A walk through any college campus in the United States looks more or less the same: a large open quad with a well-manicured lawn, a historic main hall made of brick and covered in ivy, mature deciduous non-native trees, and colorful flower beds framing the periphery.

“Those are visual clues that you are in an important place of learning,” says Marilyn Marler, a University of Montana natural areas specialist. “This is the standard way that American universities look.”

The common design was an effort by white settlers to recreate the prestigious Ivy League campuses of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale, Marler says. These kinds of landscapes are “all based on European ideals of what is valuable and beautiful,” she says. This has conditioned Americans to associate places of learning with European landscapes instead of local, Indigenous ones.

By dismantling Indigenous landscapes, settler-colonists reimagine them as their own. Environmental historian Traci Brynn Voyles describes the process by which non-white lands are recast as valueless and available for erasure as “wastelanding.”

The cultural roots of university campus landscapes surround whiteness and a European aesthetic, which can result in Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) feeling a sense of isolation and alienation on college campuses, even if there is no overt racial hostility.

Advocates are calling for places of learning to instead be aligned with Indigenous values and aesthetics. The demand for meaningful action has emerged and reverberated throughout institutions of higher education across the country.

“When I think of decolonizing, I think about exercising ways of Indigeneity,” says Sidney Fellows, a Shoshone-Bannock and Chippewa-Cree Master of Science student at the University of Montana. “For me, that means maybe less development, or focusing resources on native plants, maybe creating more areas where we can access foods or things like that when we’re in these college spaces.”

Re-Indigenizing the colonial landscapes of college campuses can address both the historical erasure of Indigenous presence and the isolating impact campuses currently have on BIPOC students, faculty, and staff. Ethnobotanical gardens can create a welcoming and healing space for all—especially for Indigenous participants—through emphasizing human relationships with native plants.

Read the full article about Indigenous gardening by Grace Maria Eberhardt, Andy Stec And Rosalyn Lapier at YES! Magazine.