The University of Washington has hired its first indigenous faculty member to teach an introductory course on climate change. This comes nearly two years after the UW’s graduate school introduced their first indigenous studies program. Dr. Jessica Hernández is a transnational indigenous scholar, and scientist who has Zapotec from Mexico and Ch’orti’ from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador roots. She’s been a vocal advocate for indigenous communities and is set to publish her first book, Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science in the Spring of 2022. The book encapsulates her work in advocating not only for indigenous communities but for indigenous science as crucial to conservation efforts.
“I am excited to be the first Indigenous faculty at UW campuses to teach introduction to climate change. I am excited bc it is allowing me to incorporate Indigenous science in climate change- in a scientific + required course as opposed to an elective,” Hernández tweeted.
I am excited to be the first Indigenous faculty at UW campuses to teach introduction to climate change. I am excited bc it is allowing me to incorporate Indigenous science in climate change- in a scientific + required course as opposed to an elective.
— Jessica Hernandez, Ph.D. (@doctora_nature) August 23, 2021
She supports indigenous communities in ways beyond academia as the founder of Piña Soul, SPC, an environmental consulting and artesanias hybrid business that supports Black & Indigenous-led conservation and environmental projects through community mutual aids and micro-grants. Hernández was a Ph.D. student at the College of the Environment at UW where she researched coastal tribes and the effects of climate change on indigenous communities. She shared with UW that indigenous communities have been identified by the scientific community as one of the most vulnerable populations to climate change because they rely so heavily on the land where they reside to provide sustenance.
“Scientists continue to make conservation decisions that impact Indigenous people’s rights to traditional foods, medicine, and cultural land use,” Hernández told UW. “In order to change this oppressive top-down approach, Indigenous scientists (like myself) need to utilize their scientific work to advocate for food, climate, and environmental justice.”
Indigenous land covers about 22 percent of the world’s surface and overlaps with areas that hold 80 percent of Earth’s biodiversity, according to the Climate Justice Resilience Fund. Indigenous science is based on their connection with the land so the impact of climate change directly affects not only their food but their medicine and way of life.
“We need more Indigenous science incorporated in STEM courses and being able to do this is a privilege that I do not hold on to lightly. The future is Indigenous & I am here to share my knowledge with my students this fall!” Hernández tweeted.
“Indigenous science and Native education need to start being prioritized in STEM. However, this is not the case. When we discuss climate change, scientists can spend time having debates on what is contributing to it, etc. However, for us, Indigenous peoples, we have to start working towards mitigating and addressing climate change as those impacts are already drastically affecting our communities,” Hernández tells HipLatina.
“Through this course, I am bringing to light the latter and allowing students to immerse themselves in the importance of Indigenous science and Native education. I hope to not be the last Indigenous professor who is allowed to do this, not in an elective course, but in a core course such as the one I am teaching- Introduction to Climate Science.”