BTTE Evaluation Report


The Back to the Earth (BTTE) project engages middle school students from two plateau Tribes from the areas known as Eastern Washington (the Spokane Tribe of Indians) and Northern Idaho (the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho). In its second year of three, the project creates and implements an integrated STEM experience embedded with tribal history, culture, and values for the students.

Preparation for Camp

Before the camps, a great deal of time and energy was spent developing curriculum and activities for the summer camps, building relationships, and recruiting campers. During spring 2014, monthly two-hour community meetings were held with the STOI and CdA communities (CdA meetings started in fall 2013) for the purpose of curriculum development. In addition, project team members also had more informal meetings, at least monthly, with Tribal educators to develop camp lesson plans once the community identified daily camp goals, activity themes and student learning objectives. As the project team and community groups worked together some very deep lessons were learned about tribal-university partnerships.

The CdA Family First Night was held in February 2014. The activities focused on canoes and other traditional watercrafts. It was a wonderful learning opportunity and great fun for everyone, with some even walking away from the event very wet! Students in the Spokane Community (grades 3-5) participated in the classroom BTTE recruitment activity – a Fish Smoker Engineering Challenge - culminating with a “Family STEM night” that was attended by over 130 parents, students and siblings.

Week 1: STOI Camp

In the four days of camp, STOI campers did everything from participating in talking circles to a scavenger hunt, learning about and exploring food webs, and visualizing how they can help their community and the earth, 10 years from now. Tribal members, elders, and scientists shared historical, cultural, and scientific content, as well as leading rich experiences for the campers. On the last day, there was a feast of salmon, fry bread made with camas, rice, and huckleberries for dessert. Although the Spokane BTTE summer camp endured some rainy weather, it did not hinder youth from having fun and learning about native foods and their preparation, as well as how they interact in the ecosystem.

Week 2: CdA Camp

In the four days of camp, CdA campers experienced cultural practices (prayer, smudging, using the four directions), learning about the history of the Lake, conducting water quality tests, and collaborating on stream restoration projects. Throughout the week campers learned about the Tribal significance of cutthroat trout and followed the trout along a journey through Lake Creek. Campers were asked to consider how water quality could impact the trout and learned about the ways the Tribe is working to improve the water quality and habitat for the trout. Campers reflected on ways they could become stewards of the land and water in their community. They applied what they had learned to engineer their own restoration design on a model size section of a creek. On the last day, campers created stakes and placed them in the ground to represent their commitments to the earth and their community.

Week 3: Combined Camp

The three days of combined camp started with a splash – a river-rafting trip! Throughout the experience, campers learned about the Tribes’ connections to the river, and their shared history. Campers stayed in tents at the camp, told stories and enacted skits by the fire, and made s’mores. Campers learned more about food webs and build model restoration streams. In groups, they brainstormed a land-use scenario and were challenged to think about the values and needs of multiple stakeholders (i.e., the environment, Tribal values, farmers, community members). A scavenger hunt and closing meal capped off the time together on the third day.

Campers’ Reflections

Twelve representative campers were interviewed a few weeks after camp about their experiences at the BTTE camps. They shared stories about camp, what they learned, how their camp experiences affected their level of connection to their community, and what they might like to do at camp next summer. It seems they remembered the active, fun, and silly times the most! These campers clearly felt much more connected with their communities. They learned about their historical language, water, environmental history, and environmental restoration.

Camper Survey Results

Campers completed surveys before and after camp with common items intended to measure physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional changes, as well as intentions and future plans. The after-camp survey included inquiries about camp experiences and the impact of camp experiences. Forty-eight campers were matched on the survey, pre and post. Nearly all campers agreed that:

-       They understood more about how land use has affected water and fish

-       They cared more about protecting this place

-       They felt safe at camp

-       They loved exploring new places

-       Camp inspired them to do more to protect and take care of the earth (more STOI then CdA campers agreed with this)

Campers’ favorite activities were recreational – rafting, swimming, playing with friends, canoeing and boating. Significant pre/post gains were made for the following statements or areas:

-       I feel connected to this place

-       I can collect information on the quality of water

-       I can make a good model for restoring things in nature

-       Studying how to restore land and water in the future

-       Studying how to make models/engineering in the future

Compared with the CdA campers, campers from the STOI community showed greater gains in self-ratings of understanding why water quality is important and in the importance of learning about the history of their communities.

Community Reflections and Recommendations

Community recommendations after camp were forward-looking. Logistical recommendations included having two combined weeks of camp (instead of three weeks) and having a daily facilitator at the camps. Ideas for STEM/cultural activities included greater language use, more journaling, more focus on oral traditions of the tribes, and perhaps incorporating teepee making. Social/ community-level recommendations included setting stronger expectations and boundaries at camp, smaller camper groups, more emphasis on prayer, and more inclusion of families.

Final Reflection

The preparations for camp, carried out through rich community partnerships, were essentially supported by the groundwork of Year 1 BTTE. The camp recruitment events were wildly successful, delivering fun, engaging and participatory activities that integrated community, culture, and STEM. During the camps themselves a myriad of community members, Tribal elders, Department of Natural Resource experts, school teachers, student mentors, and project team members joined their hearts and talents to create these experiences for the campers. Campers experienced being part of the earth: connecting with the rain, sun, land and water; relating to wind, water, fire, and earth; connecting to mother earth, father sky, and the next seven generations; understanding restoration and stewardship; and making a heartfelt commitment to the earth. Campers came to understand the culture and history of their communities more deeply; they learned from adults and tribal elders, they listened to stories of the history of their Tribes. Participating as members of their communities, campers practiced prayers, blessings, gratitude, smudging, and made stakes embodying the four directions. Campers learned about traditional medicines. Spiritually, campers learned and used their heart-sense, meditated, envisioned how their ancestors lived, and envisioned their community’s healthy future – connected to a healthy earth. Campers joined in ceremonies like the stake ceremony, and camp celebrations. Camp mentors developed as leaders and role models for their groups, they built trust with each other, communicated and listened to each other, and worked together as a group.

            Campers grew and developed in many ways while at camp. Physically, they explored new places; used their senses and knowledge of the earth to locate things as a team; discovered the clay used for making pottery; went rafting, swimming, hiking, and boating (some campers overcame their fears in doing these things); and of course, played outdoors, had fun, and experienced joyful times with their friends. Campers learned more about STEM and about culture: learning about local and native plants, fish, water bugs, leaves, food, micro-organisms; land use effect on water and fish, the food chain, fish shocking, pollutants in the water like heavy metals, water quality (using scientific methods); environmental science in stream modeling, engineering stream restoration; problem-solving: creating land management solutions for multiple stakeholders; and history of tribal people and traditional practices. Overall, many committed groups of people gave much of themselves to build trust and understandings, and to work towards the benefit of all touched by the BTTE camps.