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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Partners and collaborators met in Juneau for a two day bi-annual SSP workshop in March. This workshop coincided with SE Conference’s Mid-Session Summit. The success and utility of the SSP network relies heavily on the commitment of partners to meet in-person twice a year. Spending time together to share information and ideas always leads to improved collaboration across the region. We saw over 50 people participate in the two day event, and many of them noted that it was a priority to attend because they see the value it brings to be tapped into the SSP network.
We used the two days to explore specific ideas including; ideas for improving the network in 2017, reflection on how we as individuals and organizations both provide and receive benefits through the partnership, and building an SSP story bank. Southeast Alaska has a rich history rooted in the use of storytelling for sharing knowledge, skills and inspiration. The SSP prioritizes sharing compelling and progressive stories to strengthening projects and connections between our rural villages across the region. We spent one afternoon brainstorming storytelling ideas based on our projects and work and started to discuss and map out strategies for sharing those stories to inspire positive change.
For the full version of the summary with answers to the workshop questions we worked on collaboratively click here.
A Reflection written by Sonia Ibarra, PhD Candidate, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Over the last two years, I have been very fortunate to attend the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Conference alongside bright young students from Hydaburg, AK. In November 2016, we made our way down to chilly Minneapolis and were welcomed by many warm faces, hugs, and songs that echoed the values of many Native peoples throughout the U.S. AISES is a unique scientific conference that reminds me that
1) We need to increase Native voices in the sciences and
2) We need to rekindle the understandings of our ancestors in solving contemporary problems.
For me personally, accompanying students at AISES was a big deal because I value organizations that provide multiple roadmaps for increasing diversity of perspectives, worldviews, and values in the sciences.
As a graduate student who has had the opportunity to attend and visit various universities through coursework, internships, and research experiences, one thing that I have personally noticed is that little diversity exists within higher education. Native Americans represent 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, yet less than 0.5 percent of all U.S. scientists and engineers are Native American (King 2013). Therefore it is critical that we address ways of creating opportunities for indigenous youth that both acknowledges their value systems while helping them navigate and train for the outside world. AISES does both of these things by integrating strong diverse cultural values into a scientific conference.
At AISES, indigenous and non-indigenous scientists learn about and showcase cutting edge research, high school and undergraduate students have secured scholarships, internships, and jobs, and support networks can be created and expanded. This year one Hydaburg high school student (Navaeh Peele) received a laptop award for her exceptional poster presentation and one Hydaburg undergraduate student (Sarah Peele) received a travel award. AISES also provides experiences for indigenous students that undoubtedly helps them become leaders and scientists in various capacities. Capacity-building is a foundational way to plant a sustainable idea for the future. AISES helps plant this seed by empowering young indigenous scientists.
When we think about the sustainability of our decisions, the way we live, and the jobs that employ us, we should always think about how we plant seeds for our future. Opportunities like AISES and nurturing hands-on science experiences for our youth can help plant seeds that will help Southeast Alaska become a better place for the next generation. Let’s work together to support our upcoming leaders and scientists.
King, H. (2013) Native American perceptions of scientists: An ISE research brief discussing Laubach, Crofford, & Marek, “Exploring Native American students’ perceptions of scientists.” Retrieved from http://relatingresearchtopractice.org/article/276
Written and photographed by Bethany Goodrich
Indigenous leaders from across our planet united in O’ahu this September. Foreheads together, they shared a breath during an opening ceremony for the E Alu Pu Gathering. E Alu Pu translates in Hawaiian to Move Forward together and this gathering was hosted by Kua Hawaii prior to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress to do just that. This intimate traditional Hawaiian greeting called ‘Honi’, helped introduce over 150 people from around the world together at this pre-gathering.
I traveled south to participate in both the E Alu Pu Gathering and IUCN World Conservation Congress as a representative of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and Sitka Conservation Society. The World Conservation Congress is an IUCN event held every four years to bring together leaders from around the globe to map a course forward for our peoples and planet. I joined a delegation of indigenous leaders and environmental advocates from Alaska, British Columbia and Washington. This cross-boundary collaboration was funded by the Nature Conservancy’s Emerald Edge program.
The north shore of O’ahu shares many similarities with the rural island communities where we work across Southeast Alaska. The cultures, the languages, the faces and customs differ of course, but the thick ties to land and ocean are common. We fill our bellies with food pulled from the sea and gather nutrition from the forest. We live vibrant lives connected to the health of our coastline in everyday ways. Sadly, this lifestyle and way of being in intimate balance with the seasons of a local landscape is disappearing across the globe. It has not been completely eradicated though and this gathering brought together people from Papua New Guinea and Malawi to Alaska and Molokai, who share environmentally grounded lifestyles and rich cultural histories.
For days, the group talked climate and how changing seasons are shaking century-old traditions off kilter. We shared fears. The first US school to be swallowed by the impacts of climate change happened last month in Northern Alaska. Uncle Leimana from Molokai expressed his concerns for poached mollusks on his coastline. Deli from Vanuatu explained the exhaustion of her work and the apathy of her country’s youth. We share successes. A woman from Rappeneau (Easter Island) announced that soon, her people will have full management of their traditional lands returned to them. Obama designated the largest marine protected area on earth during the week leading up to the conference: the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Many participants share chants and songs passed on from ancestors, parents, and tribes. We learn the process of traditional Hawaiian home building using knots, rope and branches and are taught about local resource management. We help in the restoration of fish ponds, a customary Hawaiian fishing practice, by heaving stones and building fish rearing structures.
During the E Alu Pu gathering and over the course of four days, the group built a multinational community founded on living in balance with island earth. We left feeling humbled, motivated, and inspired by our international neighbors and were prepared to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress with restored strength and momentum.
The IUCN World Conservation Congress
The Conservation Congress in Honolulu brought together more than 9,000 people from 190 different nations. Politicians, entrepreneurs, environmental advocates, scientists, and indigenous leaders shared inspiration and grounded examples of success and challenges alongside E.O. Wilson, Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall. The 2 week event culminated in the ‘Hawaiian Commitments’, a series of international agreements that help guide the way we as individuals, communities, private institutions, public institutions and nations prioritize sustainability efforts moving forward.
The Congress’s theme this year was ‘Planet at the Crossroads’ in recognition of the harsh decisions that need to be made if we hope to prosper as a civilization on a finite planet in the long term. The commitments stressed seven key areas. Many of which have direct relevancy to our work in Southeast Alaska. To read the commitments please check out the link here.
Key Take Homes for the Southeast
Overall, a key take-home from the conference and gathering was the power of local grassroots community organizations and indigenous leadership in charting a sustainable path forward for our planet. Rooted to local rural communities, our SSP partners are on the frontline of environmental challenges and can therefore adapt and respond in ways that national and international institutions cannot. Localized resource management, community visioning, land-use planning, energy efficiency measures and sustainable subsistence practices are all examples of community actions that can positively impact our world and climate.
Thanks to the work of so many dedicated partners, there are plenty of success stories to call upon in these areas. Southeast Alaska is a region rich with opportunity in ways not present in many other places across the globe. We boast large expanses of intact ecosystems, natural resources, renewable energy options, a vibrant and hardy culture and resourceful residents. In Hoonah, the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership is integrating traditional knowledge and employing a local work crew to study, monitor and direct the management of the local landscape. Hydaburg Cooperative Association, the tribe in the largest Haida community in Alaska, monitors and records important anadromous stream habitat to direct local development in a way that protects and prioritizes salmon. The Sitka Tribe is integrating subsistence practices and western science to manage shellfish harvesting, understand PSP and encourage healthy safe gathering. The Sitka Conservation Society and Nature Conservancy are working to help transition regional timber management to a sustainable industry that maximizes benefits to our communities and ecosystems in the long-term.
Of course, there is plenty of untapped opportunity too. In our neighbor across the border, British Columbia, all First Nation communities boast Marine Plans that outline local resource management activities. The Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards Program (SEAS) in British Columbia, exposes youth to traditional resource stewardship at an early age by integrating stewardship activities directly into classroom curricula. The IUCN Congress also examined looming threats to natural resources. The United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work group expressed concerns about mineral mines in Canada threatening Southeast Alaska’s salmon stocks. To be sustainable in the long-term, our communities need to become more self-sufficient. We need to localize our energy and food systems and support diverse and robust economies. There is still work to be done.
The IUCN World Conservation Congress and the E Alu Pu Gathering helped chart a path forward for our planet. Of course, there are many uncertainties with that path but it’s a solid start. When thinking about that path I keep thinking back to the Hawaiian greeting that began my trip. Foreheads together, we must approach one another as partners with eyes open, acknowledging the work to be done. We must face our challenges together, step outside our comfort zone and acknowledge the work head-on. We share this planet, and by building lasting relationships and by pausing to take a breath together, we can move forward in solidarity toward a more prosperous and sustainable way of life.