Jump to main page content
Purdue signature

Geology Field Course

June 10 - 22, 2012

Geology and the Environmental Issues Across Indian Country

Rocky Mountain Region


June 11 - 25, 2011

Geology and the Environmental Issues Across Indian Country

Mississippi Delta

The Minority Education Through Traveling and Learning in the Sciences (METALS) is a four- year program designed to create meaningful geoscience experiences among groups typically underrepresented in the earth sciences. The METALS program aligns four universities that have strong field geology programs, an institutional history of emphasizing teaching and mentoring in the geosciences, and a commitment to providing access to college for large populations of underrepresented minorities. The METALS team includes San Francisco State University (SFSU), the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), the University of New Orleans (UNO), and Purdue University. The Purdue part of the METALS team focuses on Native American graduate students.

The Purdue component of the 2011 METALS field experience consisted of six graduate students, two faculty members, and the Director of the Native American Educational and Cultural Center. We oriented the Purdue parts of the trip to not only discuss earth sciences issues but also how these issues impact local Native communities. To fully achieve this objective, we meet and discuss these issues with local Native elders, community members, and the natural resources technical staffs on Native lands.

The trip this year was centered on the geologic and geoengineering framework of the Louisiana delta. We started the trip by driving from Purdue University to Birmingham, Alabama. In Birmingham we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. This lead to a series of discussions by our group on the impact of the Civil Rights movement on Native American communities and politics. The images of high school students being sprayed by high-powered fire hoses and attacked by police dogs had a powerful impact on the Native students. All of these students had little previous knowledge of these events and of the impact of these events on American society. Our next stop was to the Moundsville Archaeological Park on the Black Warrior river in Moundsville, Alabama. This park is a National Historic Landmark that preserves 26 pre-historic, Mississippian-era mounds and represents one of the largest prehistoric Native cities in North America. The associated museum gives an updated, detailed overview of Mississippian Native American culture.

Our next stop was to the University of New Orleans where we joined with the entire METALS team. The next day we studied the geoengineering aspects of the attempts to control the Mississippi River drainage (spillways, freshwater division projects, environmental water quality sites, etc.). The second day we visited the Grand Isle State Park and discussed barrier island development and the relationship between barrier islands and hurricane protection.

Water Quality Exercise
Water Quality Exercise

Barrier Island Exercises Barrier Island Exercises
Barrier Island Exercises

The third day the Purdue group split off from the main METALS group and spent the day visiting with a Native American community located in Houma, Louisiana. With this community, we discussed environmental issues/concerns that the community has as they relate to hurricane control, marine ecosystems, BP oil spill, etc. We also discussed their efforts to keep their Native culture intact as the bayou communities become more connected to mainstream America. Our main contact for this day was tribal elder Kirby Verret.

Tribal Elder Kirby Verret Talking with Purdue Group
Tribal Elder Kirby Verret Talking with Purdue Group

The next day the entire METALS group met with Native Atakapas people of the Grand Bayou Village. Native residents of this community warmly greeted us and discussed how they are rebuilding their community after Hurricane Katrina. To reach their village, the METALS group had to be transported by the community shrimping boat out to the bayou village. This day gave the students a true perspective of living on a dynamic delta system.

Transportation to Grand Bayou Village Purdue Group with Tribal Leader Rosina Philippe
Transportation to Grand Bayou Village - - Purdue Group with Tribal Leader Rosina Philippe

The following day the Purdue group split off from the main METALS group and met with the Native American tribal members of the Pointe-au-Chien community. With this Native group we discussed issues of living on the delta, how the delta has been impacted by various environmental changes, and their attempts to maintain their cultural identity in this changing landscape. Our contact in this community was tribal elder Donald Dardar. He served as the previous tribal chairman of this group.

METALS group

We reunited with the main METALS group, and spent the next two days studying normal faults, salt domes, and other features of the Lower Atchafalaya delta system. After this part of trip, the Purdue groups started driving back to Indiana.

Mapping Salt Dome Entire Metals Team
Mapping Salt Dome - - Entire Metals Team

The Native American students from Purdue walked away from this field experience with a much deeper appreciation of the geologic framework of the Mississippi delta. They were introduced to the geotechnical/engineering aspects and the positive and negative implications of controlling a large natural system. The Purdue students were also made aware or the Native communities residing in the Mississippi delta and the environmental issues these communities are facing. The connection between geologic processes and Native (and non-Native) communities was made crystal clear from these interactions. Many of the Native communities in the delta region are small isolated groups so it is was very instructive for us learn more about these communities and their attempts to maintain their identities.

The METALS trip the last two years has had far reaching impacts on the Native students that are already enrolled as graduate students and for prospective Native students that are considering graduate degrees. We often have Native students meet us from the local communities that we are visiting on the METALS trip. Three of the Native students that will be enrolled in the Earth & Atmospheric Sciences graduate program this fall participated in the METALS trip before entering our graduate program. These types of trips give Native students a window to see how studying the earth sciences has the potential for them to make contributions to major issues that impact Native communities. One of the students, Darryl Reano, from the Acoma reservation in New Mexico is designing his PhD project around incorporating earth sciences into the curriculum of tribal schools. Darryl's poster at the 2011 SACNAS national meeting won one of the best poster awards. The poster was titled: Cultural and Geological Connections at Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico.

Another objective of the METALS grant is to have the Native American graduate students from Purdue serve as mentors for the high school students from the other parts of the METALS project.


June 13 - 25, 2010

Geology and Environmental Issues Across Indian Country
Colorado Plateau Region

Land use, water rights, and resource management issues across the Four Corners area are clearly linked to the geologic framework of this rugged, beautiful landscape. During this 12-day field expedition, we focused on both the cultural and geologic components of the traditional homelands of the Navajo, Hopi; Paiute, Havasupai, Hualapai and other Native nations of the Southwest. The first week of the trip the Purdue group consisted of ten Native Americans that visited Native reservations and discussed with elders of the communities and technical staff in these communities issues about groundwater and surface water use; hydrocarbon, coal, and uranium exploration; preservation of ecosystems, and air pollution. The second week of the field trip we joined the rest of the METALS team in southern Utah. Most of the major costs of the trip were covered through the National Science Foundation and a generous donation by Dr. Lee C. Atkinson (EAS alumni).

Day 1: Sunday, June 13th - Indianapolis, IN to Albuquerque, NM

We started the first week of the trip by flying from Purdue University to Albuquerque, NM. After picking up the rental vehicles and camping supplies, we took the team up Sandia Peak and did an overview of the geology of the Rio Grande Rift and discussed water related issues for the communities located along the river system.

Day 2: Monday, June 14th - Albuquerque, NM to Sky City, Acoma, NM
Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo


We visited the Petroglyph National Monument and the Albuquerque volcanic field. These localities provide

great teaching localities for discussing rift processes such as volcanism and

Exiting Acoma Pueblo

Exiting Acoma Pueblo

attenuation of continental crust. In addition, the prehistoric Native communities used the lava flows from these volcanic vents for making petroglyphs. Also, we drove to the Acoma Indian reservation in New Mexico. Here we met with elders from Acoma and talked about cultural aspects of this community. We also met with tribal technical staff to discuss environmental issues for the tribe. We camped on the reservation that evening and had a traditional Acoma dinner at the home of one of the tribal elders. Becky Martin, an Acoma tribal member, was our host during our visit to Acoma.

Day 3: Tuesday, June 15th - Acoma, NM to Sand Springs, NM

Dinner with Navajo elders

The group traveled to Gallup, NM to meet with City of Gallup geologists Richard Brose and Lance Allgood. Gallup is surrounded by lands of the Navajo nation so there is a close connection between water use in Native and non-Native communities in this part of New Mexico. Gallup is essentially mining old groundwater to meet the needs of both communities. The Gallup geologists outlined the long term plan for water use in this arid area. Kim Davis (a Navajo engineer working on reservation water issues) and Mike King (a Navajo scientist working on reservation air quality issues) joined us for this discussion. That evening we traveled to the Navajo nation and camped at the summer sheep camp of the family of Felica Ahasteen-Bryant. Her family discussed with the Purdue group traditional Navajo lifestyles, their perspectives on use of land and the connection of Navajo people to the land. Felica's family served us a traditional Navajo dinner of mutton and corn that evening.

Day 4: Wednesday, June 16th - Sand Springs, NM to Kayenta, AZ

The Purdue group traveled to Chinle, AZ and toured Canyon DeChelly in the morning. This stop allowed us to discuss the role of stratigraphy on the locations of prehistoric Native communities. We stayed that night in Kayenta and experienced an impressive dust storm.

Day 5: Thursday, June 17th - Kayenta, AZ to Tuba City, AZ

The next morning we toured Monument Valley where we discussed the geological setting of this area with an emphasis on monoclinal fold development. Monoclines around the Colorado Plateau bring the Navajo Sandstone to the surface where this critical aquifer can be locally recharged. That afternoon we visited Black Mesa on the Navajo reservation which is an area of extensive coal mining. The environmental impact and economics of coal mining in this area are critical issues for the adjacent Navajo and Hopi communities. Later in the day, we visited with Hopi elder Vernon Masayesva, Executive Director of Black Mesa, to discuss his perspective on coal mining and water use on the Hopi reservation. That evening we had a tour of the Hopi nation by Jeremy Garcia and Valerie Shirley who are members and educators in the Native community. We enjoyed a traditional Hopi dinner with them as well. We stayed in Tuba City that evening.

Monument Valley Community spring in Hopi
Monument Valley Community spring in Hopi
Day 6: Friday, June 18th - Tuba City, AZ to Page, AZ
Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam

We traveled to Page, AZ. Here we toured the Glen Canyon Dam and took a short boat tour on the Colorado River. Both these stops provided context to discuss the role of dams for both Native and non-Native communities in the southwestern U.S. Leanna Begay (Navajo biologist) joined us for this day's activities. We camped in Page, AZ that evening.

Day 7: Saturday, June 19th - Page, AZ to Panguitch,UT

We spent most of the day discussing the stratigraphy and formation of the Grand Canyon. We drove that evening to Panguitch, UT where we joined members of the METALS team (Minority Education Through Traveling and Learning in the Sciences) from University of New Orleans, University of San Francisco, and University of Texas at El Paso. Participants from these universities consist of underrepresented high school students, faculty, and staff. One of the goals of the METALS program was to have Native American graduate students from Purdue serve as mentors for high school students from other underrepresented groups. We had a chilly night of camping on the Markagunt Plateau.

Field work on Markagunt Plateau - volcanic rocks

Field work on Markagunt Plateau - volcanic rocks

Day 8: Sunday, June 20th - Panguitch, UT, visited Markagunt Plateau

This day was spent studying the hydrologic plumbing of the Markagunt Plateau. The area is the major recharge area for the aquifer in the Navajo Sandstone. This aquifer is the lifeblood of communities on the Colorado Plateau. The plumbing of the Markagunt Plateau consists of a magical karst topography with sinkholes, springs, and disappearing rivers.

Day 9: Monday, June 21st - Panguitch, UT, visited Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation
Cave exploring

Cave exploring

We visited the Kaibab Paiute Indian reservation which is located along a fault system that bring Navajo Sandstone to the surface and forms a series of springs. The water from these springs is sourced from the hydrologic system that we visited on the Markagunt Plateau the previous day. The Pipe Spring Monument is located on the Paiute reservation and is a physical representation of the tension and complexity of water rights in the arid western U.S. We spent a large part of the day mapping the Siever fault and discussing regional groundwater flow across the Colorado Plateau. We were joined by Paiute high school students for this exercise.

Day 10: Tuesday, June 22nd - Panguitch, UT, visited Bryce Canyon National Park

We studied the geology of Bryce National Park. This exposed the students to the Cenozoic stratigraphy of the Colorado Plateau.

Field work in Bryce Canyon Breaking down final camp
Field work in Bryce Canyon Breaking down final camp
Day 11: Wednesday, June 23rd - Panguitch, UT, visited Zion National Park

This day we studied the geology of Zion National Park which included a very wet hike/swim through the Narrows; it was a spectacular day.

Day 12: Thursday, June 24th - Panguitch, UT to Las Vegas, NV

We drove to Las Vegas and caught a flight back to Indianapolis.

The Purdue participants on the trip were:

Alex DeWitt (Ojibway) Hailey Bryant (Navajo)
Nils Landon (Ojibway) Marie Fialkowski (Native Hawaiian)
Bill Pfeifer (Tlingit) Ty Boyd (Eastern Band of the Cherokee)
Darryl Reano (Acoma) Felica Ahasteen-Bryant (Navajo)
Ken Ridgway (Delaware) Raul Ochoa (Hispanic)