Bemidji Pioneer: Grant money would fund new programming at BSU

BEMIDJI—Bemidji State University staffers hope a hefty grant will allow them to create a new, environmentally and American Indian-focused program there.

Staff at BSU’s sustainability office have applied for $600,000 over three years from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, and plan to use the grant money—if they win it—to create curriculum that would incorporate the university’s environmental studies and indigenous studies programming.

Erika Bailey-Johnson, the university’s sustainability director, said the inspiration for the program partly comes from “the great forgetting”—the notion that societies have lost their ability to live in connection with the earth.

“We’re trying to relearn, reteach, reeducate people on how we should be connected to the earth and treat the earth and respect the earth,” Bailey-Johnson said.

The program would aim to pair hard-eyed western science with long-held indigenous knowledge. “Being able to have those two ways of knowing and thinking about the earth, I think, would be quite transformational,” Bailey-Johnson added.

Finer details are still being hammered out, and Bailey-Johnson and other BSU staff stressed that their plans are tentative and predicated on receiving the grant money. The foundation invited the university to apply for the grant, and is expected to reach a decision in August.

The idea to connect the two programs is part of a broader initiative at the university called “Gwayakochigewin,” which seeks to add indigenous knowledge across BSU’s curriculum and approximately translates to “making things right” in English, Bailey-Johnson said.

The hoped-for funding would pay for a new faculty member who would design the program’s curriculum, a part-time grant coordinator and stipends and other support for graduate and undergraduate students in the program.

If it gets the grant money to do so, BSU would presumably start the new program by the 2018-19 school year.