Alaí Reyes-Santos

ocean waves
Alaí Reyes-Santos

Associate Director of the PNW Just Futures Institute for Climate and Racial Justice


Meet the Researcher

Alaí Reyes-Santos, PhD, is the Associate Director of the PNW Just Futures Institute for Climate and Racial Justice, founder of the ceremonial space Ilé Estrella de los Mares, and an equity and inclusion consultant. She is the author of Our Caribbean Kin: Race and Nation in the Neoliberal Antilles (Rutgers University Press, 2015).

Her manuscript-in-progress, Oceanic Whispers, Secrets She Never Told, intervenes in conversations about restorative justice and community healing through a Black Caribbean epistemological lens. 

An award-winning teacher, Dr. Reyes-Santos recently received the 2015 Ersted Distinguished Teaching Award. She is a high priestess and tradition keeper of Caribbean Regla de Osha and regla conga, an Afro-descendant ceremonial practice that survived through cross-cultural exchanges in the islands; and supports efforts to revitalize Afro-Indigenous Caribbean traditional ecological and medicinal knowledges. Her pedagogical practice draws from her ceremonial training in order to foster open conversations about social violence, power, and solidarity.

Alaí Reyes-Santos
center for Environmental Futures

2021 CEF/Mellon Faculty Summer Research Award

Alaí Reyes-Santos
“Oregon Water Futures”

A few of the projects on which Alaí is a collaborator: 

Oregon Water FUtures
The Oregon Water Futures Project is a collaboration between water and environmental justice interests, Indigenous peoples, communities of color, low-income communities, and academic institutions. Through a water justice lens, we aim to impact how the future of water in Oregon is imagined through storytelling, capacity building, relationship building, policymaking, and community-centered advocacy at the state and local level. A $530 million water package recently passed in the Oregon Legislature was a direct result of advocacy by OWF members. 
Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice
The PNW Just Futures Institute focuses on sustaining the livelihoods of local Indigenous, Latinx, Black, and rural working-class people. The verb “sustaining” is a call to action to dismantle racial and climate injustice as our realities. We want to tell stories that make clear that the fires of 2020—physical and social—have been a long time coming, while generating sustainable narratives for the PNW. Racial justice and climate justice intertwine; both promote work, economic dignity, and environment as holistic values.
CaribBean Women Healers
The Caribbean Women Healers Project: Decolonizing Knowledge Within Afro-Indigenous Traditions, is a collaborative research project built as a result of journeys within Caribbean communities throughout the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Pacific Northwest region. After four years of meeting and spending time with Caribbean women that keep their Afro-Indigenous, Indigenous and Afro-descendant healing traditions alive, this project aims to validate their knowledge in a world where Eurocentric notions of health and medicine vilify and dismiss them.



How does your research respond to the Guiding Principles 
set out for the Environment Initiative?


In the Oregon Water Futures Project, our research approach presented rich opportunities for student-led work. Student interns and a student project manager were essential components of the research and design of community engagement. One way we were able to add and amplify voices in the discussion was by researching what culturally or regionally specific knowledge may be important to engage in the conversations we wanted to have in the community. This research enabled us to be better prepared to co-design questions and lines of inquiry that made sense for project participants willing to share their stories.

The outcomes of this work are inherently at the service of policy, law and budget making. Our findings have positively informed statewide conversations and legislative bills pertinent to water in the state and how BIPOC communities must be engaged in decision making processes.

This research centers low-income, BIPOC communities and voices; as well as capacity-building among women, the queer community, and BIPOC students in water justice. Three of our alums work in that sector now. It has enabled a student to complete her thesis developing an evaluation tool for the project and thematic surveys pre-conversations. Additionally, it opened professional pathways in environmental justice for four students out of six.

The Environment Initiative is committed to working together toward a just and livable future
that addresses the intersections of environmental research and teaching with social and environmental justice. 
How does your research embody that goal?


My research is invested in creatively co-producing knowledge that will bring forth the sustenance of life in all its forms by centering the wisdom, experiences, and voices of those who have historically been ignored, dismissed, and marginalized in conversations about how to best relate and care for non-human beings and the natural resources that sustain us all.

Economic, racial, gender, ability justice is essential for such work; these are deeply interrelated and it is essential we make that visible if we are to succeed in the formulation of ways of life that allow us all to live with the planet as it screams at us to take action. The actions we take cannot be driven by profit or by ideas that are meant to protect some and exploit others; but rather by a socially just vision that taps into our ancestral knowledges to treat water, air, land, flora, and fauna as our fellow living companions on this planet who also have knowledge to share with us about how to live in it. These actions must also engage the stories of communities of color and other historically marginalized groups to truly account for both all realities of environmental degradation, catastrophe, as they impact the most vulnerable; and ways of knowing the world that can serve us all and must be valued as such.

For me, the epistemic and methodological possibilities that come out of communities and their stories are the center of my research and teaching. I have seen how a short story completely moves students to change how they see the world. I have seen how legislators are moved by hearing people speaking to them directly about losing access to their sacred fish, about low quality of water, about not been able to afford a water bill. Stories then allow what numbers document to come to life and move our hearts, minds, and spirit. That is why stories are central to all I do.