Citizen Potawatomi Nation hosted the CPN Conservation Camp March 20 and 22, bringing together 10, sixth-eighth grade Native American youth from five tribes to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math opportunities connected to environmental management.

“Native Americans approach conservation differently from standard scientists or western science,” said Lexi Freeman, CPN Office of Environmental Health environmental specialist. “We’re trying to get an interest in our Native students because we need more representation in STEM.”

Participants created bat houses and learned about an emerging, deadly disease across North America’s bat population: white nose syndrome. The flying mammals help control pest insects and assist with pollination, but the disease has killed more than 6 million bats since it first emerged in 2006.

“We always talk about putting a quantitative value on our animals and on our insects and our resources,” Freeman said. “As Native Americans, we don’t need to put a price on it. Sure, there are benefits and they’re a part of the food chain, but just the fact that they exist and they’re here means that they need to be protected.” 

While visiting CPN’s community garden Gtegemen (We Grow It), campers heard a presentation highlighting the important role butterflies and other pollinators hold in growing fruits, vegetables and other plants.

“It was a great camp for youth. I was really surprised how much the students enjoyed it,” said Kristen Wilson, CPN cultural education specialist. “Traditional teachings have come full circle in our world, from the use of sage and how modern science is now using sage to clean the air.”

The post-camp survey revealed the CPN Eagle Aviary was one of the attendees’ favorite aspects. At the end of the two-day camp, the students left with a better understanding of simple ways they can positively affect the environment today and potential options to build careers within the vast field of STEM.

“Education and outreach is important to these kids at this age because this is when they are kind of trying to figure out what they want to do … for their future and plan for it,” Freeman said.

“I think seeing adult Native Americans doing this work, it makes it attainable.”

CPN plans to hold the second-annual Conservation Camp next March. For more details, visit cpn.news/potawatomiconservation.