This is a reflection piece written by the Puyallup Watershed Initiative about their recent participation in the spring Sustainable Southeast Partnership retreat.
The Puyallup Watershed Initiative (PWI) is all about building community. It turns out the PWI itself belongs to a community.
It’s not a big community – yet.
“The pool of people doing backbone staffing to support this work is pretty small. There are not a lot of peers, so it’s valuable hearing another community trying out an initiative like this, learning about their successes – because you might be the only group in your region,” said Jennifer Chang, Acting Director for the PWI. The Puyallup Watershed Initiative is a new model for community-centered change. Our mission is to improve social and environmental conditions throughout the region, which comprises more than 1,000 square miles from Mt. Rainier to Commencement Bay in Washington State.
Thanks to the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) in Alaska, and with support from The Nature Conservancy, the community of place-driven locally-led change makers just grew a lot stronger in the Pacific Northwest. Like with many such connections, this one started with an email.
Back in Fall of last year, Aaron Ferguson, Regional Sustainability Catalyst for the SSP, emailed the PWI with some intriguing questions about impact and sustainability. As noted in the first article on Learning Exchanges, this topic is a major focus for the PWI as it enters the second half of its 10-year project span. The SSP was in a mindset, and Aaron’s questions hit home with the PWI team: does PWI rely on philanthropy to sustain its work? Memberships? What is the PWI’s organizational structure? Is it a nonprofit? A for-profit? A mix of the two? How did the PWI preserve its mission while balancing funding considerations?
Amidst all that brainstorming and conversation, one question naturally popped up for Jennifer: “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a Learning Exchange?” The idea was that one organization would host the other to share and ideate together. Face-to-face meetings, facilitated discussions, patient listening – for two organizations focused on community engagement and action, that could be the only way to communicate.
Knowing that the Nature Conservancy was keen to see such exchanges occur, Aaron at the SSP reached out to them and, together with the PWI team, submitted a proposal to fund a community learning exchange where PWI staff would fly out to southeastern Alaska to meet with the SSP team. The proposal was accepted, and within months, the SSP and the PWI had planned the learning exchange; it would occur from March 7 to March 9, 2018, alongside SSP’s spring retreat.
Jennifer Chang, Acting Director for the PWI, Community Relations Manager April Nishimura, and Alisa O’Hanlon for the City of Tacoma’s Office of Government Relations office, packed up their warmest winter gear and headed north for the three-day session with SSP. Jennifer and April are part of the PWI staff, but Alisa’s involvement was especially interesting. Besides being her first time in Alaska, Alisa had served on the PWI’s Transitional Board to guide the PWI toward creating a permanent Community Board. Alisa’s knowledge and understanding of the mechanisms that would help the PWI endure would be hugely relevant to this trip.
The PWI and the SSP’s two teams shared about their successes in building community and creating a communication culture that prioritized relationship-building and community-level input. They discussed their similarities and did not shy away from sharing deeply felt challenges, like the few number of organizations working in this space, the focus on a process-driven instead of outputs-driven model, the delicate balance between effective decision-making and governance structures, and the sometimes overwhelming question: What exactly does your organization do?
The various answers to that question revealed why organizations like the PWI and the SSP are crucial for community-building. For Alisa, one answer is communication. How are we signaling to each other in the community about emerging needs? How are we communicating together as a team to share information freely? Using a team sports analogy, how are we helping inform our teammates about our position so they can pass us the ball? “Both of our organizations are trying to figure out how to keep up that communication in a timely manner that keeps pace with the work,” Alisa said.
While many productive meetings occurred indoors, a key lesson presented itself to the PWI team outdoors as well. Like the SSP, the PWI is a place-based organization that is deeply invested in its environmental health and influenced by its location. The PWI team learned how southeastern Alaska’s conditions of low population density and lengthy travel shaped the way SSP staff intentionally build relationships and networks. “You don’t have a lot of people around you so you have to be conscientious about reaching out,” said Jennifer. “When you need help, you have to have that support system in place.”
Jennifer believes place-based, community- driven learning will drive our push toward sustainability. “At heart, we believe as community members of our community, we have the answers,” she said.
Both sides came away from the session impressed with the other: the PWI appreciated the SSP’s “Community Catalysts” as connected, direct points of contact in communities participating within SSP who support and further local action, while the SSP felt the PWI’s Community Board was a real step forward in creating an independent entity that can realize its own vision and values.
So while the start of this discussion has answered some questions and raised even more, perhaps the best takeaway is: in this work, we are not alone.
For more information about the Puyallup Watershed Initiative’s vision for community-centered change to address environmental and social inequities, visit: http://pwi.org
Join gardeners of Southeast Alaska in Haines Feb 16-18th, 2018 for a 3 day conference on growing local produce in our short challenging growing season. Focusing on home use and small-scale farms, topics will include soil health, gardening practices, storage and preservation, composting, and food security.. Jeff Lowenfels, acclaimed long-time Alaskan garden author and writer, will be the keynote speaker. Format will include break- out sessions with local experienced growers, community extension personnel and sharing forums.. There will be many opportunities to network and share knowledge.
February 16- 18, 2018
More information and sign up at:
Brought to you by Southeast Gardener’s of Alaska”
Start: January 22nd, 2018 End: July 31, 2018 Pay: $100/home assessment
We are seeking a self-motivated individual to educate community members on energy efficiency by participating in the Home Energy Leader Program (HELP). This program is offered through the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) and sponsored by Yakutat Tlingit Tribe (YTT) Environmental Department. Home Energy Leader will attend training and use those skills to educate community members. The position will be paid on a per home basis for the outreach.
- Attend one-day training on January 23, 2018 in Juneau
- Solicit community participation and advertise program
- Conduct individual home assessments, which may include the following: Analyzing utility bills and consumption use, Light bulb savings comparison, Use of kilowatt meters to assess appliance draw, Eliminating phantom power consumption & using power strips, Installation of weather stripping and reduction of air infiltration, Programming and using programmable thermostats, Testing water temperature, Checking air filters and refrigeration coils, Installing faucet aerators and low flow showerheads
- Minimum Requirements: 18 years of age or older, Self-motivated and comfortable interacting with people
- Preferences: Desire to help community members, Experience with community outreach
For further details on the HELP program, please direct inquiries to: Shaina Kilcoyne | Renewable Energy Alaska Project | Sustainable Southeast Partnership | firstname.lastname@example.org |907-331-7409 Decision will be made by January 3, 2018 so apply today! Stop by YTT Environmental Department to obtain/return an application
Click here to download the application
Written by The Nature Conservancy, Sarah Dybdahl, and Tis Peterman
Focussing on youth leadership in Southeast Alaska, First Alaskans Institute assisted in facilitating our time together by creating a space for youth, community leaders, local and regional organizations to share and discuss opportunities to address the wants and needs of youth, their communities and the surrounding region with special emphasis on catalyzing leadership behaviour.
Youth and communities leaders (or organizational representatives) participated from the communities of Kake, Hoonah, Kasaan, Juneau, Yakutat, Wrangell and Klawock.
Organizations in Attendance:
- Alaska Crossing
- Discovery Southeast
- Forest Service – Tongas National Forest
- Goldbelt Heritage Foundation
- Hoonah City Schools
- Huna Heritage Foundation
- Organized Village of Kake
- Organized Village of Kasaan
- Sealaska Corporation
- Sitka Science Centre
- Southeast Regional Health Consortium, Kake
- Southeast Sustainable Partnership
- State of Alaska Community Economic Development
- Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS)
- The Nature Conservancy
- Yakutat Tlingit Tribe
The first day of our time together we had the opportunity to have a series of catalyzing presentations. To start, the community of Kake outlined the years of work they’ve spent developing and creating their Annual Culture Camp. Another catalyzer presentation was provided by the Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) program based out of British Columbia. The intent of these catalyzer presentations was to educate participants of current programs that exist to provide leadership development opportunities and generate thoughts, ideas and conversations
What is important for our young people?
The adults and elders representing their communities and organizations discussed amongst ourselves questions including:
- What is important for our young people to know?
- What would we like to see in our youth?
- What could adults do to assist in the success of our youth?
Key takeaways included the need for more opportunities for youth to get outside, connect with elders and community members, and learn about their culture.
Developing Leadership Programs over the next 40+ years
The youth then had the opportunity to spend time together thinking about and sharing their ideas amongst themselves, lead by First Alaskans Institute’s guiding questions. The start of their conversation was looking ahead into the future forty years and discussing where they would like to see opportunities for leadership development.
Key takeaways included the desire to see more opportunities to learn about culture in school (tools, names, language), the preservation of traditional language and practices taught by elders and more consistent opportunities for cultural events like trips, native activities and dance group practices. These types of immersive learning opportunity allow the youth to connect with each other informally in the region.
How do we make that happen?
The youth were encouraged to share their ideas and thoughts on activities and actions that would need to take place to make their vision of 40 years from now come to reality.
Key takeaways included broadening the youth’s support system by allowing for time to visit elders and involve language instructors to assist in all aspects of culture. From learning stories, purpose and pronunciations to preparing foods and understanding the words of songs and practicing dance, learning their culture in context help the youth feel empowered and whole; confident in passing on their learnings to the next generations.
What is possible?
Participants were divided into groups to identify what methods of developing leadership programs resonated as most possible, with one youth leading the smaller group discussions. Providing the youth an opportunity to have a voice in what happens in the region ______
Key takeaways included regional cultural camps to bring youth together from their expanded regions (ex: British Columbia), providing structure to the educational experience by replacing existing SEAS curriculum to allow for more active engagement in school and time with elders (through the outdoors or specialized projects), and the creation of safe space/networks for students leaving community for post-secondary education.
Circle within a Circle – Adults working with Youth
A select group of adults who represented their communities or organizations were asked to sit in a circle with the remaining participants surrounding them on the outside. Those on the outside were to be active listeners while those in the middle shared their thoughts and ideas. Those sharing imparted many barriers both personally and professionally, along with reasons they are dedicated the youth leadership in their communities.
Key takeaways included an appreciation and sense of pride towards the youth that have stepped up into leadership roles to help the community and strengthen traditions and language. By providing the opportunities for the youth to work with elders to bridge the gap of knowledge from the past trauma, helps them appreciate things happening in the community – the more communities are connected, the better. Listen – Learn – Do.
Reflections of Leadership Development Lists
Participants were asked to take some time to review all the thoughts and ideas captured regarding youth leadership. Below are thoughts shared after having time to absorb and process what had been shared collectively up to this given point.
Key takeaways included more programs in school and jobs in the community with an emphasis on sharing among tribes, mentorship/apprenticeship opportunities to bring elders and youth together, diversification and support for the leadership in the community and motivating the youth by recognizing their achievements within the community.
How can we move forward?
The last activity of our two days together was to share what each participant could do now to ensure the thoughts and ideas would become a reality. What would each of us commit to within our communities and organizations, both personally and professionally.
Key takeaways included opportunities for youth to connect with each other informally at culture camps or other events in the region by creating events for them to connect with each other, opportunities for youth to have a voice in what happens in the region and more consistent opportunities for youth to get outside, connecting with elders and community members, and learn about their culture (year-round). The collective group continually returned to cultural connection as the heart of what they wanted to focus on. Getting youth outdoors, involved in science, or on career development paths wasn’t enough – this must always be integrated into the idea of cultural connection as a whole.
Written by Christine Woll, Southeast Alaska Program Director of The Nature Conservancy
Beach seining on Klawock Lake. Photo by Lee House
“What does sockeye salmon mean to Klawock? I didn’t have to think that hard about that question. Klawock is here because of sockeye salmon.” Lawrence Armour, the mayor and tribal administrator of the Klawock Cooperative Association opened the Klawock Lake Sockeye Salmon Stakeholders meeting on November 14 on Prince of Wales Island. This 2-day gathering brought together community members, land managers, local government officials, fish and wildlife managers, tribal members, researchers and subsistence and commercial fishers in order to build a common understanding of the history and current status of sockeye salmon in the Klawock Lake Watershed. Stakeholders identified opportunities to partner on shared goals that will help steward this critical resource.
As the mayor mentioned, sockeye salmon has long been the critical resource that brought people to Klawock. Tlingit settlers from Tuxekan first used this area as a fishing camp during the summer, fashioning traditional fish traps, the remnants of which you can still see today in the tidal flats. In 1878, one of the first Alaskan canneries was built in Klawock, and a significant commercial sockeye fishery operated out here through the late 1930s. Today, sockeye continues to be of high value in the community – as Millie Schoonover, the president of the Craig village native corporation Shaan Seet, inc., stated “Sockeye is not just about subsistence – it is our traditional food.”
It is well documented in Klawock traditional knowledge that sockeye salmon have declined over the last century. The potential factors for these declines have been studied over many years, and are very complex and intertwined. These factors include:
- Commercial harvest of sockeye salmon in the past and climatic change may have permanently altered the ecology of the lake;
- Significant timber harvest, road building, and other development have altered the health of the spawning habitat
- A salmon hatchery, permitted before the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stopped permitting hatcheries on wild salmon streams, likely interacts with wild sockeye in unknown ways;
- And commercial and subsistence harvest continues to impact run size.
The Sustainable Southeast Partnership’s community fisheries program focuses on ensuring that local priorities are central to fish and fish habitat management. So when the organizers of the meeting began to plan this meeting, we knew that community priorities must take precedent to enable continual long-term stewardship and action. As community member Harry Jackson stated, “We are the original stakeholders of Klawock Lake.” Two community meetings and an online community meeting offered the general public a time to come, eat salmon, hear music and dance, and share their thoughts on how the community and managers should approach salmon stewardship. Over 100 people attended these events or responded to the survey. Quinn Aboudara, the Klawock community catalyst, followed the Mayor in the agenda, and presented on the results of this outreach.. It was made clear that sockeye harvest continues to be a major subject of passion and survival. Salmon habitat management, hatchery protocols, overharvest, and climate change were all voiced by participants as concerns. Many respondents also offered possible solutions, ranging from raising sockeye salmon in the hatchery; improving habitat; practicing traditional methods of predator control, and others.
The meeting also offered community leaders and members the opportunity to hear from managers and researchers on their current practices and information. Meeting participants learned the process for influencing and changing regulations in subsistence and commercial fisheries. Participants discussed and debated hatchery practices with the hatchery managers and regulators. And, they provided feedback on ongoing research into the ecology and habitat condition of Klawock Lake.
It is hard to facilitate difficult conversations like these when so much is at stake. These conversations require attention to power dynamics, avoidance of technocratic language, and the willingness to move past conflict. Luckily, participants acknowledged that they were all here for the same reasons – because they cared about sockeye. This type of shared learning and understanding between the community and managers is often the first step towards solutions, and an essential part of successful community fishery programs.
Meeting participants acknowledge that, in Klawock Lake, there is no “smoking gun.” No one action or one person is going to bring back sockeye salmon to historical levels. Brainstorming and discussions brought forth many great ideas and recommendations on ways to move forward – together. For example, participants recommended community-facilitated harvest reporting, watershed monitoring projects for students, and a community task force to develop recommendations on hatchery practices. We hope that the relationships and trust built at this meeting will help catalyze these next steps into action – and lead to a thriving future for this community fishery.
Stakeholders gather in Klawock to discuss stewarding the critical salmon resource. Photo by Christine Woll.
This meeting was sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, the Southeast Alaska Fish Habitat Partnership, the Klawock Cooperative Association, and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. The meeting was funded by the North Pacific Research Board. Thank you, Gunalchéesh, and Háw’aa to everyone who helped organize, facilitate, provide food and logistics, offer review and guidance, and share their knowledge before and at the meeting – all were essential to making this happen. To learn more about the final synthesis from recent research and this meeting, please contact Christine Woll at email@example.com