The Transitioning Traditional: Using Cards as a Vehicle for Traditional Ecological Knowledge Transmission

Ana outside in rural Montana




Class of 1942 Endowed Term Professor of German

Project Summary

I spent my summer designing card games to transmit traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa under Penn's Climate Action Change Grant. TEK has guided the natural resource management of Indigenous peoples for millennia. Regions claiming the highest indices of biodiversity on the planet are invariably shaped by TEK-based management by Indigenous peoples. Active management by the Fond du Lac band, for instance, has defined the ecological composition of northern Minnesota. Nevertheless, TEK and Indigenous science are frequently underrepresented from mainstream American science curricula.

Contemporary Native American tribes wish to pass on their community-specific bodies of knowledge to new generations, and continue to adapt methods of transmission in the face of assimilatory policies and antagonistic public education. My project seeks to enhance local environmental stewardship initiatives by transmitting traditional ecological knowledge through a card game entitled "Picking Berries."

I travelled to St. Ignatius, MT to consult and collaborate with Native Teaching Aids, a media company based on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The game consists of a "berry deck" and language mats providing Ojibwe vocabulary relevant to traditional gathering practices. Both are designed to work in tandem existing Ojibwe language and environmental curricula at Leech Lake Tribal College, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, and the University of Minnesota. The berry deck incorporates twelve traditional plants and herbs, and was inspired by the 2016 Traditional Plants and Herbs competition at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, organized by faculty at White Earth Tribal and Community College. TEK emphasizes a network of reciprocal relationships, and positions other species' dependence on natural resources on equal standing with human use. The berry deck thus includes a set of ecologically-inspired "wildcards," demonstrating other species' relationship with indigenous plant communities. Language mats incorporate vocabulary items from University of Minnesota's Ojibwe Immersion course, which remains popular among tribal members in the Twin Cities.

The game is currently under review by the Fond du Lac band's language director, and game features including, but not limited to, plant and animal species represented, Ojibwe phrases, and game mechanics themselves may be altered by the tribe. Once the game receives tribal approval, it will be incorporated into tribal education programs as another means to transmit Fond du Lac knowledge of their aboriginal territory.