Contributed by Michelle Baumflek

Sitting in the light rain at the opening ceremony of my first ISE Congress in Bumthang, Bhutan, I knew that the week to come was going to be exceptional. The excitement and positive energy had been palpable as participants from all over the world entered the grounds, through a walkway flanked by tall, colorful flags, and were reunited with friends and colleagues. When the ceremony formally began, witnessing the entrance of so many diverse people proudly representing their communities was incredibly powerful and moving. It also signaled that this was not a typical academic meeting, and I immediately knew that I was at home here.

I had the privilege of attending my first ISE Congress in Bhutan, including the Emerging Ethnobiologists Pre-Congress Workshop held in Lobesa. These experiences were transformative for me, and helped to strengthen my identity as an engaged ethnobiologist as I transition from completing my PhD into the next phase of my career. I have been to many professional conferences before, but I have never felt more aligned with the goals, ethics and interests of a professional society and its members. Therefore, it was such an honor to receive validation and support from this community by winning second prize at the student poster competition.

In addition to the content, I found the interactive format and structure of Congress events to be engaging and effective ways to share ideas among such a diverse group of people. For instance, I co-facilitated a workshop in which participants from 20 countries brought their own experiences, perspectives and skills together to co-generate new knowledge and lines of inquiry about food sovereignty. I also appreciated the Congress focus on indigenous knowledge and multiple ways of knowing, embodied by the Sung stream.

My research on health sovereignty was well-aligned with the Congress theme of regenerating biocultural ecosystem resilience. In a northeastern North American context, increasing indigenous access to culturally-important plants is one important way to promote such resilience. Working with Maliseet communities in Maine, USA and New Brunswick Canada, I created a habitat model for the important medicinal plant gighaswes, Acorus americanus, which identified ecologically suitable locations that would be most accessible for community members, particularly elders. Increasing access to important medicinal plants strengthens people’s ability to use medicines of their choice. It also contributes to biocultural ecosystem resilience through creating spaces for intergenerational knowledge exchange about the stewardship of plants. This work is one component of my PhD, which more broadly examines ways to incorporate biocultural diversity into the management and stewardship of forests.