Tool-Building for the Future

In my last post, I shared the story of my colleague, Kayla, who spent the summer taking her first step into the exciting world of internships. This week marks two years since I myself took that step. It’s an interesting time for reflection on what this work has yielded.

Two years ago this month, I joined the team of a multi-year, National Science Foundation-funded project investigating the relationships between tribes and climate science organizations. The broad goal of the project was to find ways to make these collaborations more ethical. My school (College of Menominee Nation) collaborated with Michigan State University and I worked directly with a post-doctoral researcher from Michigan State. My part of the work was to read 90 tribal climate change documents and qualitatively code them, a process that involves marking documents for research themes. In this process, I started to notice themes other than the ones that I was marking and so I began keeping running notes on them in case they proved to be helpful later. To my surprise, the team found these notes interesting and the idea quickly emerged to create a sort of specialized search engine for tribal climate change documents. I am not a computer programmer by trade but I liked the idea so I went out, got a new notebook, and headed to the library to get some books on database design.  After two years, I completed the first full version of this application this summer.

The Tribal Climate Change Database (tribalclimatechangedatabase.com) is a tool intended to help highlight the work on climate change in tribal communities. It includes a little over 300 documents, ranging from mitigation and adaptation plans to feasibility studies. What differentiates it from other tools is that I include a different approach to the information based on what I’ve seen from the documents themselves and the sort of values I know are held across many tribal communities. These documents are coded by physical impacts, such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and wildfire, but they are also coded by social impacts, such as the impact of climate change on tribal sovereignty and culturally significant species. I also include strategies of addressing climate change, such as tribal education and intergenerational knowledge-sharing. All of these documents are already publicly available. However, I know intimately that the information available often head-butts with the amount of time available to consume it and that efficiency is as important in research as it is in energy. I am acutely aware that some might feel differently about the way I have chosen to code these documents and so I have included the option to re-classify them or to submit new documents for inclusion.

My hope is that the database I have put forth can be considered a jumping-off point. Much of the work being done in these communities is exciting, invigorating, and innovative and I hope that more people will be inspired to think outside the box in how to approach such a complex problem.

Jasmine Neosh (Menominee) is a student at College of Menominee Nation.

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