National Native American Heritage Month serves as reminder of campus diversity and environmental stewardship
Great strides have been made in recent years to recognize more formally the history of the Americas prior to European colonization. In 2020, UT Austin’sNative American and Indigenous Studies program released a Land Acknowledgement for use across the university to demonstrate respect for the historic and current presence of Indigenous Peoples in the Greater Austin area and statewide. Then, on Oct. 11, 2021, Indigenous Peoples' Day was recognized as a federal holiday for the first time. A few weeks ago, a long-standing effort to return and rebury indigenous remains held by the UT Austin Texas Archeological Research Laboratory found a thoughtful and respectful path forward.
The university comes to National Native American Heritage Month (November) against this backdrop, explained Binta Brown, FAS director of Diversity and Talent Management. Brown said that this month provides an opportunity to reflect on the wisdom Native American history can impart to our campus community, including FAS staff.
According to Brown, National Native American Heritage Month dates back 100 years, and the indigenous heritage we celebrate this month dates back even further.
“An inherent respect for human rights and the rights of all living things, including the environment, are hallmarks of the heritage we acknowledge this month—a level of care we might attempt to carry with us,” Brown said. “Two years into a global moment of reckoning in which many of us have reevaluated aspects of our lives and history, FAS’s Core Values remain our guiding star. In particular, the values of Diversity and Stewardship harken back to our continent’s indigenous heritage, which likewise charges us to respect one another across differences and be mindful caretakers of our environment and its resources.”
Within FAS, Landscape Services models environmental stewardship of the campus grounds every day. They incorporate longstanding management techniques, such as the use of fire to control invasive species, often used by Native American tribes. Controlled burns increase the diversity of native plantings, which attracts pollinators such as bees and builds soil health.
“We accept the responsibility we have as environmental stewards of our limited resources by planting native and indigenous plants that provide ecosystem services and by supporting several student organizations,” said Lisa Lennon, Landscape Services’ landscape architect.
Lennon noted Landscape Services is excited about their ongoing efforts along Waller Creek to restore the neglected parts of the creek into a thriving native habitat. Examples of these efforts are visible along Waller Creek through the Dell Medical District.
As Lennon shared, Landscape Services collaborates with students on projects such as the Little Blue Prairie near the Student Services Building. According to Brianna Duran, Campus Environmental Center (CEC) coordinator with the Office of Sustainability, the Little Blue Prairie was initially a project of the CEC student organization in partnership with Landscape Services, which now manages the project with CEC support. The prairie was funded by the Green Fund. Both CEC and the Green Fund are sponsored by UT Austin Office of Sustainability.
Jim Walker, Sustainability director, noted that before UT Austin existed much of the land was prairie.
“The student-driven Little Blue Prairie project seeks to bring this ecosystem back to campus while also recognizing the Indigenous people who were and still are residents of this land,” Walker said. “Indigenous perspectives and ways of acting are worthy of focus year-round, as can be said for several other heritage months and national holidays.”
Brown stated that the FAS EDI Committee will be learning more about Land Acknowledgements, specifically those tied to our campus and Austin, to advise leadership on creating a similar statement for the portfolio. As a first step for individual growth, the EDI Committee and the Office of Sustainability encourage FAS staff to explore the links below.
“You may be inspired to learn more about the history of your neighborhood or bring new perspectives into your work circles to see what new knowledge emerges,” Walker said.