Institute at Brown for Environment and Society

Myles Lennon: Supporting Black and Indigenous land stewards through community partnerships

Working at the intersection of environment and society, Lennon was recently awarded the University’s Howard R. Swearer Engaged Faculty Award.

Myles Lennon says his research is “fundamentally about the people.” 

Myles Lennon
Myles Lennon, assistant professor of anthropology and environment and society.

An assistant professor with the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) and the Department of Anthropology, Lennon studies “how human organizations and different cultural configurations can work better with the environment.” In recent years, he has specifically looked at how young land stewards of color are navigating settler colonialism in the United States.

Lennon’s scholarship and collaborations with community organizations recently earned him this year’s Howard R. Swearer Engaged Faculty Award, an accolade granted by the Brown University Swearer Center to faculty members committed to community engagement in teaching and research.

Those who know Lennon know the extent of this commitment. His hands-on approach to research shines particularly through his involvement with the Shelterwood Collective, a Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ+ land stewardship organization, of which Lennon is a founding board member. Established in 2019, Shelterwood now oversees 900 acres of forest, located on historic Southern Pomo and Kashia territory in Northern California.

“ Elevating the voices of the people that are actually on the ground doing the work is key. ”

Myles Lennon Assistant Professor of Environment and Society and Anthropology

Shelterwood fellows gather to learn agricultural techniques
For 75 years, the Shelterwood forest housed a sleep-away camp; now, Lennon and the organization are trying to decolonize the land.

The collective looks to “bring Indigenous fire ecologies and traditional forms of Black and Indigenous agriculture to a very overgrown, colonized forest,” Lennon said. “Historically, different human cultures didn't necessarily see themselves as separate from what we think of as a forest. Shelterwood wants to pilot a whole way of being that breaks down that very arbitrary line.”

Lennon is working to identify best practices, lessons learned, and complications with trying to develop a land stewardship collective in the middle of the forest. Part of these efforts involves “trying to bring communities of color back to the forest and trying to decolonize the forest,” he noted.

In 2022, Lennon created a fellowship for Brown University students to develop land stewardship, fire ecology, and ethnographic research skills by working with Shelterwood. 

Shelterwood fellows with Lennon
During their 9.5 week fellowship at Shelterwood, five Brown undergraduates immersed themselves in engaged research and community building.
Lennon also extends his community work into the classroom, inviting “actual land stewards and practitioners” to guest lecture for his courses, he said, adding that “elevating the voices of the people that are actually on the ground doing the work is key.” 

As Lennon prepares to enter his sixth year with IBES, he remains excited about the longevity of his research projects and the bonds they’ve enabled him to create. 

“In engaged anthropological research, you are supporting and working closely with people on the ground as things evolve … with the recognition that change happens at scales that don't necessarily line up with an academic year,” he said. “We want to follow up with them for many years to actually see the impacts.”