Written by Peter Forbes
Imagine a long-distance runner, without a watch, crossing mountain ranges, passing through villages, people occasionally cheering them along, but mostly alone confronting obstacles on the ground and in their mind, always running toward an important goal. I believe Sustainable Southeast Partnership is that runner, and I offer up this essay to help the world recognize the importance of your cross-country journey and the magnitude of your goal. This essay was supported by the Sustainable Southeast Partnership as a tool to help illustrate the significance and complexity of their work to share with practitioners, investors, community leaders, movers and shakers.
Kurt Hahn, the Scottish innovator who made popular outdoor education and who founded Outward Bound said, “If you’re lucky, once in your life you’ll be associated with a truly great idea.” My greatest hope is that this essay helps all the partners and community members working together within SSP to see that they are manifesting a truly great idea: a collaboration that heals and moves forward a very important place in this world.
Written by Peter Bradley and Desiree Lawson with editing from Kyle Rosendale and Tara Racine
Harvey Kitka and Desiree Lawson explore herring habitat in Sitka Sound
On June 21st, Sitkans were treated to “Herring Without Borders,” a presentation by Desiree Lawson of the Heiltsuk Nation of British Columbia, Canada. Desiree works with Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air, & Water (RELAW), an initiative helping Indigenous people apply “their ancestral laws to contemporary environmental challenges.” She was hosted by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, with support from The Nature Conservancy’s Emerald Edge program, in order to cultivate an exchange between two tribal governments advocating for more ecologically and culturally responsible management of Pacific herring.
The exchange highlighted the similarities and differences between Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Heiltsuk Nation; their histories, cultures, ecologies, and perspectives on stewardship of natural resources. Like the Tlingit people of Sitka and Southeast Alaska, the Heiltsuk of the Central Coast of British Columbia have a deeply rooted connection to herring going back generations– at least 14,000 years. Heiltsuk Nation’s relationship with herring is grounded in Gvíļas, or Heiltsuk laws and values. A foundational principle of Gvíļas is a respect for all living things. For Desiree, it’s clear her people have relied on herring since the beginning: “We know that our main diet on [Triquet Island] for the first 4,000 years of occupation was herring.” But, since the advent of reduction fisheries in the 1800’s, there have been large shifts in herring abundance, population, and distribution along the Emerald Edge; according to traditional knowledge.
Many Indigenous groups, including Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Heiltsuk Nation, advocate for more conservative management of this ecological and cultural keystone species. The “Herring Without Borders” exchange allowed Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Heiltsuk Nation to share lessons learned during past herring conservation work, and to discuss future ideas.
Desiree’s presentation combined lessons from Heiltsuk stories to Canadian case law, mimicking what Heiltsuk Nation did when they advocated for better management of the herring sac roe fishery. The Heiltsuk story “Raven Obtains the Herring” is an example of how legal principles are found within oral histories. As Desiree pointed out, The Kiks.ádi “Herring Rock” story does the same.
The 1990 Sparrow Decision expanded Aboriginal rights in Canada, which later constitutionally protected “Heiltsuk exclusive rights to fish for herring spawn on kelp for commercial purposes,” in the 1996 Gladstone Case. Then, Heiltsuk oral testimony and Gvíļas principles became admissible in Canadian courts after the 1997 Delgamuukw decision. However, these gains were not easily won. The Gladstone Case was in court for ten years. “They lost twice in BC courts, and then went to the Supreme Court of Canada and won the rights.”
Using the foundations built by Sparrow, Gladstone, and Delgamuukw, Heiltsuk Nation successfully negotiated a ten-year moratorium on the sac roe fishery in late 2005. However, by 2014 herring controversy came to a head when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) opened the sac roe fishery before the end of the moratorium, without consulting Heiltsuk Nation. So, Heiltsuk Nation organized workshops for nonviolent protesting and protesters’ rights. When DFO neglected to send authorized representatives to negotiate, members of Heiltsuk Nation occupied the DFO office until appropriate negotiators arrived.
In 2015, after months of protesting, DFO elected to not open the sac roe herring fishery. They also agreed to a joint management plan with Heiltsuk Nation. When the two were unable to come to an management agreement for the 2018 commercial sac roe fishery, DFO elected to close the fishery. This marked the first time the Canadian government took Heiltsuk traditional knowledge into account when making management decisions.
Photo Credit: KCAW/Rachel Cassandra Desiree Lawson of Heiltsuk Nation and RELAW took part Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s “Herring Without Borders” exchange on June 21, 2018.
For Tammy Young, a Chookanshaa (Chookan’eidi woman) of Hoonah, the event was an important one. “Although there are borders between Canada and Alaska, those borders have been pretty fluid in terms of relationships. From time to time we don’t agree with what’s happening in Canada, and vice versa, but we’re all looking in the same direction. We’re making sure that these resources are still available for our grandchildren and those not yet born.” Tammy was encouraged by the cultural backing used in the Heiltsuk Nation’s case. She recognized that the case stands out because it allowed traditional stories and practices in court. “For Desiree and Heiltsuk Nation to come and share how they were able to move their government… it offers us encouragement and lights a path that we didn’t know existed until she came to tell us.”
After her talk, an audience member asked Desiree how Heiltsuk Nation reached consensus when determining proper course of action. Desiree’s response was, “We have our own set of laws that guide how we’re supposed to act. We understand that herring have the right to live and grow and reproduce in the ocean, and it’s our responsibility to uphold that law for the herring. Anything we needed to do to protect that right is what we did.”
Although the ultimate goal of Desiree’s Sitka trip was the “Herring Without Borders” exchange, she also spent time with Sitka’s community advocates. While boating through Sitka Sound with Elders, they discussed changes to herring abundance and distribution in Southeast Alaska. Several times during her trip Desiree remarked on how much Sitka looked like her home, reinforcing the similarities faced by Indigenous people all along the Pacific coast, regardless of borders. But, she noticed differences as well. She commented on the stark differences between Indigenous rights in British Columbia and in Alaska. A lot still needs to be done in respect to Indigenous rights in Alaska, but hopefully this cross-border exchange marks the beginning of greater herring conservation collaboration between Heiltsuk Nation and Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
Following her visit to Sitka, Desiree passed along this poem by her friend Caroline Humchitt of the Heiltsuk Nation, as inspiration for Sitkans and all other people working to protect and foster relationships of reciprocal care with all of the life around us for many generations to come:
My children, and all other children who have been into the pristine forests, Know what the future has in store for them.
The people who have never been there have never realized the importance of nature.
They have never seen a bear, or any other animal for that matter.
They have never witnessed the joy that the animals bring to the children while out in the wilderness.
Neither the children nor the forests have a voice. And both are dependent on others to take care of them.
Both are beautiful and deserve the right to be left alone to grow in their own beauty and identity.
It is no longer about what is yours and what is ours.
It is about what is living in the forest and how we can keep it safe.
Why do people always have to envision money in everything?
Lives are at stake here, and life is far more important than profit.
Is it possible to either make money elsewhere or live without money?
Ask my ancestors. They were wealthy and they did not own a cent.
* Caroline Humchitt, Land Use Plan Executive Summary 2007
Written by Paul Hackenmueller, Program Director
SSP’s annual spring retreat was in Juneau, March 7-9. This three day workshop gave catalysts and partners a chance to reflect on the growth of the network, learn new tools to apply to their work, grapple with questions about growing SSP into the future, and (of course!) reconnect. Over 35 individuals from 20+ organizations attended the event, from longtime partners and host organizations to new friends in new communities. As usual, this year’s spring meeting coincided with other regional gatherings in Juneau. Many partners began the week at Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition’s Restoration Workshop and spent time with the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership’s technical team before spending two days with the whole network in downtown Juneau. The whole group spent Thursday night and Friday at the Shrine of St. Therese where we saw rain, snow, sun and sea lions in a serene setting overlooking Lynn Canal.
Each SSP retreat has a different flavor, if you will, and this spring we spent our time and energy thinking about the future. As the network grows, we want to ensure partner communities, organizations, businesses, and individuals are empowered to participate in ways that contribute to our region’s resiliency. Maintaining equity and inclusion while strengthening the network in an uncertain funding landscape is of critical importance to the network, and participants embraced these discussions with gusto.
We’re fortunate to make new friends each time the network gathers, and this year was no different. Many catalysts have worked with Ecotrust
on projects in SE, and several of their staff were able to come learn more about SSP in person. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s Emerald Edge Community Exchange program, several members of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative
joined our discussion for the week. PWI is a network in Washington state with a collaborative approach to community well being that’s similar to our own. The relationships forged and insights gleaned from these new friends are already bearing fruit, and I expect them to continue well into the future. Learn more about their exchange by reading their reflection here. TNC also supported the retreat with additional staff and facilitation from Reos Partners, a global firm with expertise in helping teams work together effectively.
One other important event to come out of the week was the announcement of a new SSP Program Director. Alana Peterson, SSP’s director for the last for years has decided to transition out. The SSP Steering Committee opened the position to existing SSP catalysts and selected me – hi, I’m Paul. I’ve been working at Spruce Root as the Regional Catalyst for Economic Development for the past three years. I’ve worked closely with Alana and have learned a great deal about our southeast communities, collaboration, and trust from each of the catalysts I’ve met. It has been one of the true pleasures of my life to work with such this group. I will be coming to all of the SSP communities in the coming months, and look forward to connecting with each of you soon.
On the ride home on the final day, I was exhausted, of course, by the intensity of the discussions, but invigorated and encouraged by the passion of the people in the room and filled with a sense that the work we’re doing just might be the start of something big. Something that helps drive us toward a more resilient and, yes, sustainable Southeast.
Written and photographed by Bethany Goodrich for Alaska Business Monthly
Dennis Gray Jr. sets his fishing gear with a calm and practiced rhythm in the Gulf of Alaska, south of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. “My ancestors have fished these waters since the last Ice Age,” Gray says as he slides his knife through the crimson gills of a coho salmon.
Gray is a fourth-generation commercial fisherman. He’s also the city administrator for Hoonah, a Tlingit village carved into the slender coast of Chichagof Island.
Aboard his humming freezer troller, Gray relies on a time-tested strategy: selecting hoochies and flashers, adjusting depth and speed to catch salmon. But back in town, he and his community of 800 concentrate their efforts on another silvery target: building prosperity in rural Alaska.
Challenges confront hundreds of isolated villages across Alaska. Despite being just seventy miles west of the state capital, Hoonah remains accessible only by boat or small plane. Goods and services are barged in, and that’s costly. Energy prices are more than double what Juneau residents pay. And the unemployment rate for the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area, which includes Angoon, Hoonah, Gustavus, Tenakee Springs, and Pelican, was more than twice as high as the state’s average in 2015, due in part to a lack of year-round jobs. Still, many Alaska Native families in Hoonah trace their ancestry back for centuries with roots anchored to specific shorelines, forests, and fishing grounds.
And despite its isolation, Hoonah’s location helps. There are bountiful fisheries and the town’s position between Juneau and Glacier Bay makes it a strategic and attractive stop for cruise ships plying the Inside Passage from Seattle or Vancouver. According to the city of Hoonah’s 2016 economic report, the number of available jobs and average annual wages have all risen since 2010. The median family income jumped 15 percent and Hoonah’s sales tax revenue jumped 46 percent, according to the report.
While every rural Alaska town and village has its own unique economic challenges, the way Hoonah is facing theirs can offer insight and inspiration to others seeking development options.
Adapt with Authenticity
“Adapt or die,” says Gray with a smile as he captains his freezer troller past a brightly lit cruise ship pulling into town. “Hoonah has always done a good job of transitioning from one industry to the next. We are good fishermen, we were good loggers, and now we are good tour operators.” Icy Strait Point, established by Huna Totem Corporation in 2004, is a cultural ecotourism port built on the site of Hoonah’s historic cannery, which operated until 1953.
Gray vividly remembers the energy in town when Hoonah decided to invest in Icy Strait and tourism—even though it was contentious. “I was twenty-two, new to the city council, and scared as heck,” he says. Huna Totem requested city support to connect the historic site to city water and electricity. Some Hoonah residents were not convinced. “I’d say the community was about 40/60 against developing tourism. People were like: ‘What? That’s never going to happen. A little Indian village, why would tourists even come to Hoonah?’ Eventually, we spent our last savings to put in a waterline… because we believed in … what it might do for Hoonah.”
Before Icy Strait, tourists seldom visited. Today, according to the city, Icy Strait Point supports one-third of the city’s sales tax base. Huna Totem Corporation says more than 156,000 visitors arrived this year on eighty-three cruises, including Disney Cruise Lines—a number the company expects will exceed one hundred next year. And Icy Strait’s workforce is 80 percent local.
According to Russell Dick, CEO of Huna Totem Corporation, authenticity and community buy-in led to Icy Strait’s success. “If there is any place we are going to invest our money, it is going to be at home, putting our people to work,” Dick says.
“It’s not Disneyland. [Icy Strait Point] is an incredibly authentic port and done in a way that meets the expectations of the cruise lines without having to compromise our values.”
Sharing Home and Culture
Britney Jack began working with Icy Strait Point while in high school. Today, the twenty-two year old is the company’s logistics coordinator. “I take a lot of ownership and pride in working here and so [do] a lot of other local people … This is our home and our culture. We want to share it,” Jack says.
Gordon Greenwald is a master carver in Hoonah who also sits on several city boards including Hoonah’s economic development committee. Since Icy Strait opened thirteen years ago, Greenwald has seen progressively more tourists wander into the center of town, some visiting the carving shed where he works.
“Honestly, I was not in favor of it [Icy Strait Point] in the very beginning because I thought it was going to change us and we would end up like South Franklin [Street] of Juneau or Ketchikan. I don’t want that for Hoonah and I’m afraid that’s the direction they are going to go,” says Greenwald. “But in the meantime, it’s a positive thing and an employment base. Yes, it’s a service industry [and] it’s not a $35-an-hour job, but it’s better than nothing, and I think it has helped put Hoonah on the map.”
Since Icy Strait launched, nineteen new locally-owned businesses have opened in Hoonah, most catering to visitors. Tax revenue from Icy Strait is being invested in community assets such as sidewalks, a youth center, and the school system.
“Hoonah in the past had a lot of male-dominated employment opportunities with fishing and timber,” Gray says. “Tourism presents more widespread opportunities for women with kids and even grade-school students who work after school or dance when ships are in.”
Collaborate and Diversify
Some 150 miles of old logging roads weave throughout the forests, rivers, and valleys surrounding Hoonah. These roads, maintained by the US Forest Service, support local subsistence users as well as tourism guides and charters. They’re also important to a collaborative land management partnership called the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership that includes Huna Totem Corporation, Sealaska, the City of Hoonah, the Hoonah Indian Association, the Nature Conservancy, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, and the US Forest Service.
According to Robert Starbard, tribal administrator of the Hoonah Indian Association, some of these entities—particularly environmental nonprofits and Alaska Native corporations—have not always seen eye-to-eye.
But the organizations have adopted “this new collaborative way of working. This is the… future of how to do natural resource work effectively, efficiently, and sustainably,” says Starbard. “It is possible to have all stakeholders at the table building an effective private-public partnership for land stewardship and watershed management.”
A core goal is to create career opportunities in natural resources and land stewardship for locals.
“[It’s] about diversifying the economy in Hoonah,” adds Dick. “Tourism is not for everybody, but doing things like harvesting commercial blueberries, for example, are great opportunities.”
“Alaskan blueberries, black huckleberries, dwarf blueberries, bog blueberries,” rattles off Donovan Smith, who belongs to the partnership. “We’ve learned a lot about all the different plants and types of habitats where they thrive.”
This year, local pickers sold blueberries to Goldbelt Corporation, as well as ice cream and coffee shop, Coppa, in Juneau. Juneau’s Amalga Distillery also purchased one hundred pounds of blueberries for its blueberry vodka.
And while harvesting blueberries doesn’t bring in anywhere near the money that the commercial fishing fleet earns, it creates economic options for Hoonah. And the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership is about far more than just blueberries: the field crew traverses across the landscape from Sealaska watersheds to US Forest Service lands to map and monitor salmon streams, report on road conditions, thin forest stands for timber production, and restore salmon habitat.
“In terms of our youth and early career residents, the partnership creates professions for land use management. If you want to work with fish, you don’t have to be a commercial fisherman, you can be a fisheries biologist and can come home even if you went out to college and studied science. You can bring that expertise back to Hoonah,” says Starbard.
Kristi Styers dishes up a holistic view of her hometown’s economy while bouncing her daughter Alfie on her knees at Fishermen’s Daughter, the restaurant she opened in 2011.
“Everyone has to eat,” says Styers. “[So] we really see how the economy is doing. When fishing is good, we feel it. When it is great weather or a full cruise ship is in town, we feel it.”
Styers also felt it when Hoonah secured federal economic development agency grants and state legislative grants to invest $5.5 million in a boat haul-out that attracted more outside revenue.
“[Now] the boatyard stays full in the spring and the fall. It really stretched out our season,” says Styers, who keeps Fishermen’s Daughter open May to November, three months longer than during her first year. And when Huna Totem Corporation and the city installed a $22 million deep-water dock, more cruise companies could stop in Hoonah, and Styers saw even more diners.
That’s no accident. According to Gray, the city invests purposefully in infrastructure that catalyzes far-reaching economic impact in town for new industries like boat repair, old industries like fishing, and ancillary businesses like Fishermen’s Daughter.
Thinking Outside City Limits
Hoonah can’t do it alone and is looking to surrounding villages to ease some of the costs associated with isolated island living. “Savings can happen region-wide if we collaborate,” Gray says.
Hoonah hired a consultant to look at the feasibility of Angoon, Hoonah, Tenakee, Pelican, and Kake forming a borough. “That would help us with school costs,” says Gray. “Neighboring towns have schools of the same size and have the same overhead costs of a superintendent and principal and in theory we could share.” A flourishing school system can help Hoonah cultivate homegrown leaders.
“For a community to thrive you need to have committed people … in leadership positions [who] are around for the long term,” says Gray.
But Dick sees a Catch 22.
“How do you invest in local leadership? You have to create employment opportunities for good top-notch people to come back. And, if you don’t have that kind of leadership, how do you create those opportunities? It’s really a challenge.”
Cultivating prosperity in isolated Alaska is not easy. However, the coastal community of Hoonah remains dedicated, leaning on collaboration, diversification, adaptation, strategic investments, creativity, and a focus on cultivating local leadership to meet the challenge.
“My biggest hope is that in twenty years, Hoonah remains this place we can all be proud of,” says Styers.