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The Native Tradition, Environment And Community Health (TEACH) Project began in 2008 with a small collaborative grant funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. The Northwest Indian College and the Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health at the University of Washington shared the funding and co-managed the project. In the Western scientific tradition, “Environmental Health” is the study of how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives. One of the goals of the Native TEACH Project was to find out how Native ways of understanding the world and our place in it might lead to a unique understanding of environmental health – a “NATIVE Environmental Health Science.” To do this, we got input from Tribal college students, staff and faculty from 30 Tribal colleges around the U.S. We did this through a combination of talking circles, interviews, and written surveys administered at the Northwest Indian College and at the 2009 American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) student conference in Missoula, MT. When we sifted through the information we gathered, we identified three core themes that seemed to appear over and over: Community, Wellness, and Inter-Relationship. Each of these core themes contains many rich associations and layers. Each theme can best be understood as a circle. Native Environmental Health Science is the study of how these three circles intersect and overlap, and what this means for our actions as individuals and communities. The Return is an original story based on our research findings. With it, we hope to share the essence of what we learned from the rich conversations we had with Tribal college students, staff and faculty. It can be read quietly or aloud, used as a coloring book, or even serve as the spark for a group or classroom discussion. Mostly though, it is meant as a gift back to the many people who helped create it by sharing their time, insights, and wisdom.

Publication Date



The Native Tradition, Environment and Community Health Project, Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health


University of Washington, Seattle, WA

The Return: A Native Environmental Health Story