It's not hard to pick Poli Sierra-Long out of a crowd. From her ever-present beaming smile to her brightly colored hair (last time I saw her, it was purple and blue!), Poli has become a fixture in both the Sustainability Office and the Dartmouth Organic Farm during her past two years at Dartmouth. She spoke with us about her experiences as a Native American at Dartmouth and how sustainability has been an ever-present issue in her life.
Proud Poli and her squash!
Question: Where you are from, how/why you chose Dartmouth?
Poli: I’m from Tucson, Arizona. When I was first compiling lists of colleges I focused first on academics, second on major/minor programs, and third on how “green” (colour coded with a green highlighter) each campus was. As soon as my family found out I got accepted we knew I was coming.
Q. What are you studying/did you study here at Dartmouth? How do those studies relate to sustainability?
P. Although I have not officially declared yet, I am planning on majoring in chemistry modified with environmental studies, however, I am also pre-med. I believe that everything can be related to sustainability because it involves having a certain mentality about how you decide to treat the earth. I was a medic at Standing Rock for my winter term and that was an experience that combined both my medical skills and my love of the environment. To be sustainable is to give the earth as much love as she gives you the ability to live. And I gave the earth everything I had to give in Ocheti in the best way I could; as a medic. Healing requires more than just putting a band-aid on injuries, it requires an awareness of environmental situation as well.
Q. Why did you become involved with the sustainability office?
P. I discovered that there was a farm attached to campus so I made it my goal to go out there and ended up doing Farm Fit for a PE credit. I fell in love with the Organic Farm and applied to be one of their Fall Farm Interns. Through that internship, I slowly fell head over heels for the Sustainability Office and found the home I was looking for on campus.
Q. What else are/were you involved with on campus?
P. I’m strongly affiliated with NAD (Natives at Dartmouth) as well as the Telling My Story program on campus.
Poli speaking at a rally to protest a proposed pipeline which would run through the Upper Valley
Q. How do you incorporate sustainability into your daily life? What else can Dartmouth students do to be more sustainable?
P. Being sustainable in college is always a struggle, especially for low-income students. When it comes time to buy supplies and it’s between the choice of a cheap, but short-term item versus a more expensive item that will last a long time the drive is always to buy the cheaper item and make it work for as long as possible. I always feel guilty when I have to throw away plastic items because of how harmful plastic waste is on the earth, so I would encourage everyone to recycle as much as possible. Recycling is one of the easiest things to pay attention to even with the academic rigor of Dartmouth and each person can create a lasting impact by making a habit of it.
Q. Favorite thing about Dartmouth? What do you do for fun?
P. My favorite thing about Dartmouth is the Organic Farm, hands down. It is such a wonderful place to go off-campus and has my favorite things in the entire world: plants. I have a total of nine potted plants in my room, and will gladly rescue more any day. I was also gifted ten Gete Oskomin seeds that have grown up into beautiful huge orange squash in the Organic Farm’s greenhouse. These squash come from seeds that were found in a seed pot that was dated about 850 years old during an archeological dig in Wyoming, and they have flourished under the care provided to them at the farm.
Q. Favorite class you've taken so far? Recommendation for future students interested in sustainability?
P. ENVS 25 (ecological agriculture) was one of the best classes I’ve taken at Dartmouth so far. Not only did I learn about the scientific aspect of planting, but the hands-on labs at the Organic Farm allowed all of the main points discussed in class to be applied to real experiments that could potentially better the methods used at the Farm. 10/10 would recommend to every student.
Q. What, in your opinion, is the best thing we can all do to encourage universal environmental sustainability?
P. I believe that the best thing we can do to encourage universal sustainability is to always recognize the intersectionality of environmental problems. Race, socioeconomic status, and other minority issues should always be factored into sustainability when searching for solutions. One of the first things I do when dealing with environmental problems in places I don’t know is to recognize the indigenous people of that land, because I almost guarantee they know it better and more intimately than those who have not lived there as long. In that way, I believe that Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) has the potential to give us the answers to questions that are only asked in a western manner. Humility when dealing with the land is necessary in order to realize that although humans have one of the greatest impacts on earth, we are also all guests here. In order for environmental sustainability to be universal, it also needs to be inclusive.