Background/Question/Methods Millennia of stewardship and science by Indigenous Peoples unifies most lands and waters studied in ecology. Scholars have a responsibility to recognize this history, and to promote Indigenous communities in accessing and stewarding these ecosystems. We present a case study for this process, asking how we can engage in respectful inquiry and knowledge-sharing in a way that supports self-determination of local Indigenous communities? This work is driven at Harvard Forest in part by our region’s history: state-led displacement of Native Peoples in the 18th-20th centuries reduced Nipmuc land holdings to a reservation of 4 acres, while Harvard acquired nearly 4,000 acres for field research. Over the past two years, we have begun to develop a reciprocal, respectful, and perpetual relationship with the Nipmuc tribe by focusing on transparency and co-establishment of a collaborative path forward. We began with a collaboration to re-imagine the land narrative in our on-site museum. We then established a (paid) framework for collaborative mentorship of student interns on projects that support tribal land management. In summer 2022, Harvard Forest students conducted a field experiment on the relationships between culturally important plants and an invasive species, Rosa multiflora, to inform management of newly acquired tribal land.
Results/Conclusions We present progress on two years of centering perspectives and knowledge from the Nipmuc community in Harvard Forest research, education, and land management. Outcomes of this work are: 1) securing grant and funding mechanisms for paid participation by Indigenous collaborators, 2) supporting diverse project teams led by Indigenous people, and 3) shared trust and organizational will in the Nipmuc Nation and Harvard Forest for a long-term relationship. Harvard Forest is piloting a residency program for Nipmuc land stewards and the museum now centers a co-developed panorama compelling visitors to consider the Nipmucs’ role in stewarding this land. Nipmuc community members are Co-PIs on grants for land acknowledgement projects, educational development, and projects related to tribal land acquisition and stewardship. Nipmuc community members co-mentor students from undergraduate REUs to Harvard Law School 2nd-years on co-developed projects. We have co-identified lands held separately by the tribe and Harvard Forest, where a long-term land stewardship plan can be co-developed to center Indigenous values. Finally, the Harvard Forest community is now advocating for tribal goals in land access and rematration projects elsewhere in the state, and seeks to question colonial assumptions and practices in their work to create space for a new way forward.