A big part of the program is introducing participants to the land by monitoring sites and collecting data about culturally significant plant and animal species. “We went to tribal leaders to ask them what animals to include,” says Augare. “Then we explain how they are part of the ecosystem, which they have a responsibility to care for.”
To reinforce the importance of care for the land and the plants and animals that depend on it, the group worked with community members to put on a skit about climate change. A teacher fluent in the native language wrote the skit and helped the kids learn their lines—all in the Blackfeet language. The show emphasized how lessons can be learned from animal behavior and by observing the balance of the four elements—wind, fire, water, and land. Learning these lessons is meant to allow the Blackfeet to adapt to climate change and keep mother Earth healthy.
Over the long term, the program is working to build an interest among native people in pursuing careers in science. With professionals from the community serving as role models, this generation has opportunities not available to their grandparents. Because of improved education systems and positive learning environments, there are a growing number of Native Americans studying science and selecting careers in different disciplines. More and more, native students feel proud of their heritage and celebrate the contributions to science made by their ancestors. They also are motivated to work toward the advancement of their tribal nation.
The Blackfeet program is still quite new, and its leaders are currently working on evaluation tools that reflect the indigenous perspective. Their goal is to be able to demonstrate how the spiritual connection can be a motivating factor in learning. “The Blackfeet are proud of their culture and proud of their history,” says Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer, executive director of the Hopa Mountain Program. “This program, rooted in their values, will help give today’s children the foundation they need to make informed decisions about their land and water when, as adults, they are called upon to do so.”13