Move In 2019: ‘It’s historic, what’s happening here’

Dominique David-Chavez

Dominique David-Chavez joins CSU as part of a new, innovative research and teaching position in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship in the Warner College of Natural Resources. Photo: Xavier Hadley/CSU

When Dominique David-Chavez received her doctoral degree in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University in May 2019, the commencement ceremony started with the CSU Land Acknowledgment.

“To be at my own graduation ceremony, to have my mother and family there, and to hear it open with the indigenous history of this land, and to recognize the colonial legacy, it was very healing,” she said. “It’s historic, what’s happening here. I’m proud that CSU is taking this leadership role.”

David-Chavez was born on the U.S. mainland and identifies as a multicultural Indigenous Caribbean American, descended from the Arawak Taíno, the first Native people to meet Christopher Columbus. Her mother, grandparents and and other family members were born in the Caribbean, some with African and Spanish roots.

This fall, David-Chavez will start a new research and teaching position in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources. She is one of nine new fellows throughout the university recruited through a “cluster hire” initiative that has been in place for a number of years.

“This year, we focused on postdoctoral hires instead of faculty, and asked that the postdocs have research projects that are focused on areas of diversity, with special attention on Native American issues, if possible,” explained Rick Miranda, CSU provost and executive vice president.

The goal of the program is to hire scholars who will enrich research and teaching efforts with diverse perspectives to benefit other scientists, students and staff.

Warner College Dean John Hayes said that David-Chavez will be an outstanding addition for instructional and research teams.

“She epitomizes the type of talent that Provost Miranda had in mind when creating this program,” he said. “Dominique will play an active role in our programs in Warner and across the university, while continuing to build on the partnership and work that she has begun with the Native Nations Institute in Arizona.”

Transformational time at CSU

David-Chavez said that this is a transformational time within the university.

“I really see the university reflecting on how to honor and take responsibility to be a land-grant institution in terms of the deep history of the land that we’re on here,” she said.

In her new role – which she describes as her “dream job” – David-Chavez will also establish a research lab group through her postdoctoral research fellowship with the National Science Foundation, which she received in June 2019. She and her team will conduct a national study on ethics and protocols for conducting research with indigenous communities and on indigenous lands.

“There are some standards around research ethics with human subjects, but there’s not always an acknowledgment of sovereignty rights or a way to address historical issues within indigenous communities,” she explained.

David-Chavez will also teach an introductory course on environmental conservation this fall, teaming up with Professor Emeritus Rick Knight. She said the course is being revamped to include more historical context and to provide a framework that reflects Indigenous contributions in conservation.

Marley Smith, a senior pursuing a degree in forestry, said that David-Chavez’s work is powerful, and what she contributes to research and scholars in incomparable.

“Dominique has an innate ability to observe, read between the lines, question and speak when she feels it is necessary to put her insight out into the atmosphere,” Smith said. “Her knowledge is abundant and diverse, with the intention to use this in ways that will support her family and community. I find myself in awe of her passion and insight, for it is very rare to find someone as genuine and straightforward with who she is and how she processes the world in a light that truly represents a balance.”

Phillida Charley, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences who is also part of the provost’s cluster hire, said that David-Chavez brings a new understanding of how research is done with indigenous communities, to both CSU and the broader community. As part of her research in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Charley will focus on livestock health in areas of abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation land.

Navigating through discussions that are centuries overdue

“We hear words like ‘sustainability’ that are ancient concepts in our Indigenous community, but that’s not always known or acknowledged,” she explained. “Most of what’s taught at universities is about the fathers of conservation, mostly white men, and they are attributed as the originators of these concepts. That’s really inaccurate.”

David-Chavez worked on climate research across the Caribbean islands for her doctoral thesis. She and her team found that most climate science studies fail to adequately engage local communities, overlooking centuries’ worth of data and leaving important contributions uncredited.

“It’s good that we have community allies and opportunities to learn from each other, but we can’t replace the experience of a person in that community.”

— Dominique David-Chavez, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship

“We should always remember that we are working through a legacy of colonization, genocide and slavery, which has impacted every field of learning,” said David-Chavez. “It is embedded in the curriculum. It’s reflected by who is honored in architecture and in street names. When you’re coming from the background of being a person that is indigenous to this part of the world for centuries, millennia, you don’t see contributions of your people, there are no images, and it’s very apparent. But if you don’t have that context, it’s not seen.”

She hopes to help others “see the unseen,” by uncovering and revealing such gaps in data and research. David-Chavez said it’s the only way to make the shift to correcting these historical wrongs.

“It’s good that we have community allies and opportunities to learn from each other, but we can’t replace the experience of a person in that community,” she said. “It’s what I envision for these positions on campus, these diversity hires. I am constantly reminding people why this is happening, of the value, how it is raising integrity and the standard of our work, and innovation potential. I’ve been told too by elders in the community, always make sure you tell your history. Regardless of what you’re speaking on, tell a little bit of your history in your introduction. I recognize the value of it.”

New hires for the Warner College

Dominique David-Chavez joins the Warner College of Natural Resources through a cluster hire for diversity and inclusion. She will be welcomed to the college with a new director of diversity and inclusion, Rickey Frierson, and three tenure-track faculty: Sara Bombaci, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology; Anna Lavoie, Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources; and Gillian Bowser, Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability. – by Rob Novak