Bemidji State University Starting Indigenous Sustainability Academic Program
In its quest to separate itself from other institutions, Bemidji State University has found a way to connect environmental and indigenous studies into a new sustainability degree program.
“BSU is the first public institution to be asked to apply for a Margaret A. Cargill Foundation grant,” said American Indian Resource Center Executive Director Bill Blackwell Jr. “We’re extremely excited about the opportunity to have a degree program that is really rooted in indigenous values.
The program is funded by a three year grant that launches in Jan. 2018 until Dec. 2020. All of the projects will run during that time with an end goal of continuing after the grant period ends.
“Now what we’re calling it is ‘Gwayakochigewin’, and ‘Gwayakochigewin’ means ‘making things right,'” said BSU Sustainability Director and Program Lead Erika Bailey-Johnson.
BSU’s sustainability efforts examine wellness and economic and social issues. Students will have the opportunity to those topics.
“Undergraduate internships and graduate student fellowships, so we have two programs for students that will also be through this project,” said Bailey-Johnson.
A portion of the funding will focus on hiring a new faculty member who will oversee the program and be responsible for creating the courses.
“People of the Environment Indigenous Knowledge perspective course that will be ready for this faculty member to teach, because they’re going to play a critical role in deciding what we do moving forward.”
Since BSU is located in the center of the of the three largest Tribal Nations in Minnesota, the representation of Native Americans in the classroom was essential.
“I think a student from Oklahoma who wants to be an environmentalist who is from a tribe down there, is going to see this article or some of the publications about the program and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is somewhere I want to be,'” said Blackwell.
The from-scratch program is designed to help BSU become a destination university for Native students.