In Search of Serpentine’s Sister

Students gathered at the Siskiyou Field Institute on a cool spring day to learn from long-time SFI instructor John Roth during “In Search of Serpentine’s Sister: Uniting Indigenous and Natural Histories.” As a student of many natural sciences and a local resident of the Illinois Valley, John is passionate about how much there is to learn from this intersection of knowledges. As one student put it, “We learned so much, our brains were exploding! John’s blend of science and story was excellent.” SFI’s volunteer course host, Kaci, talks about her experience in the class below. 

“Through classroom instruction and field studies, John Roth guided students through the intersection of Western scientific and local indigenous knowledge. For example, in one moment students learned why Lyme disease is less prevalent in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains (we can thank the Western Fence Lizard’s antigen proteins). In the next moment, Roth relayed a Takelma practice of cajoling owls into reporting the death of faraway people, thus preventing the death of a member of their group, as well as the Tolowa tradition of remaining quiet so as not to wake the Great Serpent of Lake Earl and other snakes as they slept during winter, the only time it was safe to speak about them. 

Indigenous groups within the bioregion that were discussed throughout the day include, but are not limited to, the Tolowa, Yurok, Karuk, Wiyot, Shasta, Miwok, Takelma, Hupa, and Southwest Oregon Athabaskan.

Field studies took students from the SFI classroom to the trails of SFI, $8 Mountain, and Rough & Ready Botanical Wayside. The conversations continued as the class identified native blooming plants and shrubs while continuing to learn indigenous worldviews of the local ecosystem.”

Course host, Kaci Elder

A magic moment during the class: “When John skillfully spotted a rare camouflaged flower that I would never have seen without his eagle eye."
- Student Course Evaluation

Leave a Comment