An indigenous researcher at the University of Arizona is creating a space for Native Americans in environmental science.
Dr. Lydia Jennings is the only indigenous postdoc at the University of Arizona.
“Indigenous knowledges that have been peer reviewed over a millennium of time are really critical to addressing our contemporary environmental issues,” Jennings said.
Jennings is a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, one of 22 federally recognized tribes in Arizona. She says indigenous knowledge is often overlooked in environmental and public policy.
“We think about the Arizona aqueduct, but that is based off of Gila River Indian communities knowledge systems," Jennings said. "Traditional farming practices: I have a colleague here who’s a Hopi dry lands farmer. Everyone is about regenerative agriculture today but that’s based off of Hopi traditions.”
Jennings’ research at the University of Arizona focuses on indigenous environmental practices and how they’ve benefited tribal lands. Her work is especially groundbreaking since less than 1% of Native Americans hold a PhD.
“Part of the work that I do is not only highlighting the many ways native people have been experts but also supporting other indigenous scholars in navigating this process,” Jennings said.
Jennings’ work brings a new perspective to science literature, and to her students. She taught a class last semester on indigenous research and ethics. Lia Ossanna took that class.
“When we think about the different contexts of groups who have participated in research it’s a very different history and level of trust,” said Lia Ossanna, a graduate student at University of Arizona.
She and other students analyzed ways to improve ethics policies within scientific organizations.
“We all left that class thinking how can all students have this experience? How can everyone learn these things because they’re so critical in being a scientist and also understanding Arizona, the place we live,” Ossanna said.
Jennings hopes to integrate indigenous voices into the environmental policies of the future.
“I think it’s really learning from these cultural practitioners, many who don’t have PhDs, but have those expertise that academics like myself are wanting to amplify,” Jennings said.