Turnip research on the Standing Rock Reservation
FORT YATES, N.D. – With the Lakota/Dakota spiritual season in full swing, including annual Sundance ceremonies and summer Pow-Wows, Sitting Bull College student Audra Stonefish, 28, continues her research into the growing and harvesting patterns of turnips.
The turnip research is one of several projects being directed by Dr. Jeremy Guinn, director of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Sitting Bull College.
“The most unique aspect of the North Dakota Tribal College REU program is that the research questions are driven by students, rather than faculty,” Guinn said. “Students work on a wide variety of topics, which is challenging for everyone, but their intense interest in their own research always yields a final product that is highly competitive with graduate students and even some professionals.”
With Stonefish’s turnips, known to the Lakota/Dakota peoples as “thinpsinla” (pronounced timp-SEE-la), the harvested crop is used for traditional Lakota/Dakota meals, mainly soup and is considered a sacred plant by many enrolled members of the tribe.
These plants grow naturally on the prairie in remote areas of the Standing Rock Reservation, which makes Stonefish’s research so unique and culturally relevant to the area and community.
“My research and data collection was pretty narrow and limited due to the naturally short harvest time. All the data for this current project was collected in a two week period when I harvested a little over 200 turnips from five different sites, with each site approximately 1,400 square feet in size.”
Turnip digging season usually occurs in late spring or early summer.
Stonefish, mother of two children, Shanta, 5 and Cain, 7, graduated in May 2010 with her associate’s degree in environmental science.
She is currently working towards a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science.
The REU program, including Stonefish’s project, is fully funded by the National Science Foundation, [www.nsf.gov/] with this summer’s projects being the second year of a three year, $300,000 grant ($100,000 each year).
The program provides ecology-based research opportunities for undergraduate students who focus projects on environmental health and natural resource management.
According to Guinn, students from four of the five North Dakota tribal colleges are eligible to participate in the program, and once selected the student then becomes part of a research team that works on projects at Sitting Bull College [www.sittingbull.edu/] or Turtle Mountain Community College. [www.turtle-mountain.cc.nd.us/]
“Students spend 10 weeks immersed in a research project, work closely with a primary research mentor and build their professional network by interacting with visiting scientists,” Guinn said. “In addition, many of our REU participants go on to graduate college and pursue a career in environmental science, with full confidence that they can do independent research at the highest level.”
The REU raw data and project outcomes are eventually compiled into formal research papers and posters, and presented to audiences at several different venues, including the annual American Indian Higher Education Conference (www.aihec.org/about/eventsNews.cfm), the national Ethnobiology Conference [ethnobiology.org/] and local schools on the reservation.
In addition to her local research on the Standing Rock Reservation, Stonefish also traveled to Costa Rica in the summer of 2009, as part of a small student delegation, where she began doing research on a water canal.