Living Landscapes Culturally Relevant Climate Literacy Resources
The Living Landscapes Project is a NASA-funded set of climate-science educational resources designed to integrate traditional knowledge (Native science) about the climate with current climate science research. The award was part of NASA's Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) for American Indian and Alaska Native Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement. The hope is Living Landscapes will strengthen climate literacy within native communities and especially within tribal and native schools and colleges. But Living Landscapes is not just for tribal or native schools. Both Native and non-native students will find it relevant and compelling and will learn from its strong conservation message, a message grounded in traditional native cultural values. The package includes a ten-episode video series, two on-line college courses and an on-line high-school learning unit, 10 in-depth climate labs, a set of 18 climate tools and models, a complete teachers'/instructors' guide, and a climate-themed social networking site. All of these materials can be reached through the Living Landscapes home page: skclivinglandscapes.org. This article summarizes and explains the Living Landscapes project in more detail. These tutorials give a quick introduction for teachers about Living Landscapes and how to use the educational resources.
Cultural Relevance of the Project
Native Americans are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change because their lives, cultures, and economies are so closely linked with climate-sensitive resources. However, that vulnerability can also be a strength. Living close to the land with the collective knowledge that comes from living in a place for thousands of years provides tribal people with perspectives, insights, and approaches that can help both tribal and non-tribal communities as they try to cope with and adapt to the climate crisis. In their 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognized that Indigenous knowledge is critical for adaptation because of tribal methods of managing forests and agro-ecological systems—and because of Indigenous peoples' practice of passing on these traditions across generations. The report states that education, information, and community approaches informed by Indigenous knowledge can accelerate the wide-scale societal behavior changes consistent with adapting to and limiting global heating. The Living Landscapes project provides a host of educational resources for tribal communities as they face the challenges of a changing climate.
Climate Literacy Principles
One of the highlights of the Living Landscapes pages is the course in climate science, where the climate literacy principles are described in a culturally relevant context. There are slideshows for each of the climate literacy principles that include videos and visualizations to better explain the science.
There are also descriptions of common misconceptions within each climate literacy principle and embedded quizzes to test your knowledge. Each set of explanations is tied to a different region of the United States and includes relevant materials for that specific region, including a section called 'Local Relevance'. This helps weave the big ideas of climate science in with the indigenous knowledge and cultural values that are relevant to each region. The regions are Alaska and the arctic, the Northwest, Southwest, Plateau, Plains, Northeast, and Southeast.
Importantly, each of the climate science principles is framed by one or more tribal cultural values. These values make up a unified whole, at the center of which is a deeply held attitude of respect toward the land, water, plants, and animals and a way of living closely and in community, with one another. By placing the science within this larger context, the content becomes more relevant for all students, and especially for Native students. It also gives voice to tribal communities, reminding students of the contribution Native people as a whole have to offer the nation as a whole as we face a changing climate.
For Native peoples, culture is inseparable from place, the issues surrounding climate vary from one region of the country to another. A student in the Southwest may have trouble appreciating concerns over receding sea ice and shrinking glaciers in Alaska. But that same student might be very much interested in a discussion about whether pinyon pines will survive climate change. So instead of developing a single introduction to the climate science course and learning unit, the Living Landscapes project developed seven for different culture areas in the U.S. Although each regional course includes information about all the other regions of the country, its focus is on its particular region. Not only does this place-based approach make the topic more interesting, it teaches students what a changing climate means for their community, their future, and their culture.
Each Climate Literacy Principle opens with an episode from the Living Landscapes video series. The episodes are about three to four minutes long and were produced by Story Road Films. The series follows two high school students as they learn from their grandfather, tribal cultural leaders, scientists, and land managers about how the climate crisis is affecting their community. We follow them as they attend their tribe's first food ceremony, participate in an evening of traditional storytelling, go fishing with their grandfather, hike into the tribal wilderness to learn about grizzly bears, harvest chokecherries to make chokecherry soup, learn about bull trout, fly in a helicopter over a wildfire, and learn about the resilience of buffalo. We hear tribal wildlife biologists, hydrologists, and wildland fire managers talk about how climate change is affecting the reservation. They communicate the science, but they also serve as role models, Indian people working as professionals in STEM fields. Numerous studies have shown that role models can profoundly affect the career aspirations of students as well as their academic performance.
Each episode of the series introduces the important principles in climate science that make up the learning unit. Each places the topic—climate science—within the context of tribal culture. While the series takes place on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, Native students from the Southwest to the Northeast will recognize tribal values such as the Salish and Pend d'Oreille's desire to maintain their traditional practices as well as their focus on community and family. Usually it is adults and non-Natives who present science content in classrooms. But in the videos, two Native students serve as hosts and introduce the science, explaining, along with tribal scientists, why the information is both relevant and important. This approach makes the content more captivating for tribal students and easier for them to understand and empathize with the challenges and dilemmas the changing climate is bringing. But perhaps more importantly, the videos bring to life the richness and beauty of what it means to be a Native student growing up in a tribal community during this time of great change.
Saving the World that Coyote Made: An Essay
This essay includes information from native peoples throughout North America, but it draws primarily from the culture and history of two of the indigenous peoples of the Plateau region. It is an excellent overview of climate change and how tribes throughout North America are adapting. The essay can be accessed here.
Labs and activities
Accompanying the Living Landscapes climate course is a lab course that includes 10 in-depth climate labs, many of which also have cultural relevance to tribes. Covering topics like native fish, snow cover, polar bears, retreating glaciers, and camas (one of the most important food plants for Plateau tribes). They include video and written tutorials and clear, step-by-step guides. The lab course can also be used at the high school level to accompany the corresponding learning unit. The labs are being added to the CLEAN collection as learning activities for students at the college and high school level.
The Living Landscapes package also includes 18 climate tools and models that students and teachers can use to learn about their local climate. Developed by NASA and other federal agencies like NOAA and the USGS, as well as a number of non-governmental organizations, these tools not only allow students to better understand the science, but enable them to learn what they can expect for their community in the future. An example is the National Climate Change Viewer, which students can use to visualize projected changes in the climate (maximum and minimum air temperature and precipitation) and the water balance (snow water equivalent, runoff, soil water storage, and evaporative deficit) for their community. This tool is also being reviewed for the CLEAN collection as a visualization. Another example is NASA's Earth Observations tool. Students can use it to download imagery and data from NASA's constellation of Earth observing system satellites. The data provide daily, weekly, and monthly snapshots so students can follow and document how climate change is altering their homelands.