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Tribal colleges can play a role in fighting climate change

BISMARCK, N.D. - The organizers of the tribal college movement probably did not anticipate that the very institutions they were forming would be called upon to play an essential role in seeking ways to stop the destruction of the environment their ancestors knew was important to protect.

The recent Tribal College Forum VI, sponsored by NativeView - an organization of tribal colleges, government agencies and industry with the purpose of integrating earth sciences and American Indian knowledge - focused on climate change with discussions on what tribal colleges could do to assist the protection of local ecosystems.

Tribal colleges have a role to play in the protection of the land and the traditions that are connected to the land.

Many tribal colleges are working toward creating ''green'' campuses. Some currently don't have recycling programs, but tribal colleges can find ways to recycle and bring the communities along with innovative methods. At this time, it is very expensive to recycle, said Cynthia Lindquist Mala, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

''If we are teaching these things, I want to practice them; I want them to be applied. My responsibility as president is to have the ability to listen, to lead by example,'' she said.

Tribal colleges are not only including information on climate change within their regular curriculum: classes that focus on ecosystems are now part of that curriculum. Studies and surveys conducted by tribal college students are funded through USGS and other government agencies to compile data that could show changes within reservation ecosystems that will be used to develop methods to mitigate damage to the environment.

On the Standing Rock Reservation, Sitting Bull College is building new facilities, and a state of the art science facility will provide a positive science education on the environment.

''We are doing research at Sitting Bull College,'' said Laurel Vermillion, president of Sitting Bull College.

''Where there is a will, there is a way. Tribal colleges can help us find answers,'' she said.

NativeView was formed through a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey-EROS Data Center, located near Sioux Falls, S.D., Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation and Industry Partners.