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Anne Grant, NEH Summer Scholar 2015

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Lesson Plan by Anne Des Rosier Grant

“History has a way of intruding upon the present…”

~Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee12

Course Description

This course will emphasize Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and incorporate materials from a variety of sources, including some of which were introduced to high school teachers at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for Indigenous Literary Perspectives in Global Conversation. This interdisciplinary program of study will integrate topics in Literature, History, Environmental Studies, Native Science, Philosophy, Religion, and Art to cultivate an awareness of asymmetrical ways of knowing and show how they complement each other. It will enhance cross-cultural communication, and will effect positive social change through ongoing dialogue. Course materials will validate ways TEK promotes sustainability, emphasizes an intimate understanding of complex, natural systems, and encompasses ethical, spiritual and cultural foundations – with special focus on the adaptability of TEK for its propensity to build social-ecological resilience.

This course will offer insights into traditional indigenous philosophies and alternative teaching methodologies, many of which are based on spiritual practice and contain metaphorical meanings of ecology, sustainability, and worldviews that are in direct contrast to passé Western-Eurocentric ideologies. Different viewpoints will be compared and contrasted to illustrate a clash of two paradigms. Consideration will be given to the ethos of traditional knowledge systems and varying perspectives of the natural world and resource management that many indigenous groups retain today. Course intent is to inspire students to engage in creative discourse and work together toward constructive transformations in the face of current climate change issues. Showing respect in cross-cultural exchange, understanding cultural protocols, and avoiding appropriation of cultural or religious symbols and/or practices will be emphasized from the start and revisited throughout the course.

Course Format

The course format for this class includes lecture, instructor-facilitated group discussions and activities; as well as collaborative group assignments, story-telling, and student-led presentations.

Students will participate in supplemental reading and storytelling circles and other cooperative groups while engaged in course content designed to assist students in meeting the course learning objectives. Efforts will be made to incorporate guest speakers from the community, primary source documents, film, and local resources in the class. The Framework: A Practical Guide for Montana Teachers and Administrators Implementing Indian Education for All developed by Dr. Tammy Elser in conjunction with MT OPI will serve as a reference guide for the instructor. Additional efforts will be made to incorporate NEH specific criteria, such as the course being “firmly grounded in rigorous scholarship and thoughtful analysis, respect for divergent views, and devoid of ethnic, religious, gender and/or racial bias.” Students will be expected to assume nothing, ask questions, attend to differences and similarities, and express intellectual civility through conversation and active listening. Instruction and learning will be dynamic and varied, and grounded in the rich history, culture, and diverse traditions of both past and present indigenous groups from several geographic locations in Montana and around the world.

Overarching Goal

Students will learn about TEK’s holistic qualities, its relevance as Native Science, and recognize contemporary applications of TEK in natural resource management while simultaneously developing an awareness of alternate ways of knowing and gaining knowledge – so that they will have a better understanding of the Theory of Knowledge and gain confidence in their place at the center of learning.

Course Objectives: Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

 [Cognitive Domain]

Identify and define some of the basic principles of TEK (remembering)

Distinguish and deconstruct key words within the various definitions of TEK (analyzing)

Translate TEK into concrete ideas about nature, the earth, and climate change (understanding)

Contrast and compare opposing worldviews and perspectives (evaluating)

[Affective Domain]

Engage each other in meaningful and thought-provoking discussion (receiving phenomena)

Give a class presentation individually or collaboratively (responding to phenomena)

Tell or write a story, ask questions, listen to others with respect, and/or share reflections (organization)

Demonstrate an appreciation/respect for living & non-living things and diverse communities (valuing)

[Psychomotor Domain]

Differentiate asymmetrical ways of knowing and (perception)

Explain how they compliment each other with real-life examples (readiness)

Construct and Revise a narrative based on a personal experience that relates to the course content (mechanism)

Create and Adapt a framework or model emphasizing core aspects of TEK (origination & adaptation)

Course Assignments Schedule

This course can be taught for one semester (approx. 20 weeks) with class held weekly, ideally for a minimum of fifty to seventy-five minutes per session, or up to ninety minutes per week split into two forty-five minute classes dependent on scheduling. This will allow students to meet the objectives for this course.  In conjunction with a sampling of the listed course materials, partial readings of the provided literature and bibliography, and lecture based on the following foci, these topics are meant to inform discussion and promote dialogue.

Week 1: A Clash of Two Paradigms: Introduce Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Berkes, Sacred Ecology (2012) pp. 7-14

Cajete, Native Science (2000) pp. 58

Adger (2000) pp. 347, Prober et al (2011) pp. 1-6

Week 2: Environmental Injustice

Crosby, The Columbian Exchange (1972) pp. 3, 211-214

Deloria, God Is Red (1973) pp. 62

Means, For America to Live, Europe must Die (July 1980)

Week 3: Western Philosophical Views

VanDevelder, Coyote Warrior (2014) pp. 247

“Contrived Dichotomy”

Merchant, Radical Ecology (2005) pp. 45

Week 4: Indigenous Philosophical Views

Deloria, God Is Red (1973) pp. 61-64

Cajete, Native Science (2000) pp. 58

McClintock, The Old North Trail (1968) pp. 167


Week 5: Westward Expansion: Environmental and Cultural Impacts

Lewis, Neither Wolf Nor Dog (1994) pp. 8-10, 31, 169)

Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness (1999) pp. 4-25

Week 6: Reconnecting, Reengaging and Moving Forward

VanDevelder, Coyote Warrior (2014) pp. 207, 248

LaDuke, All Our Relations (1999) pp. 1-23, 97

King, The Truth About Stories (2003) “Not the Indian…”

Week 7: TEK and Social-Ecological Resilience

Kimmerer, Restoration and Reciprocity (2011) pp. all

McNickle, Wind From an Enemy Sky (1998) pp. all

Week 8: Defining TEK

Berkes, Sacred Ecology (2012) pp. 2

Cajete, Philosophy of Native Science (2004) A. Waters

Wallace, Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend (1993) all


Week 9: Philosophical Dimensions of TEK

Deloria, The World We Used to Live In (2006) pp. 86

Cajete, Native Science (2000) pp. preface xi, 2-5, 17

Bull Child, The Sun Came Down (1985) pp. 5-126

Week 10: Spiritual Dimensions of TEK

Niehardt, Black Elk Speaks (2008) pp. 27, 160-169

Peat, Blackfoot Physics (1994) pp. 31-38

Pope Francis Encyclical Laudato (2015) online access

Week 11: Characteristics of Knowledge, Practice and Belief

Wildcat, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge (2009) pp. 58

Berkes, Sacred Ecology (2012) pp. 23-26

Week 12: Interconnectedness and Sacred Relationships

Bigart and Billedeaux, Meat For My Salish (2002)

Peat, Blackfoot Physics (1994) 31-38


Week 13: The Essence of Preparation and Cultural Integration of Spiritual, Social and Ecological Systems

Standing Bear, The Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933) pp. 13-22

Week 14: A Metaphorical and Spiritual Journey

Cajete, Look to the Mountain (1994) pp. 4, 69-70

Prober et al. Australia’s Aboriginal People (2011) pp. 2

Week 15: Sacred Ceremonies

Cajete, Look to the Mountain (1994) pp. 4, 69-70

Peat, Blackfoot Physics (1994)

Week 16: Applications of TEK in Ecological Management

Prober et al. Australia’s Aboriginal People (2011) pp. 2-6

Wildcat, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge (2009) Berkes Sacred Ecology (2012) pp. 9


Week 17: History Intruding Upon the Present

Ingold, Making (2013) and The North Is Everywhere (2014) Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks (2008) pp. 1

Week 18: Frameworks for Cross-Cultural Communication

Wildcat, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge (2009) Ammons, Brave New Words (2010)

Peat, Blackfoot Physics (1994)

Week 19: Every Picture Tells A Story: Science, Art and Symbolism

Dempsey, Amazing Death of Calf Shirt (1994)

Frantz and Russell, Blackfeet Dictionary of Roots, Stems and Affixes (1989)

Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain (1978)

Week 20: Conclusion

Bull Child, The Sun Came Down (1985) selections

Kimmerer Restoration and Reciprocity (2011) selections

Deloria, The World We Used to Live In (2006) all

Course Evaluations

 Students will be assessed for this course based on their attendance, participation, completion of class assignments and contributions to class discussions. Since this class is held only one day per week, attendance is critical for learning. Students are expected to attend every class with reasonable exceptions requested in writing prior to absence of class. Unexcused absences unrelated to family emergencies, for example, will result in the lowering of your   attendance and participation grade. Late assignments will result in the loss of points, with five (5) points from the day they are due and two (2) points per day thereafter. Grading will be based on the following scale:

Grading Scale

A = 93 to 100

B+ = 87 to 89.99

C+ = 77 to 79.99

D+ = 67 to 69.99

A- = 90 to 92.99

B = 83 to 86.99

C = 73 to 76.99

D = 60 to 66.99


B- = 80 to 82.99

C- = 70 to 72.99

F/I = 59% or less

Preparation, attendance, participation and contribution = 200 points: You will receive credit for both class attendance and the quality of your participation in class. There are 20 class sessions x 10 points possible for each session for a total of 200 points.

Homework assignments = 100 points: 10 written assignments x 10 points each for a total of 100 points.

Journaling and Notebook = 50 points: You will be expected to keep a notebook of notes to assist you in learning. Your notebook notes will be assessed at the end of the semester and may be utilized for homework assignments, written assignments and quizzes. Notebook is worth a total of 25 points. You will also be expected to keep a journal of personal reflections, stories, art and miscellaneous thought/insights on learning. Your journal will be assessed at the end of the semester and you may be asked during group discussion to share some of your journal entries of reflection. Journal is worth a total of 25 points.

Total points possible = 350: Percentage will be determined by dividing total points earned by total points possible and multiplying by 100. Grades round from the tenth position using standard practices: 0-4 rounds down and 5-9 rounds up, with the exception of “F” or incomplete.

Assignment Format

 Formal written assignments listed above must be typed, double spaced in a 12 point standard font (e.g. Times New Roman or Helvetica) according to the author-date Chicago Manuel of Style Citation Guide using this link to the quick online resource here:

Written assignments must contain full references, and be clearly and concisely written unless otherwise stated. Student-led activities and presentations must be conducted with respect, positivity, and full attention. Using or reading materials unrelated to class content will not be acceptable during class time. An electronic copy of all assignments will be saved until the semester is completed.

Course Expectations & Conduct

All work submitted for a grade must be original or properly cited. Students are expected to know, understand and comply with the academic honesty policies. Students must be especially careful with any information copied or remembered from another source (e.g. the internet). Even when you are paraphrasing ideas, the source must be cited. If you have any questions, please consult with your instructor prior to turning in work for a grade. Violations will result in a failing grade for the course.


Students who request individualized accommodation due to a disability must have documentation from and inform the instructor prior to the first day of the course. Every effort will be made to keep student information confidential.

This lesson was developed in Montana with the following partial list of MT content standards this course will adhere to, as well as Blackfeet Cultural standards being addressed with course content.

Course Materials

Pencils, journal, notebook, folder, portable flash drive, 1 ½ inch binder for all material

This lesson was developed in Montana with the following partial list of MT content standards it will adhere to, as well as Blackfeet Cultural standards being addressed with course content.

MT Science Content Standards 1-6

MT Reading Content Standards 1 and 5

MT Writing Content Standards 1 and 6

 MT Art Content Standards 3, 4 and 6

MT Speaking and Listening Content Standard 2


Blackfeet Cultural Standards 100.B.1 and 100.B.3

Blackfeet Cultural Standards 200.C.2

Blackfeet Cultural Standards 300.B.1 and 300.B.3

Blackfeet Cultural Standards 400.A.4

Blackfeet Cultural Standards 400.D.2, 400.D.3 and 400.D.5

Course Rationale

One of the goals for this course is to revitalize a pre-existing knowledge of how to live in the world: a knowledge that actively protects diverse ecosystems and defends life; a knowledge of recognition that the past shapes the future; a knowledge that is empowering and gives us a means to resist the status quo.

Reflecting on the lives of my ancestors and other indigenous groups, I often think about how, like the Saints from Christian Biblical texts I read while growing up, indigenous people were resilient and had great faith. Past narratives show that humans have a “Theotropic” propensity. This innate spiritual nature causes us invariably to desire the sacred (Ammons 2010, 19). The religious traditions, faith practices, and ecological knowledge of many indigenous groups support my belief that my ancestors and other early, interdependent societies adopted a worldview that respected everything their environments had to offer. I am confident that this worldview evolved out of a genuine love of life and a strong sense of place.

The environment, climate, and ecology of a given place informed indigenous knowledge systems and dictated behaviors that supported life, survival and a sustainable existence for millennia. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) has ethical and cultural foundations that emphasize an intimate understanding of complicated natural systems, is dependent on stringent spiritual practices and has an important role in informing current natural resource conservation.

In the introduction to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (1970), Dee Brown expresses a desire for his readers to gain an understanding about “Indians stereotyped in the American myth as ruthless savages” (12). Brown’s candid account of warfare, forced displacement and near genocide of indigenous populations reveals the sad truth of westward expansion and colonization of North America by European and American immigrants. It also clearly portrays the mindset of a people rooted deeply to the earth, equating it to life itself. Brown’s hope is that we all learn something about our own relationship to the earth from Native American perspectives. A review of different forms of indigenous knowledge and past resilient systems expounds upon Brown’s observations and confidence in living sustainably and in harmony with the environment.

Many traditional indigenous societies have been misunderstood and misinterpreted for far too long. Far from being “ruthless savages,” communities of indigenous people still thrive on the landscapes where they’ve survived for thousands of years, and many of today’s issues surrounding climate change are paramount to indigenous communities. A number of recent scholars have demonstrated this to be true, contrary to popular stereotypes. Presented here are ideas about TEK in different contexts, in a variety of timeframes, and through various stories found in the literature, so that students might better understand TEK and may contribute to both socially and ecologically, resiliency in their own communities.

I also plan to use these materials alongside Pope Francis’ inspiring message in his recent Encyclical Laudato to humanity about current climate change and our responsibilities as practicing Christians to the impoverished and marginalized people of the world. I have confidence in accomplishing something positive that meets both MT and Catholic education standards through combining multiple disciplines and collaboration and networking with various entities. Here is a quote to support my course rationale from the Pope’s recent Encyclical, Chapter 2, under The Gospel of Creation in Section 62:

"Why should this document, addressed to all people of good will, include a chapter dealing with the convictions of believers? I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as irrational the rich contribution, which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity. Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated.

Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.”

Teaching  Philosophy

In the process of growing up on the Blackfeet Indian reservation, I have learned to value a holistic approach to education. I know that having a strong support system makes a big difference in student success. In Indian communities especially, there are a number of unconventional definitions of success and support systems are most likely to be in the form of immediate and extended family members in the community. I believe if success is approached with patience, compassion, and determination, it will be easier achieved. Students naturally relate to people they know and gravitate toward positive experiences. When students are made aware of the fact that success has many expressions and they are empowered to create their own narratives, they are more apt to gain confidence in their abilities and feel they can be successful in their studies –  whatever studies they choose to devote their time and attention to.

I support culturally responsive teaching that considers and integrates students’ culture into  an inquiry based, cooperative learning environment. Using students’ cultural knowledge to facilitate the teaching-learning process supports students’ success and has positive affects on their learning. Culturally responsive teaching contextualizes learning, connecting knowledge to students’  lives and communities, affirming diversity and the importance of community. Multicultural education incorporates content that is relevant to students’ lives and contributes to students’ intellectual and academic development. Creating collaborative learning activities for oral and  written language enhance learning and build positive relationships.

Inclusion of culturally compatible materials and textbooks enrich the classroom experience and studies have shown that students who are given richer curriculum opportunities outperform students in less challenging  environments.

I recognize indigenous people around the world possess unique cultures, languages and  traditional knowledge systems and that a common thread among them is their respect for the diversity of all life. Their knowledge systems assisted them in their ability to adapt and become socially and ecologically resilient societies. My teaching philosophy aligns with my Blackfeet  ancestors and the role models they inspired from my community. It is an inclusive, all-encompassing approach to education that promotes diversity, spirituality, religious ritual, art, social justice, engagement, communication, and a  renewed and elevated sense of place we seem to have nearly lost in today’s technology- driven world and extractive industry economy.  

Course Bibliography:

Ammons, Elizabeth. 2010. Brave New Words: How Literature Will Save the Planet. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press.

Berkes, Fikret. 2012. Sacred Ecology: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.

Bigart, Robert, and Dwight Billedeaux, Illustrator. “I Will Be Meat for My Salish”: The Montana Writers Project and the Buffalo of the Flathead Indian Reservation. Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society (Salish Kootenai Press), 2002.

Brink, Jack. W. 2008. Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains. Edmonton: AU Press, Athabasca University.

Bull Child, Percy. 1985: The Sun Came Down: The History of the World as My Blackfeet Elders Told It. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press.

Cajete, Gregory. 1994. Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education. Skyland, NC: Kivaki Press.

_______.  2000. Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light.

            . “Philosophy of Native Science.” In American Indian Thought. Ed. Anne Waters. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Deloria, Vine, Jr. 2006. The World We Used To Live In: Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

Dempsey, Hugh A. 1994. The Amazing Death of Calf Shirt: Three Hundred Years of Blackfoot History. Saskatoon, SK: Fifth House Publishers.

Frantz, Donald G. and Norma Jean Russell. 1989. Blackfeet Dictionary of Stems, Roots and Affixes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Grant, Anne D. 2015. “Traditional Ecological Knowledge: An Interdisciplinary Approach.” University of Montana: Missoula, M.S. Thesis.

Glenn, Jack. 1999. Once Upon an Oldman: Special Interest Politics and the Oldman River Dam. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Harrison, K. David (2007). When Languages Die. New York: Oxford University Press.

La Duke, Winona. 1999. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Kimmerer, Robin. W. 2011. “Restoration and Reciprocity: The Contributions of Traditional Ecological Knowledge.” Human Dimensions of Ecological Restoration: Integrating Science, Nature, and Culture. Washington, DC: Island Press.

King, Thomas. “’You’ll Never Believe What Happened’ is a Great Way to Start” and “You’re Not the Indian I Had in Mind.” The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

McNickle, D’Arcy. Wind From An Enemy Sky. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988.

Means, Russell. 1980. “For America To Live, Europe Must Die.” Attack The System.October 23, 2012. Accessed April 15, 2014. to-live-europe-must-die/

Momaday, N. Scott. Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978.

Pope Francis Encylical Laudato link here: francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

Strauss, Susan. 1989. Coyote Gets a Cadillac and Other Eye-Opening Earth Tales, CD.


Wallis, Velma. Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival. New York: HarperPerrenial, 1993.

Wildcat, Daniel R. 2009. Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous

Knowledge.Golden, CO: Fulcru

Videos: Only individual selections from videos will be shown in this course.

A Dream For Water. Native Waters: Sharing the Source. The Center for Native Voices, University of Washington and the Piegan Institute. “Collects thoughts, stories, stories, concerns and hopes of Native people the way the Missouri River Basin collects water – with great cumulative power.”

Damnation: “This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers.”

Homeland: 4 Portraits of Native Action: “This film takes an in-depth look at specific environmental issues that threaten Indian nations, focusing on a handful of activists who are leading the fight to protect their homelands. This documentary is filmed in some of the most beautiful parts of Montana, Alaska, New Mexico, and Maine.”

Mother: Caring for 7 Billion: “Tells the story of an American mother and child's right activist, and her journey to make sense of how and why the empowerment of women and girls around the world is so intricately linked to our fate on this fragile planet. Mother features world- renowned experts to help explain one of the most persistent controversies in our culture that touches gender equity, religion, reproductive health and the environment. It is a film of   hope and shows the strength of the human spirit to make a better world.”!about/mainPage

People of a Feather: From the New York Times: “Inspired by Inuit ingenuity and the technology of a simple feather, the film is a call to action to implement energy solutions that work with nature.” (90 minutes)

Place of the Falling Waters. Pablo: SKC TV, 1982. Roy Big Crane and Thompson Smith.

Return of the River: “The film features people and perspectives on all sides of the Elwha debate, reflecting the many voices of the Elwha valley.”

The Fast Runner: “Set among the Inuit people of the Arctic…a passionate story exploring universal themes.” A film by Zacharias Kunuk, 2001, 172 minutes, the first feature film ever to be written, directed and acted entirely in Inuktitut. Set in the ancient past, the film retells an Inuit legend passed down through centuries of oral tradition.

The Milk River: International Lifeline of the Hi-Line. Montana Watercourse, MSU, Bozeman, MT.

Supplementary  Materials

The following two charts will be used as models to assist the students in this course. The first one is a diagram of the Theory of Knowledge and the second one is an example diagram for the Native Science path to knowledge.