Climate Adaptation Through a Multicultural Lens

March 6, 2023
Justin Brown Fellows Highlight

Justin Brown is a PhD student in Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis. Below are his reflections on the SW CASC Natural Resources Workforce Development (NRWD) Fellowship.

I have a close connection to the Columbia River–five of my family members were born in small towns next to the waterway. This is why I chose to focus my dissertation research on restorative justice in the Pacific Northwest on the Columbia River. As a Ph.D. student in Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis, I focus on Native American water resources and rights. I am continually researching Tribal ecology, water rights, and StoryMapping techniques to help promote the Columbia River Tribes in reuniting with their traditional fishing sites. When I applied for the SW CASC Natural Resource Workforce Development (NRWD) Fellowship, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to grow as a meaningful collaborator with other students in different disciplines. The interdisciplinary approach is crucial for mitigating and adapting to climate change. We need diversity. Until now, I have only worked with one or two professors at a time on research. The Fellowship is exciting, from the apps we use to connect to each other, to the bi-weekly brainstorming of actionable science. For example, one step in the Fellowship was to complete the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI). The certification helped me as a researcher, to look at the ethical component of possible interviews I conduct. There are many sections to this training designed in different modules to give users a neatly formatted structure to reference at any point throughout the certification process. A valuable skill I acquired from the training was how to conduct research ethically while engaging with human and nonhuman collaborators. 

What sets this cohort training apart from other forms of training is the personal attention everyone receives from the mentors. Working in a cohort or group is a great experience for research. There are multiple points of view after investigation of a subject, which gives the team various directions to take in the research. A benefit of this style of group work is that everyone is passionate about getting results and this pushes the project forward at a quicker pace. The challenge we’ve faced is finding times to meet and discuss our project, but we always manage to accomplish this task. I enjoy working in a group and individually, but I will say it is less stressful to work in a supportive group like ours. As an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, I have been surrounded by people from diverse backgrounds my whole life. This dynamic of diversity structured my life and gave me a passion for learning about Native American Studies. It means something special to me to see this multicultural diversity coming through in the many conversations our cohort has about science. Our cohort is currently investigating cascading climate changes in aquatic systems. Cascading climate is the idea that hazards start a series of collateral events. For example, sea–level rise can increase tidal flooding, which could increase erosion, and the tertiary effects could be greater storm surges during extreme swings in tidal action. We are talking to potential partners and rightsholders about our research ideas, and we are open to helping in any meaningful capacity possible. Our cohort is constantly pushing forward and exploring options. Moreover, being a former geography student, I started an ArcGIS StoryMap to document our research findings and keep up to date with the material we are researching.

Our engagement with potential partners has been tough and at a slower pace than we had hoped for, but it takes time to form a truly sustainable relationship. Forming bonds is a process and communication is key when the co-production of knowledge is involved. My advice to starting, growing, or sustaining relationships with decision-makers is to know your objectives, plan your path to those goals, and remember that half of communication is listening. The experience with the NRWD Fellowship thus far has introduced me to many new relationships and connections in my personal and professional life. I am glad to be a part of this diverse cohort, and I am impressed by my fellow researchers every time we meet!