In this issue of Tribal College Journal, we explore the “science of place.” All across Indian Country, tribal college students and faculty members are conducting scientific research on their homelands, studying species and foods important to Native people, and seeking solutions to environmental and public health problems. Faculty and students are using Western scientific methods, listening to their elders, looking to the past and learning traditional knowledge, and sharing what they find with their communities.
In his feature story, Joshua Zaffos writes that for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, mercury contamination is a problem—and it’s a problem the tribal college’s Department of Life Sciences is trying to address. Student Trey Saddler, for instance, was taught lab and research techniques by department head Doug Stevens, who hopes to someday establish a nationwide network of mercury studies among tribes and tribal colleges. Saddler not only learned new skills and advanced his own education, he was inspired to study the problem of mercury —not only in Montana, but also in Maine. As Zaffos writes: “Saddler says conducting field studies and lab work regarding the benefits and risks of Native food diets has opened his eyes to the connections between environmental science, human health, and toxicology, and has him thinking about graduate education or a career in public health.”
Saddler isn’t alone. At many of the 38 tribal colleges in the United States and Canada, students are studying environmental issues on their home reservations—and they are dedicated to finding solutions. One of my favorite things about attending the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s annual student conference is reading the posters created by students who are studying what’s happening—on the ground, in the air, and within the water—on their homelands. It’s also heartening to keep up with students throughout the year; to read Facebook pages filled with excitement about their research and calls for people to attend upcoming public meetings on environmental issues. Tribal college and university students differ in many ways from students attending mainstream universities. Their ability—and passion—to study and preserve Native lands and communities is not only unique; it’s inspirational.
After issuing a “call for shorts” to be included in our On Campus section (see page 32), my inbox was flooded with messages from tribal college faculty members, administrators, and students who were eager to share ways in which they are exploring the “science of place.”
At Turtle Mountain Community College, for instance, students are studying mosquito populations and also collaborating with other institutions, including Fort Berthold Community College, to find a solar panel that can recharge mosquito trap batteries. Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute students are working on climate change issues, as are students at many other tribal colleges, including Haskell Indian Nations University. At Tohono O’odham Community College, students are studying weather and climate, solar energy, and the traditional uses of water. Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College students are studying local wetlands, and Sinte Gleska University students are working to ensure that local bison herds remain healthy. Students from United Tribes Technical College, Sitting Bull College, Turtle Mountain Community College, and Fort Berthold Community College are participating in important scientific research, and students at Aaniiih Nakoda College are becoming empowered through place-based projects that rely on Western science and the knowledge of Native elders. Meanwhile, College of Menominee Nation students experience “the science of place” in innovative ways at the tribal college’s Sustainable Development Institute. That’s by no means a complete list of what’s happening at tribal colleges across Indian Country—and that’s why at TCJ, we always look forward to hearing more from all of you. With only one editorial staff member, TCJ relies on you to keep in touch with us—and to let us know what you and your students are doing. Drop us a note at editor@tribalcollegejournal. org and make sure you’re on our mailing list for calls for shorts and features every quarter. You can also call and chat whenever something exciting is happening. We love receiving photos and reading your comments online at tribalcollegejournal. org.
I consider it an honor to have worked at TCJ over the past three years and to have met so many amazing people—presidents, faculty members, students, and friends—within the tribal college movement. As someone who is more comfortable typing words than speaking them aloud, I especially appreciate the ways in which so many of you have welcomed me to AIHEC board meetings and especially, the AIHEC Student Conference. The friendships I’ve made over the past few years are invaluable to me and I appreciate the knowledge gained, the laughs shared. Of course, this isn’t really goodbye— and I look forward to remaining active with the magazine and within the tribal college movement. Meanwhile, TCJ’s readers will be in excellent hands as Dr. Bradley Shreve takes over as managing editor. His name is likely familiar to many readers: He has taught at Diné College in Tsaile, AZ for over five years and is a frequent contributor to TCJ. I have no doubt that under his leadership—and the continued leadership of publisher Rachael Marchbanks, as well as support from Marvene Tom and Kim Cox—that the magazine will continue to thrive and serve the needs of the entire tribal college movement. Please join me in welcoming him to TCJ and continue to send in your story ideas, letters to the editor, photos, and columns. You can reach Bradley at editor@tribalcollegejournal. org or (970) 533-9170.