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Featured Student: Kirsten Vinyeta

IMG_0508“I was drawn to Environmental Studies by my love for the many landscapes that have cradled me throughout my life, a love that turns to motivated rage when I reflect on the misguided political, social, and economic forces that, on a routine basis, unnecessarily endanger these and other places that matter deeply to living beings of all sorts,” says Kirsten Vinyeta, PhD candidate in Environmental Studies and Sociology. Although in her fist year as a PhD student, Kirsten’s passion for environmental justice blossomed during her time as a Master’s student at UO.

In the Master’s program, Kirsten realized how much she loved research and found herself working with the Tribal Climate Change Project  under Kathy Lynn. It was here that she began exploring the intersection between gender and indigeneity in the context of climate change. Together with Prof. Lynn and Dr. Kyle Powys Whyte, Native professor in philosophy at Michigan State University, she worked to developed a resource that could inform tribal climate change initiatives.

“This report is one of few within the current climate change literature focusing its attention on the intersection of gender and indigeneity,” she says. “Colonial violence in its various forms has affected gender relations within Indigenous communities, and has compromised Indigenous communities’ ability to adapt to environmental change… By compiling and cross-referencing national and international literature, this report begins to paint a picture that can inform tribal climate change initiatives as well as reveal literature gaps that warrant more attention.” This year, the report, Climate Change through an Intersectional Lens: Gendered Vulnerability and Resilience in Indigenous Communities in the United States, was officially published by USDA Forest Service, marking a huge contribution to the field.

“The challenge for this and all research I have done related to, or in partnership with Indigenous communities,” says Kirsten, “is in being mindful of my limitations as a white Euro-American researcher, in striving to represent Indigenous perspectives and histories with utmost accuracy and nuance, and in doing my best to decolonize the research process in whatever small ways I can, given institutional barriers and limitations.”

Although she doesn’t yet know what her dissertation will be on, there is no doubt that Kirsten is on her way to more great accomplishments in the environmental and sociology fields, driven by her interest in the role of visual media and mapping in environmental justice movements. This summer, she will be working with Dr. Kari Norgaard and the Karuk Tribe of California in the development of a tribal climate change vulnerability assessment focused on the impacts of wildfire.

“I am a first generation college graduate and it is sometimes hard to understand the academy and believe in yourself enough to pursue the opportunities ever so gently calling your name. Without the guidance and encouragement of Kathy Lynn, Kari Norgaard, Julie Bacon, and Gayla Wardwell, I might not be a PhD student today,” says Kirsten. “I am inspired by peers and faculty who teach me new ways of looking at things. And I am motivated and inspired by my family and my life partner who, with their customary undying support, are holding my hand as I pursue this doctoral degree.”