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Quantifying environmental effects of indigenous-led mycoremediation on contaminated community land

Denver, Colorado

Featured image for the project, Quantifying environmental effects of indigenous-led mycoremediation on contaminated community land

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This project aims to provide scientific documentation of the effects on soil health of the ongoing mycelium healing project. The end goal is to obtain more resources to allow the organization to extend the project’s reach, both to treat more areas and to communicate more broadly within the community.


About the Community

The Suncor Oil Refinery operates in Commerce City, Colorado, near historically marginalized communities of color.   Spirit of the Sun is an indigenous women-led community organization and nonprofit dedicated to intergenerational education and wellness of the indigenous community in and around Denver, CO. SOTS has begun the process of restoring soils damaged by major corporations like Suncor that have contaminated and depleted the lands on which we live and learn from.

About the Project

This project anticipates mitigating harmful pollutants in the soil, water, and air through the use of mycelium, and aims to quantify this mitigation.  The community has been inoculating patches of land with a proprietary mycelium since 2021.  Youth leaders have led in-person and virtual workshops to educate the community about the restorative potential of mycelium, and the restored patches have been converted to community gardens. A longer-term goal is to teach community members how to build mycelial “mother patches’ ‘ that remediate the soil in their neighborhoods, enhancing soil health and carbon sequestration and establishing community gardens, with the goal of 6-12 over the next few years. This Thriving Earth Exchange project aims to provide a scientific basis of a “proof of concept” for the work by quantifying the improvements in soil health from the mycelium inoculations, in order to acquire additional funding and support to expand the work.


Timeline and Milestones

Project Scope- Months 1-2 (finish by 12/31/23)

Find a Scientist- Months 2-3 (finish by 03/01/24)

Refine project scope and sampling plan with Scientist- Months 3-4 (finish by 05/01/24)

Soil collection and analysis during mycoremediation- Months 4-~9 (TBD with scientist)

Disseminate results to community and apply for grants- Month 10+


Reference Links

Project Team

Community Leads


Shannon Francis is the Executive Director of Spirit of the Sun. She is Dineh (Navajo) from Shiprock, New Mexico, and Hopi from Kykotsmovi, Arizona. She is Towering House clan born for Red Running through the Water clan. Her Hopi clans are Massau’, Bear Sand, and Snake Clan. Shannon comes from twelve generations of earth caretakers, ethnobotanists and seed keepers.  Shannon is an active educator and has presented and taught widely on permaculture design. Her passion is instilling reciprocal relationships by connecting people to the natural world through seeds, soil and the elements. Shannon has been a member of the Denver Native community for thirty years and serves on the Winds American Indian Council as Chair and is the Director for the Indigenous Agricultural project at Four Winds. In 2014, Shannon received the Justin B. Willie humanitarian award on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. More recently, she received the 2015 Cesar E. Chavez female leadership award for her work with Indigenous gardening, food justice and community building projects.

Shannon is a certified Permaculture Design Instructor, focusing more on Indigenous Permaculture, the weaving of Traditional Ecological Knowledge with innovative science, and she is one of the few female Indigenous Permaculturists in the Rocky Mountain and Southwestern regions.

​In 2009, she started out as a garden volunteer at the Denver Indian Center and led the Indigenous garden project until 2015, beginning from five 5×8 ft beds to what has now expanded over one fifth of an acre. The Denver Indian Center, Inc. exhibited and grew at least one ton of produce on a small area. In 2014, DICI gave out over 1300 packets of heirloom and GMO-free seeds to everyone who visited or attended the garden workshops.

Shannon is also a certified Project Learning Tree facilitator through the Colorado State Forest Service. In 2012 she participated in a pilot program through Cornell University with twenty-six other environmental educators from around the country developing and implementing Civic Urban Ecology EE curriculum for the National Environmental Education Association.

Since 2010 Shannon has presented and attended conferences such as the Colorado and Front Range Bioneers, White Earth Land Recovery, Indigenous Food Sovereignty Summit at the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, and Preparing for the Seventh Generation Conference at Osage Nation, and Dartmouth College. More recently in the summer of 2015, Shannon facilitated an Indigenous gardening workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center with Trees, Water, People organization on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Shannon is deeply embedded in the Denver native community and continues to build pro-active reciprocal relationships between community members and organizations and also between people, animals and the natural world.

Shannon brings her 20+ years of mindful community building expertise, non-profit knowledge, and accounting skills to Spirit of the Sun.


Laya Buchanan is SOTS’s Resource development coordinator. Laya is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado with a Bachelors in Geography from Columbia University with a Master’s of Public Health in Epidemiology. She has served as an AmeriCorps VISTA before with SerVermont at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. Laya enjoys connecting with elders through Spirit of the Sun’s food share program and is passionate about the health inequities associated with climate change as well as pollutant exposures from agriculture and industry.


Melissa Valkyria Rivas was born during the political unrest & consequently Salvadoran civil war in the 1970’s. As a result, Ms. Rivas and her family found the need to escape their homeland, and at 9 years old, Melissa became a world traveler, dividing her time between El Salvador, the United States and France, until she graduated from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

Ms. Rivas holds a B.A. in Psychology and has utilized it to assist the BIPOC community in various roles including as an on-crime scene counselor for the police department, alternative schooling instructor, and a military domestic abuse advocate. Her eclectic background in teaching, curriculum development, leadership, and crisis management enhance SOTS operations and personnel support.

Ms. Rivas draws her inspiration from her Guxgatanćanej ancestors and is a fierce proponent of equity and remuneration, recognizing colorism in our own community, and calling for the radical inclusion of all Black people. She currently holds certifications in Comprehensive Victim Intervention, CO TiPS & is CPR certified. You can also catch Ms. Rivas on the roller derby track under her pseudonym CYBIL WAR.


Chenoa Francis is SOTS’s Agricultural support and youth coordinator. Chenoa Amadahe Francis is Hopi and Dineh. Her Hopi name is Diwanmanci, meaning Sunflower. She is from the Towering House clan, born for Red Running through the Water clan. Her Hopi clans are Massau’, Bear, Sand and Snake Clan. While her tribe and family are from Arizona and New Mexico, she was born and raised in the Denver Metro Area, where she currently resides. She identifies as a daughter, a sister, an auntie, an artist, and a friend. Though Chenoa is only 23 years old, she has been an active member in the indigenous community as a learner, a mentor, an activist and a teacher since she was in diapers. Utilizing indigenous youth programs such as Mile High Unity, A.I.S.E.S, Four Winds American Indian Council, DPS Indian Ed, and Spirit of the Sun, she has grown to love working with indigenous youth all over Colorado while also spreading knowledge to our future generations.

From a very young age, Chenoa has been a strong voice in advocating for indigenous rights, as the struggle hits close to home. She has testified over a dozen times at the Colorado Capitol building on behalf of the indigenous community and indigenous rights. These testimonials were for but not limited to; Missing or Murdered Indigenous People awareness, We Are Not A Mascot, and lowering tuition costs for indigenous youth. She continues to spread awareness by doing outreach to not only the indigenous community, but by also educating their allies. While the school list continues to grow, she has spoken at DPS, Jeffco, and Adams County schools, teaching ages from kindergarten to 65. She has also presented at a multitude of conferences, workshops, and youth camps. Chenoa takes her role as leader, intergenerational seed keeper, and caretaker of the Earth very seriously.

Through Spirit of the Sun, Chenoa is able to continue her work of caring for all life, and to pass her knowledge on for the next seven generations to come. Her job as Youth Coordinator and Agricultural Support go hand in hand towards reconnecting with our ancestral ways, and also to further decolonize our homes, gardens, and mindsets.  Outside of her work life, Chenoa continues her love for all living beings through her raised garden beds, her 2 dogs and a cat, and her love for seeking knowledge. She also is on the board for Her Many Voices Foundation, a non profit working to provide women and children around the world with education and resources they need through artivism. After such an amazing term, Chenoa strives to connect her love of art into her love of nature and her love of activism.


Community Science Fellow


Kristina Pistone (she/her/ella) is a research scientist with the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at NASA Ames Research Center. Her research focuses on the Earth’s radiative balance: quantifying the heating impact of Arctic sea ice loss from satellite observations, and measuring the properties and impacts of aerosols (largely atmospheric smoke particles), from satellite, airborne, and ground-based observations. She holds a PhD in oceanography (climate and atmospheric science) from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and bachelor’s degrees in physics and Spanish literature also from UCSD. She has a longstanding interest in climate science communication and policy: she has been a Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, has been part of AGU’s Voices for Science and Local Science Partners programs, and serves on her city’s Sustainability Commission. She has traveled, studied, and worked in South America, including a Fulbright grant to the Universidad de Chile to study air pollution in the Santiago basin. She is interested in promoting equity, justice, and accessibility in science and climate action across communities in the US and in the global south.

Scientist Wanted

Scientist Role

We are seeking a scientist who is familiar with metrics of soil health and methods for its improvement. The scientist will help refine the project plan to identify best practices for which metrics or pollutants to be measured with what cadence, in order to quantify the mycelium effects on the land and community. The scientist will also be able to advise on cost-effective testing methods the community can use for long-term monitoring. There is a possibility, but no requirement, for continued collaboration on eventual grant proposals.  A high priority is to find a scientist with understanding and respect for indigenous ways of knowing and data sovereignty for the community.


Desired Skills and Qualifications (bulleted list):

  • Knowledge and respect for indigenous cultures and worldviews
  • Experience working with or belonging to indigenous/BIPOC communities (i.e., lived experience), and/or willingness to do accomplice training prior to engaging with the community
  • Experience with metrics of soil health
  • Experience with, or willingness to learn about, pollution remediation, specifically mycoremediation.
  • Experience with successful grant writing a plus
  • Mycologist, arborist, or researcher with experience with petroleum infrastructure useful but not required.
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • The scientist should be willing to visit the community in-person


Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!

Collaborating Organization(s)

Spirit of the Sun, Inc. is an indigenous women-led organization,  incorporated 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the state of Colorado. For over a decade, they have partnered with Native American communities across the nation to develop new opportunities for tribes and Native American individuals. Spirit of the Sun is founded on the belief that effective and sustainable development work recognizes the intersections of culture, community, economy, and health, and that true success is only possible through collaboration. The organization maintains open and ongoing dialogues with all partners to ensure that every project or initiative reflects the unique needs and goals of the Native communities we serve. They reside on the land of the Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), hinono’eino’ biito’owu’ (Arapaho), Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, as well as 48+ other tribes with ties to this land.