Swinomish program connects modern science with traditional cultural values

The Swinomish Tribe is educating the next generation of natural resources managers through an indigenous science program called Between Two Worlds.

“This program was specially designed to help students learn about contemporary technologies from both Western and Indigenous paradigms,” said Jennifer Willup of the Swinomish Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) education program. “The goal is to provide the tools and resources for tribal youth to be able to successfully walk in both worlds.”

The year-long program aims to teach Swinomish high school students hands-on skills while reinforcing their cultural connection to natural resources. Along the way, they will learn more about possible careers in science.

“Students will go on to succeed as informed young scientists who understand the importance of resources management, scientific methods and the world around them,” Willup said.

The group of about 10 students will meet every other week through June. Each lesson focuses on a different aspect of natural resources management, such as salmon recovery, traditional foods, air and water quality, shellfish and habitat restoration.

“Swinomish DEP hopes that Between Two Worlds students will be inspired by what they learn in this program, be ambassadors for tribal environmental issues, and continue their education in science,” said Todd Mitchell, DEP director. “Ultimately we hope many come back to work for us as scientists for the tribe.”

Students will have opportunities to practice Swinomish culture by learning the Lushootseed language, traditional values, oral traditions and why it is important to take care of their home.

“Tribal sovereignty, traditional foods, cultural values, heritage, and identity will be discussed with students as they engage in technical processes,” Willup said. “Threaded throughout the units are connections to salmon, both as cultural keystone species and an important part of the ecosystem.”

The program kicked off in the fall with a three-day lesson for the entire ninth-grade class at La Conner High School. About 50 students learned about the connection between water quality and healthy salmon populations. During a field trip to Lone Tree Beach, they sampled water and looked at sea creatures under microscopes.

Between Two Worlds students harvest wapato bulbs at the Skagit River System Cooperative’s Pulver Road nursery. Photo: Kari Neumeyer

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