For Alaska’s Capital City Weekly
Joe, Sonia and Minnie at the Biscuit Lagoon beach collecting data to understand sea otter impacts on shellfish populations.
When you think of the word “scientist,” what images come to mind?
Does your mental picture look like this: a white male wearing goggles and a lab coat sporting a head of crazy disheveled hair? Well, you aren’t alone. When Wendy Smythe enters a classroom in Hydaburg, she opens with that same question.
“We get those same terms every time and then I say, ‘Well, look at me, I’m a scientist.'”
Smythe looks nothing like Einstein. She is green-eyed, blond-haired and Haida. She sings, dances and harvests berries. She also spends countless hours in the lab and in the field studying microorganisms as a post-doctorate fellow at Michigan State. Although she lives more than 2,300 miles from Prince of Wales Island, she still considers Hydaburg her home.
Smythe is a scientist, and so are Joseph Hilaire, Taylor Natkong and Chavonne Guthrie -the three students from Hydaburg who accompanied Smythe and her team of mentors to the 2015 American Indian Science and Engineering Conference last month in Phoenix, Arizona. The mission of the conference is to “increase the representation of American Indians and Alaskan Natives in engineering, sciences and other related technology disciplines.”
I spoke with Smythe, Hilaire and former student Melanie Kadake to understand the conference’s significance for Hydaburg. As it turns out, the conference is only one part of an extensive outreach program Smythe began in 2008 to break down the walls of Western science, to make science meaningful for her home community, and to inspire a new generation of empowered leaders.
Since its inception, the Hydaburg Geoscience Education Program has celebrated many successes. To start, let’s dive into last week’s conference.
The American Indian Science and Engineering Conference
(From left to right) Sonia Ibarra, Joseph Hilaire, Taylor Natkong, Chavonne Guthrie, Wendy Smythe, Melanie Kadake and Lauren Smythe attended the American Indian Science and Engineering Society Conference last week in Phoneix Arizona. This conference is one part of an extensive outreach project Smythe began in 2008 to empower Hydaburg’s next generation of scientific leaders. Photo Wendy Smythe.
The AISES conference brings together American Indian and Alaskan Native high school and college students from across the country to focus on educational, professional and workforce development in science, technology, engineering and math. Nearly 2,000 participants collaborate over three days while listening to speakers, presenting scientific research and meeting with college and industry recruiters.
The conference specifically caters to the challenges American Indian and Alaskan Natives often face.
“When I first put this program in Hydaburg together, I tried to incorporate every challenge that I had when I left,” Smythe said.”So when you leave a small community and you know everybody and you go to college in Portland or somewhere else, it’s overwhelming and it’s terrifying. So I support AISES because it gives students a chance to leave and go to a conference that’s maybe three or four times the population of where they live. They get to see what it’s like. Then, they go home and they get to think about it – with the hope being that when they do go off to college, they are prepared to handle it.”
Kadake is one of Smythe’s first mentees. She was a sophomore when Smythe first invited her out to collect scientific samples. Seven years later, Kadake is a scientist herself. As an environmental planner for the tribe, Hydaburg Cooperative Association, she spends her summers monitoring important salmon subsistence streams for her community. As a part of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Kadake’s expertise and insight are valued by other tribes and organizations across the region who share her vision for resilient communities and a resilient region. Kadake keeps Hydaburg’s science program running day to day and has participated in six AISES conferences. One of the most important take-homes for her is the feeling of solidarity.
“I appreciate seeing all the different Natives there pursuing their careers in sciences engineering and math, just knowing how many people there are and knowing that I’m not alone in wanting to pursue the dream I have, that’s important,” she said.
Hilaire is a high school senior who presented last week in his second AISES conference. For him, the conference is about confidence. For four hours, students stand by their research posters and present them to a seemingly endless rotation of interested strangers.
“Before I had presented my research project last year, I had no experience in public speaking at all,” Hilaire said. “As more and more people stopped by my poster, I got used to it and I wasn’t as shy as I was before. And so this year, I wasn’t as shy as I was even last year and I had a lot more people stop by my poster and most of them were intrigued in it. I built up confidence in myself and was able to now show some real leadership.”
While developing their research projects, students are exposed to hands-on scientific techniques and are encouraged to cater their work to community priorities. Hilaire compared butter clam predation by otters and humans across four beaches around Hydaburg. Chavonne Guthrie presented on the integration of traditional ecological knowledge in assessing the health of the surrounding watersheds. Taylor Natkong helped monitor the health of Hydaburg’s marina using shipworms as indicators.
Preparing Students Starts at Home
Melanie Kadake was the first high school mentee of Wendy Smythe under the Hydaburg Geoscience Education Program. Today, she is a scientist and the environmental planner for her local tribe. She spends summers monitoring the health of salmon subsistence streams for her home community of Hydaburg.
Over the years, the Hydaburg Geoscience Education Program has brought 20 Hydaburg students to the AISES conference. Smythe, however, is a firm believer that truly empowering the next generation of scientific leaders requires more than a yearly conference, it requires the continual support of an entire community.
Garnering support for an idea in a small tribal village isn’t simple or easy. You have to earn it, Smythe said.
“We started in 2008, and in the first year we didn’t go into the school, we just worked with elders and the tribe,” she said. “We took a baseline to see what they thought about the education system in Hydaburg, about us coming there, about us teaching science and how they wanted us to teach it. How could we apply culture and in what ways?”
The program evolved to include the school system. Kadake remembers Smythe’s first field trips as being pivotal in shaping her future.
“When Wendy came, she’d bring us outside and teach us different methods, teach us about macro-invertebrates and how they can show how healthy our streams are,” Kadake said. “Just learning outside the box instead of learning inside the classroom is what brought me closer to wanting to learn more about science.”
The program aims to not only bring science to Hydaburg but to make science more relevant and meaningful for Hydaburg. To do this, the team constantly redefines what it means to do science.
“Our elders, the stories they tell us, our traditional science- that’s grounded in science. Traditional knowledge and storytelling are a way of telling a scientific story,” Smythe said. “They’re just different ways to go about it — different observations and different measurements that we use, that our elders have used, to gauge the environment and be able to tell what’s happening. They use fireweed to tell when winter is coming, when the top of the fireweed is white, winter is coming in a few weeks- that’s science!”
The program has helped support the recording of oral histories from community elders for three years. Those recordings stand as an invaluable resource for not only students, but the community as a whole.
In this way and in others, Haida culture influences the program’s scientific methods and the group’s scientific methods also grow Haida culture.
“About four years into it, we started tying language into the program to not only to teach our language but to actually grow our language,” Smythe said. “There is no Haida word for ‘bacteria’ or ‘computer’ or ‘calculator’. So, we came up with a glossary and worked with Ben Young who worked with our elders, Claude Morrison and my auntie Alma Cook and granny Annie Peele, and it took a long time because they had to discuss, ‘Well what is a computer? How would we describe it in our language?’ We started to grow our language and that was so exciting for the whole community.”
Perhaps the most significant element of the program for building community support is that the science often leads to tangible positive change.
“We use biology to assess the health of the community across all the student’s projects,” Smythe said. “In the marine environment we looked at shipworms, they are related to clams and are sensitive to pollution. We did a study in the marina and we found that in the top column of water, that the shipworms weren’t colonizing. This told us that something was wrong, something was going on and that information was given to the tribe and they used that to write a grant and then got the funds to clean up the marina.”
Using that grant, the tribe was able to pull an impressive 4,000 pounds of debris off the sea floor in 2014.
“After the cleanup, the kids put more traps out and we pulled them this summer and there is colonization along this entire column of water!” she said. “We haven’t released that information yet, we haven’t really told anybody but, it’s really exciting though.”
Measuring Success: To Walk in Two Worlds
The road to empowering the next generation of community leaders and scientists is certainly not without obstacles. Among the many challenges are the high turnover of teachers in Hydaburg’s school system and the lack of support for Native students at some American colleges, Smythe said.
“I warn students to be careful when selecting a college, to remember that you aren’t just a number,” Smythe said. “When you are a number in a program just to increase diversity, your needs aren’t being met and they don’t care. Find a school that respects you and your culture.”
Wendy Smyth are bringing meaningful science to their home community of Hydaburg by science with culture. The two stand in front of the carving shed awaiting for the totem pole to be brought out during this year’s Culture Camp.
Regardless of the obstacles, the Geoscience Education Program has celebrated many notable successes. The community has mentored students from high school to careers in science, broken down the barriers that divide science and culture and has helped to grow a language. Along the way, Hydaburg has catered scientific inquiry to monitor, improve and protect the health of the local environment on which this community depends. All of this was achieved in just seven years, with the program continuing to grow.
“Years ago, we didn’t have this expectation for kids to participate in the program; it’s always voluntary,” Smythe said. “When we first went in, we had two or three people on the field trips but now, this summer we just had all 50 kids. Now, it’s expected from parents for their kids to participate. And the next few years are going to be exciting as we work to expand this program and we have already begun to build new partnerships with the University of Utah, Ocean Genome Lab in Boston, and Michigan State University.”
Community support for a new generation of leaders is also growing.
“The other key challenge we have tried to address in this program is this feeling that when you leave and then come back, you are considered different, right? So, we have been able to overcome that by constantly tying the community in,” Smythe said. “Now, there is support from the community for our students who decide to go away to school. And, that’s been beautiful to see. Naturally, there is that feeling of loss from the family, and we constantly stress that we aren’t trying to take this kid out of the community. We want them to leave, go to school, and then come back. We want them to be the environmental planners that can talk on both the traditional and scientific side. We want them to be the teachers so that they can teach science from a traditional knowledge perspective because they know it and they live it. We want to have our own kids grow up to be the community protectors and able to not only walk in the tribal community but in the science world when our resources are threatened.”
The Hydaburg Geoscience Education Program has been made possible through the support of the National Science Foundation, the Hydaburg Cooperative Association, the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction at OHSU. The team is especially grateful to the elders for guiding them along this journey, Doreen Witwer and Tony Christianson for their support of the program, and the community of Hydaburg for its supporting of local students.
To learn more visit http://www.stccmop.org/education/k12/geoscience
This summer, SSP’s Regional Energy Catalyst brought together energy experts to the communities of Haines, Hoonah, and Prince of Wales Island to help commercial building owners identify energy savings through a Level I Walk Through Energy Audit. With the help of on-the-ground Community Catalysts, the team was able to identify plenty of interested commercial building owners, managers and tenants. Jim Fowler of Energy Audits of Alaska audited 35 buildings totaling nearly 230,000ft2! These Level I Audits were paid for by the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with support from Southeast Conference, Renewable Energy Alaska Project, and Alaska Energy Authority. By coordinating the audits all together, the cost of these audits was cut by an estimated 2/3. The effort also included free energy workshops and outreach to numerous other building owners, managers and tenants through a ‘walking workshop.”
Direct follow up is being provided for all building owners that received an audit report. The real results will hopefully be realized in the coming weeks and months. We are optimistic that businesses can save money on their bottom line with energy efficiency measures, and hopefully re-invest in their businesses and community. Thank you to all participants and partners!
Jim Fowler auditing a shopping plaza in Craig with owner, Ken
The traveling energy team is on the move! After visiting Hoonah and Haines in June, the crew spent eight days in Prince of Wales Island. Kicking off on a Friday, it was a busy weekend as the group: Shaina Kilcoyne (Sustainable Southeast Partnership/Renewable Energy Alaska Project), Robert Venables (Southeast Conference) and Rebecca Garrett (Alaska Energy Authority), traveled with Karen Petersen (UAF, Thorne Bay) to Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay, Whale Pass and Naukati Bay, engaging community leaders and businesses about energy saving opportunities in their buildings. We were fortunate to also be traveling in the company of Chester Carson, a Juneau native now staffing the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As such, he works closely with Senator Murkowski and was interested in learning more about the realities of energy generation and consumption in rural Alaska. Thanks for joining us, Chester!
Retired generating unit in Naukati Bay
REAP and Southeast Conference were joined by Carolyn Ramsey of Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and Jim Fowler of Energy Audits of Alaska for the rest of the week. Working with the Chamber of Commerce, cities, tribes and businesses, Mr. Fowler provided 15 Level I Energy Audits totaling nearly 100,000 ft2 in just three days! As a result, they’ll receive an energy audit outlining ways to save energy. These audits were paid for with funding from Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The team was able to wrap up the week in Hydaburg in a productive meeting with Minnie Kadake and Jess Dilts of the Hydaburg Cooperative Association and Lisa Lang from Haida Corp, discussing efficiency and renewable opportunities in Hydaburg. Hydaburg is a beautiful community with recent infrastructure and economic development activity. They are preparing to work through the Technical Assistance Program with the Department of Energy to develop a Strategic Energy Plan. Among other projects, Haida Energy is busy with Híilangaay (Reynold’s Creek) Hydro, which will produce 5MW of power annually.
Businesses and public commercial buildings are able to save 30% on energy costs annually with energy efficiency measures, such as lighting and controls.
Improving their bottom line may allow businesses flexibility in their budget or even allow growth. The energy team is committed to working with these businesses in order to see them improve and succeed in their energy goals.
In May, representatives from Alaska’s Haida communities traveled to British Columbia, Haida Gwaii to collaborate on indigenous natural resource stewardship and strengthen international relations.
Carrie Sykes of the Organized Village of Kasaan and Anthony Christiansen of the Hydaburg Cooperative Association participated in the community exchange program as part of The Nature Conservancy’s Emerald Edge Indigenous Stewardship Initiative. The intent of this program is to bring together people and projects from the coasts of Southeast Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington to support the long-term health of the world’s largest coastal temperate forest. This work was supported locally with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, a growing network of organizations working together to meet the challenge of sustainable community development in Southeast Alaska.
A collective goal of these complementary programs is to support increased Indigenous leadership and local capacity-building for natural resource management in communities across our shared rainforest.
The coasts of our region are a truly sacred resource and extend far across international borders. International collaboration between Southeast Alaska and British Columbia on resource monitoring and indigenous stewardship present new opportunities to better protect these resources for generations to come. Photo Credit: Brenda Berry
While in Haida Gwaii, Sykes and Christianson participated in the Coastal Stewardship Network Annual Gathering. The Coastal Stewardship Network Annual Gathering brings together stewardship representatives from the First Nations to share information and strategize about important issues related to governing traditional areas. This year, the conference was opened to guests from northern Vancouver Island, the Northwest Territories and southern Alaska.
“Although the Haidas have been separated through a migration to Alaska, we are the same nation and we need a unified voice to protect our customary and traditional resources on both sides of the border. This relationship must include other First Nations and Alaska Native Tribes. We are united by our Native culture, resources and water. When we stand united we have strength and can make a difference for future generations,” says Sykes.
Through the Coastal Stewardship Network Gathering, it became clear that the Alaskan Haida and Canadian Haida have much to learn from one another in areas, such as cultural tourism, resources management, co-management, and the protection of culture. Developing this partnership further presents opportunities for collaboration and sharing of information and research processes that could greatly improve local management of traditional resources.
“It was very exciting to learn about what the First Nations are doing in British Columbia to assert their self-governance and sovereign authority. Although the management regimes are quite different between the two countries, there are similar concerns such as impacts from development, competing uses for the resources, challenges facing the eulachon and clams, and potential impacts from sea otter and invasive species,” Carrie Sykes says.
The transboundary relationship with First Nations in British Columbia and Alaska Native Tribes means strength through unity on issues that are important to both nation’s coastal communities. One prime example is with promoting best management practices for mining operations on the Stikine, Taku and Unuk Rivers. These rivers are very important to Alaskan Natives for salmon, and are equally important to Canadian First Nations.
Other important collaboration opportunities identified during this exchange include:
- Collective data management: How can community resource managers effectively share and access cross boundary data sets to improve management practices at an international scale?
- Co-management agreements: How can indigenous communities support and facilitate agreements with the Providence and U.S. Federal Government to support cross boundary relationships?;
- Guardian Watchman Program development in Kasaan and Hydaburg: Can elements of British Columbia’s successful indigenous natural resource stewardship program be brought to Southeast Alaska? ;
- Monitoring of traditional lands and waters: How can both nations learn from one another and improve natural resource monitoring programs at a grand scale; and the
- Haida Gwaii Heritage Tourism Strategy: How can Southeast Alaskan Haida communities learn from Haida Gwaii’s tourism successes and improve local tourism development (particularly with the development of a Kasaan Tourism Plan).
The Sustainable Southeast Partnership is eager to turn this knowledge and strengthened international partnership into action for rural communities here in Southeast Alaska.
Alana Peterson is the Program Director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership.
“The indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest have it engrained in our culture to be good stewards of the land and its resources. Indigenous values are a natural platform for creating sustainable community development. Although there is an international border that separates southeast from British Columbia, we have historically shared information and ideas up and down the coast. We see great value in continuing to share ideas and information with our neighbors in British Columbia,” says Peterson.
5 February 2015
Registration Begins for the Southeast Alaska Farm and Fish to Schools Conference
Connecting Alaska’s Schools with Local Food Entrepreneurs
Registration has begun for the Southeast Farm and Fish to Schools Conference. This event will be the first regional opportunity focused on building connections between Alaska’s school systems and local food entrepreneurs. Anyone interested in bringing more local foods into our school system is invited to collaborate and connect with regional experts to strengthen fish and farm to school programming across the state.
Southeast Conference, the regional economic development organization, is coordinating the conference in conjunction with the newly formed Sustainable Southeast Partnership, a diverse network of organizations working together on community sustainability in Southeast Alaska.
Alana Peterson, program director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Haa Aani, LLC comments:
“Often we find that the barriers to achieving access to local, healthy foods can be overcome if we work together as a region to make this initiative a priority. By bringing all the key players together for a conference we are hoping to achieve just that.”
Fish and farm to school programming offers significant economic, environmental cultural and nutritional opportunities to our rural communities and region.
“Schools in southeast received more than $500,000 last year to buy Alaskan produced foods through the Nutritional Alaska Foods to Schools grant program.” Shelly Wright, Executive Director of Southeast Conference comments. “However, schools are often limited by what they can procure. There are untapped opportunities for, farmers, fishermen and small business in our region. We are eager to break down barriers and grow the opportunities for everyone.”
About the Southeast Alaska Fish to Schools Conference
Conference Dates: April 2-3, 2015
Conference Location: Centennial Hall, Juneau Alaska
Online registration and more detailed conference information available at www.seconference.org
Register before Feb. 28 to be eligible for a travel stipend
Contact Lia Heifetz for more information about the conference and accessing a travel stipend firstname.lastname@example.org
Who Should Attend
- Existing or aspiring businesses and entrepreneurs interested in growing or harvesting local foods
- Fishermen who want to explore school markets
- School administrators and community members interested in procuring more local foods for schools
- People interested in starting a school growing program (greenhouse or garden)
- Educators looking to exchange insights and obtain resources for developing food systems curricula for the classroom
- Local entrepreneur development track with experts in developing business structure, planning, financing and marketing for a local foods enterprise
- Information and resources for educators to increase awareness for students around food origins, health and traditional use
- Resources for projects to sustain local foods in schools
- Success stories from around the region and state
- Opportunities for networking and collaboration
The Energy Hog in Kasaan
Carrie and Minnie helped organize assemblies at the Kasaan and Hydaburg schools as I brought the Energy Hog with me. What is the Energy Hog you ask? The Energy Hog is a great way to introduce students to energy use and energy savings concepts in a fun, entertaining and memorable way. This is the second year that the Alaska Energy Authority has rented the costume and coordinated its appearance in schools around the state. Here’s footage from Energy Hog assemblies done in Angoon, Hoonah, and Kake, starring Tasha McKoy as the Energy Hog Buster. Video courtesy Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority and Nathan Havey of Thrive Consulting Group: http://youtu.be/8iDAMfs7iuk. I’ve participated in these programs and am pleasantly surprised at how engaged the students are. We had a lot of fun at both schools. I was also able to speak to the principals about AK EnergySmart, an Alaska specific curriculum developed by Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Alaska Center for Energy and Power with the support of Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.
In Kasaan, Carrie is interested in promoting energy efficiency opportunities for residents. We will continue to discuss the most effective ways to do this. I’ll share more about this soon. In Hydaburg, the tribe is interested in energy efficiency and district biomass heating for some of the larger, centrally located commercial buildings in town. I look forward to following up with Minnie, the Tribe and the consultants who have been looking at the buildings already. I also met with Machelle Edenshaw and Dennis Nickerson in Kasaan. They are working to build even further collaboration on energy and environmental issues among the Island’s tribes, and organize the Earth Day event on Prince of Wales. It was great to finally meet Dennis, as we have been emailing for months now. I will help them look into options to improve Kasaan’s energy independence. At the very least I hope to be involved in the Earth Day event in 2015, which draws hundreds of students Island-wide.
Carrie at OVK’s new Cafe