Thinking Sustainably at Tribal Colleges

Nov 2, 2018 | Blog, Environmental Stewardship, Our Programs

Adam, American Indian College Fund Student Ambassador

By Jasmine Neosh, College of Menominee Nation student

What do you think of when you think “sustainability”?

Adam, at the College of Menominee Nation's coffee shop

Adam, at the College of Menominee Nation’s the Campus Grind, the on-campus coffeehouse.

For many, it’s a matter of economics. For others, policy. These are necessary components, of course, but thinking in such terms can easily gloss over some of the most important choices we make: the smaller ones we make day to day, often without much forethought: Where does your morning coffee cup go when you’re done with it? Can that take-out container your lunch came in be recycled or is it headed for the landfill?

At the College of Menominee Nation, sustainability is not just part of our curriculum– it’s woven into our way of life. From the Sustainable Development Institute, where undergraduate researchers collect data for the school’s greenhouse gas inventory all the way across campus to the Culture Building, where the school’s SEEDS Club hosted its first recycling-themed art fair, students like me are frequently encouraged to think deeply and critically about our relationship with the earth.

But what about the day-to-day? For many of us, our first stop when getting to CMN’s Keshena campus is the Campus Grind, the on-campus coffeehouse. There, not only can one enjoy a delicious fair-trade coffee or specialty espresso drink, but one can do so from a paper cup instead of the standard styrofoam (which often cannot be processed by local recycling plants). What if it’s a hot day and you’re interested in enjoying a cold beverage instead? Good news: the cold cups are compostable!

Image of the compostable cups and items used at the Campus Grind.

The compostable cups and items used at the Campus Grind.

Later in the day, many students head over to the Campus Commons. This is the go-to spot for studying, tutoring, and a variety of other academic services offered by the college. However, it’s also the place to go for delicious lunches, such as soups and sandwiches cooked up by the Commons staff. Attendees to our feasts and lunches are often encouraged to bring dish bags, but what about those who cannot? Thanks to the efforts of the students and faculty, your delicious lunch will come served on a biodegradable paper plate, with eco-friendly birch and bamboo utensils.

“With the help from the student government body, who have chosen to do whatever is within their power to maintain the sustainability of their culture and the Menominee forest, we were able to purchase all recycled products that will be used for student events,” explains Debra Downs, advisor at the Campus Commons.

But what about the cost? Colleges in general and tribal colleges in particular often adhere to very strict budgets.

“The cost impact has been minimal,” Downs says, “especially when you take into consideration how it builds a connection between the school and the greater community.”

While these steps might seem small at first glance, they’re a testament to how seriously the school takes its commitment to fostering a responsible relationship with the land and the community of which it is a part. Every coffee cup, every fork, is part of a greater ethos, one that we all can carry with us well into the future.

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