Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Kelly Clark/Keefe


This collaborative qualitative research addresses challenges faced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in higher education and environmental programs as a result of academic imperialism (Chilisa, 2012) and epistemic injustice (McKinnon, 2016), as well as other systemic challenges that marginalize, diminish and invisibilize ways of knowing and narratives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Historic and ongoing erasure of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color from the Land contributes to the perception and narrative that BIPOC are disinterested in environmental issues.

Using a strengths-based perspective, I alongside a circle of nine leaders in the environmental fields collectively understood and referred to as co-researchers throughout the project explored multiple ways of knowing vis-à-vis photographs and stories of sense of place and relationship to Land. Under the broader umbrella of narrative inquiry methodology, this project utilized visual/participatory action research methods that were inspired and informed by relationality and relational accountability principles (Wilson, 2008) as well as decolonizing practices of storytelling and reframing (Smith, 2013). The conceptual lens for this study is borrowed from the work of Dr. Robin Kimmerer (2013) who described the relationship between Western and Indigenous ways of knowing through the metaphors of Fortress, River and Garden.

Our research used sense of place as a way of exploring BIPOC leadership revealing multiple meanings of “sense of place” and ways of knowing. Sense of place as Fortress describes the challenging conditions that BIPOC face; conditions that sustain White Supremacy and the colonial project within the field of environmentalism. In response, BIPOC reframe and reclaim sense of place as River and Garden revealed through three epistemological streams: 1) Autopoietic or Self-making, 2) Relational and 3) Presence. These are discussed as strength-based ways of knowing: to make and re-make oneself in the midst of changing and unwelcoming environments; to know oneself and the world through relationship; and to demonstrate commitment to people, place, and planet often at great personal cost.

The intention of this study is to uplift the stories and wisdom of BIPOC leaders in the environmental fields and their many ways of surviving, knowing, and thriving in challenging learning and working spaces. These findings may assist academia and mainstream environmentalism to recognize that to be in right relationship with the natural world requires honoring multiple ways of knowing.



Number of Pages

230 p.