Green Fire Times

Connecting Youth with Traditional Knowledge and Ecological Science

Carlos Herrera works with water protectors.

By Carlos Herrera and Emily Wolf

Grounded in science and traditional knowledge, the next generation of water protectors is being built. Valuing traditional knowledge and understanding history are keys to becoming successful natural resource stewards in New Mexico.

One way the people of Cochiti and Santo Domingo pueblos have supplemented and supported their traditional teachings has been to partner with a Santa Fe-based company, River Source ( River Source, with support from the Chamiza Foundation, has provided consulting and training for Pueblo environment departments since 1997. The company, under the direction of Rich Schrader, partners with diverse communities and agencies to teach watershed stewardship.

This often includes demonstrating connections between community members’ daily lives, local rivers, river forests and traditional (sometimes ancient) uses of plants. On field trips, staff, teachers and students have opportunities to better familiarize themselves with local landscapes. “Citizen science” techniques and test kits are used to assess water quality (pH, turbidity, nutrients, dissolved oxygen) and aquatic invertebrates. Stream flow is measured. Working with a pueblo’s environment department staff, River Source also organizes classroom presentations, lab sessions and workshops to introduce concepts and transform students’ findings into lessons learned.

Natural Resources staff, Keres language teachers and senior centers have also been key partners. Elders such as Malcolm Alan Nieto, Arnold Herrera, Anthony Rosetta have offered expertise to students in skills such as hunting, fishing, utilizing native plants, making hunting tools and creating traditional crafts such as willow baskets. In sharing their knowledge of the landscape and plants, elders and staff often also discuss critical land and water management issues for their homelands.

All projects on the pueblos are done for the benefit of tribal members and as part of broader land management and cultural development goals. Tree planting, erosion control and caring for land and water have allowed students to contribute to ecological and agricultural restoration. Connecting these activities with traditional knowledge helps the students contribute to the resilience of their communities.

Carlos Herrera is (Cochiti) has a B.S. in Environmental Science from Highlands University. He has worked for River Source for seven years. Emily Wolf is an educator and communications associate with River Source.