Exploring Indigenous and Western Approaches to Natural Resources Research




​In the Wiyot language, “rroulou’sik” means “rising up.” The word is an emblematic name for a Humboldt State internship program for Indigenous undergraduates nationwide to participate in experiential research in natural sciences at HSU. Throughout Northern California, many Indigenous tribes are actively engaged in managing their tribal resources, utilizing both Western and Indigenous science. 

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the program operated from 2016 to 2018. Each summer intensive was facilitated by Dr. Matt Johnson, wildlife professor, and Seafha Ramos, research associate, Indigenous scholar and National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in biology. Ramos’ current research project on elk habitat and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is the first formal study to address elk diet and habitat, as well as Indigenous science and the cultural value of elk, to take place on the Yurok reservation. 

Designed to provide Indigenous students an opportunity to participa​​​te in natural resources research, Rroulou’sik projects focused on a range of topics, including an analysis of sea-level rise on Humboldt Bay waterfront infrastructure, an assessment of ecosystem health in the Eel River watershed and strategies for supporting and empowering Karuk tribal youth in natural resources restoration and food security. 

“The Rroulou’sik program had tremendous value because it allowed students to work collaboratively with HSU faculty members and tribal collaborators to do research that’s relevant to tribal communities,” Dr. Johnson said. Rroulou’sik helped to advance the conversation at HSU about integrating TEK and conventional science, he explained. 

Ramos, who is Yurok and Karuk, joined HSU after graduate school to serve as the Rroulou’sik coordinator. She continues her work in the integration of TEK and conventional (western) wildlife management approaches. In the course of her education, professional experience and cultural involvement, Ramos has observed discrepancies between Indigenous and Western worldviews. 

Today, she is the lead researcher of a collaborative project with Redwood National Park and the Yurok Tribe to explore Yurok TEK as related to “meweehl,” the Yurok word for elk, and to study elk habitat and diet via genetic analysis of fecal pellets. 

Donald Moore, who is Yurok and Hupa is a junior at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. During Rroulou’sik at HSU, Moore analyzed different aquaponics systems for bok choy production. 

“My project related to TEK and tribal land use by the way we used and took care of our resources,” explained Moore, who used the health of sturgeon to measure water quality. He entered the Rroulou’sik program as a history major but switched to environmental studies after the program. 

“I think Indigenous students might feel more supported when exposed to topics, worldviews and science they can relate to,” Ramos said. Although not every Rroulou’sik project involved TEK, each undergraduate who participated in the summer program self-identified as Native American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander or Hawaiian, she said. 

​As an Indigenous scholar and scientist, Ramos has observed that the absence of diverse perspectives is not limited to undergraduates, but systemic throughout the sciences in higher education. In her research approach, aspects of both Indigenous and Western science have a role in answering important questions. ​