OOS 30-7 - Incorporating traditional ecological knowledge into geoscience education

Wednesday, August 8, 2012: 3:40 PM
A107, Oregon Convention Center
Wendy Smythe, Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction, Oregon Health & Science University, Beaverton, OR

Researchers from OHSU-CMOP were engaged in working closely with the Hydaburg School District, HCA (tribal government) and the Community of Hydaburg, in a collaborative effort to better understand the physical, chemical and biological processes of watershed ecosystems in Southeast Alaska. Study sites were located on rivers that are heavily relied upon both for their fishery resources (salmon and shellfish) and for the communities’ drinking. Natural processes (mineral springs, snow and rain) and human activities (road building, logging) contribute to seasonably and spatially variable water quality and salmon habitat. Due to this concentration of diverse aquatic and geologic settings, Hydaburg is ideally situated to illustrate the importance of surface, groundwater, and oceanic contributions to the local water cycle. Approaches integrated Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and western science through exploration of relevant cultural uses of river systems and the development of curriculum translated into the Haida language.

Specific objectives of this project are to;

(1) encourage Native students, who are the most under-represented group in STEM fields, to enter geoscience careers,

(2) to foster a broad community appreciation of the value of TEK and the geosciences,

(3) and to revitalize our language through the development and use of curriculum in the Haida language with the guidance of our elders.

We sought to form an active learning community in partnership with tribal, state and local agencies; and we hope that this learning community will produce a generation of regional leaders in the field of environmental and community sustainability.

Students conducted inquiry-based field studies where they engaged in the bioassessment of macroinvertebrates of three local rivers and a marine study investigating shipworms. Research activities introduced students to the concepts of scientific method, variables and life history of macroinvertebrate and shipworms and their importance as indicators of environmental health.


This project has allowed students to become active stewards within their community and to gain a better understanding of anthropogenic impacts on local water and fishery resources. If not for the dedication of the elders, tribal leaders, teachers, parents this project would not have been successful. It is imperative that we encourage our young native students to continue to learn about TEK in combination with western science as a powerful tool for environmental sustainability of our lands.