Kirsten Vinyeta presents at traditional knowledge conference

In late August 2012, Kirsten Vinyeta presented at the Traditional Knowledge and Healthy Ecosystems Summit hosted by the Snoqualmie Tribe of Washington. The summit, which was held in the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge near Stevenson, WA, brought together indigenous leaders, tribal members, tribal resource managers, academics, and students to share information about the importance of traditional knowledge in natural resource management and in everyday ways of life.

Of special significance were the knowledge keeper circles, in which elders from regional tribes shared their wisdom and memories through storytelling. The Columbia River, which is vital to many tribes in the area, featured prominently in these stories. Other highlights included speeches by Dr. Daniel Wildcat, author of Red Alert: Saving the Planet through Indigenous Knowledge, and Larry Merculieff, with the Alaska Native Science Commission.

As a graduate student researcher for the Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Project, Kirsten presented the findings from the Project’s recent publication entitled “Exploring the Role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Climate Change Initiatives.” The Summit also featured informal activities that honored indigenous traditions and history. Among these activities was the barter fair, during which Summit participants honored the trading tradition of the Columbia River Gorge by trading goods using Chinook Wawa (the region’s indigenous trading language).

The final day of the Summit featured a number of regional field trips during which Summit participants could experience some of the places and concepts highlighted in presentations, workshops and knowledge keeper circles. Kirsten attended the Archeology & Cultural History Tour, during which she was lucky enough to visit “She Who Watches”, a powerful pictograph situated on a cliff above the Columbia River, holding a vigilant gaze on the waters that have been the lifeblood of indigenous peoples for millennia.

“The Columbia River is the one river I feel stingy over”, said Geraldine Jim, one of the Warm Springs elders. Having experienced “The Big River” for the first time herself, having heard stories breathing life into its waters, and having learned about the many changes its people have had to endure over the years, Kirsten can understand why.

Kirsten Vinyeta is a second-year Environmental Studies masters student at the University of Oregon. In her graduate research, she hopes to merge her passion for the use of imagery as an environmental activism tool with her efforts to help indigenous communities attain environmental justice.