UArizona Launches Center to Advance Resilience of Native Nations, Address Environmental Challenges

The Indigenous Resilience Center will work directly with Native American nations to address environmental challenges in ways that respect Native and Indigenous sovereignty and knowledge.

By Kyle Mittan, University Communications
Monday

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Native American woman uses a hammer to pound a pipe into the ground
Karletta Chief, an associate professor and Extension specialist in the UArizona Department of Environmental Science, pounds a soil sample tube into the Hogback irrigation canal near Waterflow, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation in 2017. Soil sampling was done to measure arsenic and lead in the sediment to better understand the impact of the Gold King Mine Spill of 2015 on the Navajo Nation. Chief, who is Diné, will lead the university's new Indigenous Resilience Center. Courtesy of Karletta Chief

The University of Arizona is launching an interdisciplinary center that will work on projects and partnerships with Native American nations to advance tribal communities' efforts to respond to environmental challenges and become more resilient.

The Indigenous Resilience Center will be a partnership between Native nations and the university's Arizona Institutes for Resilience, Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice and multiple faculty members and academic programs that focus on supporting the resilience of Native and Indigenous communities.

UArizona will begin consultation with tribal leaders in the development of the center. The center's faculty and staff will work directly with tribal leaders and governments to advance their resilience goals and priorities, and co-design community-driven solutions to address adverse impacts of environmental challenges – such as climate change – facing Indigenous communities. Projects will focus on areas such as agriculture, solar energy, off-grid water resources, food resources, Native plant adaptation and health.

"The Indigenous Resilience Center demonstrates the University of Arizona's commitment to building solutions to environmental problems in partnership with tribes. It will deepen our impact, bolster our signature strengths and draw global attention to how world-class research universities can better serve Indigenous communities," University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins said.

Karletta Chief, University Distinguished Outreach Professor of environmental science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will serve as the center's director. Chief, who is Diné, is a Cooperative Extension associate specialist in environmental science who has long partnered with Native communities on projects that address environmental challenges and water insecurities facing tribes.

"The Indigenous Resilience Center is University of Arizona's commitment to giving back to local tribes who have stewarded this land for millennia and who have endured and sacrificed so much. It is critical that Native nations drive the research questions based on their priorities and long-standing local knowledge, and that the approaches involve decolonized and indigenized approaches with Indigenous scientists actively leading these efforts. Furthermore, the resilience partnerships will aim to involve students who want to give back to their communities through community-based projects that are action oriented and solution driven."

UArizona will recruit several new faculty members, all with backgrounds in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and all with training and experience in Indigenous cultures, histories and traditions. The center will partner with leading faculty in other areas of the university whose work focuses on meeting Indigenous resilience challenges with tribally respectful solutions.

The center's faculty members will lead research projects and design courses that blend traditional STEM education with topics such as Native and Indigenous knowledge, tribal consultation, research ethics, natural resource management, tribal environmental health and more. In addition to teaching and doing research, the center's faculty will expand UArizona outreach to tribal partners.

"The co-production of knowledge and solutions alongside the communities we are intending to serve will allow University of Arizona faculty and students to work toward high-impact, culturally appropriate solutions," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, UArizona senior vice president for research and innovation. "I am particularly grateful we had the opportunity to place at the helm Dr. Chief, whose entire career both as a researcher and an educator has centered traditional ecological knowledge solidly within an academic framework."

"Arizona's location – home to 22 federally recognized tribes – and the University of Arizona's phenomenal strengths in climate resilience and water-related STEM research make us uniquely positioned to lead in this area and to effectively confront the many resilience challenges facing our region and our world," said James Buizer, interim director of the Arizona Institutes for Resilience and professor in the School of Natural Resources. "The University of Arizona and Arizona Institutes for Resilience are committed to helping enhance the opportunities for tribes through working collaboratively in ways that respect tribal knowledge and sovereignty."

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