Past Community Projects

BYH signASLE Collaborates with Backyard Harvest on Community Grant

In 2014-2015, The University of Idaho’s Department of English and local nonprofit organization Backyard Harvest, Inc. (BYH) received a $5,000 Community Grant from ASLE. They worked together to articulate explicit, compelling connections between local food systems, food security, and environmental justice and sustainability.

The grant assisted BYH in enhancing its communication effectiveness and outreach to the local community. The funding allowed them to hire Jake McGinnis, a graduate student enrolled in the University of Idaho’s English department, who worked with Backyard Harvest to develop creative, compelling education materials, including a brochure, an annotated photographic exhibit, and a public presentation. The grant also supported design, printing, advertising and outreach costs. Read more about the presentation, which was first given at the ASLE Biennial Conference at the University of Idaho on June 27, 2015, in our ASLE News article.

ASLE Awards First Development Campaign Grant to the Wakarusa Wetlands Preservations Organization and Ecojustice Coalition

By Joni Adamson

In 2008-2009, past ASLE president John Tallmadge (1997), together with past presidents Rochelle Johnson (2008), Dan Phillippon (2009), and Annie Ingram (2010), conducted a development campaign for ASLE.  The goal was to raise monies that would allow ASLE to facilitate stronger connections between faculty and students working in the environmental humanities.  At the 2012 ASLE Leadership retreat, President Joni Adamson and the ASLE Executive Council sketched the outlines of three pilot projects that would begin building these connections by awarding grants between 2013 and 2015 that would be funded from the development campaign.   


Presenters and key players gather after the “Saving the Wakarusa Wetlands” grant presentation at the 2013 ASLE Conference

The first of these pilot project grants was awarded at the recent biennial conference to the Wetlands Preservations Organization (WPO) and Ecojustice coalition of Lawrence, Kansas.  At a special session held on Saturday, from 12:30 to 1:30, Joni Adamson, representing ASLE’s Executive Council, awarded the group a grant to support their efforts to preserve and protect the sacred Wakarusa Wetlands.  Representing WPO was Haskell Indian Nations University Professor Dan Wildcat, along with Mike Caron, Kelly Kindscher, Jessica Lackey, and Ali Brox, who lead the WPO.   Also in attendance was University of Kansas Professor Byron Caminero-Santangelo, 2013 ASLE conference site coordinator, and ASLE President Paul Outka, who helped coordinate the grant application.

A fight to save a wetlands

The Wakasura Wetlands project is at once a fight to protect nonhuman species and the rich biodiversity of the place and to respect and honor the lives lost during the boarding school period.

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Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, originated as part of the Indian boarding school system during the late 19th century. During the boarding-school era, the Wakarusa wetlands became a place where children could escape the school and its teachers. While visiting the wetlands, they could speak their native tongues and meet with members of tribes who were not allowed to visit the university campus. In addition to being a crucial refuge of rich biodiversity, this gives these wetlands an immense spiritual and historical significance for students and faculty today.


View from the Medicine Wheel at Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, KS. Photo by Byron Caminero-Sangengelo.

During the 1950s, Haskell University lost more than two thirds of its land base. Portions of the wetlands were acquired for educational and research purposes by the University of Kansas, Baker University, and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism.  Later, Baker University entered an agreement with the Kansas Department of Transportation that would allow a proposed multi-lane highway to be built through the wetlands. Members of the Haskell and Lawrence community have contested the construction of the highway for more than twenty years. For many members of the Haskell community and the broader population of Lawrence, the fight to save the wetlands is at once a fight to protect nonhuman species and the rich biodiversity of the place and to respect and honor the lives lost during the boarding school period.  While many of the legal avenues for fighting the construction have been exhausted by Haskell and the Wetlands Preservation Organization, WPO continues to oppose construction through political and cultural appeals for public support.

ASLE’s grant will help this group raise awareness of the history and significance of the wetlands through artistic installations and the production of narratives inspired by native culture and its links with the rich local ecosystem.  During a special session at the recent Kansas conference, and later, during a field trip to the Wetlands, ASLE members were able to hear from Dan Wildcat, Mike Caron, Kelly Kindscher, Jessica Lackey, and Ali Brox, leaders of WPO, and ask them questions.  The group explained how they would use the grant to bring together the efforts of Haskell University and University of Kansas students, Lawrence community members and activists, and, potentially, the Lawrence Audubon Society.  They will produce informational publications and construct an earth mound in the form of a plumed serpent, which will symbolize the merging of Environmental Science with traditional ecological knowledge and ethnobotany.  The group will also restore and enhance the Haskell medicine wheel located in the wetlands. The medicine wheel marks the four cardinal directions with pieces of the original Haskell buildings and is a symbol of 500 years of Native American perseverance.