Three in Rausser College receive grants for research on Native American Issues

December 17, 2021

Congrats to Rausser College students Ataya Cesspooch, Anjika Pai, and Annalise Taylor, the recipients of the 2021022 research mini-grants awarded by The Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues. 

Ataya Cesspooch

PhD Student, Environmental Policy, Science, and Management

“Infrastructures of energy and making power on the Ute Reservation: oil and gas development, Indigenous sovereignty and the revitalization of Noohahpahgup”

Project description: The recent profusion of scholarship detailing Indigenous opposition to resource extraction has established Indigenous peoples as central to environmental justice issues around oil and gas development (OGD). Yet, there has been little research done with the numerous Indigenous communities who rely on this form of development for their livelihood. The Ute Indian Tribe has been leasing land on their 1.2-million-acre reservation in northeastern Utah for OGD since 1971. Revenue from leasing has lifted the Tribe out of poverty and provided necessary income for government function. However, the permitting process for a well on the reservation involves a tangled web of environmental approvals from four federal agencies whose decision-making processes do not include the Tribe. This is in direct contradiction to the Tribe’s own jurisdiction, making “the environment” a contested space and its protection deeply entangled with Indigenous sovereignty. Complicating this dynamic, elders in the community are some of the last fluent speakers of the Ute language and are particularly susceptible to impacts from OGD pollution. In recent years the reservation has experienced spikes in ground-level ozone far exceeding the levels determined unhealthy by the EPA. Ozone poses significant threats to the health of the community and of elder speakers and thus to the vitality of the language. Drawing from Ute language and epistemology, this work examines the complex and contradictory relationships between Indigenous sovereignty, OGD, environmental justice, and Indigenous language revitalization.


Anjika Pai

Undergraduate, Environmental Sciences major

“Beyond Legal Standing: Rights of Nature as a Tool for Indigenous Sovereignty”

Project description: Ongoing environmental justice efforts highlight the need to revitalize Indigenous communities and natural bodies simultaneously (White 2018). The codification of such beliefs could take place through the creation and implementation of federal, state, or tribal laws recognizing Rights of Nature (Harris et al. 2017). Such laws could support local sovereignty movements, including the cultivation of Indigenous land sovereignty. By interviewing members of three tribal nations and associated activists, my research aims to understand the potential effects of Rights of Nature laws and discourses on Indigenous-led environmental protection efforts. Through this project, I expect to identify the challenges and successes of Indigenous Rights of Nature legislation.


Annalise Taylor

PhD Student, Environmental Policy, Science, and Management

“Amah Mutsun reciprocal restoration of coastal grasslands: studying the impacts of fire stewardship on the abundance and diversity of Mutsun cultural keystone plants.”

Project descripton: Amah Mutsun foodways and culture depend on reciprocal relationships with California’s coastal grasslands, which are increasingly endangered due in part to the disruption of cultural burning and stewardship. In this study, I am partnering with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to study the impact of long-term cultural burning on the abundance and diversity of cultural plants. I will systematically survey fourteen priority species identified by the Tribe at three adjacent grassland sites: one that has been burned every two years since the 1980s, one that recently burned in the CZU Wildfire, and one that has not burned in approximately 100 years. In addition to the ethnobotanical surveys, I will use high resolution drone imagery to analyze the spatial distribution and configurations of each cultural keystone species on this landscape. Lastly, I will use satellite imagery to compare how vegetation growth and recovery differ both over time and between the two types of fire. Our findings will guide the Tribe’s gathering and stewardship programs, including when and where to conduct cultural burns. As a federally unrecognized Tribe, the Amah Mutsun do not own land and do not receive any federal resources to continue their ancestors’ work of stewarding and caring for their traditional territory. This project and my PhD research broadly aim to support the Tribe’s ecological stewardship goals, which include the restoration of coastal grassland plant communities and relationships with cultural plants.

Learn more on the Joseph A. Meyers Center website