It's Time: Collaboration, Community Building and Engagement for Interdisciplinary Climate Resiliency Planning

Carlie Domingues
Monday, March 8, 2021

Carlie Domingues is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Davis in the Department of Native American Studies. Below are her experiences and insights as a SW CASC Natural Resources Workforce Development (NRWD) Fellow.

Greetings, SW CASC Community! This blog post will include a short introduction to my research and my insight into the vital need to welcome social science methodology and research into “hard science” research projects, especially those projects that address climate resiliency planning.

The SW CASC Natural Resources Workforce Development (NRWD) Fellowship called to me because I recognize the critical need in ecological, conservation and agricultural planning for collaboration amongst Indigenous-centered social science and humanities oriented scholars, and scholars of life science, biology, and other physical sciences. However, we need space to create methodology for collaboration! The NRWD Fellowship provides opportune research time to collaborate and create resilient ecosystems, both academic and ecological.

Currently, I am a doctoral scholar of Native American Studies at University of California (UC), Davis and recently earned a M.A. in American Indian Studies from UCLA. As an undergraduate, I earned B.A.s in Literature and History from UC Santa Cruz. This academic formation fosters my perception that Indigenous knowledge and praxis offers solutions to many of the research questions generated by climate scientists.

My research interests stem from both personal and community responsibilities, as well as a fierce dedication to joy. I hold knowledge and research generated in non-academic community contexts dear to my heart. I have dedicated my life’s work to the continued livelihood of Indigenous communities everywhere, but especially here in coastal California. From a young age, my family taught me about ocean life, tides and how to maintain healthy relationships with fresh water, ocean water and our animal relatives. I learned about the importance of river systems, and our ocean and oak ecosystems, from my family travels throughout our Chumash homelands and homewaters. (You might know “Chumash homelands and homewaters” as contemporary San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Kern, northern Los Angeles counties and the adjacent coastline and Pacific Ocean). Physical science disciplines, such as biology, botany, life science, and chemistry, seem to harbor a similar commitment to ecosystem health and resilience. However, for me, they have barely informed my understanding and commitment to healthy ecosystems.

In academic contexts, I center Indigenous women’s knowledge by employing social science methodologies and theories, such as Linda Tiahui Smith’s Indigenous Research Agenda, Jo-Anne Archibald’s framework of Indigenous Storywork, and Dion Million’s theories and praxis of healing. I orient my research from Indigenous ecological epistemology and Native Women’s Literature for agriculture and conservation planning. I mention personal, community and academic contexts because my knowledge, ethics and research emanates from those three spaces and it would be disingenuous to write only about the academic context, when community and personal responsibility underlie my academic commitments.

My academic social science and humanities orientation provides investigative frameworks for engaging with the wealth of Indigenous knowledge, yet, does not quite provide the “real-world” relationship-building skills needed to generate collaboration of community partners, such as American Indian Tribes, Indigenous communities, non-profits, restoration organizations, and others. A background of Indigenous epistemology provides context and scientific data maintained by Indigenous communities. Researchers committed to collaborative relationships must consider the dense knowledge systems of local Indigenous communities, although academic researchers may not have had opportunities to learn from Indigenous peoples. In our NRWD project, we look to existing data sets, such as public-facing media and tribal planning documents, to inform our understanding of the locations where we might employ our research project. From here, we will have a base of knowledge to engage and create collaborative relationships.

In order to center Indigenous epistemology and collaborate with Indigenous communities, research institutes must provide time, space and resources to foster interdisciplinary collaboration. Our NRWD Fellowship provides time and space for us to innovate and practice community-building and engagement skills across disciplines, and even beyond academia, in order to foster the relationships necessary for building ecosystem resilience.