By Kai Teague, program administrator for the American Indian College Fund’s SEEDS program.
“Patricia Monture-Angus (Mohawk) contends that Indigenous nationhood is based not on control of territory or land, but on relationship with and responsibility for land.” She writes, “Although Aboriginal Peoples maintain a close relationship with the land… it is not about control of the land…Earth is mother and she nurtures us all… it is the human race that is dependent on the Earth and not vice versa…” — Andrea Smith “Queer Theory and Native Studies: The Heteronormativity of Settler Colonialism”
I recently wondered why being an environmentalist exists in a space we have to fight for, and why our individual and collective responsibility to uphold and respect relationships to place becomes the work of so few. Is it because we have partitioned our ways of thinking about relationships or is it because we are struggling to know that we are related?
Many have responded to why environmentalism is important. I would like to recognize a deeper truth:
The responsibility of being an “environmentalist” belongs to everyone.
We all exist within the framework of needing the most basic elements in which the earth provides us to live. As Maui Solomon (Moriori-Barrister and Indigenous Rights Advocate) said, “If you keep take, take, taking, you are just robbing your own descendants.”
Monture-Angus further states, “Sovereignty, when defined as my right to be responsible… requires a relationship with the territory (and not a relationship based on control of that territory)… What must be understood then is that Aboriginal request to have our sovereignty respected is really a request to be responsible. I do not know of anywhere else in history where a group of people has had to fight so hard just to be responsible.”
The American Indian College Fund’s program Scholarly Emergence in Environmental Design and Stewardship, SEEDS, works to develop a space for tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) to increase their ability to provide both a pragmatic and theoretical approach to scholarship in environmentalism.
Scholarly Emergence within the framework of the SEEDS program means that through establishing cultural responsivity in our educational systems, beyond validation, we will create regenerative growth and engagement in tribal communities through critical study and integrated learning from Indigenous scholars. The College Fund, through the SEEDS program, is developing tomorrow’s Indigenous scholars as well as providing opportunities to examine and offer solutions for the problems of today.
Environmental Design, as a key element of the SEEDS program, recognizes that through remembering and recognizing practices of human interaction and extraction of our first relatives, plants, animals, water, the earth, and the air, we can develop more accountable ways of engineering, designing, and living reciprocally.
And as we work to get back to the space of true stewardship, the SEEDS program ensures that our students are engaging in responsible action to take care of that which takes care of us. If I am a good relative to water, soil, plants, animals, and the air, I will be a good relative to the youth and those older than me and the generations that are on their way.
The College Fund’s SEEDS program supports capacity building of environmental and natural science and sustainability fields at TCUs while focusing on the integration of place-based and intergenerational knowledge exchange. By supporting the development of five different areas of programming, including curriculum and program development, faculty fellowships and professional development, and student internships and fellowships, SEEDS supports TCUs to envision and enact truly sustainable initiatives within and beyond the TCU system.
Maui Solomon said, “Seeds have memories, they want to grow and be strong, and they want to be who they are.” In this vein, the SEEDS program is working to support Native students, tribal colleges, and communities to grow and be strong and to be who they are.
Kai Teague (Dakota, Iranian and Irish) is an environmentalist, writer, scientist, and program administrator for the American Indian College Fund’s SEEDS program.