Indigenous Knowledge & Environmental Sustainability

Indigenous Knowledge refers to the- understandings, skills and philosophies - developed by Native societies with close relationships to their natural world.

"We live in a time," writes Hawaiian scholar Noenoe Silva, "when many Indigenous peoples around the world are claiming our ancestors' languages, philosophies, and ways of life as worthy of our deepest attention. We are seeing anew how our connections to those ancestors and their/our lands provide bases... for the resurgence of Indigenous ways of life."

Students in the "Indigenous Knowledge & Environmental Sustainability" focus area will work closely with our faculty mentor to select course work within Environmental Studies and other programs across campus to learn about Indigenous Knowledge and sustainability of Native peoples of Montana and Indigenous peoples around the world.

Our interest in this focus area goes beyond learning how to find solutions to environmental problems. We want to give "our deepest attention" to thinking about and understand ways in which Indigenous peoples are moving toward revitalizing their communities and environments, restoring Native landscapes, returning to traditional food systems and reestablishing long held sustainable practices.

There are also opportunities outside of the classroom -- for internships, volunteering, attending guest lectures and discussions, and joining student groups.

Students interested and concerned with the future of our planet and Indigenous peoples will find Environmental Studies at the University of Montana to be a stimulating and enjoyable place to live and study.

Courses Offered

Offered Spring, every other year.

This course will examine the land, people and places of Montana viewed through the lens of environmental change. We will be integrating different perspectives in an effort to understand the historical background of contemporary environmental issues in Montana, through a combination of lectures, readings, focused in-class discussions, and writing assignments.

Offered Spring, every other year.

An examination of environmental knowledge of Native Americans and their relationship with nature to provide a foundation for understanding contemporary environmental issues within Native American communities. The course explores how Native peoples found meaning within nature, ethical and religious ideas about nature and how nature helped shape their reality.

Offered Spring.

This course is a graduate readings course that will provide a historical overview of federal attitudes and policies toward Native Americans in North America and the environmental issues engendered from these policies, focusing on specific topics: pre-contact America, land ownership and stewardship, water rights, and natural resource development.

Offered Fall & Spring.

Interns will work on campus learning about Native plants, ethnobotany, invasive species, landscaping and restoring natural areas, in collaboration with UM's Manager of Natural Areas, Marilyn Marler. Students will meet once a week with instructors, plus work 6 hours per week on a project on campus.

Indigenous Knowledge & Environmental Sustainability Opportunities

Ethnobotany Garden

The Ethnobotany Garden surrounding the University of Montana's Payne Family Native American Center provides an opportunity for public education and a living laboratory for students. Fittingly, it sits on the site of a historic Salish Indian encampment, and the building is designed to reflect that legacy as well as the heritage and cultures of all Montana tribes. The Ethnobotany Garden contains native grasses and bushes connecting eight stone circles which include Native plants important to the twelve tribes of Montana and Rocky Mountain area.

Natural Areas at UM

The University of Montana has hundreds of acres of natural areas available for research, education and recreation - all within historic Salish territory. This includes 500 acres on the face of the iconic Mount Sentinel, and 100 acres on the banks of the Bitterroot River at Fort Missoula. These places are managed with the help of student interns primarily for conservation and restoration of Native plants.

woman working in native plants gardens


Rosalyn La Pier Associate Professor

Office: Jeannette Rankin Hall 017