Indigenous Sustainability Studies Draws Michelle Anderson to Bemidji State



Michelle Anderson wants to take care of the land around her hometown and state. The transfer from Red Lake is a junior in Bemidji State University’s Indigenous sustainability studies program and is using her Anishinaabe roots to inform her 21st century scientific research.

At 18, Anderson enrolled at Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake to pursue an associate of arts in liberal education with an emphasis in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). During her time at the tribal college, she earned several science-based internships including one with the National Science Foundation, where she conducted research on how sulfate runoff from local mines impact the growth of manoomin — the Ojibwe word for wild rice.

At Bemidji State, Anderson is continuing her manoomin research. She attended the September 2021 American Indian Science and Engineering Society conference in Phoenix, Arizona, where she earned second place for undergraduate research.

“At first I was thinking about majoring in environmental science with an Indigenous studies minor,” she said. “But BSU’s Indigenous sustainability studies program was perfect for me. It has both of my fields of interest wrapped into one, so I don’t need to take any extra classes.”

Anderson’s research portfolio doesn’t end in stands of wild rice. She has also conducted research on cultural burns, controlled and strategic fires that pair ecological knowledge with traditional, Indigenous practices. They promote ecosystem growth and balance so that one element does not outgrow another.

“This is really fire-dependent land we live on,” she said. “We used to do burns in different areas every seven or eight years in order to promote the growth of the forest. My research focuses on burning for blueberries, but I think cultural burns in general are the first step in taking better care of the land around us and learning how to take care of it like we did in pre-colonial times.”

Additionally, Anderson is a student ambassador in the university’s American Indian Resource Center where she regularly connects with future students about the Indigenous student experience on campus.

“It’s important to make the AIRC known to our children coming to Bemidji State,” she said. “I always share my story with prospective students. I chose to come here for the Indigenous sustainability studies program. It’s not offered anywhere else and I won’t compromise my Indigenous background to enter the workforce.”