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WaYS connects science with Native culture

The Quoddy Tides of Eastport, Maine

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Weaving baskets while learning about brown ash identification and habitat is one of the hands-on projects at the Wabanaki Youth Science Program (WaYS) wskitkamikww, or Earth, summer camp held June 22-26 at Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott.

At the third annual WaYS summer camp, Native American youth in grades 9-12 also used compasses and forest tools, learned about medicinal and edible saltwater plants, tidal ecology and climate change issues as they relate to fish. WaYS, a long-term, multi-pronged program coordinated by the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine (UM), integrates environmental science and traditional Native culture.

"It's great fun. It's intense," says Wabanaki Center program manager tish carr, who earned a master of forestry degree at UM.

WaYs, says carr, seeks to connect the next generation of Native youth with their cultural heritage and legacy of environmental management and stewardship. In addition to summer camps, seasonal mini-camps are open to junior and senior high school students. Each mini-camp focuses on one activity, topics have included shelter building, maple tree tapping, snowshoeing and fishing.

Internships also are available for Native high school boys students to work with area natural resource experts, including those from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as cultural resource professionals. Traditional ecological knowledge and American Indian Science and Engineering Society programs are offered to Native students year-round to continue the long-term connection.

The various approaches and offerings are intended to develop a model education program that promotes Native American persistence and participation in sciences from junior high through college and when choosing a career.

The WaYS program is the brainchild of John Banks, director of the Department of Natural Resources for the Penobscot Nation; Darren Ranco, UM associate professor of anthropology and chair of Native American programs; as well as members from each of Maine's Wabanaki tribal nations.

Barry Dana, WaYs cultural knowledge keeper, a Penobscot community elder and former tribal chief, teams with carr, a liaison with other natural resource professionals, to make the program a success.

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Original Publication Date: June 26, 2015

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