Reflections on the Journey from Environmental Reciprocity
to Environmental Exploitation

Environmental Stewardship: Finding Common Ground-
Indigenous and Western Approaches to Healing Our Land and Waters

By Pamela Bishop

The day long teach-in, "Environmental Stewardship: Finding Common Ground- Indigenous and Western Approach to Healing Our Land and Waters," was at SUNY ESF on October 16. This event was historic, in the way that it created a conversation on environmental stewardship between the two often opposing camps of scientific and traditional knowledge. Starting early in the morning, a series of events and workshops would engage these two perspectives in a conversation that recognized the importance of collaboration.

In western societies, including our own, scientific knowledge is privileged over other ways of knowing. Science has divorced itself from traditionalism. While, native knowledge always recognized an embedded moral sensibility within its perspective. Together the scientific and the traditional can enrich and strengthen one another. "This event is an admission and revelation that science doesn't have all the answers to environmental problems. We are coming full circle," said Jack Manno, professor at SUNY ESF "We can't get to the future without science and we can't know where we are going without traditional knowledge."

Robin Kimmerer began the morning by delivering a keynote address that recognized the native and non-native understandings of knowledge. She began by asking what North America was like before Western contact. "The Myth of the Pristine," that the land was an un-cultivated, abundant, empty wilderness has been promulgated by American culture. Contrary to this myth, native stewardship allowed for large human populations, and intact food chains. The native relationship to the land has always differed from that of the non-native. Kimmerer summed this difference up by stating: "Is the land a source of belonging or a source of belongings?"

Kimmerer, professor of botany at SUNY ESF, recognized this need in the metaphor of the three sisters. The three sisters, refers to the interrelation between corn, beans and squash, grown together by the Haudenosaunee people. The corn creates space, the beans fertilizes the soil and creates light efficiency and the squash shades the ground and suppresses the weeds. Together these vegetables create an environment, "where the good of one is linked to the good of the others." This metaphor represents the combination of strengths that this event encouraged.

This program was attended by some 400 people through-out the day. It began with a short video that explained the history and purpose of the Onondaga Land Rights Action from the perspective and in the voices of the Onondaga Nation. After that, one of the morning events was a talking circle where individuals participated in an exchange of ideas and perspectives on "Indigenous and Western Approaches to Healing Our Land and Waters." This was followed by a variety of workshops: Making Stewardship Visible, Activist Women and Native Rights, Learning from and Supporting Indigenous People, Onondaga Creek Restoration-Values and Uses, etc. In the afternoon there was another talking circle where native and non-native women participated in a discussion on "Women's Traditional Roles on Behalf of Mother Earth." Workshops that followed were: Religion and Nature, Honoring Dispute Resolution Traditions, Grief and Gratitude, Poetry Workshop-Using Words to Heal, Visions of Onondaga Lake, etc.

Pamela Bishop is an intern for Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON). Currently, she is pursuing a M.S. in Public Relations at the S.I.Newhouse School of Public Communications of Syracuse University. Previously she attended York University of Toronto, Canada where she attained a B.A. in Political Science.

For more information:
Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, (315) 472-5478,