My research explores the intersection of Indigenous governance and Indigenous environmental perspectives in settler state contexts. I study the ability of Indigenous nations to assert sovereignty over their lands and the extent to which this enables the perpetuation of unique ecological knowledges and practices. This overall outlook situates my long-term research agenda to develop a sovereignty-based political-ecological approach to Indigenous environmental issues.
I have been working with Cherokee communities in Oklahoma since the summer of 2004, when I helped launch an applied ethnobotany program in the Cherokee Nation Office of Environmental Services. This ongoing initiative informs my broader research on Cherokee Nation environmental governance, political and environmental history, and traditional ecological knowledge. My book, Roots of Our Renewal: Ethnobotany and Cherokee Environmental Governance (2015, University of Minnesota Press), views these themes through the lens of the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers – a group of Cherokee elders and knowledge keepers in northeastern Oklahoma to whom I have served as a facilitator since their formation in 2008.
From 2017 to 2022, I will be continuing my work with the Cherokee Nation Medicine Keepers on a project funded by a National Science Foundation Early Career Award. The work will entail the development of a land education program for five Cherokee undergraduate students and a research investigation into Cherokee access to wild plants in northeastern Oklahoma. Through this integrated education and community-based research project, we seek to formulate lasting methods for perpetuating Cherokee land-based knowledge and to better understand how Cherokee people are negotiating access to resources due to complex land ownership patterns and the impact of shifting climate conditions on plant habitats. We hope that the results of the research will inform advancements in community-based local ecosystem management and tribal land conservation strategies. For more information, visit the Project Blog.