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Northern Marianas College students Ainah Tomokane Chargualaf, Daisy Rina Mendiola, Grace Min Choi, Esther Hansol Huh, and Erin Pascual Ferrer recently attended the 2023 Indigenous Geoscience Community Workshop in Ketchikan, Alaska. 

They had the opportunity to represent the CNMI and NMC at the conference and shared cultural and ecological knowledge with other participants. 

The Indigenous Geoscience Community Workshop is a conference hosted by the Indigenous Geoscience Community and is designed to connect Indigenous communities around the U.S. and increase their representation through the field of geoscience. The Indigenous Geoscience Community is a community of Indigenous geoscientists who aim to increase the leadership, representation, and support of Indigenous peoples within the geoscience field. The Indigenous Geoscience Community and subsequent IGCW2023 workshop was funded through the NSF RISE Opportunity (Award #2039338).  

The workshop, led by Dr. Wendy Todd of the University of Minnesota Duluth, included topics such as inclusiveness, traditional knowledge systems and western science, the presentation of various Indigenous cultural practices, the ecosystems of different Indigenous communities, native plants, as well as the opportunity to delve into the geosciences through hiking.

Ainah Chargualaf, an NMC student and attendee of the conference, highlighted her favorite memory of the workshop being connecting with other participants through their various cultural backgrounds. 

“Coming from a small island with a history of colonization by the Spanish, Germans, Japanese, and Americans, it was eye-opening to learn that other indigenous groups such as the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes have undergone similar experiences in the past and that they are also having issues preserving their culture and identity due to Westernization,” she said. 

“I felt a sense of connection and empowerment during this workshop because I felt that despite being a diverse group, we all understood each other’s pain of losing our culture and wanting to keep our culture alive.”

Chargualaf explained how the conference taught her about the importance of preserving culture and how it can be implemented into everyday life, recalling a moment where a presenter shared the use of a traditional Haida story, “Raven Steals Water From Eagle,” and how it was used to explain the water cycle process to STEM students, thus incorporating and relating culture to western science.

“It was fascinating to see how culture can be implemented in subjects such as STEM, and this example made me realize how culture and Western knowledge can coexist in harmony,” she expressed. “Whether it be in small or big ways, as long as we stay true to our culture, acknowledge our culture, embrace our culture, and find ways in which we can connect our culture to our everyday practices, we can keep our culture alive and it won’t be lost.”

Chargualaf shared her aspirations to become a counselor and how the workshop emphasized the importance of multiculturalism and the influence that culture has on ourselves. She said, “I want to become a counselor here in the CNMI so that I can help my community by embracing and promoting multiculturalism and providing guidance to the people to help them live successful and fulfilling lives.”

Grace Min Choi, an NMC student and participant of the conference, expressed her favorite memory from the workshop being the opportunity to connect with other students. 

“The Indigenous Geoscience Community workshop consisted mostly of Native students from across the United States,” she explained. “Although I am not a Native student, I was able to learn and view the world from the lens of indigenous people, including some of the Elders of the land we visited in Ketchikan, Alaska.”

Choi recalled, “Something I learned from the conference that I will hold onto is that we have so much learning and unlearning to do as students, especially coming from a community of indigenous people.”

She added that the conference taught students to practice their own cultures, as it is a part of their identity. Relating this to her personal experience, she said, “I was born and raised in Saipan, so I was never fully immersed in Korean culture. I am full Korean and this workshop made me want to learn more about my culture by asking questions to my elders and family members.”

Choi connected her student career at NMC to her experience at the conference by sharing how this workshop shaped her to become a better listener and observer. 

“A quote that was repeated throughout the conference was, "I am an observer of the world, connected to the land and sea." This quote is something that I now live by, with utmost respect for mother nature and for what the land and sea provide for us,” she said.

Additionally, Choi states how this experience taught her to not be afraid to try new things. “Initially, I did not know what to expect from this conference but it sounded like an amazing opportunity,” she noted. “I am incredibly grateful and blessed to have been able to travel to someplace new while representing our islands and the college.”