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Department of Social Sciences; College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


In this paper, we reflect on our collective experiences engaging with Anishinaabe Tribal Nations in the Great Lakes region to support Tribal sovereignty in decision-making for food, energy, and water (FEW) systems. In these diverse experiences, we find common lessons. The first set of lessons contributes new empirical knowledge regarding the challenges and opportunities that rural Great Lakes Tribal Nations navigate for enacting sovereignty in decision-making. Our experiences illustrate that while Tribal Nations benefit from a broad and deep commitment to sovereignty and many cultural strengths, they are often challenged by shortages in administrative capacity; technical support; and embeddedness in economic, socio-cultural, and institutional dynamics that must be further negotiated for Tribes to enact the sovereignty to which they are inherently (and legally) entitled. Productive partnerships struggle when university partners fail to acknowledge these realities. The second set of lessons addresses the potential for, and challenges of, effective engagement processes. We find that engagement with university professionals is often mismatched with the priorities and needs of Tribal Nations. Effective engagement with Tribal Nations requires practical knowledge, applied assistance, and grounded, genuine relationships; these requirements often run counter to the institutional structures and priorities imposed by universities, federal funding agencies, and student recruitment. These findings, associated with both empirical knowledge and lessons on process, highlight shared insights on formidable barriers to effective engagement. Based on our firsthand experience working with rural Tribal Nations on FEW decision-making, we share these reflections with particular focus on lessons learned for professionals who engage, or hope to engage, with Tribal Nations in rural settings and offer opportunities to transform engagement processes to better support the immediate, practical needs of rural Tribal Nations.

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© 2024 The Authors. Rural Sociology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Rural Sociological Society (RSS). Publisher’s version of record:

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Rural Sociology


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