Native people are significantly underrepresented in science, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This poses a problem for equity, and it diminishes the contribution of Native worldviews and technologies used for problem-solving. One of the contributing factors to increasingly severe wildland fires and loss of forest ecosystem services has been the loss of Native American fire management practices. Indigenous-led fire stewardship can assist with this challenge while addressing the following three factors: existing conceptions within fire science, management and education that narrow the decision space within forest management; shifts in forest conditions under federal management that make it more difficult to restore Native forest values; and barriers to STEM education among Native youth. This project will support a newly emerging partnership between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the University of Georgia, the U.S. Forest Service, and TERC, a STEM education research organization, to integrate Native and Western scientific knowledge into both Native STEM education and wildland fire science, training and practice in western North Carolina. As services to the nation's health, welfare, and prosperity, this project's scientific advances will increase forest health and reduce wildfire risk, and its curricular innovations will promote social equity and the representation and career potential of future Native scientists.
Managed fires can be a critical tool to mitigate rapidly shifting landscape of forests . Approaching the solution from a deep convergence of Native and Western fire science, technology and management is therefore critical. This project will develop an innovative approach to that knowledge convergence, with an aim of incorporating Native fire management, knowledge, aspirations and technologies into STEM education and prescribed fire science and management. To achieve that, the project will use Indigenous-led, culturally responsive facilitated workshops and collaborative co-design methodologies to: broaden and build equitable partnerships; share and synthesize foundational knowledge and perspectives; and co-develop robust plans for a Phase 2 proposal. The resulting work plan will have three ultimate goals: (1) to reveal and dismantle the conceptual blinders that currently constrain Western fire science and hinder Native students' STEM engagement; (2) to generate innovative, inclusive fire science advances that expand the scope and predictive capacity of fire modeling, e.g. by simulating scenarios that both extend beyond conditions observed empirically under current fire regimes, and are based on Native science and technology; and (3) to enhance the participation of and career pathways for Native youth in forestry and natural resource management by integrating Native and Western scientific knowledge in convergent STEM curricula.
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