American Indian and Alaska Native communities continue to disproportionately face significant environmental challenges and concerns as a predominately place-based people whose health, culture, community, and livelihood are often directly linked to the state of their local environment. With increasing threats to Native lands and traditions, there is an urgent need to promote ecological sustainability awareness and opportunities among all stakeholders within and beyond the impacted areas. This is especially true among the dozens of tribes and over 50,000 members of the Coast Salish Nations in the Pacific Northwest United States. The youth within these communities are particularly vulnerable. This Innovations in Development project endeavors to address this serious concern by implementing a multidimensional, multigenerational model aimed at intersecting traditional ecological knowledge with contemporary knowledge to promote: (a) environmental sustainability awareness, (b) increased STEM knowledge and skills across various scientific domains, and (c) STEM fields and workforce opportunities within Coast Salish communities. Building on results from a prior pilot study, the project will be grounded on eight guiding principles. These principles will be reflected in all aspects of the project including an innovative, culturally responsive toolkit, curriculum, museum exhibit and programming, workshops, and a newly established community of practice. If successful, this project could provide new insights on effective mechanisms for not only promoting STEM knowledge and skills within informal contexts among Coast Salish communities but also awareness and social change around issues of environmental sustainability in the Pacific Northwest.
Over a five-year period, the project will build upon an extant curriculum and findings codified in a pilot study. Each aspect of the pilot work will be refined to ensure that the model established in this Innovations and Development project is coherent, comprehensive, and replicable. Workshops and internships will prepare up to 200 Coast Salish Nation informal community educators to implement the model within their communities. Over 2,500 Coast Salish Nation and Swinomish youth, adults, educators, and elders are expected to be directly impacted by the workshops, internships, curriculum and online toolkit. Another 300 learners of diverse ages are expected to benefit from portable teaching collections developed by the project. Through a partnership with the Washington State Burke Natural History Museum, an exhibit and museum programming based on the model will be developed and accessible in the Museum, potentially reaching another 35,000 people each year. The project evaluation will assess the extent to which the following expected outcomes are achieved: (a) increased awareness and understanding of Indigenous environmental sustainability challenges; (b) increased skills in developing and implementing education programs through an Indigenous lens; (c) increased interest in and awareness of the environmental sciences and other STEM disciplines and fields; and (d) sustainable relationships among the Coast Salish Nations. A process evaluation will be conducted to formatively monitor and assess the work. A cross cultural team, including a recognized Coast Salish Indigenous evaluator, will lead the summative evaluation. The project team is experienced and led by representatives from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Oregon State University, Garden Raised Bounty, the Center for Lifelong STEM Learning, the Urban Indian Research Institute, Feed Seven Generations, and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.
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