Indigenous Wisdom and Traditions in Nature School
The following guest author post comes to us from Salwa Mansour, one of our beloved facilitators at Cocoplum Nature School. We ask all of our facilitators to pursue an independent study of a topic that’s particularly interesting to them and then to present their learnings at a staff professional development. Salwa elected to study the role of Indigenous wisdom and traditions in nature school. She read extensively and attended several workshops and Pow Wows around south Florida. All of the staff enjoyed learning from her, and we’re inspired to continue working on honoring and humbly incorporating her learnings in our programs. Enjoy the read!
“It is known that Indigenous people protect the majority of the world’s biodiversity. My indigeneity is my activism as an Ojibwe person and our lands and waters are a part of us—not separate. So when I advocate for the land and water, I advocate for myself and the people. Miigwech, thank you.” - Giiwedin, Native American activist, any pronouns
Giiwedin’s words are important ones for me to carry with me daily as a nature school teacher. In my job, I seek to expand the mind with memories that foster knowledge, empathy, love, and courage. I also seek to protect the land on which we learn, and remind myself and students that we are not separate from it. According to https://native-land.ca/, the land on which Cocoplum blooms belongs to the Tequesta, Miccosukee, Seminole, Mascogo, and Taino peoples. The wisdom and practice of Indigenous peoples is what nature schools such as Cocoplum are built from.
In the WLRN 91.3 article titled “Testing The Water, Connecting To The Everglades: Miccosukee Students Take Part In April Water Study,” Miccosukee tribe elder Michael Frank says,"The way you teach your children is not in the classroom. Our culture is right here in the Everglades, in the Big Cypress park, in the open environment. That’s how we teach our children." (https://www.wlrn.org/news/2018-04-24/testing-the-water-connecting-to-the-everglades-miccosukee-students-take-part-in-april-water-study )
Students from the Miccosukee Indian School, located in the Everglades, take a yearly field trip to check on the Everglades’ health by joining the tribe’s water study.
Before Turtle Island was colonized, learning looked very different from how it looks in institutionalized schools today. Being part of a nature school allows me to face that truth daily, and find ways to return learning back to nature, where it belongs. It is also an opportunity to honor the wisdom of Indigenous peoples in our daily activities as we honor the land we are on.
Image from Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Indigenous wisdom is honored when a child gets carried away with the hose during water play, and a reminder is given that water is to be protected, not wasted, like we learn in We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom. It is honored when we gather together on Thanksgiving to discuss the real history behind the holiday, read the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, and share fry bread. It is also honored when we recite the words of Robin Wall Kimmerer, from her book Braiding Sweetgrass, before we harvest from our garden:
“Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”
There are also opportunities for me to learn more from the community. Kimmerer’s book introduced me to the tradition of braiding sweetgrass. When I went to the Seminole tribal fair and pow wow that took place at Hard Rock Hollywood last month, I was on the lookout for some. I found a vendor named Buddy who was selling beautiful braided sweetgrass of various thicknesses, and he explained the tradition and the sweetgrass’s healing properties. I thanked him for sharing his sacred practice and brought a braid to share with Cocoplum.
As a teacher on stolen land, I try to do everything in my power to honor the teachings of the peoples to which it belongs, and to advocate for making our school and resources accessible and open to the Indigenous community.
By: Salwa Mansour