“Indigenuity:” A different approach to solving and adapting to climate change

Dan Wildcat presentation

Professor Daniel Wildcat explaining to a captive audience the meaning of his term “indigenuity.” Photo: Will von Dauster, NOAA.

According to Daniel Wildcat, “some minds are always better than one mind.” That was a key point in his unique presentation on Climate Change Adaptation and Exercises of “Indigenuity” at NOAA Boulder on March 31. Wildcat, a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, didn’t use Power Point, glitzy demonstrations, or props, but rather captivated his audience with the power of storytelling that is so engrained in his culture. With humor and the ability to connect with a room full of attentive listeners, Wildcat shared his perspectives on a better approach to solving and adapting to climate change. 

Wildcat—an accomplished author, educator, and Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma—eagerly accepted the invitation to kick off the Cultural Diversity and Tribal Relations Series offered by the NOAA OAR EEO/Diversity Program Office and the Boulder Labs Diversity Council. The series focuses on the traditional and cultural knowledge of American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Hispanics.

Braving a late spring snow storm, Wildcat, a few faculty members, and eight upper-class Haskell students traveled from Kansas to Boulder in a university van to initiate an exchange between NOAA and Haskell—one that the program’s organizers wish to expand.

During the group’s two-day visit, NOAA scientists, post docs, and staff presented on topics ranging from drought and climate, fire/smoke impacts on air quality and public health, and renewable energy. Haskell students learned about climate and weather data from demonstrations and about the many resources NOAA offers them to further their studies, including various NOAA educational opportunities like the Hollings Scholarship, Educational Partnership Program (EPP) Undergraduate Scholarship Program, and internships.

Visitors from Haskell

Haskell Indian Nations University delegation in Planet Theater after a presentation on Science On a Sphere. Photo: Georgia Madrid, NOAA.

In return, the Haskell students shared their research with NOAA scientists in an open panel discussion. They embody Professor Wildcat’s message that the ingenuity of indigenous peoples—something Wildcat has coined “indigenuity” —and science go hand-in-hand when developing solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems. These student “eco-Ambassadors” are restoring local wetlands, reducing food waste, building sustainable housing, recycling, and landscaping, on the Haskell University site.

“We have a lot to benefit from by honoring the tribal view that we are not in control, none of us know it all, and that as human beings, we are a product of a long-standing relationship between people and place,” Wildcat told the group. He believes that because our modern age fosters the mutual barrier between nature and culture (e.g., we build dams to control rivers), we have forgotten our ancestry. Wildcat encourages his students to incorporate their incredibly diverse cultures and tribal identities into their projects because these emerged from a symbiotic relationship with, not in opposition to, nature.

At Haskell University, the student body represents no fewer than 567 different recognized tribes. The visiting students were proud of the fact that in their small group, nearly each of them represented a different tribe from various U.S. states, and each brings a valuable perspective from their ancestry.

Wildcat encouraged the audience to tap into their own roots, move outside the conceptual boxes that they live in, and re-situate technology in a different environmental framework while we all “bring our ‘minds’ together, roll up our sleeves and get to work!”