College Matters | Thinking seven generations ahead

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, April 11, 2024 - 12:30pm

As educators, we proudly remind youth that they will be the leaders of tomorrow. Leading others is an honor and a privilege that comes with great responsibility. It comes with many joys. It may also come with inherited challenges or lost opportunities from years past.

In this community, thousands of Cal Poly Humboldt alumni and friends are utilizing their skills to improve society and our local communities. We see this in industries throughout the North Coast and the world. This is one of the many joys — seeing the impact a university, or its alumni, can have in improving society.

As we evolve, and things around us change, upcoming leaders will continually have to find innovative solutions as the environment and resources become ever more vulnerable. There are many models and theories to use as starting points in preparing a workforce today. One that is timeless, and would bid us well to consider, are those long incorporated into our Indigenous communities.

Many tribes across the nation lead with future generations in mind, understanding that accountability and responsibility are in the hands of current leaders. Often this is referred to as “thinking of the seventh generation ahead.” This ideology comes from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) Great Law of Peace, which is said to have provided the foundation for the U.S. Constitution. It is a model of democracy and decision-making based on consensus. When thinking of the seventh generation, decisions made today must reflect the impact on those not yet born and they must include a responsibility to ancestors, those who have come before us. Local tribes refer to themselves as “fix the Earth” people and spend a great deal of attention on “world renewal” and creating balance. Their value system requires that the decisions of current leaders take into account the protection of the environment, preservation of cultural resources, and impact on future generations. As caretakers of the Earth, “place” and accountability become very important.

Educators bear the responsibility of educating strong leaders who understand the importance of planning for future generations. Reflecting on and examining the results of historical mistakes can equip upcoming leaders with tools to ensure they are not repeated. As we move forward with alternative solutions, the university’s role becomes more integral in providing respectful research, teaching, and convening of others that can be valuable for prudent decision-making, posed to positively impact future generations.

Cal Poly Humboldt has quietly, but very deliberately, worked to build trust and strategic partnerships with tribes throughout this region. We have visited nearly every tribe multiple times, maintained dialogue with tribal leadership, sought counsel and insights on differing topics, and offered support and partnership when warranted. As a campus, we have formed a few strategic and official partnerships to help guide and share our collective work going forward and continue to provide a positive, meaningful, educational experience for our students. Some examples include the strong tribal involvement in our place-based learning and the expansion and incorporation of TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) into programs such as tribal forestry. Other key connection points include the Native Forum, Food Lab, Goudi`ni Native American Arts Gallery, Native American studies, and ITEPP (Indian Tribal & Educational Personnel Program).

As we recently heard one leader share with others, “Years ago, we thought dams would have little effect on our ecological systems. Today, we are removing dams.”

Universities strive to be thought leaders throughout their respective regions. And clearly, Cal Poly Humboldt is an advocate for environmental sustainability and alternative energy. We have been bold in seeking external funding to support this work. As local leaders continue to explore the ideas of offshore wind development, solar microgrids, and other renewable sources of energy, we must also continue to explore and study the impacts on land and sea. This will require studies and analysis related to feasibility, environmental impacts, and tribal cultural impacts. This university can be one of the leading sources of research conducive to the needs of the community. Participating students, who have the opportunity to work with faculty and business and tribal leaders on projects, will become strong leaders for the future.

Becoming the third polytechnic institution in California, and being located in the ancestral areas of the largest tribes in California, provides Humboldt a special status. It can also help establish Humboldt as one of the premiere centers for innovation and advancement needed to build a North Coast workforce prepared for the challenges of the future. Reciprocal partnerships with local tribes provide students with opportunities for hands-on learning experiences based on acknowledgment and respect of Indigenous perspectives. It advances students’ worldviews and strengthens opportunities for cutting-edge solutions to some of the most challenging problems facing leaders.

Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt. Adrienne Colegrove-Raymond is the special assistant to the president for tribal relations and community engagement at Cal Poly Humboldt.