Highlights from the Geoscience Alliance Translational Ecology Panel

April 19, 2019
People in a conference room having a discussion.

Indigenous voices often have not been highlighted in the geosciences. The Geoscience Alliance aims to bring those voices to the forefront, increase knowledge within Indigenous communities, and foster collaboration between Indigenous Peoples and non-natives to improve the condition of Native communities. The Southwest Climate Adaption Science Center (SW CASC) convened a workshop entitled “Translational Ecology: Where knowledge meets action” at the Geoscience Alliance IV National Conference, held at Arizona State University. Althea Walker (Tribal Climate Science Liaison, American Indian Higher Education Consortium), Dr. Stephen Jackson, and Dr. Gregg Garfin hosted the workshop focused on Translational Ecology (TE), an approach in which ecologists, stakeholders, and decision makers work together to develop research that addresses the sociological, ecological, and political contexts of an environmental problem. The foundations of TE include engagement between scientists, natural resource managers, and other decision makers, through commitment to an inclusive process of collaboration, two-way communication that builds trust between the parties, and mutual understanding of the contexts in which resource management decisions are made. This approach has been found to be an effective way to tackle complex environmental issues faced by society today, according to Dr. Garfin, who kicked off the workshop.

Guest speakers included: Jolene Tallsalt Robertson (Navajo Nation and the Bureau of Land Management), Marquel Begay (Navajo Nation and a graduate student at the University of Arizona), Jay Johnson (Gila River Indian Community), and Dr. Selso Villegas (Tohono O’odham Nation). Each guest speaker was invited because of their experience conducting research and implementing adaptation strategies using TE methods. They each shared their knowledge and experiences of doing this type of work.

Dr. Selso Villegas explained that the death of birds in an area subject to industrial mining activity was an indicator of contaminated water and how that inspired him to action. The contaminated water was negatively impacting Tohono O’odham Nation and he wanted to be a part of the solution. As he worked with Tohono O’odham Nation and non-Indigenous stakeholders, he emphasized the importance of shared trust, culture, and community when engaging with Indigenous stakeholders. Learn more about the Tohono O’odham Nation here.

Jolene Tallsalt Robertson urged Indigenous students to learn about the wealth of environmental knowledge within communities on reservations. She suggested they blend the knowledge and skills they receive from non-Indigenous institutions with the knowledge and skills already present in Indigenous communities. Learn more about the Navajo Nation here.

Marquel Begay conducted research with the Tsaile/Wheatfields/Blackrock chapter of the Navajo Nation. Her past research and present work are focused on ensuring the sustainability of their water resources, which are affected by drought and environmental degradation. She measured water quality and, with the permission of Indigenous stakeholders, conducted experiments to see what would improve and re-stabilize stream banks. Learn more here.

Jay Johnson works to restore wetlands through planting of native vegetation, removal of invasive species, fish sampling, and macro-invertebrate sampling. His project engages Indigenous youth, elders, and non-Indigenous persons to collaborate in the work that he and his organization conduct in the wetlands. Learn more about the Gila River Indian Community here.

Thank you to all of our guest speakers for participating in this panel and to the amazing students and professionals who attended and participated. To learn more about Translational Ecology and the work the Southwest CASC does with Indigenous groups check out our Initiatives page. We look forward to collaborating in future conversations like this.