The Environmental Stewardship, Place, and Community Initiative

The humanities-led Environmental Stewardship, Place, and Community Initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation focuses on centering Indigenous epistemologies and other ways of knowing to shape how we think about relationships with the planet and each other.

Through campus/community partnerships based at UMN Duluth, UMN Morris, and UMN Twin Cities, the work has three main trajectories: curriculum development (integrating Indigenous and other ways of knowing into environmental education with an emphasis on humanities education and experiential work), community-engaged activism to center Indigenous epistemologies and struggles, and institutional change both at the University and beyond.

Leadership Team

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PI: Jennifer Gunn, History of Medicine Endowed Professor and former Director of the UMN Institute for Advanced Study (IAS)

Jennifer Gunn brings broad experience advancing interdisciplinary research and teaching, both as scholar and administrator. She is History of Medicine Endowed Professor and served for 8 years as director of the Program in the History of Medicine, a program in the Medical School Department of Surgery situated at the intersection of the humanities, social sciences, natural and physical sciences, engineering, and health professions.  She shares leadership responsibilities for the tri-college Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. She is a historian of nineteenth- and twentieth-century medicine, interested in the historical intersections of health, medicine, biology, social sciences, institutions, and public policy. Her current work examines the significance of place and practice in American medicine by exploring the history of rural health and medical practice in the upper Midwest, 1900-1950. In addition, she has done extensive research on the history of population studies and demography in the interwar period, and on the history of philanthropy.

UMN Duluth Faculty Lead: Roxanne Biidabinokwe Gould, Associate Professor of Indigenous Education

Dr. Roxanne Biidabinokwe Gould is Grand Traverse Band Odawa/Ojibwe. She is an associate professor in the Department of Education-Ruth A. Meyers Center for Indigenous Education, and also teaches in the Environmental Education program. Roxanne’s work experience includes projects and research throughout the world with a focus on Indigenous peoples and education, land justice, traditional ecological knowledge and environmental sustainability.  Her research includes restoration of Indigenous sacred sites, Indigenous food sovereignty, TEK (traditional ecological knowledge), Indigenous women’s water teachings, implications for sustainability, and examination of Bolivia’s agreement with Mother Earth and the Living Well model. As a founder of the Bdote Learning Center, Roxanne developed the model for the place-based Dakota and Ojibwe language immersion school. She presently serves on the governing council of Makočé Ikikčupí, a Dakota land recovery project; board of the Indigenous Educational Institute; as elder emeritus for Dream of Wild Health, a Native gardening project; and as the chair of the Indigenous Roundtable for the Science Museum of Minnesota. 

UMN Duluth Faculty Lead: Wendy F. Todd, Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies, and Earth and Environmental Sciences

Wendy F. Todd is Alaska Native Xaadas (Haida) from Hydaburg, Alaska. Her Haida name is K’ah Skaahluwaa she is Eagle of the Sdast’ aas (Fish egg house) clan . She is an Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the Departments of American Indian Studies and Earth & Environmental Sciences. She is a research geoscientist whose research focuses on examining microbial diversity, biogeochemistry, and biomineralization in metalliferous groundwater and marine ecosystems from deep-sea hydrothermal volcanoes to hydrothermal springs in Southeast Alaska and Yellowstone National Park. Dr. Todd is an Associate editor for the Journal of Geoscience Education and on the editorial board for UMDs Native Community Editorial Board. She is on the Board of Directors of her tribal non-profit Xaadas Kíl Kuyáas, and of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society. Over the last decade she has partnered with her tribal community founding and directing the Geoscience Education Program, working to couple science with Traditional Knowledge into K–12 education by incorporating language and culture into science education. Through her work she seeks to increase the number of Native American/Alaska Native students represented in STEM disciplines to increase diversity and innovation, and to empower the next generation of Native leaders.

UMN Morris Faculty Lead: Becca Gercken, Associate Professor of English, and Native American and Indigenous Studies

Becca Gercken (Eastern Band Cherokee, Irish, and Pennsylvania Dutch descent) is an associate professor in English and a founding faculty member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies major. Gercken’s research frequently focuses on representations of indigenous people and indigenous expressive cultures. Her most recent project is a monograph about historical and contemporary ledger narratives. With co-lead Kevin Whalen, Gercken has led the summer “field school” course on Indigenous Education, in which students study contextual literature and use that knowledge to craft an understanding of the Morris campus’ boarding school history. Gercken received the Horace T. Morse Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education in 2017.

UMN Morris Faculty Lead: Kevin Whalen, Assistant Professor of History, and Native American and Indigenous Studies

Kevin Whalen is an assistant professor in History, Native American and Indigenous Studies, and African and Black American Studies. His areas of expertise include Native America, Indigenous education, the American west, and labor history. With co-lead Becca Gercken, Whalen has led the summer “field school” course on Indigenous Education, in which students study contextual literature and use that knowledge to craft an understanding of the Morris campus’s boarding school history.

UMN Twin Cities Faculty Lead: Christine Bauemler, Professor of Art

As an artist and educator, Christine Baeumler explores the potential of art as a catalyst to increase awareness about environmental issues and to facilitate stewardship. Baeumler’s community-based environmental art practice is collaborative and addresses issues of water quality, habitat restoration, and climate change.  Baeumler is a professor and chair in the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota. Long term collaborative projects include the Backyard Phenology Citizen Science Climate Project, Bee Real, Bee Everywhere Wild Bee Habitats, the Buzz Lab youth internship program at the Plains Art Museum in North Dakota, and the Rooftop Tamarack Bog at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She has served as the artist in residence for Capitol Region Watershed District in St. Paul since 2010 and is an Institute on Environment fellow at the University of Minnesota. She is also the recipient of a Bush Foundation Fellowship, several Minnesota State Arts Board grants, and the Scholar of the College and the Engaged Scholar Award in the College of Liberal Arts, at the University of Minnesota.

UMN Twin Cities Faculty Lead: Vicente M. Diaz, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies

Vicente M. Diaz is Pohnpeian and Filipino from Guam. An interdisciplinary scholar, Diaz founded and heads The Native Canoe Program in the Department of American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. The program uses Indigenous water craft for community-engaged teaching and research on Indigenous water traditions. Diaz’s research is on comparative Indigenous cultural and political resurgence in Oceania and the Native Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi River region, particularly through the lens of Trans-Indigenous theory and practice, which foregrounds Indigenous histories and technologies of travel and mobility and pan-Indigenous solidarity.

UMN Twin Cities Faculty Lead: Čhaŋtémaza (Neil McKay), Dakota Language Specialist, American Indian Studies

Čhaŋtémaza (Neil McKay) is Bdewákhaŋthuŋwaŋ Dakhóta and a citizen of the Spirit Lake Nation. He is a senior teaching specialist in American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, teaching classes in Dakhóta culture and history, advanced Dakhóta language, Dakhóta linguistics and language for teachers. He also teaches several community language tables and consults with schools and tribal communities on language education and teacher training. His work focuses on creating new speakers and teachers of Dakhóta, which is considered an endangered language.

Faculty Advisor in Critical Indigenous Studies: Christine Taitano DeLisle, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies

Christine Taitano DeLisle is associate professor of American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities where she teaches courses on Indigenous resurgence, Indigenous women's history, and public history. DeLisle is CHamoru born and raised in Guåhan (Guam) and her research interests span Indigenous oceans, lands, and waters across Oceania and Turtle Island. She is a member of the Guam-based CHamoru women's advocacy organization, I Hagan Famalåo'an Guåhan, and is currently involved in revitalization projects between Dakota peoples and Native Pacific Islanders of Mni Sota Makoce.

Project Manager: Laurie Moberg

Laurie Moberg (she/her) is the project manager for the Mellon Environmental Stewardship, Place, and Community (MESPAC) Initiative and the Managing Editor of Open Rivers. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a PhD in anthropology in 2018. Her doctoral research investigates recurrent episodes of flooding on rivers in Thailand and queries how the ecological, social, and cosmological entanglements between humans and nonhumans, people and the material world, are reimagined and reconfigured in the aftermath of disasters. At the IAS, Laurie brings her ethnographic sensibilities, attention to story, and interest in human-nonhuman relations to questions of water and absented narratives closer to home.

Digital Information Strategist: Joanne Richardson

Joanne Richardson is the digital information strategist for the Institute of Advanced Study. Her undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota focused on geology, architecture, computer science and French, and she received a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the College of Design. Having spent many childhood weekends and holidays backpacking through many of the great American landscapes, she developed an early and lasting love of geology that has colored her interests ever since. She has a particular interest in digital media, strategic communications, and responsive design.

Visiting Scholar of Indigenous Studies: Alexandra Peck

Alexandra M. Peck is an anthropologist interested in past and present experiences of Indigenous adaptation and cultural change in relation to landscape and material culture. Her work examines ethnic and cultural intersections in the Pacific Northwest, where multiple tribes, settler descendants, tourists, and immigrant populations inhabit Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with varying degrees of contestation and co-existence. Awarded her Ph.D. from Brown University, she is Visiting Scholar of Indigenous Studies (via the Mellon Environmental Stewardship, Place, & Community Initiative) at the IAS. Her recent publications were featured in Journal of Northwest Anthropology and Journal of American History. She is currently working on an interactive ethnogeography of the Olympic Peninsula that documents changes to significant Native sites by combining strands of archaeological, ethnographic, archival, and linguistic evidence. Her past projects were supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund, via the Reed Foundation. She serves as co-editor of Archaeology in Washington.

[email protected]
210 Northrop, UMN-TC East Bank


Learn more about each campus/community partnership based out of the three participating campuses: their goals, individual leadership teams, and ongoing projects.


Featured Past Events

Click through to watch recordings from a few past events, and the resources generated from those collaborations.

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April 2021: The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (event & reading group)

Telling True Stories: The Seed Keeper

Featuring Diane Wilson: Author, Mdewakanton/Sicangu

April 1, 2021: IAS Thursdays event, moderated by Christine Baeumler
April 29, 2021: Reading Group, facilitated by Laurie Moberg

Recorded on April 1, 2021. Presented by the Institute for Advanced Study and the Environmental Stewardship, Place, and Community Initiative at the University of Minnesota.

About the Event

Author Diane Wilson shares the true story of the Dakota women who inspired her new novel, The Seed Keeper (Milkweed Editions). For many generations, Native women have protected indigenous seeds not only as a critical food for their families, but also as a precious relative whose gift of life has helped Native communities survive. As a gardener as well as through her work with Native organizations, for the past 20 years Wilson has helped preserve and restore indigenous seeds to Native communities. Drawing from this experience, Wilson wrote The Seed Keeper as a way to honor Native women and their commitment to keeping indigenous seeds safe for future generations. Wilson shares a brief talk and reading, followed by a moderated discussion with environmental artist, Christine Baeumler, that will explore the rich, compelling story of these seeds and the lessons they offer for us today.


Reading Group Questions

  1. With the seeds themselves “speaking” through the opening poem, how did that shape your expectation of the story? What message is implicit in the introduction of seeds as a character?
  2. Rosalie's first garden experience was heavily influenced by her early understanding of wild plants. Explore the ways in which Rosalie's relationship to seeds and plants evolves over the course of the book. What have been the most significant influences in your own relationship with plants?
  3. Consider the ways in which differing world views have shaped the relationship to land for Indigenous and European/Settler communities. What is most important to each world view? How has that difference shaped the relationship between Native and non-Native people?
  4. The devastating history shared between Native and non-Native communities over the past several hundred years has left a legacy of anger and mistrust, as well as grief. Contrast the ways in which different communities express their grief and commemorate their history. Explore the longer-term impact that these different expressions might have on healing relationships. 
  5. Rosalie's relationship to Gaby is an integral part of the story. Explore the importance of friendship between women and how these two women each helped shape their friend's life. 
  6. What is your understanding of the author's message through this book? As a reader, has the book impacted your life in any way?
  7. In what ways might this book be considered a love story? Between whom and how is that love expressed?


2021-04 Diane Wilson

About Diane Wilson

Diane Wilson is a Dakota writer whose new novel, The Seed Keeper, will be published by Milkweed Editions in Spring 2021. Her memoir, Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past, won a 2006 Minnesota Book Award and was selected for the 2012 One Minneapolis One Read program. Her nonfiction book, Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life, was awarded the 2012 Barbara Sudler Award from History Colorado. Her work has been featured in many publications, including the anthology A Good Time for the Truth. Awards include the Minnesota State Arts Board, a 2013 Bush Foundation Fellowship, a 2018 AARP/Pollen 50 Over 50 Leadership Award, and the Jerome Foundation. Wilson has served as the Executive Director for Dream of Wild Health and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance. She is a descendent of the Mdewakanton Oyate and enrolled on the Rosebud Reservation.

March 2021: Beyond Assimilation and Resistance: Očhéti Šakówiŋ Peoplehood Past, Present, and Future (event & reading group)

Beyond Assimilation and Resistance: Očhéti Šakówiŋ Peoplehood Past, Present, and Future

March 5, 2021

Chris Pexa, American Indian Studies, CLA
Jim Rock, Dakhóta scholar
Waŋblí Mayášleča (Francis Yellow), Lakȟóta Wičaȟčala

Recorded on March 5, 2021. Presented by the Institute for Advanced Study and the Environmental Stewardship, Place, and Community Initiative at the University of Minnesota.

An open conversation around Chris Pexa’s book, Translated Nation: Rewriting the Dakhóta Oyáte, which examines literary works and oral histories by Dakhóta intellectuals and is a critical tool for correcting the misrepresentations these communities have endured within the violent settler colonial state. 

Pexa offers a brief overview for the context of his book (about the allotment and assimilation era typically regarded with the opening of the Carlisle Indian School in 1879 and with Congress’s passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934), followed by a conversation with Dakhóta and Lakȟóta scholars and artists Jim Rock and Lakȟóta Wičaȟčala (Francis Yellow) on the enduring meanings of thióšpaye kinship, art, and activism for the Ochéti Šakówiŋ Oyáte (People of the Seven Council Fires, or Dakhóta/Lakȟóta/Nakhóta) today.  

The discussion offers a view to the ways in which Očhéti Šakówiŋ intellectuals took American settler-colonial demands and translated, or critically reframed, these into terms and uses consistent with tribal ethics, gender understandings, and social practices of the thióšpaye, or extended family.


Reading Group: Christopher Pexa’s Translated Nation: Rewriting the Dakhóta Oyáte

March 19, 2021

Translated Nation

As a follow-up to “Beyond Assimilation and Resistance: Očhéti Šakówiŋ Peoplehood Past, Present, and Future,” the IAS and MESPAC offered an informal discussion on Chris Pexa’s book Translated Nation: Rewriting the Dakhóta Oyáte. Centering Indigenous archives, Translated Nation complicates ideas of how Dakhóta intellectuals translated and reframed settler-colonial ideals of Indigenous people in ways that protected core Dakhóta ethics. We discussed how Pexa’s work illuminates Dakhóta histories and informs contemporary understandings of ongoing resistance and resurgence.

Get Involved

Are you interested in being involved in this project? Over time, we will be posting about ways you can contribute your ideas and join the initiative. There will be opportunities for students (graduate and undergraduate), faculty, staff, and community members to be involved. If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected].