Profiles of Humans in Nature: Montana Natural History Center

Humans in Nature strives to combine applied research within outreach efforts to connect individuals of all ages to the natural environment. We wanted to hear from other organizations and communities on how they connect with others and develop a relationship surrounding nature. We interviewed Anka Rashed at the Montana Natural History Center (MNHC) in Missoula, MT, to hear more about what she does for MNHC and how they connect people with nature.

What is MNHC?

MNHC’s mission is to promote and cultivate the appreciation, understanding, and stewardship of nature through education. MNHC provides nature education programming for people of all ages through summer camps, Visiting Naturalist in the Schools (VNS), Master Naturalist certification courses, field days, evening and virtual programs, Field Notes on Montana Public Radio, museum tours, and more. They also have exhibits focusing on Montana’s flora, fauna, geology, and ecology. In 2021, they engaged with over 13,000 people, and 8,091 students were impacted by their educational programming. To learn more about MNHC, click on their website link in the “How to get involved” section!

What does Anka do at MNHC?

Anka started volunteering and working seasonally with MNHC assisting with summer camps and field trips. After some time, she realized she wanted to pursue a full-time role with them. Currently, Anka is the Museum Associate Educator. She works primarily with the exhibits department and assists with child and youth programming.

During our interview, she discussed how she is currently incorporating her background in robotics with the exhibits. She also explained how MNHC is working towards making nature more accessible for all and working on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DEI) efforts. She explained:

“Montana has a lot of white people, but there are definitely non-white people. There are native people and immigrants. I feel like a lot of the time, especially in something like nature, which in this part of the world is seen as a very, like white activity. It’s not something that people might seek out that much or feel comfortable with. And, like, I definitely felt that a little bit when I was younger. So, like, we’re trying to help with this… I think there’s a feeling of not necessarily being excluded but not necessarily feeling like you’re welcome in that space. And we want to make sure people feel welcome in our space, regardless of race, background, or gender.”

As discussed in previous HIN articles, many indigenous people were displaced and had land stolen. MNHC worked with a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (Aspen Decker) to develop their land acknowledgment statement and to add additional Salish content to the museum. Aspen Decker is a part of Xʷlxʷilt “Alive and Well” Séliš Education Integration, and their mission is for their reservation, tribes, and communities to be xʷlxʷilt, “alive and well” through access to authentic Indigenous educational experiences. They use their passion for the Salish language and cultural values to provide instruction, support, and consultation to community stakeholders. You can view their mission and website by clicking the link above or in the “how to get involved” section!

Here is MNHC’s land acknowledgment statement that they developed with Aspen, “the Montana Natural History Center is located within the traditional homelands of the T’at’áyaqn (Bitterroot Salish) and Qlispélixw (Kalispel) peoples who have lived here since time immemorial. The Montana Natural History Center is dedicated to the recognition of the first peoples of Missoula and the integration of the Salish language, culture, and Indigenous knowledge.”

Acknowledging traditional homelands, recognizing the people within these communities, and ensuring they are a part of the conversation is essential to maintaining the history of these lands and pushing forward the conservation movement to make nature more accessible and equitable.

Why does Anka enjoy being in nature?

We love to ask people why they enjoy being in nature, and we thought Anka would be a great person to ask this question to! We asked, “Why do you enjoy being in nature?”

“I don’t even know if I have an answer for that. Because it’s so inherent, you know, it’s just something I’ve loved since I was a kid… one thing that I can definitively say is that I feel like whenever I’ve gone out, you know, camping or just spent some extended amount of time outside, I’ve always felt more myself, and it feels like such a cliche to say. When I’m out, it’s kind of just me and my surroundings. Despite what we’ve constructed as humans, we are still as woven into nature as a whole, you know, and being able to kind of just have that clarification moment, is something that has been really powerful in my life. And that’s something I think we try and encourage people to do.”

Anka further explained that she grew up in Hong Kong, and her parents are not very outdoorsy; however, she was always fascinated by nature. She always had plenty of books on nature and grew up watching David Attenborough nature documentaries. She left Hong Kong at 19 and decided to explore and experience nature on her terms. In college, she was trained in robotics and engineering, and now she plans to use these skills to help people explore and connect people with nature.

How to get involved

Their website has an array of programs, resources, and events for adults, youth, and educators! Please view their website to learn more about MNHC and get involved with their programming.

*All photos are from Anka Rashed.

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