Moving Forward

The Geoscience Alliance–moving forward

We propose to hold the second Geoscience Alliance national conference, which will be on the topic of “Home Places, Local Landscapes, Traditional Knowledge, and Modern Technologies,” and will be held at Salish Kootenai College in March 2012. We know from experience and through the literature on Native American STEM (Bueno Watts, 2011; AISES, 1995) that building good long-term relationships is crucial to success with Native students and Native communities. At the last Geoscience Alliance meeting, every effort was made to build in opportunities for participants to meet, learn about one another, talk to one another, and build these relationships. Participants who met and got to know one another at the last meeting have continued to meet, have expressed strong interest in a new conference, and report several instances of collaboration on new projects. We feel that it is now crucial to widen this circle to include more people from the research community–scientists, data specialists, government agency representatives, and others.

Native Americans continue to be underrepresented in the Geosciences, despite ongoing efforts to provide pathways into geoscience careers for Native students. These students have a leading role to play in the future management of our nation’s land and water resources, both on the reservation and across the country. Vast resources have been poured into creating technologies that help us understand and respond to the challenges that face the Earth, but these technologies are underutilized, particularly by Native communities. Despite recent investments, there continues to be a technology gap in reservation communities. And even in cases where computers and internet are present, there is still an information and imagination gap—the potential for these sophisticated tools to solve local problems is not realized by the potential user community. We know the same problem exists within the education community. NASA, for example, has developed a vast collection of products and tools for education on climate change, but these resources continue to be underutilized in tribal colleges and tribal K-12 schools.

The under-representation of Native Americans in the geosciences is detrimental to the quality and relevance of the geosciences. Without Native participation in geoscience, it is difficult to develop a geoscience research agenda that is responsive to the unique priorities and values of indigenous communities. This means that indigenous communities have to recast research results or inform geoscientists of their practices and values in order to incorporate expertise from the geosciences into their planning and governance. If there were more geoscientists from Native communities, they could include indigenous priorities, values, and perspectives in setting a new research agenda, and tribes would have a higher chance of finding tribal members who could contribute geoscience knowledge and perspectives to community issues. Rather than challenging tribal sovereignty and identity and forcing tribes to rely on outsiders, geoscience would strengthen tribal communities from within.

We propose to highlight several of these sophisticated research techniques, and data management and visualization tools at the 2012 Geoscience Alliance conference. Keeping in mind the Circle of Learning principles that guide the Geoscience Alliance (i.e., everyone teaches and everyone learns), we propose that these workshops will be structured as a dialog with positive feedback loops—participants will not only explore the technologies, and bring them to the Native communities, but will also engage in helping the institutions who provide these tools to better understand and meet the real needs of Native communities. The overarching theme of the workshops will be “Speaking from the head—Where does/did your water go?—and we will challenge the workshop leaders to address, from a local Montana perspective, two important, and connected, water-related topics (water quality/water scarcity) as part of their workshop.

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