The Geoduck Diver

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Puyallup Tribe member Hozoji Matheson-Margullis is making her mark as a research tech in UW Tacoma's Becker Lab, and as an emerging marine scientist.

(Above: Staff and students from the UW Tacoma Becker Lab in the field. From the left: Megan Hintz, '13, '18, Romina Centurion, Bonnie Becker's daughter Miriam, Bonnie, Sarah White, Hozoji Matheson-Margullis, Suji Kim, David Mullins. Photo courtesy Bonnie Becker, taken by her 9-year-old son.)

A life is the sum total of twists and turns, decisions, doors opening and closing, luck and perspiration. For most of us, living in the moment, who we are today hardly seems to augur who we will become.

Rarely do we as readers get a chance to go along for the ride, as it were. Writer Brian Anderson gives us just that opportunity in a recent in-depth profile he’s written about a member of the UW Tacoma community, for Motherboard, VICE Media’s science and tech site.

Hozoji Matheson-Margullis,research tech in UW Tacoma's Becker Lab

Hozoji Matheson-Margullis is a research tech in Dr. Bonnie Becker’s environmental science lab. She is also a well-known drummer from rock band Helms Alee and alt-metal band Lozen. She is also an emerging marine scientist and a future student in UW Tacoma’s environmental science program. And she is a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, UW Tacoma’s tribal sponsor.

Anderson’s piece ties all that together, but gives insight into something of who Matheson-Margullis is beyond and between those accomplishments.

For example, there’s the emotional journey that took her from the bottom of Puget Sound, where she had developed the incredibly esoteric skill of commercial geoduck diving, to the eyepiece end of a microscope, where she can pick out oyster larvae as if they were needles in a haystack. No spoiler, but there’s something to be said about someone who has existential realizations about herself and the web of life to which she’s connected 60 feet down in the murky depths of coldness.

Listen to a VICE Media podcast about the writing of The Geoduck Diver.

Anderson’s story depicts Matheson-Margullis on another journey as well: a sort of shuttle diplomacy tying together indigenous knowledge and the scientific establishment.

“[That the geoduck has become a harbinger of climate change] cuts especially close to home for indigenous communities like the Puyallup, who, despite being protectors of natural resources and stewards of sustainability, have historically been marginalized by non-native political and industrial forces.

“The US government, all the while, has deferred to Western scientists, not deep-seated native knowledge and technologies, still a lingering, systemic bias in 2018. Data is hard to come by on the current number of indigenous scientists in the U.S. As of 2011, the US Census estimated self-identified Native American and Alaskan Natives made up 0.6 percent of STEM jobs compared to 66.9 percent white (non Hispanic or Latino). Hozoji is uniquely poised to help close this gap….

“Hozoji is doing the work of an ambassador of Native American conservation to the traditional research-industrial complex, putting her in an insurgent, if precarious, position as a young woman on the frontlines of Indigenous science.”

Matheson-Margullis’s work on oyster larvae and geoducks comes in the context of the multi-decade effort by Native American tribes around Puget Sound to get the U.S. government to recognize fishing rights “granted” (an ironic term given that Native American fishing long pre-dated the often-unsustainable non-Indian exploitation of the resource) historically by treaty. As reported by Anderson:

“Hozoji’s grandfather [Danica Miller’s great-uncle], Don Matheson, was ‘one of the primary people fighting for our fishing rights and keeping the language Lushootseed alive,’ according to Miller. Hozoji’s own parents were involved in the Fish Wars of the 1960s and 70s….

Don Matheson, with bullhorn, on the steps of the capitol building on Olympia, Washington, leading one of the Fish War protests. Photo unknown.

These hard-won rights are today in danger of being thwarted by a much larger threat to everyone concerned: global climate change. As reported by Anderson:

“ ‘Climate change is threatening the natural resources we have relied upon for centuries, as well as our health, economy, and infrastructure,’ the 2016 Puyallup climate change report reads. ‘For our people, climate change is no longer a “tomorrow” issue.’ “

Matheson-Margullis’s work in the Becker lab—looking for oyster larvae in water samples, and searching for ways to speed up the process of identifying those larvae—speaks in some ways to the inevitability of change. She is Native American and a woman, two ways of being that are pretty rare in STEM fields, and she is researching a species of oyster particularly sensitive to the environmental changes that more and more seem to be connected to the process of climate change. As Anderson reports:

“[T] he species’ population (Ostrea lurida, the Olympia oyster) has been decimated due to ocean acidification, habitat loss and competition and predation by invasive species. …

“Meanwhile, at the federal level, climate change denial is seemingly now a pillar of ‘America First’-style policy, despite a majority of tribal and other scientific communities believing otherwise. ‘The odds were already against us in our ability to do a lot of this work,’ Becker said. ‘And this anti-science sentiment is making it a lot harder. But the changes are going to come either way.’ “

Regardless of politics, the geoduck exists. The Olympia oyster exists. Whether they continue to exist is not a function of treaties or federal science policy. Hozoji Matheson-Margullis is taking another step in her effort to understand the complex web of life that makes up Puget Sound.

“ ‘I’ve thought many times about what kinds of challenges I will face once I become more heavily involved,’ Hozoji said. ‘I’m singing on for a lot of struggle.’

“ ‘The idea to me, she went on, ‘is like, I’m going to help protect this thing that I love that is so beautiful and fragile. I’ll be able to get in people’s brains and help them understand why they should care about this sort of thing.’

“ ‘I also know there are plenty of people who just do not give a f***,’ Hozoji said. But, ultimately I think there is a reason to be trying. You’ve got to create a balance because otherwise those people win.’ “

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Written by: 
John Burkhardt / April 19, 2018
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu