2019 Indigenous Communities Fellowship


Weaving Tradition and Science

Determining the health of Indigenous lands and waterways through science

Team Lead

Patrisse Vasek

The Problem

Environmental contamination of the Missouri River (Mni Sosa) and surrounding western South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska areas from oil exploration, oil pipeline construction, in-situ leach uranium mining operations, and agricultural runoff is one of the most recent and prioritized issues for the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. Proper and in-depth environmental health and risk assessments, remediation plans, and publicly available data are vitally necessary to deter the potential risks of oil spills near major water sources and damage to agricultural vitality. Many local residents rely on locally grown food, medicinal plants, local cattle and buffalo, the high plains aquifer, and well water, and environmental exposure to heavy metals is associated with known risks to human health.

Solution Summary

This project will assess whether toxins are accumulating in plants and aquatic organisms present in the study area through bioavailability and leachability of rock, soil, plant, and water samples, using an Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS). Contaminated plants will be utilized for phytoremediation of already contaminated areas and waterways to assist with purification of drinking water sources. Finally, a map of the contaminated areas will be constructed with ArcGIS, and potential contamination pathways through faults, surface waterways, and watersheds will be flagged using LiDAR on drones.

Market Opportunity

  • The global agricultural testing market is a high-growth sector. Regulations and legalizations pertaining to environmental safety and agricultural productivity have been major driving factors for the market growth.
  • Additionally, South Dakota's tourism industry has seen steady growth for the past nine years, reaching record levels of visitors. National park tourism, including the Badlands and Black Hills, is a large driver of South Dakota's economy.


  • Technologies like Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometers (ICP-MS), LiDAR, and drones can be used along with traditional knowledge of historical use of lands to determine environmental health
  • Work featured in the Native Science Report and the Rapid City Journal

Organization Goals

  • Showcase results and impact
  • Replicate the process for additional tribes
  • Consult with other tribes to assess environmental issues and protect culturally sensitive areas
  • Assess whether stratigraphic areas of concern or contaminated surface waters are impacting the health of crops and cattle

Existing Partnerships

  • MidCo Laboratories, Alliance for Responsible Mining, and Clean Water Alliance
  • South Dakota State Health Laboratories
  • Ft. Randall Community Water District
  • SURF laboratories
  • Oglala Lakota College
  • University of Michigan Department of Nuclear Physics

Partnership Goals

  • Network expansion
  • Field training
  • Policy mentorship

Fellow Team


Kyle, SD, USA

Project Stage: 


Working in: 

Pine Ridge Reservation
Oglala Lakota
Oceti Sakowin

Team Members: 


Solution Team:

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

Indigenous Communities Fellowship

Assessing the Health of Indigenous Lands

Fellow Weaving Tradition and Science received a $10,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Culturally Relevant Enterprise Development (CRED) program in 2019 to determine the health of Indigenous lands and waterways through science.

Indigenous Communities Fellowship

Assessing the Health of Indigenous Lands

Fellow Weaving Tradition and Science, which determines the health of Indigenous lands and waterways through science, received a $10,000 grant from Solve in 2019 for being selected as an Indigenous Communities Fellow.

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