Indigenous scientists exchange knowledge at local workshop

Understanding water quality and fish health data is critical to protecting and managing treaty resources such as salmon. A group of Indigenous students who participated in an IndigiData workshop hosted on Lummi Nation’s reservation lands this summer learned how Lummi and researchers at Northwest Indian College employ that type of data.

The workshop included lectures and activities about fisheries science, field research methods such as eDNA (e for environmental), lab techniques such as metabarcoding, data visualization and the challenges of climate change.

Lummi fisheries staff offered workshop sessions and Indigenous scholars from the Port Gamble S’Klallam, Hupa, kanaka and Shinnecock tribes, as well as from bands of Chippewa, Diné, and Ojibwe ancestry also took turns presenting on various topics, learning from one another.

The IndigiData workshop group toured Lummi’s aquaculture and fish hatcheries, as well as research facilities at Northwest Indian College. At a Northwest Indian College lab, the students examined the various types of machinery that lab manager Rosa Hunter, of Jamestown S’Klallam and Nooksack, uses to study microscopic organisms that can affect fish and shellfish that are important traditional foods.

Talon Arbuckle, of the Tulalip Tribes, describes during an IndigiData workshop in August his experience as a Northwest Indian College graduate.

IndigiData is an educational workshop program organized through the nonprofit Native BioData Consortium, a research institute led by Indigenous scientists in the United States.

Workshop participant Talon Arbuckle, of the Tulalip Tribes, said the programs combine “the tools of Western science and the world views of Indigenous people.”

The goals of IndigiData include to train the next generation of Indigenous science leaders, promote data sovereignty, and create an inclusive network of Indigenous scholars who will support their tribal nations.

Arbuckle, a graduate of Northwest Indian College now pursuing a PhD out of state, said he intends to return home and invest his expertise back into Northwest tribal communities after completing his doctorate degree.

This is the third summer that IndigiData workshops have taken place. The first, in 2021, was held remotely. In 2022, a workshop was held in South Dakota near Standing Rock. This year, workshops were hosted by Lummi and by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Nation in Minnesota.

The IndigiData workshop hosted by Lummi was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Bioscience and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Ohio State University, Arizona State University, University of Minnesota and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute; and the Amgen Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Patrick McGovern Foundation and Variant Bio.

Above: Rosa Hunter, a lab manager at the Northwest Indian College, describes for IndigiData students how she studies tiny organisms in the water that can affect traditional foods including salmon and clams. Photos and story: Kimberly Cauvel