Native STEAM: Exploring the fusion of science and native culture at Cabrillo National Monument


“One morning, as the tide went out, the old people came down to sit and watch by the shore. That was the way it was done in the old days.” Strumming his banjo in accompaniment, Park Ranger Tavio del Rio shares the Nootka story of the “Octopus and Raven.”

For the students of Native STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math), this is how every morning begins. In partnership with Southern Indian Health Council (SIHC), a social service agency that serves youth from seven Kumeyaay reservations in San Diego County, Cabrillo National Monument proudly hosted twelve students throughout the summer. Native STEAM is the first Cabrillo program of its kind and comprises a unique blend of western science and indigenous practices. Through activities such as storytelling, nature journaling, tidepool monitoring, and ethnobotany, youth ages 6-15 explored their cultural heritage within and beyond the park.

VISTA/Americorps member Amy Rouillard spearheaded the idea last spring working with Willow Rouillard of SIHC, and Park Rangers, Tavio del Rio and Alex Warneke to design the full program. Cultural educators Cindy Alvitre and Craig Torres (Gabrielino/Tongva), of the Ti’at Society from Orange County, led a hands-on workshop about maritime culture of Southern California Indigenous communities. This included songs, storytelling, learning to use a hand-pump drill, cordage making from agave fiber and sea grass weaving. Geologist, Norrie “Doc” Robbins, led a workshop in pigment making and highlighted the geology of the park. Additionally, the youth enjoyed a field trip to the Natural History Museum and Ocean Beach Native Plant Gardens, as well as a nature scramble in the park canyons led by Cabrillo educator and VISTA/Americorps member Andrew Rosales.

Rouillard added at the conclusion of the summer, “ I am really grateful to see Cabrillo staff embrace the program. These kids deserve culturally relevant programming so to see it happen at a National Park, once a Kumeyaay territory, is really powerful.”

Through innovative programs, such as Native STEAM, Cabrillo National Monument is committed to carrying out the mission of the National Park Service into our second century. We are excited to connect with new audiences across our community and provide opportunities to foster the next generation of park stewards. Cabrillo looks to build stronger ties with Native communities and continue the Native STEAM program in the future.

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[1] “Octopus and Raven” (Nootka- Pacific Northwest) – Keepers of the Animals

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