Welcome to the NEET community!
Travel dates (TBD) between Sat Jun 1 - Sun July 1 2024● Availability for 3 MIT students, funded by ELO ● Stay on the Blackfeet Reservation, in picturesque mountains and prairies adjacent to Glacier National Park ● Learn about the Blackfeet Tribe’s traditional practices● Work with partner institutions like Indigenous Led and the Smithsonian Institute on essential conservation projects● For questions, please contact CSS Lead Instructor, Nathan Melenbrink: ude.tim%40mne
UPDATE: While the first round of applications has already closed, there's a chance that we'll be able to expand this opportunity to support additional students. Please fill out the application as soon as possible to be considered for this summer's trip.In case you missed it, please see the recording of our info session here.
About the project
The Blackfeet Nation, situated in the vast landscapes of Montana adjacent to Glacier National Park, grapples with environmental challenges that are deeply intertwined with their cultural heritage. Addressing these challenges isn't merely a matter of ecological preservation; it's about safeguarding the cultural identity of the tribe. The relationship between the Blackfeet people and the wildlife that inhabits their lands is a bond forged over millennia, which is now at risk due to various environmental challenges. In this work, the tribe is looking to leverage two environmental and cultural keystone species, the North American bison and the North American beaver. Combining contemporary monitoring technologies with the long-standing, traditional understandings of the ecological roles that beaver and bison perform, the tribe is looking to produce data-driven metrics to inform management decisions. Developing scientific data in-house on the Reservation supports the technical training of Blackfeet youth, as well as informing policy at the tribal, state, and federal levels. Monitoring efforts are taking place in the tribal buffalo pastures, conservation allotments, and waterways to produce biodiversity metrics (vegetation, invertebrates, vertebrates, weather, carbon sequestration estimates) at beaver and buffalo occupied habitats.
Our collaboration with Dr. Jordan Kennedy, the Science Director for INDIGENOUS LED, is pivotal in addressing these challenges. Dr. Kennedy's interdisciplinary expertise in applied engineering and indigenous technology provides a robust foundation for our program. The primary objective is to deploy sensor arrangements across the reservation, capturing invaluable data that will help in understanding the intricate relationship between wildlife and the ecosystem. By doing so, we aim to provide insights that can guide conservation efforts in a way that respects and reinforces the Blackfeet Nation's cultural heritage.
Student Experience: Fieldwork Amidst Nature and Culture on the Blackfeet Reservation
Applications will be open to all MIT undergraduates, but priority will be given to NEET students. These four students, under the guidance of experts, will embark on a hands-on journey to set up sensor arrangements at over 50 field sites on the Blackfeet Reservation and collect baseline ecological measurements (vegetation, soil). Each site will consist of two stations, strategically placed 50 meters apart. These stations, equipped with cameras and acoustic traps, are designed to record the activities of passing wildlife. After the initial setup, students will be responsible for calibrating these sensors to ensure optimal data collection, and returning to the sites periodically to retrieve data, replace batteries, or repair damaged devices.
But the experience isn't just about the technical aspects. As the days progress, students will find themselves returning to these sites, not just to gather data, but to understand the stories these sensors tell about the land and its inhabitants. They will also have the unique opportunity to work closely with ecologists and tribal members, refining their data collection methods and understanding the broader implications of their findings.
MIT Student Learning: Merging Technical Expertise with Cultural Understanding
The monitoring efforts are highly collaborative with the U.S. Park Service, Canada Parks, private and public universities, Blackfeet community college, non-profits, tribal offices, and governmental agencies collecting data within the buffalo pastures and conservation allotments. The program promises a rich learning experience for MIT students that will expose them to scientists and other professionals within academia, the park service, tribal offices, non-profits, and governmental agencies in the United States and Canada while giving a hands on example on how data can be used to promote tribal sovereignty and conservation efforts On the technical front, they will acquire practical skills in setting up, calibrating, and maintaining field sensors. They will learn the nuances of data collection in varied terrains, from accessible plains to challenging thickets and marshes. As they gather and analyze data, they will begin to understand the significance of their findings in the broader context of the reservation's ecosystem.
However, the most important learning extends well beyond the technical; they need to appreciate the socio-economic context of the Blackfeet community in order to design and implement meaningful approaches. Engaging with the Blackfeet community will offer students invaluable insights into the tribe's relationship with the environment. They will learn how traditional value systems reflect long-standing ecological understandings of local habitats. They will begin to see the data not just as numbers, but as narratives of a people and their land. Under the joint supervision of Dr. Jordan Kennedy and Dr. Nathan Melenbrink, students will receive continuous feedback, ensuring that their work is both scientifically rigorous and culturally sensitive. Weekly meetings with Dr. Kennedy and other experts will provide a platform for students to discuss their findings, address challenges, and refine their methodologies.
In conclusion, this collaboration with the Blackfeet Nation offers a unique blend of technical fieldwork and cultural immersion. It promises not just to address pressing environmental challenges but to do so in a way that respects and reinforces the rich cultural heritage of the Blackfeet people.