The power of inclusive influence

See Disclaimer.

I will soon be retiring from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), after more than three decades of teaching and conducting collaborative research. I feel privileged by the experience, and thankful to all—students, staff, post-docs,  faculty and administrators—who worked side by side with me, in the belief that education and science matter profoundly.

Many people enriched my academic path, in many different ways. Besides my family, though, perhaps no one was ultimately more influential than the late Roy Sampsel. This thoughtful, mild mannered yet intense, visionary tribal advocate introduced me to a powerful aspirational vision. The vision of a melding of minds and cultures at the junction of tribal and ‘western’ knowledge, towards a more sustainable future.

A vision that I sought to advance as the director of the Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction (CMOP). CMOP was the first Science and Technology Center ever awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to an Oregon-led institutional partnership. It was also one of the two first oceanography-themed such centers ever awarded. Roy became the Chair of my External Advisory Board, to my knowledge the first Native American who ever served in that position across the prestigious national network of NSF Science and Technology Centers.

With Roy’s guidance, we partnered with various tribal institutions, across multiple aspects of our education, research, and outreach missions. CMOP’s efforts led over time to mutual appreciation, respect and ultimately trust. Two formal resolutions of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians recognized the joint efforts, in 2008 and again in 2010. In the process, CMOP students, staff and faculty learned as much as they taught, in significant cultural and scientific exchanges.

The NSF funding for each Science and Technology Center sunsets after ten years. Shortly after CMOP’s NSF funding expired, Roy passed away. But his influence stayed with many of us. CMOP maintained a reduced-footprint presence at OHSU, with a focus on our distinctive observation and simulation system for the Columbia River—designed to support science and regional management, and broadly used by universities and federal, state and tribal agencies.

With my retirement looming closer, the question became who would ultimately undertake the trans-generational stewardship and expansion of the system, consistent with regional needs in a context of changing climate and societal demands. Roy’s vision ultimately guided our choice, and his influence on building tribal trust on CMOP proved essential.

This month, OHSU formally transferred the CMOP infrastructure to the Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), as described in coordinated CRITFC and OHSU  press releases. This innovative transfer of stewardship has potential for long-lasting impact on the tribes, the region, and scientific outreach paradigms nationwide.

Our grandkids, and their grandkids, will likely benefit from the climate-scale time series, the simulation capabilities, and the knowledge that the tribes will continue to generate. Regional decisions on the Columbia River estuary and coastal ocean will, now and into the future, be better informed, and hopefully wiser. Those include decisions on salmon and lamprey, ecosystems, hydropower, navigation and more.

All this would have made Roy smile, quietly but proudly. His self-described “influence without power” delivered, once again, something transformative—this time, years after his passing.

— Antonio Baptista

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