environment,” she said. Montgomery changed that when she created Indigenous Knowledge and Community Conversations. Since its inception in 2015 the lecture series has brought American Indian scholars from around the country to UW Tacoma to talk about climate change from an Indigenous perspective.

Montgomery has three specific goals she hopes to achieve with these conversations. The first is providing a bridge between Indigenous knowledge and Western knowledge. “Western knowledge is quite young whereas native science or traditional ecological knowledge has been a part of our stories since time immemorial,” she said.

There are 35 tribal colleges in the United States including Northwest Indian College in Washington State. “These colleges were founded on self-determination as a way of reclaiming how we educate our people,” said Montgomery. Many, if not all, tribal colleges have some kind of environmental aspect included in the curriculum.  “These schools are getting grants from NASA and NOAA,” said Montgomery.  This is Montgomery’s second goal—she wants to use these talks as a way of promoting work done by students in tribal colleges.

Finally, Montgomery wants to use this series as a way to create new knowledge at UW Tacoma. “We’re growing our Indigenous knowledge based on this campus,” she said. “It’s not specific to a particular type of knowledge or a particular type of community, but it really is casting out a net to share knowledge.”

In short, Montgomery is treating conversation like a relative.  It is something to be respected.

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Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / May 16, 2018
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu