Samantha Chisholm Hatfield grew up learning the traditions and rituals of her culture — particularly the food.
A member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon, Chisholm Hatfield used to beg her mother to buy ground beef to get a break from clams, smelt, salmon, deer and elk.
“We were always eating something traditional, so a homemade burger was a delicacy,” she explains.
These days, however, it’s often the other way around.
“We might have salmon or deer or elk once a week now, because of the population shifts and decrease in numbers.”
Chisholm Hatfield’s research utilizes Traditional Ecological or Environmental Knowledge, which is knowledge passed down through oral tradition and first-hand observations.
Her post-doctoral research on the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Siletz tribal members concludes that climate change plays a huge role in this decrease. She found Native American populations in the Pacific Northwest began noticing the effects of climate change well before others — including scientists.
“Native people have a sort of alarm clock,” she says, which guides their special connection to the land and sea. They grow crops in the same places year after year, hunt in the same forests and visit the same sacred spaces for cultural ceremonies. Despite the continuity of their traditions, the world around them is altered.
“The seasons are different,” Chisholm Hatfield says. “Things are changing and shifting. Fish runs are happening at different times.”
One example is “eel ants,” the emergence of carpenter ants just before it’s time to begin fishing for eels. This eeling traditionally happens in the spring, but springlike weather begins earlier now than it used to.
For her dissertation, Chisholm Hatfield focused on Traditional Ecological Knowledge and included 30 participants from tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Her post-doctoral research was funded by DOI NW Climate Science Center, Climate Impacts Research Consortium and Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative. The project focused on climate change utilizing Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Twenty-five tribal members were interviewed, and much of the data was handed back to the tribes, and she says they will decide how to use it.
“I’m not sure what we can do about these problems and changes,” she says, “What I do know is that native populations are disproportionally affected by climate change. Nonnative populations don’t realize that living with the land is an identity as much as it is a cultural piece.”
Chisholm Hatfield says for many native traditions, there is no substitute. Her tribe, the Siletz, are a coastal people, and moving to another coastline just isn’t feasible.
Chisholm Hatfield is completing her post-doctoral research under the umbrella of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. Director Phil Mote says her research adds an understanding of how different cultures perceive the effects of climate change.
“It’s not just viewed in the shifting patterns of important natural resources like plants and animals,” Mote says, “but in deeper cultural elements and perceptions like how time and seasons are defined and how wisdom is valued or challenged.”
Chisholm Hatfield hopes to continue her research in the field of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. She also teaches cultural anthropology at Chemeketa Community College in Salem and serves on the advisory board of the Native American Longhouse at Oregon State, whose mission is to build a bridge of understanding between the regions’ tribes and visitors of all cultures.
Chisholm Hatfield says she wants native students to know Oregon State is a welcoming community for everyone, and that it is a great place to study and conduct research.
“Oregon State really is on the cutting edge, and has gifted me opportunities that I would have never found at other universities,” Chisholm Hatfield says. “This helps me do the best research possible that then helps tribal communities, contributes to academia and helps native students on their academic journeys.”
Story and main photos by Oregon State Interactive Communications. Additional photography by Neebinnaukzhik Southall of Neebin Studios