Making space for Indigenous knowledge systems at Pepperwood

Integrating Indigenous science at Pepperwood

by Clint McKay, Indigenous Education Coordinator & Chair of Pepperwood’s Native Advisory Council

Clint and Lucy McKay leading a community hike at Pepperwood.

Ikhali khi mi, My name is Clint McKay. I am an enrolled member of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo and Wappo Indians. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology and a Master’s Degree in Indigenous Education, both from Arizona State University, and I am excited to align my traditional Indigenous knowledge with my formal education in this new position. I joined the Pepperwood team several years ago as a member of the Native Advisory Council and as a cultural consultant. Now, I am excited and honored to be the Indigenous Education Coordinator at Pepperwood. This position will provide new and enhanced opportunities for sharing Indigenous knowledge within Native and non-Native communities.

I look forward to supporting the educational programs offered by Pepperwood and integrating Native knowledge in ways that acknowledges and respects Indigenous knowledge systems. I will participate in presentations, hikes, both virtual and in person, as well as the coordination of two special events each year that will be designed to support and share local Native practices. Outreach to both Native and non-native communities and groups will round out the main focus of my activities. We are committed to increasing the number of American Indians that visit Pepperwood. I am deeply connected to the local Native community and will reach out to them to identify ways that Pepperwood can support the transfer of Indigenous knowledge among local tribes and communities. My outreach efforts do not focus solely on Native communities, as I am connecting with other preserves, land trusts, conservancies, and government agencies to forge new partnerships in sharing land stewardship practices.

Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge into the world of Western science can present challenges to both Indigenous and Western scientists. Many of these challenges stem from a lack of understanding, miscommunication, and resistance to accept alternative forms of research and data collection. The Native Advisory Council at Pepperwood is instrumental in helping to bridge the gap between Indigenous and Western Science. The staff at Pepperwood are increasingly embracing Native science and are open and supportive of Indigenous land stewardship practices. Since the time of European contact, American Indians have struggled to have our voices heard. The leadership at Pepperwood and the Native Advisory Council continue to work together to strengthen our relationship by building trust and mutual respect. Indigenous voices are once again being heard on the land that is Pepperwood. The Wappo language once again rings from the ridgetops and flows peacefully through the valleys of this special place.

The formation of the Native Advisory Council and the new Indigenous Education Coordinator position is made possible through the generous support of the Christensen Fund. They have steadfastly supported the work of the Council and the opportunity to increase Native voices in land stewardship. The Christensen Fund, Pepperwood, and the Native Advisory Council formed a unique partnership where Native voices are valued and respected. A relationship in which all stakeholders are valued and encouraged to participate in research planning, implementation, and dissemination of data.

Pepperwood holds a long and storied history for the Wappo. Our people once cared for this land according to our Indigenous knowledge systems. For generations, we were denied the opportunity to help keep this portion of our traditional homeland in balance. We believe we have a responsibility to care for the land that our ancestors walked so gently upon. Pepperwood leadership and staff have opened their minds and hearts to Indigenous science and support cross-cultural sharing between Native and non-Native partners. My goal is to increase access to Pepperwood for Native peoples and facilitate shared learning opportunities for the benefit and enrichment of everyone that enjoys connecting with the magic that is Pepperwood.

Author Bio – Clint is the descendant of several important local culture bearers that include the late Laura Fish Somersal and the late Mabel McKay. He is a Native speaker of the Wappo language and he also speaks some Pomo and is himself a culture bearer with extensive Native historical knowledge, not only of Pepperwood but also of the entire region. McKay is a born naturalist with a deep understanding of plant communities and traditional Wappo methods of nurturing them. He is a gifted basket weaver and he serves on the Board of the California Indian Basket Weavers Association. McKay is also a traditional Wappo spiritual leader and he is the headman of a traditional dance group.

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