Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Native American middle schoolers explore science and culture at Biological Station

Twenty rising eighth-grade students from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians spent last week at Camp KinoMaage, hosted by the U-M Biological Station.

The students collaborated with U-M faculty, students and expert staff, and elders of the Sault Tribe to examine natural phenomena, consider the ways in which ancient and modern knowledge converge, and acquire conversational experience in the Ojibwe language.

KinoMaage means “to share teachings” in Anishshinaabe, the language of the Three Fires People — the Ojibwe/Chippewa, Odawa and Potawatomi. And that is precisely what the students did.

From left, Sturgeon Bay Singers Gary Gibson, Joe Medicine, and Duane Gross participate in a feast and celebration at Camp KinoMaage. (Photo by Dana Sitzler)  
Click here for more photos of the students during their week at Camp KinoMaage.

On boats, above ground and beneath, along the lakeshore, in gorges and around campfires, in the laboratory and on an archeological dig, they were introduced to the study of ecosystems, hydrology, ethnobotany, biofuel and solar cells. They considered the plight of the endangered sparrow-sized shore bird called the piping plover (“psidjiizhkwenh” in Anishshinaabe), and discussed real-world issues like the ethics of science and the ways that societal needs and cost affect scientific discovery.

The students looked at broader scientific questions like “What do we need to have to survive?” And they took samples of things existing in our lakes and rivers, and looked at them up close in the laboratory.

“We envisaged the camp as an opportunity to provide a residential education enrichment experience, to expose students to biological topics and use scientific field experiences to explore the culture and history of native peoples who lived in northern Michigan in the past,” said William Collins, executive director of the Center for Educational Outreach.

“It met and exceeded all our expectations. The curriculum was outstanding, as developed by the School of Education’s Stephen Best, and the instruction was outstanding. I observed students excited about learning, eager to participate in the scientific activities, and actively engaged in field experiences. I also observed students who arrived at camp apprehensive about the experience and questioning whether college was in their future. Within 48 hours, some of those same students were talking about becoming scientists themselves,” Collins said.

Cultural ties were a dominant theme throughout the week. For middle school student Casey Snowberger, the best part of camp was “Learning my Ojibwe” with lecturers and Native American elders Howard Kimewon and Alphonse Pitawanakwat, who teach Ojibwe in the Program in Native American Studies.

  Howard Kimewon (left) and Elaine Clement (right) speak with Holli Carrick during Holli's naming ceremony. (Photo by Stephen Best)

In addition to scientific activities, Holli Carrick found a deeper meaning at Camp KinoMaage, when she asked Kimewon to conduct a naming ceremony for her. “It means pretty much like you’re getting your spirit name,” said the newly designated Miimii. “(Camp KinoMaage) has been amazing. I love it.”

“Oh, it was really awesome,” said 13-year-old Justice Guilbault, who also received her name, Waasnoodekwe, while at KinoMaage. “I loved it here. I met some archeology people, and I found lots of stuff. It was a great experience.”

Several Sault Tribe elders also were on hand, including Pauline Andrews who contributed stories of the legends of the tribe. “I think the kids need to learn some of these things, because many things happened a long time ago that’s no longer around anymore,” she said.

Kelly Constantino, Sault Tribe youth education and activities coordinator agreed. “I am impressed with the camp. I think it is awesome. I am overwhelmed with the activities and the professors and everybody who’s put the effort in for these youth.”

Noting that the students were “seeing science in action,” Angeline Boulley, Sault Tribe education director, said, “They’re seeing that it goes beyond the classroom, that it goes beyond a lab coat and stereotypes that they have about science, about scientists, about careers in science. They’re able to see it in the field and maybe start thinking about things they’re curious about and starting to frame it as a scientist might ask the question.”

“Interacting with those college students has been a great experience,” Boulley added. “And the faculty, that’s been a great element, too. I think it’s good for the faculty, too, to see these young people, and they’re probably getting as much out of the experience if not more. And the elders, the addition of the elders and just the interaction that they’ve had in bringing a different (perspective), incorporating the language in ways that are just kind of seamless throughout the day, just wherever it felt right. I think that falls in line very much with culturally how we do teachings.”

On hand to assist was Connor Field, a rising senior in the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, where he studies semi-conductor materials and electronics.

“The kids can really see that the science and math they’re learning are relevant for real technology in an engineering field that’s being used in the real world,” said Field, who prompted the students to consider ways to replicate what plants do to get energy. This led to analysis of a solar panel, engineering solar cells and a discussion about the ways engineering compares and contrasts with scientific research and inquiry.

“I never met any real life scientists before,” said 13-year-old Jake Dudeck. “They weren’t entirely what I expected. They’re official scientists. I kind of expected some goggles and lab coats.”

Asked if Camp KinoMaage has prompted him to take another look at what he might want to do when he grows up, Dudeck said, “Actually, yes, a little bit. This is a very good experience for me.”

Along with the Biological Station, Camp KinoMaage was sponsored by the Center for Educational Outreach, which seeks to encourage Michigan youth to go to college, whether at U-M or elsewhere. Additional collaborators included the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians; U-M's Native American Student Association; Office of the Vice President of Government Relations; School of Education; Comprehensive Studies Program; College of Engineering; and Native American Studies Program in LSA.

The 10,000-acre Biological Station is located on Douglas Lake near Pellston. Founded in 1909, it is dedicated to education and research in field biology and related environmental sciences.