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Below is a project for the ASU-Leonardo, Center for Science and the Imagination Imagination Fellowship.



ASU-Leonardo and the Center for Science and the Imagination have announced the Leonardo Imagination Fellowship Program for fall 2020. Fellows selected to participate in this prototype season of the fellowship will join a virtual program to explore experimental art-science innovation practices across multiple publishing and broadcast media platforms that imagine a regenerative, vibrant global future for all. Fellows carried out hybrid creative projects and activities that integrate art and science for positive global impact aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The fellowship supported experimental work, especially across new and emerging media or publishing, to model new ways that art-science can advance resilience, justice, empathy, cooperation, generosity, trust, and other qualities that make social systems and digital culture more human and more humane. The goal is not only to advance individual projects but also to connect diverse communities of practice and interest together for dialogue, engagement, and empowerment. The fellowship picked three artists from a pool of 249 people representing 75 countries for its inaugural year.  Find more information at or at their Instagram: @asu.leonardo


"Traditional Ecological Knowledge, also called by other names including Indigenous Knowledge or Native Science, (hereafter, TEK) refers to the evolving knowledge acquired by indigenous and local peoples over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment. This knowledge is specific to a location and includes the relationships between plants, animals, natural phenomena, landscapes and timing of events that are used for lifeways, including but not limited to hunting, fishing, trapping, agriculture, and forestry. TEK is an accumulating body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (human and non-human) with one another and with the environment. It encompasses the world view of indigenous people which includes ecology, spirituality, human and animal relationships, and more."

- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

For more information about TEK outside of this art piece please read, The Six Faces of Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Challenges and Opportunities for Canadian Co-Management Arrangements by Nicolas Houde (


I created these pieces to have three parts:

  1. A beaded medallion. I choose this because beadwork is an indigenous form of artwork that is traditional, but the glass beads are more contemporary. It is important for me to tell these stories of TEK through beadwork because beadwork has been used as a form of documentation, such as with the wampum belts in North America, which showed agreements and stories. Such as the Two Row Wampum Treaty created by the Onondaga Nation. As a student in STEM, I see Indigenous knowledge undervalued simply because most tribes did not have a writing system. We passed down the knowledge through oral traditions and art. This piece of art is me taking back our narratives, asking academics to listen to our knowledge in the form we see fit, instead of assimilating to a western perspective in order to be taken seriously.

  2. Each of these pieces comes with an interview with an expert in the area of TEK depicted. Passing down knowledge through oral stories is traditional. Many of our languages were exterminated on purpose, such as my grandfather who was forced into a boarding school in the US. The transcripts are also translated to the best of my ability for those who are hearing impaired, but they are meant to be enjoyed as the audio. 

  3. An animated piece for each puzzle piece was made. I used Blender to create small animations to bring these pieces alive for my audience. This entire piece was created during quarantine so I knew it would have to be enjoyed online. The animated pieces are the connection of modern-day technology (tech) to the traditional practices of beadwork. Much as I myself am a traditional person living in a high-tech modern-day.

The pieces are puzzle pieces to express that these are just a few of the pieces of knowledge of the larger body of knowledge of indigenous people in the world. My art is a living piece, exposed felt leaves the opportunity for others to add to this artwork so it can continue growing. However, this puzzle can never be finished, as so much TEK has been destroyed with the destruction of indigenous language, religion, and bodies. This puzzle is forever growing and yet can never be completed. 

As a Yurok and Karuk in water resources engineering, I know how overlooked TEK can be for white academics and I really want to make those in academia aware that TEK is just as valid as predominantly white institutions (PWI) research.


- Felt

- Size 11 Miyuki Beads

- Fire Thread

- Sequins 

- Embroidery Thread

The beadwork took about 50 hours and the animation took about 50 hours.

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three sisters.gif


Message from Brook

Fire/ Forest management 

Fire Managment with Backgrounf Effects.mMargo Robbins
00:00 / 18:55
Margo Robbins Bio:

Margo Robbins is the co-founder and president of the Cultural Fire Management Council (CFMC). She is one of the key planners and organizers of the Cultural Burn Training Exchange(TREX) that takes place on the Yurok Reservation twice a year. She is also a co-lead and advisor for the Indigenous People’s Burn Network.

Margo comes from the traditional Yurok village of Morek, and is an enrolled member of the Yurok Tribe. She gathers and prepares traditional food and medicine, is a basket weaver and regalia maker.

She is the Indian Education Director for the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School district, a mom, and a grandma.

-Global Earth Repair Foundation

Transcript of Audio:

My name is Margo Robbins, I am the co-founder and executive director of the Cultural Fire Management Council. I am also a co-lead of the Indigenous peoples burn network. I am a Yurok tribal member from the traditional village of Moreck, along the lower Klamath River. I am a cultural practitioner, a mom, and a grandma. Traditional ecological knowledge is part of who we are as native people. For thousands of years, our ancestors have tended this land that we live on, and one of the ways that we do that is with fire. The knowledge of our ancestors is written in our DNA. I'm sure many of you have heard about epigenetics. It is a new, semi-new, discovery by scientists that on our DNA is another layer that they talk about holding our trauma, and that's true. But in addition to holding the trauma, it also holds all the memories of all the good things, and all of the knowledge of the generation, generations that have gone on before us. And so this knowledge of how to take care of the land comes down through our bloodlines, we have never left our home place. We are intimately familiar with the lay of the land, the plants and animals that grow here, the flow of the water, the wetter weather patterns, the wind patterns - what the land needs to be healthy - and the water. This could all be considered traditional ecological knowledge. It's important because it's our past to help. I feel like the things that the non-native people have brought on to our land, and the management practices that have been going on, -often, against our will - has not been healthy for us as native people. It has not been healthy for the land, the plants or the animals. For thousands of years we lived in balance with the natural world around us, and that balance has been severely disrupted. One of the ways it's been disrupted is with the suppression of fires, and taking fire out of the forest, and fire is supposed to be a part of the forest. We have used it for generation, upon generation, upon generation to keep the land in balance. And when the Europeans came, they were afraid of fire. They excluded it from the forest, and they have disregarded the knowledge that thousands of years of caretaking had kept this place healthy. So we need to reinstate that way of managing the land, to make it healthy again. And it's so critically important because everything is so out of balance. Controlled burns are a way of using a fire as a tool to manage the land, and you use it in a controlled way so that it stays within the confines of the boundaries that you want it to stay in. And to do that, there are certain things that you need to do to make sure that it stays under control. One of those things is that you need to clear the perimeter around the area that you want to burn. The land is so overgrown with brush that this is a critical piece in order to keep the fire under control. So you want to cut the brush 10 feet, a slot of 10 feet all the way around, around the area that you intend to burn. And then within that 6 to 10 feet, you need to scrape, scrape down to mineral soil, so there's nothing growing. Just scrape it down to the dirt. And that way, once you start burning, when it gets to the place where there is no woody debris or grass or leaves or anything like that, there is no fuel for it to go any further. So that's one way that you keep a burn under control. Another part of a controlled burn is how and where you light it: So in our country we live in a really, really steep country. And it's very important to start your burn at the top of the slope that you plan to burn on. And so you have your (line), the line scraped down to the dirt. And then you start just below that, and you run a line of fire across there, so that the top gets black. And then you can drop down 10 to 12 feet, and you run another line of fire with the torch. And that just burns up the hill to meet the black that's already been burned. And then it stops. So that's how you control. It's also important to be aware of the wind, and how hot it is, how dry it is, where the moisture is in the air. And you of course don't want to burn in really windy weather, because wind will really drive the fire. So you have to be aware and only burn after just certain conditions, the wind can't be too high. And also, you need to be aware of how dry the things are around it, because of course when you burn there might be some leaves that will - you know - go up into the air and float someplace. And so you need to be aware of where they land, are they going to start something on fire there. So another part of keeping it under control and contained in the area is to look outside of the area that you're burning, to make sure that nothing is landing someplace and starting a fire, outside of the area that you intend to burn. And if something does start and you notice it, quickly, you just go over and quickly tamp it out. So those are the components of a controlled burn, otherwise known as a prescribed burn.



So one of the ways that we take care of the land is the fire, and it has just so many good things about it, it truly restores the land. At this point in time, it is a land restoration tool that, at one time, maintained the health of the land because the land was healthy. Right now, the land is very unhealthy. It is choked out with brush, and there are a lot of invasive species, and the plants and animals that we rely on, to continue our cultural life ways are disappearing fire benefits. The animals restore their habitat. We used to have - about half of our land here - used to be prairie. Now it's only 3%. The prairies are only 3% of what they once were because of fire exclusion or suppression. And we don't have deer out here on our reservation anymore. And so we can use fire to restore those prairies, and bring our home, because then they will have good habitat, a place that they want to live, nutritious food for them to eat, and a place for them to raise their babies, the places that we have burned, we see deer, and all of those places. Before we burned. The land was so thick with brush that deer couldn't walk through there, nothing could walk through there, except like the wood rats and little bunnies. And so after we burned and got rid of all the brush, then nutritious growth came up that the deer like to eat. And so they come - and really sometimes the ashes are barely cold when you do or come rolling them in the ashes and the ticks off their body, and then they come back when the new growth comes up, and then they just really enjoyed that habitat that we created for them. Also, it makes room for native plants to grow. When there is so much brush ruling the native plants, they kind of get choked out, and they don't really reach the sunlight, and also the water is sucked up by all the other plants. And so when we burn the hillsides, that allows those native plants to come back in, they get more sun, they have more water. And so that's a really good benefit of the cultural burns as well. The burns increase the health and availability of our traditional food sources like acorns, and berries, and mushrooms, it increases the health and availability of medicine plants. Like wormwood and different kinds of teas, the places we see a lot more wild Iris which is what we use to make string. And then there's things like the pine cones, that they need to have heat, in order to open new pine trees. So all of those things that we rely on as Yurok people are becoming more healthy. In addition to those benefits. The burns also are a protection against wildfire, because fire requires fuel, fuel meaning woody debris, small brush, trees, dead leafs, things like that. So when we burn large areas and reduce the woody debris, it impacts the severity and impact of a wildfire. Also, it leaves biochar on the ground, and biochar of course, is  a purifier of water, another word for it is charcoal. You stop and think about, you know what, “What do people have in their water purifiers?.” It's charcoal. We're leaving charcoal on the ground on the landscape level. And so it was purifying the groundwater level. 


So, the charcoal improves the soil, makes it more healthy and productive. Some of the plants that we rely on for basket weaving are actually fire dependent. We use Hazel as the frame of our baskets. And it has to be burned in order to send up new shoots, and those new shoots are what we use for the frames of our baskets. They are single. They grow up straight and long, and that's what we use in the Hazel is not burnt, it's just the bushes with all kinds of limbs, we can’t use those for weaving. Another basket material is bear grass that grows up in the new growth. And so the bear grass is the white overlay that we use on the designs of our baskets. There are several other basket materials that are not fire dependent, but they benefit from fire. There is the woodwardia fern for the maidenhair fern and big role in wet places. And like I said that fire increases the quantity of water. So if we don't burn on the hillsides near the wet places, the brush will suck up all the water and those moist places that burn don't exist. So they definitely benefit from fire. I first learned about traditional burning… When did I first learn about traditional burning? I remember when I was a kid, and sometimes there would be fires by the road, then we would go pick sticks there. I don't know who started the fires, but sometimes when people started fires, they would be in places where there were hazel and so we would go pick. Other than that, I never grew up really around any kinda cultural burns or anything like that, because they had been outlawed, - if you start a burn and go to prison-. There was a time in the 60s when the government agencies realized that fire was beneficial. And so there was a short period of a few years when it was acceptable to burn, and a guy from Cal-fire would come in and help people burn their Hazel patches. But then that guy, he retired. then and whoever came in next was not interested in controlled burns, and so it went back to: No, no fire or no land. So I did not grow up either practicing or seeing cultural burns. So, a long time ago, in I believe it was the very early 1900s,  Prior to 1911 around in that area, that they used to actually shoot movies and people for taking care of the land with fire. And then after that, then they made formal laws that people could be imprisoned for burning. And so there were heavy penalties for trying to take care of the land with fire. And it resulted in what we're faced with today. Huge mega fires continuing to get bigger and bigger, and gobbling up more and more forests, and more and more homes and businesses. It has contributed to overgrown landscapes that must feed these mega fires, which has contributed to species that are mismatched to the place that they're growing, that has contributed to global warming, because when a wildfire are gobbling up the forest, the forest is harder than ever to get the carbon dioxide out of the air. And so the wildfires are putting up all this smoke, not only with smoke, but toxic smoke, which is contributing to global warming. And then it's also wiping out the forest that would normally help that. So taking fire out of the ecosystem has been very, very detrimental. Traditional ecological knowledge should be considered as equal to, or more than, scientific theories that drive decision making. That those that Western science is really what brought us to where we're at today, that if you're not from a place that really understands what it takes to care forest to keep it healthy, and those people who have been on our homelands for thousands of years. We know what it takes to this land. And so, if people want to change the trajectory of this course that we're on, climate change, ecosystem imbalance, then we need to really take into consideration traditional ecological knowledge, because that's what's going to lead us out of this place we're at now.  [Transcribed by Sierra Gerber].


Three Sister Plants

three sisters.gif
Mckalee Longer Audio V2McKalee Suzanne Steen
00:00 / 22:08
Mckalee Steen Bio:

McKalee Steen, a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, grew up on a farm in the northeastern corner of the state. It was on this farm that her parents and grandparents instilled in her a deep respect and care for the environment. In May 2020, she graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Earth and Environmental Science and minors in English and Environmental Sustainability Studies. She is now a first year PhD student in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) department. Her current research interests include land use and land use change, and the environmental and ecological impacts of Indigenous land management practices. McKalee is currently serving as the U.S. Junior National Student Representative for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).  Through all of her work, she hopes to give back to Indian Country, and leave things better than she found them. McKalee is passionate about the power of storytelling - old and new, traditional and modern, poetic and scientific - and incorporates this into her work and hobbies. 

Audio Transcript:


Hi, my name is McKalee Steen. I'm a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. I have a degree in Earth and Environmental Science from Vanderbilt University, and I'm now a first year PhD student at UC Berkeley in the Environmental Science Policy and Management Department, and I'm going to talk a little bit about the three sisters plants and traditional ecological knowledge, and what they mean to my people and other indigenous people. So the three sisters plants are corn, beans, and squash. In Cherokee: Corn is Selu , beansduya, and squash is kayvsesquah. Cherokee people also grew pumpkins, which we call, iya. Pumpkins are more common for Cherokee people to grow, rather than squash, but a lot of people - when they think about three sisters - think about corn, beans, and squash growing together, and other indigenous folks will have different words for these plants, and these are just the words that my people have for them.



Even though modern food production relies on monoculture of these plants, native people grow many different varieties of corn, beans, and squash. There are multiple varieties of corn that come in a whole rainbow of colors. And when we grow heirloom seeds like this, we are preserving not only our culture, but important biodiversity in these crop varieties as well, corn, beans, and squash that are all grown together. The way that Cherokee people tell it the way that I've heard it, is: Corn is the older sister, and she stands really tall and straight, and that's why the corn stocks are so tall. And it's a good thing that they're tall because that gives the youngest sister, beans, a place to climb upwards. Without the support of the corn, the beans would not grow as successfully, or maybe be more prone to predators eating them. But the beans aren't the only ones that benefit from this relationship because beans put important nutrients into the soil, such as nitrogen. And then squash, the third sister, grows along the bottom, along the ground around the other two plants, and the prickly leaves on the squash plant help protect the crops from different animals that might want to eat the other plants. And squash also has a lot of really important vitamins that we wouldn't get anywhere else, and squash also prevents weeds from growing around the plants. And so it's a really beneficial relationship between all three, traditional ecological knowledge, and the sisters plants, are important for our physical and spiritual well being, as well as on historical and cultural levels. The plants, when cultivated together, provide each other with nutrients, protection, and support. And though my ancestors didn't have the lens of Western science to explain why growing these crops together worked so well, they knew from generations of close interactions with the land that this was a successful system for providing a food source. The corn provides a place for the beans to climb and grow, while beans provide important nutrients like nitrogen to the soil, and the squash as it spreads across the ground helps to keep out weeds or other plants that would hinder the growth of the others. Now when we grow and harvest the three sisters plants together, it connects us to our ancestors, our language, and our cultural practices. Utilizing these plants together has important health implications for a balanced diet: Beans provide protein, corn - fiber -, and squash - important vitamins - that we couldn't get from other food sources. Just as they balance each other while growing on the earth, they also provide balance in our bodies. One thing that's important to keep in mind with traditional ecological knowledge is that though the science of today might not recognize our people as scientists, they very much were and are the knowledge that we gain from utilizing traditional ecological knowledge from millennia of experiments that our ancestors conducted to optimize the efficiency and success of our native food systems.



So there's this idea that when settlers arrived to the United States, that it was this pristine landscape that was somehow just magically that way, and that the land was able to provide for them, or that it was so beautiful and pristine and that it just existed that way, but it came from millennia of native people tending the land, deep, deep, close interactions with the land, to understand it and to interact with the land in ways that would benefit our people and help sustain them but also continue to be respectful of the land and all of our plants and animal relatives. And so there's this common misconception, especially within conservation that the way to preserve a place or the way to make a place better is to passively manage it and let nature or let the wild run its course. And that very concept is based within this idea that, whenever settlers arrived to the United States, what they were finding was wilderness. What they were finding wasn't wilderness, it was land that had been carefully tended for a really long time. In order to think of ways of managing the land of interacting with the land that are more sustainable, or better for the environment. We have to rethink our use of wilderness and of conservation and of what good relationships with the land looks like because our ancestors were here for years, and before settler contact, had enormous populations that we're interacting with the lands in a way that doesn't deplete them as we see now. Especially with our varieties of crops such as corn growing dozens of different varieties of corn is such a stark contrast to what you see today, with monoculture of corn, and you look into a cornfield today and you see one variety of corn, one color of corn, and there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from our ancestors and from the plants and how to better manage our lands.



Some Cherokee people talk about the origin of the corn bead. We have specific necklaces that we wear that have corn beads, and then and these come from the corn green, and they became more primarily worn during and after the Trail of Tears, because the bead looks like a tear, and reminds people of that time. And they say that before the Trail of Tears, that corn grew really tall, taller than it grows now, and in more colors, and that the the ears of corn were longer, and as the corn watched the people being removed, it was saddened by their removal, and that's why the corn grows smaller now. And the Trail of Tears was a period of time in the middle to late 1800s When native people were removed from the southeast of the United States to Indian territory, which is now Oklahoma. I have Trail of Tears survivors on both sides of my family. There were a lot of different types of removal across the United States, removing native people from their traditional homelands to other lands in the United States, the Trail of Tears was specifically what happened, what people reference when they talk about what happened to the Cherokee people, and other tribes from the southeast.



I think that being a native or indigenous person, especially in a STEM field, means that you have to be - actually just being a native or indigenous person at all and existing in this world that we exist in - you have to like be an expert on everything. So you have to be an expert on tribal policy and Indian law, and all of the things that impact tribal communities you're expected to be the expert on, which is just unrealistic or unreasonable. But I find a lot of times if I mentioned that I'm Native, or if I'm trying to develop research questions that relate to Native people, I have to be the expert on all of it, on all-of-the-things, and that can be exhausting as Native people, trying to accomplish one thing, while keeping all these other really complex things in mind. So, Native people have really deep understandings of the land and so many of our, our origin stories are things that relate to - like - how the world was made, or how our sacred sites have a very, very deeply placed based way of being told. And so, to ignore that knowledge, I think it just doesn't make sense to ignore the long standing history of indigenous people. So this was something that I think about a lot, and especially starting out on a PhD. I'm in my first semester right now, in the fall of 2020, and something that I've come to realize through my undergrad education and through - I did science fair and science research and stuff like that in high school, I've always been a really big nerd - but something that I've realized through my long interaction with science technology engineering and math, the STEM field, as well as existing within an interdisciplinary world where a lot of sciences influenced by policy and vice versa, science, and politics, and all of these things influencing each other: What I've come to realize is that there are a lot of different ways of knowing, and of keeping knowledge, and of passing knowledge on - and there are only a few of those ways that are respected in our western societies -. So, within politics, and within some STEM realms, traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous ways of knowing are not respected, or are not taken as seriously as other forms of policy or scientific research-development things are. There are so many things in the world that needs addressed, and that are challenging, and there's so many challenges that we're facing right now that if we stop and think about why, or if we stop and think about what forms of knowledge that we give value and power to, I think that would be a really eye opening experience for people to realize that there are a lot of different types of knowledge, and that there's a lot of different ways of knowing and ways of carrying that knowledge that should be respected, and that haven't been. 


And that goes back to the eraser of native people, not just in this literal sense where we faced genocide when the settlers arrived to the United States, but also, as we have continued to persist and exist as sovereign nations in the United States. So much of our educational system erases Native people, and erases our histories, and so there are a lot of times when myself or others, talk to people, and we tell them that we're Native American - or what tribe we belong to-. A lot of times people's first reaction is surprise or shock. And it's because so many people think that we don't exist anymore, or that we exist somewhere in the past, or that if we do exist, that we are somehow not functioning with modernity, and that we are, our ways of living, are archaic and of the past. And it's so not true, and there's so much of native culture that is futuristic, and there's so much of native culture that can propel us forward into the future in really cool and exciting ways. And one way to start doing that is to acknowledge traditional ecological knowledge and to hold it with the same value, and with the same weight, that other ways of knowing and other types of knowledge are held.



There's a lot of knowledge within indigenous communities, not all of that is meant to be shared, some of that needs to stay within the tribe, but especially if you're doing work that pertains to a tribe or work that will impact a tribe, they should be in on the decision making process, and a lot of folks don't understand that. If you're doing research anywhere on Turtle Island, you're on indigenous land. So one of the bare minimum things you can do is acknowledge that, and acknowledge the indigenous land that you're on, and acknowledging land is not where your efforts to engage the indigenous community should stop. That should just be the bare minimum. That should be the start, acknowledging what indigenous land you're on, and then continuing forward in a way that you incorporate indigenous perspectives and indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and in an effort to create this better future.



Something that I've noticed within my tribe and other tribes, is that we have fundamentally different understanding and respect for all of our relatives, and we think of all of our relatives, and all of our ancestors as being the plants and the animals and the rocks, things that settlers probably want to consider to be living like rocks or mountains, things like that we consider to be our ancestors. We have a really deep respect for the plants. And I would describe it as a relationship, just as you would have with a friend or a family member, you have a relationship with plants, and something that I think is really beautiful that I've heard people talk about a few times before, is how plants or seeds connect us through time, because you usually whatever you harvest from the year before you save some of the seeds to plant the next year, and the next year, and so on and so forth, and that has a way of connecting us through time, to our ancestors, or to the previous year, whatever it may be. And with that also comes a relationship with the plant, because you're not having a relationship with yourself or your family member, whoever was harvesting and cultivating the plants the years before, but you also have a relationship, an ongoing relationship with this plant that continues to provide for you.



A lot of times with plants, there's a certain protocol for harvesting and going about it in an honorable and respectful way and so, especially if you're harvesting things that are going to be used for medicine or things or ceremony, things like that, you want to ask permission first. And you want to have a way of showing things, and indigenous people all have different ways, different tribes have different ways of showing things. So for some people it might be leaving tobacco or... But I think that's so fundamentally different from how settlers and colonizers think about our relationship with food and our relationship with plants, it's more of a settler mindset. The idea is to take and take,and they should be getting something from the relationship without putting things back into it. And that's just not how relationships work it, it's a two way street, and if the plants are going to provide for us, we have to be respectful and provide for them. And that also goes to a deeper level of taking care of our soil, and our air, and water. We can't grow plants without all of those things being healthy as well. A lot of our ancestors, I think probably didn't have to worry about that as much but as we have seen the world change so quickly and so rapidly. A lot of native communities, a lot of indigenous communities are on the frontlines of climate change, and of environmental pollution and degradation. I grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, and I grew up 30 miles away from the tar Creek Superfund site, which doesn't impact the Cherokee Nation but it impacts a few other tribes in northeastern Oklahoma, and the soil is so contaminated that you can't grow anything in it, and it has contaminated the water as well so you can't go to water, and you can't swim in that, or it's killed off all of the fish population in that area. And it's one of the largest Superfund sites in our nation, with environmental degradation environmental pollution, climate change all of these things are destructive to our communities on so many levels, but when it affects something like the soil, and you can't grow your own food, because of how contaminated things are it really has an impact on your community and on how you are able to interact with the land in a good way. Oh, it impacts how you carry traditions forward and it impacts people you know maybe trying to reconnect with their traditions, so there's a lot we can learn from the three sisters and from our traditional ecological knowledge, which is a wide range of knowledge. There's a lot we can learn from that, but there's also a lot of barriers today across Indian country, that affect how people are able to do that.


It's really beautiful how our people frame these plants as family as relatives. We think about plants and animals, and all of the things that we exist with on this earth as our relatives and as our teachers, then we can learn so much from them. And the plants are each other's sisters, but my people also have a story of the origin of the corn plant, where the first woman Selu, corn was worried about her two children, being able to be fed and be sustained. And so she sacrificed herself to provide food for them, and from where they buried her in the ground, the corn plant rose, and they were able to teach other people how to grow corn and how to provide nourishment for themselves. So there's this really deep, nurturing aspect, especially with, with corn, where it's a mother of the children. And I think that that's a really beautiful concept and I think that we don't often think about our food as loving us, we might love food, or we might love nature, or we might love aspects of our garden, and things like that, but we don't always think about it, loving us back but I think that that story is really sacrificing herself to help feed her children and shows this, this love that food that we can except for, and the plants all have a reciprocal relationship with one another. That teaches us that we should have a reciprocal relationship with the plants in the land as well, but also with each other, just as the plants do.

Three Sisters

River/ water management 

River Life.gif
Keith Parker TEK RecordingKeith Parker
00:00 / 26:35
Transcript of Audio

Hello, my name is Keith Parker, and I am Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, and Tolowa, all Northern California tribes, near the Oregon border. I'm an enrolled member of the Yurok tribe, which is the largest tribe in California by population.


I received my undergraduate at Humboldt State University, which is about an hour south of the Yurok reservation, and I followed that up with graduate school at Humboldt State as well, where I received my Master's in Science in natural resource management, specializing in fisheries genetics. So I'm a fisheries biologist with the Yurok tribe, and I co manage the lower 44 miles of the Klamath River, which is fully on the Yurok reservation.


The Yurok tribe has one of only two allowed gill net fisheries by tribes in the state of California, with the Hupa tribe being the other tribe in Northern California, which are brothers and sisters, just adjacent to our reservation.


As a tribal scientist that wears, both the traditional ecological knowledge hat, and the Western science hat on a daily basis: I'm often asked, what is TEK. And the brief answer is, it's a cumulative body of knowledge and practice is handed down through generations through traditional songs, stories, and beliefs. And when you do that enough times over tens of thousands of generations since time immemorial, indigenous people develop a place based identity.


In fact most tribes have a location on their territory that they consider the center of their universe.TEK is completely at the foundation of the work that I do, and has been part of my mission statement since I returned to academia, 10 years ago.


And that's because my work merges the paradigms of traditional ecological knowledge with Western science and I push back against the false narrative that science is not related to social justice.


For us, fish recovery is simultaneously a social justice issue, and a scientific issue. The two can't be separated, they're intertwined, because from a TEK, perspective species loss is not only a loss of biodiversity, but it's a loss of cultural heritage as well.


So for instance, increasing the abundance of Klamath River fish on my reservation: It's my calling, because for our people, the river is our grocery store. In fact, the closest grocery store that we have is 25 miles away.


So why he might ask is, species loss, a loss of cultural heritage? And that's because, with our tribe, and most indigenous people around the planet, society, culture, religion, language, and food all evolved synchronously, not independently. And so when you remove any one of those things from the equation. It has deleterious impacts to the other factors.


And this is because at the core of tribal sovereignty is food sovereignty. Because food is a foundational part of tribal cultures which feed much more than our physical bodies, traditional foods like salmon, sturgeon, Pacific Lamprey, eulachon [candlefish] they feed our spirits, and that's because these foods represent our living link with the land. And we are truly what we eat, and we eat the earth.


And so for my people, of the Klamath River Basin: Some of the examples of how we've effectively managed fish populations over time, including salmon, sturgeon, Lamprey, is that these fish had been Keystone cultural species for thousands of years since time immemorial, and our relationship, our peoples relationship, and our ability to manage this fishery exemplifies all of indigenous tribal peoples ability to maintain a sustainable fishery. And it really illustrates the depth of knowledge that tribes possess regarding fish and water management.


If you look at it, more damage to the waterways, the fish, the forest, the air, the soil... all of the ecosystems that we interact with, more damage has been done in the last 150 years than the entire previous history of man.


And for the Klamath River Basin, for instance, since the mid 1800s, settlers have exploited all of the resources through overfishing, commercial logging, gold mining, water diversions, and dam construction. Dams in particular have had a catastrophic impact. Dam construction has prevented fish passage, and its cut off hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat for returning and anadromous fish. These dams have closed off the river energy circuit by blocking that dynamic connectivity between river energy output and input. So the potential energy output contained in the flow of a river, of the Klamath River, it's been stopped, and it's been harnessed by hydro power dams. That interrupts the nutrient spiraling, and the recycling processes, and most importantly, sediment transport.


As far as the potential energy input being blocked, that can be seen by the inability of salmon and other anadromous species, being able to return to their headwater stream, because by design, rivers like the Klamath River, they flush. The bigger the snow melt, the bigger the storm, the higher the flush. Anadromous fish are the only organisms, returning nutrients to the headwaters of these oligotrophic streams, those nutrients are contained in their carcasses, when they spawn and they die.


And these aren't just any nutrients, but they're marine derived micronutrients, which are the most advantageous ones. That's why everything goes to the ocean. That's why small fish take a huge risk of predation, disease: to go to the ocean, because that's where all of the really good stuff to eat is, highly dense liquid stuff like herring and anchovies.


There is no other mechanism that exists that can return all of those marine derived nutrients hundreds, or even over 1000 miles if you look at the Salmon River and Idaho, on such a massive scale.


So these dams have acted as anatomy barriers, blocking this historic path that has existed for hundreds of millions of years. All of these Keystone fish species that tribal people have managed and lived on since time immemorial, carry all those marine derived nutrients back to their headwater streams they spawn, they die. It's immeasurable what that loss has been.


I mean you think about it, millions and millions of fish would spawn, they would die. All of the other species that consume those carcasses, they drag them out into the forests, they're very sloppy eaters. They typically only consume maybe the brain and the roe, or the gut, and all the rest of these returning fish, they're absorbed into the ecosystem.


All of that marine derived carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, is absorbed into the forest floor, which ultimately goes into the conifer forests, such as the redwood trees. It's not, by default, but it's by design, that if you take out a map and the Pacific Northwest, all of the conifer forests, and you overlay it onto the map of all the returning salmon regions, that they align.


It's also not an accident that where I live, some of the oldest living things on Earth, coastal redwood trees, some of which, as I'm looking out my window and recording this, have been here since before Christ walked the earth: It's not by accident that they are in the same place where Salmon and return each and every year, returning these nutrient dense, marine derived nutrients in their carcasses.


This was found several decades ago, during core sample tests of redwood trees where they discovered marine derived phosphorus far inland. And at first they couldn't explain it, until they realized, and made the connection between returning salmon and the marine derived phosphorus that are in these trees. In essence, trees are made of fish.


And of course it isn't just the large adult trees. It's all the riparian sections of these headwater streams. When these fish spawn and die, and these nutrients are in that local area, you have a massive increase of riparian plant growth. And those plants grow out over these headwater streams, and create shade. So later on when you have juvenile salmon that are emerging, that shade lowers the water temperature and cools the water, allowing them to have a higher fitness level, and because of all those leaves providing that shade, terrestrial insects make their homes there. And many of them fall off those leaves and into the water, and provide food for all of the different species of juvenile fish that are trying to grow rapidly.


Then all of the roots from all of those plants that are growing in the edge of the stream, they cause stabilization of the soil and help prevent erosion from filling in the spawning grounds, the gravel, for the returning salmon and other fish. And of course, when you have increased plant growth, then you're going to have increased deer, because they have more to eat. If you have more deer, you have more mountain lions, because mountain lions consume deer, and the ripple effect goes on and on and on.


So as I discussed earlier, these salmon are keystone species, not just culturally to the basin indigenous people, but also a keystone species to the forests, the soil, and many other mammals that exist in the forest. As far as management techniques that were practiced historically by Native people on the Klamath River Basin, one of the well known ones was the fish weir that was set up every year in Kepel (sometimes spelt Cappell). The Kepel fish weir is quite well known and talked about in multiple scientific journals. You can look it up yourself, it's: K E P E L. But even thousands of years ago, indigenous people knew the importance of allowing the Salmon to get through, and not to take all of the fish, not over exploit the resource. 


So each year, when the Salmon would return, a weir would be built up river at Kepel, and all the families would be invited to come and harvest fish. Now while the weir was built all the way across the river, there were holes left in it throughout, to still allow salmon to get through. So that way, all of the salmon wouldn't be taken. And then once all of the family members were able to get the fish that they needed, and everyone was satisfied with enough fish for the winter, then the fish weir was taken down, and all the fish were allowed to get through.



I learned about traditional fish management at an early age, spending time on the river learning to row a boat before I even drove a car, learning from my grandfather, my father, my mother, where I live now. I only live about 500 feet from where my grandfather was born in a cabin to a midwife, and my children's mother, her father also born within a thousand feet from where I live now.


As most of the children in our community, we are taught the importance of using our traditional knowledge and our traditional power, our spiritual power, to keep the river to keep the fish to keep all of it in balance, and we do that through dancing, we do that through our daily practices of prayer. And I think it's well documented and exemplified that up until the mid 1800s, the Klamath River basin was well managed by using traditional practices, that it wasn't until the mid 1800s, in fact, a lot of people don't know this but in the early 1900's, huge fish canneries were built at the mouth of the Klamath River that were owned by non native people. And they took literally every fish that entered the river. They built their own we're across the river and the form of gill nets, sometimes they would be 500 feet long, and stretch from one bank to the other. 


There are pictures showing as many as 20,000 Salmon being harvested at the river mouth in one day during the peak of the run. And so by the 1920s, they had almost nearly wiped out all of the salmon on the Klamath River if you can believe that. And it was through some extraordinary government intervention that allowed the population to rebound back thankfully, but it's a good example that, for the tens of thousands of years prior, the fish were bountiful, they were large size, they were robust and healthy, and in just such a short period of time, they were nearly wiped out to extinction.


And here we are 100 years past that. The first dam on the Klamath River was built about 100 years ago. In fact, many of you might be reading in the newspaper about the dam removal that's pending on the Klamath River, the four lower dams, and you can see on a graph, especially in the last 30 or 40 years since the iron gate dam went online back in 1964, you can really see a strong decline in the fish returns for both spring Chinook, and fall Chinook, and all of the other anadromous species like sturgeon and lamprey and the eulachon have been completely wiped out. When I was a child, we caught many eulachon at the river, but no longer.


So the Western approaches to fish management, which one large one of course is building fish hatcheries, the hatcheries on the Klamath River, the iron gate hatchery, and the Trinity River hatchery on the Trinity River site were built to mitigate the construction of dams, so those hatcheries literally are at the base of of dams, and we know now of course, that hatchery fish is nowhere the same as a wild fish, they carry deleterious genes of all types of bad mutations, they are more prone to disease there are lower body size, they have an altered runtime mean, so hatcheries do not solve the problem of a lack of fish being able to run, you know, in their traditional habitat that are now blocked by dams.


And remember, the dams that we're discussing the Copco one, Copco two, the boil gate dam, and iron gate dam, have no fish passage. There's no fish ladders, there's no bypass at all. At least as they had been given fish bypass, many of the fish would still be able to traverse and go all the way up to Klamath Falls, Oregon, and ultimately to those headwater streams of the Wood, the Williamson, and the Sprage rivers, which (go over on a map if you look) go almost to Idaho. So this is a massive river system.


The deleterious impacts of hatchery fish was shown in many papers, but recently there was an Oregon State University paper that came out that they compared side by side. A generation of hatchery spawning fish to wild fish, and after only one generation, the genotype of the offspring of the wild salmon compared to the first generation hatchery salmon, They differ at more than 700 genes. That's just one generation. So you can imagine, if you start doing that over, you know, ten, twenty, thirty generations... what the genetic impacts have been. And of those 700 Plus genes, the genes were in predominantly three areas: Their ability to resist disease, their body size, and their wound healing capabilities. Obviously three very important areas for any organism.


I would say that TEK should be taken more seriously. In both academia and by policymakers, because most indigenous populations have relied for centuries, or tens of thousands of years on our direct environment for subsistence. So over time, we've developed a way in which to manage and use our resources that ensures conservation to the future.


Therefore, we're more interested in preserving our own social, cultural and environmental stability, and our integrity, rather than maximizing production or exploiting nature. We've been interacting with the natural world since time immemorial. And so, our entire culture, our social norms are based on a strong sense of interconnectivity and interdependence. So because of that, ethics and integrity are an integral part of that traditional approach. And that approach worked for tens of thousands of years, up until modern contact.


Clearly, from the obvious 90% plus reduction in fish populations increased disease, increased water temperature, increased blue green algae blooms, and the list goes on: the modern techniques for basin, and water, and fish management does not work.


In brevity, the Klamath River has lost its capacity for self renewal at this point. And we all have to work diligently to do whatever we have to, to make sure that we give the river the ability to get that capacity back. Starting with dam removal of the four lower dams on the Klamath River, which will open up approximately 500 miles of additional spawning grounds and repatriate these fish to their aboriginal habitats.


By doing so, we will also increase the flushing flows from all the way at the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. So we won't see these huge buildups of algae blooms works, which are extremely toxic to not only the fish and terrestrial animals, but also the human beings as signs go up every summer in our community warning us not to use the water, not to swim in the water, not to drink the water. Pets often die from drinking Klamath River water in the late summer and fall.


More examples would be looking at the Sandy River dam removal in Oregon, the Elwha dam removal in Washington, and most recently, the San Clemente dam removal on the Carmel River in Southern California, which has been the largest dam removal today in the state of California. And one commonality, all of those dam removals, is that the river fairly rapidly healed itself, with very little help from human beings. And what I would really like to say to policymakers is that: You can't remove hundreds of millions of years of genetic diversity, with just 100 years of the dam building. So one of the arguments for dam removal, is that these fish have now adapted to this new climate and this new water, that's absolutely not true. We know that all organisms including the Klamath River salmon, carry the recessive genes of their ancestors, as we all do with just a little bit of help, those genes could be brought back out. And we could have a robust salmon population, fairly quickly. As we've seen on the Elwha River in Washington.


We all live down river. And no one, including the multinational conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, which owns Pacific Corp which owns the dams has the right to divert our water, take our water, and sell our water at the expense of not only the natural world, but the expense of our tribal and our cultural identity. [Transcribed by Sierra Gerber].



WayfindingHoturoa Barclay-Kerr
00:00 / 35:24
Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr Bio:

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr (Tainui) is the captain of the oceangoing waka Haunui. He is the son of Wharetoroa and Ngarungatapu Kerr, is married to Kim and has five children: Namaka, Turanga, Rangiiria, Noenoe and Hinemanu. Hoturoa has been sailing around the Pacific for more than thirty-five years. He paddles waka, sails waka, teaches waka.

Hoturoa grew up with his numerous elders who nurtured and cared for him on the many marae of Waikato. He is a native Māori speaker and spent the first six years of his life with the Tuhoe people in Rūātoki, where his parents taught at the Rūātoki District High School. When he and his mother moved to Auckland when he was six years old, he learnt only the English language. Hoturoa recalls how the children laughed and mocked him for his inability to speak English when he started school in Auckland. He was educated at Onehunga High School and went on to study for a BA at the University of Auckland, and a Masters at Waikato University. His Master’s thesis investigated how the waka is a symbol of mana in the twenty-first century. He was a lecturer at Waikato University for over nineteen years. More recently he has specialised in education and leadership programmes that use the waka as a platform for learning and development.

Hoturoa is an orator on his marae at Kāwhia, the home of Haunui, and the ancient landing and settlement place of his ancestral waka, Tainui and his ancestor Hoturoa.

-Te Toki Waka Hourua

Transcript of Audio:

Kia ora,


I'm from Aotearoa; New Zealand, and I'm a descendant of the people who have become to be known as Māori. But back in the time of my ancestors people were known by the different tribal names, and it wasn't until what people came to our lands, when we sort of had to make a differentiation between us and them. So we took on, or people started describing us, as Maori which really means the natural people of this land. Maori actually means to be normal, or natural… so like freshwater is Wai Māori and other things like this world, of our land Māori. So, my name is Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr.


I'm Maori in a generic context but if I was to talk about exactly who my people are my people are all descendants of an ancestral canoe that came from out of the Pacific and settled in this land about 700 or 800 years ago. And that is a tiny canoe. I can trace my family tree, my father Papa from myself from my grandson, all the way back to those first travelers on the canoe that landed here, and then quite a lot of generations back into our Pacific homeland as well. So I've lived in Aotearoa, all my life, although I've traveled on my canoe to lots of places around the Pacific.


 The degrees that I have, uh, Bachelor's degree in Arts, I did anthropology and linguistics, when I was, when I did my undergraduate program. I did a master's in Waikato University and Maori studies, we wrote a dissertation about the canoe, or the waka, is a cultural icon of our people. And in terms of my own world, and probably in terms of how, what I, what I see is the most important thing, is it that my tribesmen exceed me as a speaker to speak on their behalf in any big tribal gatherings, and they will recognize more they recognize me as a navigator in what we call a tahuna, one that’s knowledgeable in lots of different areas. More specifically, for me that's around the canoe, the ocean and ritual, all kinds of rituals so that's probably that's more important actually to me then degrees and stuff to record it, you know, musically, because it's a recognition of by my own family, and my own cousins, my own aunties and uncles, that they confident that I can do these things for them.


So if he would ask me what I thought traditional ecological knowledge was in my world, in terms of understanding the ocean, the impact of us on the ocean, and the impact on the ocean of the ocean on us: These are the kinds of things that I think make up my little basket of tradition, or what I think traditional ecological knowledge is, assuming we have old stories that talk to us of ancestors of ours who went, for example went into the forest, you have the trees to make canoes and things in, we actually have a story that shows that if you don't do the right, because you're among mental processes which is recognition of the different Guardians of the forest and the guardians of the trees and all the creatures of the forest, if you don't recognize these different entities in the right way, in the appropriate way, the goals and tasks you see for yourself will may never be completed. 


And so this carries over to all of the things that we've grown up in learn to do in terms of how we behave on the ocean, how we, how we build them. Well firstly, how we find trees, how we cut them down, how we move them out of the forest, and we set up a compound to build our canoes, and all the rules and rituals that come with it. But once it can use built in finish it's also harder standing have this then becomes a vehicle to carry on the conversation of how we as people need to interact with our environment. And I think that's the kind of stuff that is a foundation for the traditional ecological knowledge that I understand, which tells me, when is the best time to go and do certain things in our environment, whether it's cutting a tree down whether it's going to catch a fish, whether it's going to hunt birds or other things, either in the forest, way up on the legs, or on the harbor, it's understanding the overall cycle of things. 


Understanding when you don't touch anything, because it will be a time when that resource or those, those foods are in a time of recovery. And so you need to understand: “Okay this, we need to do these kinds of things. Instead of what other people might normally do.” And one of the things my grandmother always spent a lot of time trying to tell us a bit was the idea that it's understanding where certain food is, when is the right time to have a sit in when is the right time to leave it to recover, how much you should take, what do you should leave, and how this relationship with gathering even planting and harvesting, if you do it well, it works in with the whole ecological system where we live in, so you have a fairly well oiled machine. We everything takes care of itself and if you take care of, if you take care of all these things, those things in turn will look after you. So, you know, even when it comes down to get new people coming onto the canoe, and I said one of the most important things you need to be able to do is understand what a maintenance program might look like on this canoe, because if we do everything according to what we think is the best for this canoe, when we in times of trouble this canoe will save your life.


It's the same as the only other parts of our environment if we do if we know how to take care of it properly, in times of need that's what's going to save your life. So, I always think of the, the voyaging model that we have: is we're reintroducing a lot of people who got a little bit disconnected from a traditional ecological understanding by using the canoe is a small self contained little world, that they can start to understand these little bits and pieces.


Now, in back in the time of my ancestors before colonial contact, there was their systems of navigation that we've started to revive again, and these systems of navigation, or combination of a number of things it's, it's combination of knowing the right season to be traveling, knowing what the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars are during the traveling season, understanding what migratory patterns of different birds and animals might be during their time of travel, and understanding what the weather patterns might be and understanding how to how to detect the changes in things like cloud cover, the types of clouds and all those things that will help you predict the weather that's going to be accompanying you on that particular journey. 


This is all done by observation, and looking at what's around you, understanding the natural cycle of things, in understanding where the signposts of nature are to help you sit where you want to go. This was the way things were done for a long long time, but they're one of the issues here in Aotearoa was that once, because it's such a big land once our ancestors came to all do the training backwards and forwards to the Pacific homeland that our ancestors came from, slowly dying away. And we got to a point where really, there was no real need to be traveling backwards and forwards to the islands in the Pacific, other than to visit your relatives.


And so, focus became more around coastal travel, and we've made it in changing from giant double hulled canoes, it could sail thousands of miles to canoes that were ideal for moving up and down the coast of New Zealand. So, there was a change in what canoes people use in how they use them in the type of navigation that took place.


Once we get Western thinking, there became a time where everybody -I want to say everybody  but I am talking about both my ancestors and people coming in - got to a point where they start to underestimate the value of traditional stuff.



And so of course when people turn up with things like watches and clocks and sextants, and all these types of things -these tools- , two people can use to help prod and navigate a course, what starts to happen is that the traditional knowledge of the people becomes undervalued and part of that is because it's not written down, it's just it's not it's information is passed on orally from one generation to the next, where it gets to a point that people who are so used to seeing things written down in on paper and in books tend to think that anything is orally transmitted isn’t of value or isn’t real. So we went through a stage in Aotearoa where the traditional stories of navigation, and traveling, especially from the faraway islands, started become lost in the realm of missing Legion. There it was just kind of the kinds of stories that people told that they told but didn't really believe in, because no one could get, fathom, the idea that actually you don't need some of these tools to travel thousands of miles across the ocean. And so we, we've been sucked in to a world of thinking that the only good way of doing things is a wisdom, like. So things have changed over the years over the last 50 years or so.


And, you know, part of it I guess is understanding what Wayfinding is, from my point of view, is Wayfinding is finding your way across, thousands of miles ocean, and it needs to be successful, you need to be able to understand what it takes to prepare a group of people in the vessel, and then figure out what course you want to take, and then actually across land at a place far across horizon, below the horizon that no one else can see, but is all the information that's been stored over centuries to get you there.


Now, that's just one aspect of wayfinding. You know wayfinding also really talks about things like how do you take your people, had you sit and think about what are the best outcomes for your people. You can show them. So, in terms of the canoe model, you're showing them that there's a new place to go, to this could be new opportunities, new land, new resources, all of those things. That's one aspect of it, but if, if we draw back on it, it says things about just doing that you can do these kinds of things with your family. You can do these kinds of things with your clan. This sort of sitting down and looking at, okay, how can we plan, it might not be a journey across thousands of miles of ocean but it could be a journey to get them from position, perhaps, of where the health isn't so good, to a position where they're healthy, they feel good, they're healthy. In the end they operate in a really, really solid collective. That’s wayfinding too. The whole idea of it is trying to put a plan together, to get you from one island, (could be a real island, or an imaginary island) to another one. And that other island could be a real island or it could be some outcome or goal that your group has, has thought about and decided that's where we want to get to.


So, but the canoe is a great way of illustrating what this is all about.


Where I talk about going out over the ocean on these canoes, the canoes that I sail on, twin hull voyaging canoes that are sail driven, they have sails that blow us across the ocean. 


Now I've had people who have come to me and said, “Oh, they’re just like these catamarans' that are down at the marina. And I'm goin, “Well actually, those catamarans are just like ours, because our canoes were the prototypes of these types of modern craft that people fly around on now. So, our canoes have two hulls, we have sails, they drive us, they're pretty big my canoe that I sail on is 72 feet long and can be sailed with 16 people. We can sail with eight of us, eight of us have sailed on some pretty far journeys too, but they need to be big enough that you can carry enough food, you can carry enough water, you have space for preparing food, you have space for crew to sleep, and you sail the canoe 24 hours a day, seven days a week for however long it takes you to get to where you need to be.


You have a big steering oar at the back end of the canoe, at the stern, and this is what do you use to keep your canoe on track. Now you know how to balance your sails and trim them, with the wind, you can actually hit where you want to go without having to use a steering mechanism.


The most basic parts of ocean going Waka are the two hulls. The cross beams that attach them are really, really strong lashing patterns and techniques, these different types of meshing patterns useful for strength and flexibility, you use to tie the cross beams onto the hulls to keep them to bring them together.


You have rigging that holds the masts up, and your sails that you run off those masts. You have those, and your steering pedal, or steering oar that keeps you on track, those are the most basic parts of an ocean going canoe, and their ability to store food and water.


Now, when we think about how stars are utilized, one of the main stores of information that a navigator needs is an understanding of where stars rise and set on the horizon, for the duration of your journey, because stars rise and set in specific, specific places on the horizon all the time, never changes.


And so if you, if you understand the way stars move which is the earth moving, but spinning, what it looks like the stars are coming up out of the eastern sky: They go up, go over here and they come down in the western sky. We understand how stars move the most - the best time to utilize them is when they're just rising above the horizon, or when they're just going down below, they're just down to the horizon because they don't have a lot of north-south deviation in the journey up into the sky.


So, what a navigator needs to understand is how to transfer the view from one star as it's risen to a point or set when it’s coming down to a setting point where it becomes, where you can't use it accurately. You need to know how to transfer your point of reference, from that one star that’s becoming of no use, to another one that might be rising or sitting that you’re able to use, that as a really, really quick way of looking at stars in that way. 


The Southern Cross is a really important group of stars for us here in Aotearoa, well because, for a number of things. Firstly, in combination with a number of other stars that are around it, you're able to use the southern cross to find ways to [audio glitch]. Then once you found South, you can find your other cardinal points really easily like North, East, West, as well. If you know how to use those kinds of lineups, Starline, you’re actually able to utilize the Southern Cross with it. The other good thing about the southern crosses for us in the southern hemisphere, is we sail further and further north to southern crosses, as it goes around in its circular motion around the South Celestial Pole, when we were in New Zealand, we could see the Southern Cross, well the southern cross never sets, it just spins around,. But the further north we go is the Southern Cross comes to the lower part of its spin, it starts to drop below the horizon. So as a Southern Cross drops below the horizon, each navigator will calibrate the clear hand measurements using their hands and things but you're able to actually calibrate how many miles to the north you're sailing. If you're sending hair to the southern hemisphere, up towards the equator and then up to places like Hawaii, this opposite thing happens when hitting back down to Aotearoa. The higher the southern cross is, the closer you're getting to south. So those are just real little quick things I can share with you about how stars are used and how the southern cross can be utilized as well.


If we go back to Wayfinding, for me to share what some of the values and skills that come with Wayfinding. I think part of this is, is understanding what it takes to be a leader. What it takes to understand what you need to be able to do to keep everybody on board with you. When I say, on what I mean, just to stay with whatever the program is, to have faith in the kinds of things you're asking them to do. And to exude the kinds of things that give them confidence in your decision making, gives them confidence in understanding the things that you'll be making decisions on are all in their best interest. Or the big thing about all of this is understanding that, because of the communal way, traditional societies operated, the leader always needed to understand how, what the best outcomes for the people are at all times.


And that means things like - From when I was very young, some of my old uncles said to me: “Always make sure that you can always provide your people with food and a place to sleep, and other things that they need to survive”. So if wayfinding takes you down the path of understanding what are the current, what are the key, things that I need to understand and know, to provide for my people, and to give them the best opportunities that I can. To understand what they require, and then to understand how we can collectively work together, to achieve these things that they want. 


That's, at the end of the voyage, I want everyone getting off the canoe, and instead of running away from me, saying to me: “I can't wait to go on the next trip. I can't wait to do this again with you.” And these are the kinds of measures of success, one of these voyages kind of brings, you know I've had a young man asked me one time if we were going to die because it was so rough and stormy. He said “Are we gonna, are we gonna die?” And I said, well, not if I've got anything to do with it, you know what, I'll use my knowledge and experience to the utmost, to make sure that the decisions I make aren't going to put us in a position where we think, where the only outcome is death is not going to happen. It’s leadership and understanding what it takes to be a good leader, some of the skills that come with wayfinding.


From, I think from a Western viewpoint, it's been a long time for them to get their heads around what traditional navigation is all about. I think for quite a while, especially through the 50s and 60s, especially here in Aotearoa, I think the common thinking was that my ancestors got here by mistake, that they went out on a fishing trip, so way up in the islands, and somehow got blown out to sea and then ended up landing on a place like this. You know, always tried to say to people, you don’t normally go on a fishing trip with your whole family, and your cousins and your children, and maybe some trees, and maybe some pigs, and maybe a chicken or two (if you're just going out for a fishing trip.) And I think it's a very difficult thing for people who are so used to believing, or so used to reading things in books, and having tools from western-wechnical world at hand, to do the things in to achieve the things you need to do. They have a really hard time trying to deal with people who say: “Well, I don't need that stuff, I can just look at the sky, I can look at the ocean. I just look at them. Look at the birds and the fish, it's going to tell me a whole lot of information that I need to get moving along.” So I think, it was easier for people to believe theories of accidental voyaging, than to actually admit that the navigational knowledge of our ancestors was right up there. 


That it was actually real stuff. And that it was actually just as scientific as any other things that people might have from a western framework, the sort of encounter nature, today you know, walk around in town, sometimes people will come to say:  “Oh, you're the guy who navigates canoes across the ocean!” and I say, “Yep.” And then the next thing he says, “Oh, you can tell us the truth... you really do use a GPS, don't you.” You know, that’s just a general, I guess, discriminatory thinking that people have, that they still have a really difficult time thinking that indigenous people are clever. And I think that's a really tough thing for a lot of people who think that they come from a world where they're civilized, but they come from a world where they have written everything down, so their stuff is right and everything else is wrong. It's really difficult for them to come to terms, where the only thing that's been really good over the last 30 or 40 years is yet, despite all that, we still built canoes, and we started sailing everywhere. We sailed our canoe to all these different places around the Pacific, then people are absolutely astounded that we've done it. But I think that came from the time when I was a little boy, and all my grandmothers and grandparents told me these stories about the epic journeys of my ancestors.


Then, you know I went to school, you know, I mean I guess I’m in a schooling system that is predominantly based on a white one, on white theories, that I started to learn that everybody else didn't believe in the same stories that I believed in. So one of the things that happened was as I’d become a teenager was that I actually wanted to go out and build a canoe, and learn how to navigate, sail, and navigate into these waters and SAY: “See? It’s actually real.”. The great thing is that there is a whole lot of  other people that did the same thing, and got to the point now where we can sail the big world. You can believe what you want, but we've done it, and we can tell you that we're alive to tell you that story.



So I think Western thinking, not just academia, but I think Western thinking has had a really difficult time, and has trivialized these epic voyaging stories of our ancestors. They don’t talk about my ancestors, the way they talk about Greek heroes going around on the boats and stuff... It's amazing, because our ancestors sailed way, way further than those guys out in the Mediterranean Sea. So, these are the kinds of things that motivated me to get out and do the kind of stuff that I've done. 


In terms of the preservation of indigenous knowledge, I think for people to firstly understand that preserving it is one thing, but practicing it is another, then they need to go hand in hand. You know I know guys who are pretty good at writing about navigation, you know, pretty good at writing about canoes with it, but they don't actually come out and do it in. And so, when you sit down and ask them what you have dealt with them, they'll give you some kind of scenario that they're running a bit, and then you say to him well: “It doesn't work like that. It looks okay, but it actually doesn’t work like that.” And so, part of the journey that I've been on over the last 30 years or more of my life, is actually looking at building canoes, sailing on them, in them, and then reframing the stories that my grandfathers and grandmothers told me, because they're telling me the stories of the true journeys of my ancestors.


From the point of view of a land-lover, of course, none of them haven't been on out on the ocean, none of them have ever been far enough from land to know one, so I could just see the ocean for the stories or stories… stories that have been handed down from generation to generation. They have been land dwellers, they haven't been long distance voyages anymore. So once I started sailing and doing all these things, I started to see how some of the stories that they were telling me, they had clues in them, that up until then, that you would never understand. Unless you actually went out there and did something on a canoe, or you tested what they talked about out in the middle of the ocean, and then suddenly, unlike tunes, it’s a bit of an understanding or revelation of some of the meaning, or something they’ve taught, they’ve told you about, it's associated to this practice. So I think it's really, really important that not only do you need to preserve indigenous knowledge, but you need to practice it. Because when you practice it, you get more out of the knowledge that has been preserved, you understand more and you are able to gain more solid understanding and information from the old stories of your ancestors.


In terms of why traditional ecological knowledge should be taken more seriously, in academia and with policymakers is: I think they missed the point, because they don't live in these places, so they don't live is someone who's a part of a particular environment, and a part of a particular ecosystem, part of a particular area, or in a coastal area, inland area, a lake area, anything. If they don't live there, they don't understand how everything works. And our ancestors have been doing this kind of stuff for thousands of years. And if they really want to understand what works and what doesn't work, they should be sitting down and talking to some of the grandpas and grandmas, that I know, who used to live in a particular type of way, and everything worked, but now they've been forced to live some other way and now they have to go to the shop to get new stuff.


Or now, they sit on the shores of what was once a bountiful harbor area, and they lament the fact that all the food they could gather when they were children, is no longer available. And it's because people have gone and changed everything. Whereas, back in their day they had these [unsure] right from the start. They had a system of things that worked, they told you when you did this, when you did that, when you did the next thing. And so you're able to maintain and preserve, and grow the resources around you.


So seriously, some of the people in academia and policymakers need to go and meet some of these people and listen to them, and don’t look at them as just some crazy old person who lives by the sea, who lives in a forest, but as a person who knows stuff. I think that's one of the biggest difficulties too is it often, because people have a degree or because people say they're a scientist or they come from an institution, there’s immediate skill differentiation or knowledge differentiation that occurs: That immediately puts grandparents, they presume, into a minor role, where they actually have a major role in these kinds of things. 


Other than lead I, I just really want everyone to work well together to understand how nature works. To understand the kinds of things that if we do things well and we listen, not just to the stories, but to our hearts. We can make a big change


For me, well when I was helping with one of the young navigators, his job was to navigate us to Hawaii. And often during the journey north, he’d asked me for my opinion. Then often I'd say him: “Do you remember this certain story I told you about this area? And what’s the message in that story?” Will we be cruising along somewhere, so I’d be saying “What did I tell you that so-and-so said we need to look for, when we come to these places? What are the signs we need to see?” And so he saw all those things, then we finally got to Hawaii successfully, he did a great job navigating us to Hawaii. I asked him before we got off the canoe: “What was the one thing you learned on this voyage?”, and his reply to me was that he said, “Our ancestors will never, ever abandon us.” And so if we take that on board, and we think about all the things that our ancestors have talked to us about, in we’ve learned from them: They won't abandon us. And we can keep moving on in this world. [Transcribed by Sierra Gerber].



"The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice. Learn more and take action."

How this project is relevant to the United Nations Sustainability Goals:

Goal 2: No Hunger

Through sustainable practices such as three sisters type of agriculture and being able to harvest river and ocean animals indigenous communities will need to rely less on governmental supplied food products which tend to be less healthy. Many tribes live in food deserts, as in there are not many grocery stores or opportunities for food in close proximity, but having traditional food access restored to these groups will help mitigate the negative effects of colonization. 

Goal 3: Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-Being for all at all Ages

Indigenous communities face much higher levels of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes compared to the rest of the United States population (this is also true for many other indigenous communities around the world too). These disparities came when Natives were banned from tending their land or removed and place in new areas where it was difficult to grow or hunt their traditional foods. Having traditional activities such as fishing, farming, land management restored leads to healthy eating habits, exercises, and builds a sense of community. 

Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Having water clean enough for salmon and other river and sea creatures to return is a good indicator of overall health. Having blue-green algae blooms and warning signs around the waterways people depend on for cultural activities, food, fun, and travel is detrimental to the overall health of people whose whole lively hood revolves around the waterways. Empowering traditional ecological knowledge and its values can help in the revitalization of communities through healthy waters. 

Goal 7: Promote Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Growth, Employment and Decent Work for all

Artisinal fishing is a job many indigenous communities rely on around the world for basic income. When there was not enough fish in the Klamath River to support a commercial season, the community was devastated. Artisinal fishing can be sustainable even on a large scale if taken with enough care and with Traditional Ecological Values in mine. These values need to not only be applied to the community itself but to the larger governments and regulatory agencies. Traditional Fire Management positions can also be created to give jobs to indigenous communities who have been doing the work in their families for generations to the benefit of everyone who shares the land. 

Goal 12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns

Everything about Traditional Ecological Knowledge is sustainable. Many tribes do not only think of what the decisions they make will produce in a few years, their lifetime, or even their child life, but as much as seven generations past them. Traditional values on what is done with the end life of food, objects, etc is taken seriously and made so everything returns to the earth in a cycle. Modern technologies and governments can benefit from traditional knowledge and values on how to handle our increasing waste, pollution, and consumption.

Goal 13: Take Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change and its Impacts

Tribes and Indigenous Communities need to be at the forefront of climate change. Many indigenous communities, especially those on the coastlines are the first to feel the impacts of climate change. Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge, practices, and values have kept the planet's ecosystem in peace for thousands of years. For true environmental justice, indigenous communities need to not just have a seat at the table to be leaders in the movement. 

Goal 14: Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources

Many tribes and indigenous communities have been the sustainable managers for not only river, and lake, but sea life. Lessons can be learned from local tribes and communities on how to properly care for our oceans. 

Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

Both the fire management and agriculture/ land management pieces touch on all these issues. Monocultures, poor nitrogen fixation, deforestation, and uncontrollably large wildfires contribute to the issues goal 15 lists. Fire management and sustainable agriculture practices are only two of many pieces of knowledge that can stop the adversities facing our lands. 

Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies

Tribal traditional values and laws were complex and equitable. The US constitution was partially based on the Iroquois Confederacy, which navigated relationships between multiple groups of diverse peoples. Indigenous peoples must not only be a player in these inclusive and peaceful societies but be the leaders in creating these contracts and relationships, as has been done between complex group dynamics for thousands of years. 

These four pieces of traditional ecological knowledge showcased by this piece of art fit well into nine out of the fifteen sustainability goats, but there are uncountable pieces of wisdom indigenous communities around the globe still continue to hold to this day that can be integrated into every one of the United Nations Goals. That is why Indigenous Community leaders must not only be included but need to have permanent and high up roles in making these goals an obtainable reality for the benefit of all of humankind. Traditional Ecological Knowledge is not just an idea, but a way of living and a way of existing not above, but with the land, water, and creatures. 


The process of creating the artwork

In beading these pieces it is not enough to simply create the piece of work with my hands but in my tribe, you also need to be in a good mindset and think good thoughts. Every bead placed down is a prayer and the beadwork itself is given a spirit. I need to be in a good mindset and happy when beading because I want to life and spirit I create in the beadwork to be a good one that provides others who witness it happiness as well. 

Music: Tenderness from


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