Humboldt Journal of Social Relations


This article provides a synthesis of the interconnected problems of tenuous energy access, wildfires, and exposures to high air pollution in Indigenous communities in rural California through the lens of ongoing collaborative research being carried out by researchers at Cal Poly Humboldt, Schatz Energy Research Center, Karuk Department of Natural Resources, and the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe. The collaboration is funded by the Strategic Growth Council of the state of California, and we hope is the beginning of a longer term relationship between all partners. We are an interdisciplinary team of researchers drawing on energy engineering, air pollution science, and qualitative social sciences to better understand the intersecting challenges of expanding clean energy access, and building climate resilience in Tribal communities in rural California in the context of the multiple challenges of climate change, increasing risk of dangerous wildfires, and high exposures to air pollution. Individuals and communities need to make decisions about energy and air quality infrastructure with implications for public health, climate change, energy resilience, and Tribal sovereignty. This article will reflect on the joys, challenges, ethical questions, and epistemological constraints involved with academic researchers working on interdisciplinary research projects across disciplines, and in partnership with Tribal nations. Grounded in the reflections and experience of an ongoing project, this article sheds light on the challenges and unique opportunities of conducting collaborative interdisciplinary research in close engagement with communities, and also reflects on the structural constraints posed within current institutional structures.