The conference was a virtual platform for Indigenous speakers and educators featuring food as the main topic. Other speakers included staff from the Missouri Botanical Garden and the St. Louis Zoo.
Greg Fields, a professor in the department of philosophy and Native American studies program, was the chair for the event. He said that he wanted to educate the public on the several institutions in the St. Louis region that are doing lead work on the intersection between American Indian Studies and sustainability efforts.
“The idea was for organizations to come together in order to be able to do more than we could on our own, to help engage the researchers in the area and also students and the public with some of the very powerful work that Native American scholars and communities are doing to help reduce the risks of climate change,” Fields said.
Benjamin Lowder, the director at the Center for Spirituality and Sustainability, said the event follows the center’s mission statement closely, forging the sacred connection between people and the planet, showing that the earth is not a collection of items for humans to consume but a dynamic relationship between all organisms.
“It's more about a relationship between an ecosystem of living organisms that are all equally important to the health of the whole [world]. It's a worldview that will help us go forward sustainably rather than technologically innovate our way out of [the climate crisis],” Lowder said.
Several zoom events took place from Oct. 6 - 10. The events on Oct. 10 were meant to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day. One of the events featured four local women who spoke about cultural food initiatives in the St. Louis Region. Saundi Kloeckner and Sherry Echohawk, who both spoke during the event, are part of Native Women Care Circle, a prayer group that promotes health and welfare among the Native American community in St. Louis. Both women spoke about the importance of living as part of the earth and treating all plants and animals with kindness as they provide humanity with food and other resources.
Elizabeth Hoover, an associate professor at UC Berkely spoke during the ‘American Indian Gardens’ lecture about the importance of community gardens and how native plants and foods are not only healthier for the people but also the environment.
Another event took place in the Fuller Dome. The ‘Native Food, Native People, Native Pollinators’ events were hosted by SIUE’s Center for Spirituality and Sustainability with guest speakers. One of the guest speakers, Ed Spevak, the curator for invertebrates at the St. Louis Zoo, spoke about the importance that native pollinators play and how everyday people can help native pollinators thrive. He said that even though most college students don’t have access to yards they can take other steps to help out native pollinators.
“If you’re living in a dorm, convince them to redo the [outdoor] commons [with native flowers]. If you’re living on-campus, work with the campus authorities to create more patches for pollinators. If you have a patio, containers are a really good way to do plants. The container garden is really where it is at,” Spevak said.
Julie Zimmermann, the coordinator for the Native American Studies program at SIUE and a board member for the Center for Spirituality and Sustainability, said that even though COVID-19 derailed the original plans for the conference, having to do a virtual event allowed for speakers from around the country.
“The opportunity to bring Native American guests from all over remotely has just been fantastic,” Zimmermann said. “We think about ways to preserve this planet and [want] to learn Native American methods for doing that.”
Fields said it is important for the public to not think about Native American knowledge as records from 100 years ago, but the living educators who have the knowledge today to heal our earth.
To watch the Zoom recordings rom the conference, visit the Fuller Dome website.