EarthConnections > Oklahoma Tribal Nations Alliance

Oklahoma Tribal Nations Alliance

Norma Neely
American Indian Institute, University of Oklahoma

Kathy Ellins
Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas, Austin


American Indian students in Oklahoma are quite aware of the unprecedented increase in earthquakes in the state, where the rate of magnitude 3 and greater earthquakes has recently been as high as 300 times what it was prior to 2008 (Rubinstein and Mahani, 2015). This increase in seismicity has led the USGS to show, through a new seismic hazard map that includes induced seismicity, that the short-term earthquake hazard in parts of Oklahoma now equals the hazard in California (Petersen et al., 2016). Understanding the relationship of these earthquakes to energy industry practices, and the resulting implications for energy production and energy-related jobs in Oklahoma, is an important issue for all Oklahoma residents, but especially American Indians in the region, given their close association with the land and their sovereign control of natural resources and land use within their reservation boundaries. Despite a strong community focus on stewardship and protection of the natural environment, American Indians are poorly represented in the geosciences (Riggs et al., 2007), perhaps due in part to the cultural disconnect between the process of western science research and education and traditional knowledge (Semken, 2005).

Approaches to accomplish goals

  1. Invite potential Community Partners (business and government sectors, academia, and other organizations) to a listening meeting to determine community needs and existing resources (held March, 2017)
  2. Create small working groups to begin to plan student pathways which bring existing resources together into a more coherent sequence, and supplement those programs with external geoscience resources
  3. work to improve geoscience career awareness by involving more students from high schools, community colleges and universities in activities with local geoscience professional organizations

Pathway Development

Community connection

A community listening meeting was held in March in Norman, OK, where leaders In Native American education in OK identified high priority community issues and how they intersect with the geosciences. They also considered critical stages of the pathway from middle school to tribal college to university, including after school and informal learning experiences, where the potential for geoscience integration into STEM learning exists. Participants at the meeting agreed to participate in three informal working groups to continue the pathway planning. This first community meeting showed that there are already many STEM initiatives in place, some of which may offer opportunities to ingrate geoscience knowledge into their programs and improve awareness and about careers that can serve the Native American community of Oklahoma. Others may serve as a source of students to enroll in programs administered by other partners in the Earth Connections Alliance (e.g., students from Native Colleges could participate in the UNAVCO RESESS program IRIS Internship Program).

The next community meeting will consider recommendations from the working groups and gather feedback on the draft Pathway Plan that is being developed. The mix of participants will be broadened to include representatives from other sectors, including business, academia (Geoscience Education providers) and state agencies, especially those tasked with disaster preparation and management. Community buy-in and a shared vision of a Pathway to geoscience careers that benefit the Native American community of Oklahoma are critical.

Use geoscience to address a local need or problem

The local problem that is being addressed is the human-induced earthquake hazard in Oklahoma and how it relates to energy industry practices. This will expand into workforce needs related to energy production, management of ground water contamination, and related issues. The focus is on how these issues tie into the culture of the Native American Community.

Connect learning opportunities at multiple educational levels

The following draft Pathway map is an initial attempt to show some of the existing local and national resources that may be connected with existing Native American assets programs to create a pathway for students to follow from K-12 through to a potential geoscience career.

OK Native Tribes Alliance Pathway (Acrobat (PDF) 559kB Jul6 17)

Coupled classroom and service learning opportunities

Mentoring and signposting support students