Nancy Leigh Rich, Ph.D., is a 2011 graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England.

Dissertation Committee

  • Tania M. Schusler, PhD (Committee Chair)
  • K. Heidi Watts, PhD (Committee Member)
  • Darren J. Ranco, PhD (Committee Member)


Native American, Indigenous, environmental studies, higher education, cross-cultural

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As places to engage with changing and complex ideas, institutions of higher education offer a logical site for bringing Indigenous ways of knowing together with environmental studies and science. However, profound differences between Indigenous and Western knowledges, as well as ongoing colonialism, cultural biases of science, and the nature of mainstream academia, have discouraged this endeavor. Recent developments in undergraduate pedagogy now point the way.

Using critical inquiry and qualitative methodology, this comparative study developed recommendations for practice based on current undergraduate teaching practices that bring Indigenous ways of knowing together with environmental studies and science across a diversity of institutions and disciplines. Seven faculty and two Elders were interviewed about their perceptions of benefits, challenges and pathways in this work. Participants represented science and environmental studies disciplines at a tribal college and public and private colleges and universities in New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

The study confirmed the value and relevance of Native American and First Nations world views in relationship to the North American environment and underscored the need to protect the integrity of both Indigenous and Western knowledges when bringing them together. Key elements in the resulting pedagogical model are: 1) a central vision of restoring relationships “for everybody”; 2) a guiding principle of bringing knowledges together while maintaining the integrity of each, such as Albert Marshall’s (Mi’kmaq) principle of Two-Eyed Seeing; and 3) four teaching elements—activating knowledges by making mainstream assumptions visible and finding Indigenous voice; generating protocols for border-crossing between knowledges; revisioning the teaching/learning process to develop critical mind through co-learning, direct experience, multiple intelligences, and activism; and becoming transformed. Further recommendations for practice address issues of institutional change and faculty development.

Teaching based on this model helps address social justice issues for Indigenous students and their communities through increasing the hospitality of academia to Indigenous knowledge; contributes to defining mission and goals for the growing field of environmental studies; provides critical reflection on the cultural bases and biases of science; and lays a foundation for undergraduate education that better addresses the complex environmental issues of the 21st century.