2022 People and Nature Symposium (Spring)

A banner image advertising the People and Nature Symposium, which will take place on Saturday, April 09. Text reads: "A thematic symposium examining the varied relationships between people and nature. Invited speakers will discuss ethnoecology, place-based research, and environmental justice." The symposium will take place at Duke's Field Auditorium, and will be available for virtual attendance on Zoom. Visit the link bit.ly/PeopleAndNatureRegister for the registration form.

The 2022 People and Nature Symposium, organized by Lane Scher, Anita Simha, Jon Choi, Maggie Swift, Alex Loomis, and Brandie Quarles took place on Saturday, April 09, 2022. The schedule is below, and a report by rapporteur Rubén Dario Palacio will be up soon!

The close, bidirectional relationship between nature and people influences our ability to understand ecological processes and the implications ecological processes have for various human communities. Intimate place-based understanding and indigenous knowledge of natural history can benefit ecological research. Cultural lenses affect people’s perceptions of their environment and conservation, which can affect the application of that research and translate into environmental policy. As ecological processes and ecosystem functioning affect groups differently, with environmental burdens often placed on vulnerable communities, reflecting on cultural relationships with nature in ecological research is crucial. 

As an ethnoecology symposium, the 2022 People & Nature Symposium aimed to examine how cultural lenses influence people’s perspectives of nature. There were two sessions, each focusing on a different aspect of ethnoecology. Session 1, Ethnoecology and Place-Based Research, emphasized the value of intimate indigenous and local knowledge of a place to better understand ecological processes. Session 2, Environmental Justice, highlighted how the implications of ecological processes differ among human communities. 

Land Acknowledgement

The land on which the People and Nature Symposium physically took place (Duke University’s west campus) were stolen by European colonists from the peoples inhabiting these lands long before North Carolina was a state. Trinity College opened in 1892 with lands and funds provided largely by local tobacco magnates Washington Duke and Julian S. Carr. Much of these lands were ceded during and after the Cherokee Treaty of 1828. As with the lands of any sovereign peoples, the territories of native tribes and nations shifted over time, but what we now call Durham and Orange Counties were at various times the home of the Shakori (shah-KOR-ee), Eno (EE-noh), Tuscarora (tusk-uh-ROH-ra), and the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation (OBSN; oh-kuh-NEE-chee; suh-POH-nee).

A land acknowledgement should not solely focus on the violence and oppression of the past, however. Indigenous inhabitants of what is now North Carolina have many descendants scattered across United States, whose lives and achievements and histories should be celebrated. According to the US Census Bureau, 1.6% of the population in North Carolina is American Indian. While the Shakori and Eno peoples relocated and integrated with the powerful Catawba (kuh-TAW-buh) Nation, the Tuscarora, OBSN, and Catawba continue as distinct tribes to this day. We encourage you to visit the tribal web pages linked above, to explore the rich stories of these thriving communities and find ways to support them however you can. A tribal history of the OBSN can be found here, the Catawba Nation here, and the Tuscarora Nation here.

Originally known as the Yesah or Saponi peoples, the OBSN has roots in the Ohio Valley, where around 1000 years ago they were forced by a powerful enemy to relocate to south-central Virginia. Nathaniel Bacon’s rebellion in 1676 pushed the Occaneechi into the area now known as the Triangle for many years before returning to Virginia in 1713. Between 1790 and 1920, white intolerance caused a mass migration back to Alamance and Macon counties, to a settlement known as “Texas”. The Occaneechi people reorganized in 1985 as the Eno-Occaneechi Association, Inc., and amended the name to the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation in 1995. The OBSN was officially recognized by the state of North Carolina in 2002. That same year, plans began for a tribal landback program, the Occaneechi Homeland Preservation Project, breaking ground in 2005 with the purchase of 25 acres of Texas settlement land in Alamance County. These lands are now the site of a permanent ceremonial ground, tribal orchard, and tribal museum, with more in store. To date, they have “renovated the farmhouse and a garden where we will plant the Three Sisters. The Homeland Preservation will be an ongoing project in order to maintain the site for visits for tribal members and the community… We encourage visiting the OBSN tribal grounds but due to COVID we have not offered visits, but hope to very soon.” The official tribal grounds of the OBSN are located in Burlington, a 30 minute drive from Duke’s campus, and their calendar of events can be found here.

Finally, while the ongoing history of these lands are important to acknowledge, the symposium’s virtual component means that we may have attendees from across the United States or even the world! We obviously cannot cover the history of all the lands that this symposium may be broadcast to, so if you are attending virtually we encourage you to research the history of the lands that you will be attending from, and to share those histories with us using this form. We will post responses shortly after the symposium.

Resources: Read more about the history of Duke University here. We also encourage you to peruse the land acknowledgement provided by Duke Forest here, on which much of this land acknowledgement was based. In addition, the working group Unearthing Duke Forest is currently “explor[ing] the intertwined histories of people, of land, and of scientific inquiry in Duke Forest”; read more here and here. More resources are available at the end of this document.

Land Acknowledgement Action Pledge

Land acknowledgement is nothing without action. Without action, these are empty words used to assuage the knowledge that we all are benefiting from the violence of the past and present (this violence continues to harm the Indigenous peoples whose lands were invaded and stolen to form the United States).

We extend to you, and to everyone attending this symposium, an ongoing challenge inspired by that of the Sicangu (see-CHAHN-ghoo) Community Development Corporation. Their Land Acknowledgement Action Pledge calls readers to donate at least $1 to a Native-led organization every time you hear a land acknowledgement. The purpose of land acknowledgements is not just to recognize and honor those whose stolen lands we stand on, and whose appropriated resources built our nation, but to use this platform to inspire anti-colonial action. In that vein, we’ve collated a list of Native-led organizations to support below, though we of course encourage you to do your own research on local Indigenous organizations, if you are able.

Local-level donation suggestions

  • The Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation is continuously committed to the preservation, protection and promotion of our history, culture and traditions; while providing social, economic and educational resources, opportunities and services that will contribute to the well being of the tribal community.” Donations will likely go towards ongoing parts of the Homeland Preservation project for repairing the tribal village grounds, specifically buying materials to support the reconstruction of the ati’s (huts) at the village site. [about][donate][support Occaneechi artists][directions][calendar of events]
  • The Triangle Native American Society (TNAS) is a visionary entity empowering American Indian people residing in the Triangle Community to become resilient leaders advocating for educational advancement, economic sufficiency, self-determination and cultural inclusiveness and awareness by capitalizing and building upon the strengths of the community and the infrastructure that promotes and encourages the blending of diverse groups. TNAS seeks to foster a local Native community while bridging the various cultural and traditional practices members bring from their respective home tribal communities. Our objective[s]: (1) Obtain and administer funds to address the needs of its American Indian community; (2) Provide residents residing in the Triangle community information and referral services; (3) Educate and cultivate cultural awareness through programming and other forms of media; (4) Promote unity and strength through advocacy for the American Indian population; and (5) Strengthen educational achievement by providing a culturally relevant learning experience.” [about][donate]
  • UNC Chapel Hill’s American Indian Center’s three goals are leadership in American Indian scholarship and research, engagement with and service to Native populations, and the enrichment of campus diversity and dialogue [donate]. UNCCH also has two research funds regarding Native studies: The American Indian Studies Fund, used to support the education and research objectives of faculty members working in the field of American Indian Studies [donate] and the Henry Owl Fund, used to support the education and research in Cherokee history, languages, and culture [donate].

National-level donation suggestions

  • “The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (NIWRC) is a Native-led nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence against Native women and children. The NIWRC provides national leadership in ending gender-based violence in tribal communities by lifting up the collective voices of grassroots advocates and offering culturally grounded resources, technical assistance and training, and policy development to strengthen tribal sovereignty. Our staff and board of directors consist of Native women from throughout the United States with extensive experience and commitment to ending violence against Native women and their children. NIWRC’s staff bring decades of expertise in building the grassroots movement to increase tribal responses to domestic violence and increase safety for Native women.” [about] [donate]
  • “Since 1970, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has provided legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide who might otherwise have gone without adequate representation. NARF has successfully asserted and defended the most important rights of Indians and tribes in hundreds of major cases, and has achieved significant results in such critical areas as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource protection, and Indian education. NARF is a non-profit 501c(3) organization that focuses on applying existing laws and treaties to guarantee that national and state governments live up to their legal obligations.” [about] [donate]
  • The American Indian College Fund was founded in 1989. For over 31 years, the College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native student access to higher education. We provide scholarships, programming to improve Native American student access to higher education, and the support and tools for them to succeed once they are there.” [about] [donate]
  • LANDBACK is a movement that has existed for generations with a long legacy of organizing and sacrifice to get Indigenous Lands back into Indigenous hands. Currently, there are LANDBACK battles being fought all across Turtle Island, to the north and the South. As NDN Collective, we are stepping into this legacy with the launch of the LANDBACK Campaign as a mechanism to connect, coordinate, resource and amplify this movement and the communities that are fighting for LANDBACK.… To truly dismantle white supremacy and systems of oppression, we have to go back to the roots. Which, for us, is putting Indigenous Lands back in Indigenous hands.” [about] [donate]

Resources that informed the creation of this land acknowledgement

  • What Good is a Land Acknowledgement: Presentation by Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy. [link]
  • Sicangu CDC guide on land acknowledgement. [link]
  • Native Governance Center’s excellent guide [link] and explainer video [link], as well as their 2019 Indigenous Peoples’ Day panel on the subject [video]; video link directs to the beginning of Rhiana Yazzie’s reflections, which I found particularly inspiring.
  • Duke Forest’s land acknowledgement. [pdf]
  • Care About Climate‘s list of Five Steps to Writing A Land Acknowledgment. [link]

Authorship and contact

This land acknowledgement was principally authored by Margaret Swift, with the support of co-organizers listed at the top of this page. No land acknowledgement or history of this country and its lands can be complete; I welcome questions, comments, suggestions, or improvements at margaret.swift@duke.edu [ margaret.swift [AT] duke.edu ].

Permanent link to this article: https://ecology.duke.edu/people-and-nature-symposium/