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Featured Faculty: Kari Norgaard

“The work that I do is motivated from a lifelong sense that things are not well with the earth and the people,” Kari Norgaard avers.

Although perhaps best known for her work on climate change denial, for a decade Norgaard has also been working with the Karuk Tribe, whose homelands are located in the northern part of what is now called California, to call attention to the devastating health effects of the loss of traditional food species such as Chinook Salmon, Pacific Lamprey, and freshwater mussels. Recently, she says, there’s been a surge of interest in traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) from the non-native community, in part because of growing concern about climate change among government agencies, environmental organizations, and the public.

“This could be a good thing for tribes or it could be a not good thing for tribes,” Norgaard says. On one hand, the newfound interest in tribal perspectives is encouraging in light of western science’s long history of disregarding traditional ways of knowing; on the other hand, though, many problems can arise when TEK is taken out of context and used without tribal consent.

With Norgaard’s support, “The Karuk are trying to figure out how to strategically use that interest while being able to maintain cultural sovereignty and knowledge sovereignty,” she says. The $36k grant that she wrote and received on behalf of the tribe this year will be used to explore ways the Karuk can retain traditional knowledge while expanding acceptance of their use of fire to manage ecosystems.

As an environmental sociologist who strives to “do interdisciplinary work, think differently, and change the conversation,” Norgaard, who has a B.S. in biology, says, “it’s really powerful to have a grounding in biology in a sense of knowing not only about biological information but also about how that scientific community thinks and understands things.”

Norgaard approaches her teaching as well as her research with an interdisciplinary drive to draw on knowledges from diverse sources. One of the things she most appreciates about the students at UO is that they “come from a lot of real-world lived experience” which, Norgaard says, “really enriches conversations” in the classroom.

Thanks to the existence of multiple programs and departments on the UO campus that include a focus on the environment—The Environmental Studies Program, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, and the Sociology Department, to name a few—Norgaard feels that there is a “critical mass of ideas in the community” surrounding environmental issues. She adds with a smile that she is also “very inspired” by the “phenomenal” students, faculty, and staff in the Environmental Studies Program.

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.