2019 Indigenous Communities Fellowship

Weaving Tradition and Science

Determining the health of Indigenous lands and waterways through science

Team Lead

Patrisse Vasek

Basic Information

Our Solution

Weaving Tradition and Science

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Our tagline:

Determining Health of Indigenous Lands and Waterways Through Science

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Our pitch:

The potential for environmental contamination from in-situ leach uranium mining operations in western South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska is of serious concern to the Oglala Sioux Tribe and others in the study area. Completion of accurate health assessments, risk assessments, and remediation plans are important tools that should be publicly available to residents on the Oglala Sioux Tribe and adjacent counties, many of whom rely on locally-grown food, medicinal plants, local cattle and buffalo, High Plains Aquifer, and well water. Environmental exposure to heavy metals is associated with known risks to human health. 

Contamination of the Missouri River (Mni Sosa) and surrounding area from oil exploration, oil pipeline construction, and agricultural run off is of the most recent and prioritized issue for the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Proper and in depth environmental health and risk assessments, and remediation plans are vitally necessary to deter from potential risks of oil spills near major water sources and damage to agricultural vitality to be publicly available. 

If humans ingest water, plants grown in soils contaminated with heavy metals, or animals that have consumed water or plants grown in contaminated soils, adverse health effects could occur. The purpose of this application is to assess whether certain elements are accumulating in plants and aquatic organisms present in the study area through  bioavailability and leachability of rock, soil, plant, and water samples for potentially toxic elements and other toxins using an Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS). If so, some of these plants be utilized for phytoremediation of already contaminated areas and waterways to assist with purification of drinking water sources. Then finally, to map out with ArcGIS of contaminated areas, potential contamination pathways through faults, surface waterways, and watersheds using LiDAR on drones.

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Our solution's stage of development:

Pilot

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Where our project is located:

Kyle, SD, USA
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About Your Solution

Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Rapid City, SD, USA
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How we use technology in our project:

Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry has been used within the scientific community for some time, along with applications of drones and LiDAR technology. By using traditional knowledge of historical use of lands, agricultural practices, and ethnobotany knowledge, we can address areas of most concern upon the reservation and eventually to nontribal communities.

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What makes our project innovative:

Introducing a different in depth method for determing environmental health and risk on the reservation is something I never fathomed of being creating. Not only does it introduce these technologies to the community but it also gives hope that these kinds of technologies are being utilized to assist finding solutions to our shared environmental problems such as using ICP-MS, LiDAR, and drones. Presenting the opportunity for tribes to collaborate with scientific labs, colleges, and other agencies. 

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How our project will be accessible and affordable to our community:

The project will be accessible by showcasing results already created to community events, i.e. Lakota Nation Invitational, Water Talks, AIHEC, Research Symposium, and etc. Potential in training youth or whomever wishes to participate in sample collecting (most fun) and lab visits (most intriguing). Have been using my own research funds/scholarships to make it affordable (little financial assistance from tribe) but need assistance on how to increase affordability.

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Currently there are four people working on this project. Dr. Amy Asunskis, Analytical Chemist/Lab Supervisor, Dr. Hannan LaGarry, former mentor, Professor James Sanovia, GIS Analyst, and myself. Serving Dr. Asunskis by performing and assisting with all lab work, maintenance, and data analysis at Black Hills State SURF lab. Serving Dr. LaGarry by assisting with nonprofit/voluntary work with Clean Water Alliance and Alliance for Responsible Mining and chaperone field trips with tribal Junior High and High School Students. Serving Mr. Sanovia by mapping data results through GIS and presenting at local Hydrology/Mapping Conferences.

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Our future project goals:

Within the near future, by showcasing results and the impact they have within court rooms, hopefully tribes and communities of concern can replicate the process or hire us for consultation to assess their environmental issues and protect culturally sensitive areas. These methods have been impactful on preserving and protecting land, water, mineral, and cultural rights that have been impeded by numerous entities. Agriculturally, we can assess if stratigraphic areas of concern or contaminated surface waters are impacting the health of crops and cattle.

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Highlights from our project:

A personal victory is being able to be a modern mixed race Native American and Czech female in STEM and be capable to assist communities with environmental issues. Was always a dream of mine to leave the world in a better condition than I found it. 

Other victories are within news articles presented below.

  • Native Science Report - http://nativesciencereport.org/2015/03/oglala-lakota-college-challenges-safety-of-uranium-mining-in-black-hills/
  • Rapid City Journal - https://rapidcityjournal.com/community/hot-springs/epa-uranium-hearings-a-tale-of-two-cities/article_a551e8d6-3986-11e7-8706-4343f5108b77.html [Performed voluntary research on wells within the Minnelusa Formation to oppose Deep Well Injection permits.]
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About Your Team

Four people.

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Partnership Potential

Why we are applying to Solve:

Strongly recommended to apply by my older sister whom attended the MIT Solve workshop at the Black Hills State University Rapid City Satellite Campus last fall. If MIT is willing to collaborate with Indigenous students and communities to approach these issues, than I am willing to put myself out there for my people and other communities that must face similar obstacles. Solve offers workshop training, networking, ideas, assistance, and enthusiasm that we need in our communities. I believe Solve will advance this project into the next level to make it more accessible and affordable.

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The organizations we are currently working with:

  • MidCo Laboratories, Alliance for Responsible Mining, and Clean Water Alliance with water testing Summer of 2017.
  • South Dakota State Health Laboratories with water testing Summer and Fall of 2018. 
  • Ft. Randall Community Water District with water sampling Summer of 2018. 
  • SURF laboratories with ICP-MS analysis during Summers of 2016 and 2017. 
  • Oglala Lakota College with Research Assistantship 2015 - present.
  • University of Michigan Department of Nuclear Physics with obtaining a drone with LiDAR and radiation monitoring capabilities Spring and Summer of 2016.
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Organizations we would like to partner with:

  • USGS for LiDAR training, hydrology field training, and geochemical modelling. 
  • EPP/EPA for improving environmental regulations on heavy metals and chemical toxins within surface waters, groundwaters, and drinking waters.

Honestly, am willing to work with any organization that have the right intentions and are willing to help. Not many are able to put themselves out there for such a cause.

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Solution Team

  • Miss Patrisse Vasek Undergraduate - Bachelor's Degree in Natural Sciences, Oglala Lakota College - Math, Science, and Technology
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