Two UArizona Ph.D. students and Haury Native Pathways awardees are leading the way in partnering with Tribal communities to strengthen Indigenous resilience by honoring Indigenous knowledges and respecting data sovereignty.
Natasha Riccio, a Ph.D. student in Arid Lands Resource Sciences with a Minor in American Indian Studies, and Christine R. Hodgson, a Ph.D. candidate at the College of Nursing, received the Haury Program Native Pathways award in May and are ramping up their research this fall.
Natasha Riccio explores conservation models encompassing the biocultural significance of plants and the human-plant relationships. In particular, Riccio's research focuses on the conservation of Hohokam agave, an agave species domesticated by the Hohokam and once cultivated extensively throughout the Sonoran Desert, typically on rockpiles and terraces constructed to utilize scarce water resources.
Riccio is working with members of the San Xavier Co-op Farm (San Xavier District, Tohono O'odham Nation), who expressed interest in exploring methods of cultivating these agave species to reconnect with human-agave relationships and create spaces to preserve and protect these plants. In addition, Riccio has begun conversations with other regional tribes who have expressed interest in potential collaborations, including the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. Riccio's research advisers are associate professors at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment Drs. Steven Smith and Jeffery Fehmi.
For Riccio, co-creating and sharing a model of plant conservation that centers on human-plant relationships, specifically Indigenous epistemologies and axiologies surrounding agave, such as values, beliefs, and ways of knowing, is critical for agave conservation and preserving its biocultural significance. "I would like to model for other researchers and the UArizona community the importance of weaving together multiple perspectives and approaches when developing solutions to complex issues. Successful conservation models must hold space for humans' relationships with what they seek to conserve, be it a river, an animal, or a plant. These agave species embody just that, as plants that have evolved embedded in this relationship."
Riccio is committed to place-based research and is exploring ways for external researchers like herself to model co-working and relationship building as an integral part of collaborative projects with Indigenous communities. "As a desert lover, I feel called to contribute to securing a future for desert communities, human and non-human, amidst all of the challenges we face today."
Christine R. Hodgson is working with Dr. Ruth Taylor-Piliae, Associate Professor at the College of Nursing, on the research project Understanding the Resilience of Children Living on an Indian Reservation: A Mixed Methods Participatory-Social Justice Investigation. Hodgson's research involves learning about the factors contributing to mental health inequities experienced by Native American children living on a Northern Plains reservation in Montana. "The concept of psychological resilience offers a strength-based lens to examine protective and risk factors leading to substance use and suicide ideation, among other mental health outcomes," mentioned Hodgson. Through a community-based participatory research approach, Hodgon and Dr. Taylor-Piliae conducted a mixed methods study using surveys and interviews about resilience with children in a k-8 elementary school on a reservation during their summer school program this year.
Hodgson has diligently fulfilled the requirements and approvals from the university and the tribal members to conduct her research. Not only did the Northern Plains tribal governance approve Hodgon's study, but the administrators and teachers at the public reservation elementary school are generously sharing their time and expertise. A community advisory board (CAB) of diverse parents and teachers has been recruited and is meeting monthly at dinner meeting focus groups to learn more about the meaning of resilience to the local community. The CAB refined the study instruments to make them relevant to the local culture and planned a wellness week with holistic health lessons for children in summer school.
For Hodgson, the first step towards forging a long-term relationship with Indigenous communities is acknowledging the historical trauma and systemic racism that Native peoples have experienced for hundreds of years. "I hope that step by step, and by working in collaboration with community members, our work can close the gap in health disparities. I hope our study lays the groundwork for similar research in other tribal communities or by other researchers within the University of Arizona."
Hodgson has been a pediatric nurse practitioner for over 20 years and has traveled to other countries on short mission trips providing needed healthcare. In 2019, she began working as a nurse practitioner on an Indian reservation in her home state of Montana. Hodgson travels to the reservation (which is 400 miles away) one week per month to work in a school-based health clinic.