Derrick Kapayou is a 2nd year double master’s student at Iowa State University, pursuing an MS degree in Sustainable Agriculture and an MA degree in Anthropology. The focus of his research is examining the cultural connections Midwestern Native American communities have to soil, as well as analyzing the biochemical reactions to the soil underneath gardens managed using traditional Native American seeds and cropping practices. He was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, and is a member of the nearby Native American tribe known as the Meskwaki. His expected graduation date from the University is April of 2022.
His favorite memory from his time as an Iowa State student is studying the gardening methods of prehistoric Native Americans, which were documented as early missionaries and colonialists spread westward across the United States. Learning how prehistoric Native American gardeners such as the Meskwaki grew massive gardens for miles along the rivers and streams of the American continent has radically changed Derrick’s perspective on gardening, its importance within Derrick’s life, and has also helped him better understand the history of Native American people. As part of his research, Derrick has visited multiple archaeological garden sites in Wisconsin and Iowa that have been radiocarbon dated to around the year 1050 AD, and Derrick describes these sites as places of intergenerational connectedness and peace.
Derrick’s experience at Iowa State has been very challenging for him, and has cultivated a level of discipline that he did not have prior to attending the University. Studying two different fields of research in his graduate project has forced him to focus his attention very acutely on his project and its objectives for him to be successful. After strongly defending his thesis in the Spring of 2022, Derrick eventually wants to find a PhD project where he could continue studying prehistoric Native American gardens, ceremonial mounds, or other soil related processes.
Derrick will continue to maintain a garden every year, with his ultimate goal being able to harvest and preserve enough food from his personal garden that he rarely needs to go to the grocery store. As he gets better about growing food, Derrick hopes to share his knowledge and influence other Meskwaki to take up gardening. Derrick’s favorite thing to grow in his garden is cherry tomatoes because they remind him of his grandma.
Nominated by Mary Widenhoeft: “His commitment to exceptional research practice is apparent in his creative approach to conducting research during the pandemic.” “His endurance, both as a developing scholar and as a community member, is evidenced in his commitment to show up when needed.”