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'Ootchamin 'Ooyakma, what does it mean to all of us?

PALE SWALLOWTAIL, nectaring on Dichelostemma capitatum
  • With the recent decision to introduce 'Ootchamin 'Ooyakma as the Ohlone translation of Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, the preserve looks forward to promoting research efforts that are guided by both Western and Indigenous science, the approach known as two-eyed seeing.
  • When guided by two-eyed seeing, place-based research at Jasper Ridge can strive to inspire others elsewhere since the central tenet of Indigenous science—people as a positive element of local nature—underlies traditional cultures around the world.
  • In particular, Jasper Ridge has the potential to serve as a model for two-eyed seeing in an urban setting.
  • To achieve these goals, the preserve hopes to build a lasting partnership with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and other Indigenous entities.
  • We invite all students, postdocs, faculty, and docents to join us in using two eyes to (re)imagine their research and education activities at 'Ootchamin 'Ooyakma.

Since its inception half a century ago, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve has been known for scientific efforts that contribute to solving global environmental issues. Much was accomplished over the past 50 years, as highlighted at the recent 50th anniversary celebration.

The preserve will seek to ensure this tradition will continue, but one direction that we hope to emphasize now toward that end is to promote work at the intersection of Western and Indigenous science. In contrast to Western-only science, which tends to value globally applicable principles as explained by outside observers, Indigenous science is based on place-based knowledge acquired over many generations by local resource users such as hunters, fishers, gatherers, and farmers (Berkes 2018). It is increasingly recognized that Western science alone is inadequate and that Indigenous science is the intellectual twin to Western science (Deloria 1995) that is needed to resolve the environmental crisis of today and the future.

In this context, the recent decision to add 'Ootchamin 'Ooyakma to all the signage at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve represents a small yet significant step forward. This translation of Jasper Ridge is in Chochenyo, one of the local Ohlone languages. One reason why it matters to have this Indigenous translation is that it reminds us of the importance of practicing two-eyed seeing at Jasper Ridge.

Two-eyed seeing

Two-eyed seeing is a notion articulated by Albert Marshall, a Mi’kmaw Elder, as “learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of mainstream [Western] knowledges and ways of knowing” (Bartlett et al. 2012). Defined this way, the notion acknowledges that the two approaches can be complementary.

Clearly, two-eyed seeing should be more than just adding 'Ootchamin 'Ooyakma to the signs, but what would it look like specifically? Perhaps we can find inspiration in stories elsewhere. One such story concerns the population decline in sweetgrass (Anthoxanthum nitens) in upstate New York. Due to habitat destruction, its abundance has been declining in the region, but not around the Mohawk reservation. There, sweetgrass is harvested for basket weaving. It may seem counterintuitive that harvesting increases abundance, but Indigenous plant gatherers say: "If we don't use it, it will go away. If we use it respectfully, it will stay with us and flourish" (Kimmerer 2018).

Motivated by this oral expression, researchers set out to study the phenomenon using a Western scientific approach—namely, field experiments with treatments and controls. Sure enough, the experimental data corroborated the Indigenous wisdom that harvesting for basket weaving increases the plant’s productivity (Shebitz and Kimmerer 2005). This knowledge long existed in Indigenous science, but is now translated in the language of Western science.

As in this example, Indigenous science regards people as active members of the local ecosystem, engaging in mutualistic relationships with other organisms that humans share the landscape with. Sweetgrass, for example, provides people basket materials, while people help the plant sustain its populations.

Similar traditional relationships are found with plants in California, including many we have at Jasper Ridge, such as soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) or rawwen in Chochenyo, and blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) or rawson in Rumsen, to name a few (Anderson and Lake 2016).

Soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)

Soap plant / amole (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum), bulb, stalks, and flowers. Photos by Alice Cummings.

Another example of two-eyed seeing could come from questions related to wildfires that are increasingly common across California. Indigenous knowledge shows that there are a wide range of benefits that Indigenous small-scale use of fire, or cultural burning, brings to both people and other species in the ecosystem (Long et al. 2021). One of the benefits is to prevent an outbreak of weevils and moths that infest acorns (Halpern et al. 2022).

Meanwhile, Western science has revealed that some soil-dwelling nematodes like Steinernema kraussei infect and kill larvae of the acorn weevils and moths, but that they need symbiotic bacteria to do so. These nematodes and their symbiotic bacteria can be highly abundant in the soil of oak woodland, likely contributing to keeping the acorn-feeding insects in check, a role vital to squirrels, birds, and humans, all of whom also use acorns as food or medicine.

When this Western understanding is placed in the context of Indigenous science, more research questions arise. How may cultural burning affect the soil dwellers? How do high-intensity, catastrophic fires impact insect outbreaks indirectly by affecting the nematodes and bacteria? How may these effects then change acorn availability and the animals that depend on acorns? It is only through two-eyed seeing that these ecological interactions can be understood and examined deeper.

Looking to the future

Two-eyed seeing can seem daunting to many of us who are conventionally trained in Western-only science. Luckily, there is much to learn from Indigenous-Western collaborative research that has already been happening at and near Stanford. One example is the partnership between the Karuk Tribe and researchers from Stanford and UC Berkeley to study the social impacts of Karuk dam removal. Another is the ecological and cultural research collaboration between the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and researchers from UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, and other institutions.

However, the central tenet of Indigenous science—people as a positive element of local nature—is not unique to Indigenous cultures in North America. It is found in traditional cultures around the world, as exquisitely told by Keona Blanks, a Stanford Earth Systems student, in her recent article detailing one case in Japan, but connecting it to those in Taiwan, Hawai‘i, Spain, etc. (Blanks 2023). As such, place-based research at Jasper Ridge, despite its localness, can strive to inspire others elsewhere.

Moreover, Jasper Ridge may be in a strong position to make a new contribution, considering its location. Two-eyed seeing can be a particularly challenging concept to practice in an urban setting where complex constraints of many different human demands exist. Given its geographical context, Jasper Ridge has the potential to serve as a model for urban two-eyed seeing. For example, seeing the two major university projects currently underway at Jasper Ridge—the wildfire management project and the Searsville watershed restoration project—from both Indigenous and Western perspectives will likely be key to effectively turning these projects into valuable research, education, and stewardship opportunities.

Through these efforts, the preserve hopes to strengthen collaboration with other related initiatives on campus. There are many, including the native plants garden field project, the O'Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm’s Muwekma Four Directions Garden, the Environmental Justice Working Group, the Stanford Conservation Program, the Office of Community Engagement, the Native American Studies program, and the Native American Cultural Center.

In addition, the preserve hopes to continue connecting with student organizations that work with Indigenous student groups on campus, such as the Justice for Muwekma group, the SACNAS Stanford Chapter, the Stanford SEEDS Chapter, and those involved in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Traditional Ecological Knowledge section of the Ecological Society of America.

But most importantly, we hope to foster an environment where everyone can learn from local, place-based Indigenous knowledge by building a lasting partnership with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, and other Indigenous entities. As we seek to do so, how well we at Stanford listen to the needs and interests of the local tribes and correspondingly collaborate in a respectful and mutually beneficial manner will determine the present and future success of the preserve.

The climate of mutual respect

Many of us have heard of the Three Sisters garden, the Indigenous polyculture of corn, beans, and squash. They all grow better when planted together than they would if planted separately.

Robin Wall Kimmerer proposes a Three Sisters garden model of knowledge symbiosis (Kimmerer 2018). In this metaphor, Indigenous science (also referred to as traditional ecological knowledge) is the corn, providing the intellectual scaffold encompassing both social and biological systems. As the beans, Western science (also referred to as scientific ecological knowledge) nourishes Indigenous science, driven by curiosity and powerful tools to analyze the physical mechanisms of the natural world. Finally, the squash in the metaphor is the educational climate of mutual respect, in which both Indigenous and Western science can flourish.

The Jasper Ridge staff team will strive to make Jasper Ridge a place that acts as the squash for the Stanford community and beyond. We invite students, postdocs, faculty, and docents to join us in viewing Jasper Ridge with two eyes to (re)imagine their research and education activities at 'Ootchamin 'Ooyakma.

By Tadashi Fukami

Photos by Alice Cummings