SKC Dry Meat Social exposes students and families to the inherent value Tribal Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Char-Koosta News 

PABLO — The environment molds the people. It guides them, teaches them, takes care of them, and nurtures their souls. It is the spirit of the existence of the tribal people to reciprocate the lessons and blessings of the land by living in harmony with it, not to gouge and disturb it in search of hard fools’ gold but to use its soft treasures for physical and spiritual sustenance. That is how it’s been through the ages, and that guiding spirit remains today in the hearts and minds of tribal people who walk in reverence on Mother Earth.

Last week at Salish and Kootenai College some of the lessons of the land and the past were on display in lessons of today at the Education Department’s Dry Meat Social. 

“What we are doing here is experiential learning about Indigenous science with a tribal cultural base,” said Tim Ryan Indigenous Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) instructor who along with Michael Munson teach those ways in the Integrated Perspectives in Science for Educators classes at SKC. 

The foundation of the tribal cultural based classes is Tribal Ecological Knowledge (TEK). That is the knowledge the tribal people learned through the ages by living off and in harmony with the environment of the land. It is being taught to students pursuing teaching degrees at the college so they can incorporate it in related lessons they will teach once in the classrooms as educators.

“We are teaching teachers here at SKC to teach tribal cultural based science,” Ryan said about the TEK lessons. “This type of education is important for many reasons. It helps the tribal students take ownership of what we’re doing here and establishes a sense of belonging by positively reinforcing their identity. And it helps the non-tribal students understand the importance of TEK in the course they will be teaching. They will all be passing this on to their students once they become teachers.”  

One of the tribal students the teacher education classes is freshman Lene Trahan, who is taking sophomore level classes as a result of taking SKC freshmen level credit courses while attending Ronan High School. 

“This is important for me personally because I am learning new things,” she said, adding encased in her new learning experience is the scope of the cultural-based scientific knowledge of the Ancestors that few people heretofore knew about. “That’s cool because we are using it today in so many ways and a lot of people don’t know that it is founded on tribal knowledge that has been passed down for many generations.”

Besides the educational benefits of TEK is the pride it instills in young tribal people and the boost it gives to their identity as the Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere — half of Mother Earth. 

“It very rewarding because it makes me feel good and positive about who I am and what I am doing,” Lene said. “I can take the lessons I learn and pass that on to the kids in the SLED (Salish Language Education Development) program. Then they will pass that on, and those kids will pass in on. We are links in the chain that binds us to the values of our language and our culture. It’s important for us as tribal people to have tribal elements in our classes; it reinforces our identity and instills pride. It’s important for non-tribal people too because the more we know about ourselves and the more non-tribal people know about us the better we understand each other. Understanding of each other is really important — it erases ignorance.”

Rosy Matt of the Education Division said the cultural based science classes are required for degree seeking students teacher education classes.

The Dry Meat Social is a family-based event that brings Education Department educators, students and families together for a fun evening featuring food for thought and food, in this case dry meat and Indian tacos. It exposes families to the program and the youngsters to learning — perhaps planting seeds in young minds of the value of Indigenous knowledge.

Matt said there is two more similar events scheduled this year. In February there is “Coyote Stories Night” and in March there is a moccasin making class.

“What the Education Department is trying to do is build some sense of the importance of science in education and the understanding that tribal cultures are scientifically based. We want to bring the relevance of that to our students,” Matt said. “We want to help students and the public understand that and bring those values back by building a bridge that links the past to today for the education journey ahead.”

One of the young students learning about the links at the Dry Meat Social was Danika Hoskinson, 11-years-old Ronan Middle School student. 

“I learned something different today that is not taught at school,” Danika said. “This is the first time I made something like this, weaving a mat made out of cattails. It took me a couple hours but it wasn’t hard.”

Danika’s brothers Jesse and Josh, also learned how to mat-weave and make rope by twisting dog bane bark via hands-on experiential learning. 

“I had fun making this mat,” Jesse said. “Me and my brother Josh worked on this together so it didn’t take long.”

There were a handful of other TEK stations at the Dry Meat Social that exposed the young students how the Indigenous people used Mother Nature’s gifts of the natural bounty laid before them in everyday life. 

Today that bounty is threatened by the gouge of industry and modern society that is fueled by carbon based fuels. As a result Mother Earth may not have enough of the bounty left for those of the future, including the basic sustenance of clean water and oxygen. Sadly those in control do not have the spiritual reverence of the Indigenous people who understand that they are only here because of the Ancestors harmonious dance with Creation.

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