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 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
The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership (HNFP) has completed its last season of data collection with our locally trained work crews and is now full-steam ahead with writing a watershed management plan. On November 6th-7th, 2017 the HNFP Steering Committee and Technical team met to discuss the landowners objectives and recommendations as the partnership moves forward. Each of the groups spent time reflecting on important steps for the HNFP to be successful. There were many mutual answers for ways to create success, and both groups agreed it is crucial the Steering Committee to work closely with the Technical Team and that community value needs to be at forefront of all discussions as we move forward with recommendations and projects through the HNFP. This type of collaboration takes a lot of work! Ultimately the watershed management will be collaborative document that will be guided by community values, land manager needs, and technical advice.
A Relationship Between The Steering Committee, Technical Team, and Community
The technical team presented their results and preliminary recommendations in each of the resource areas. These recommendations will be refined by community priorities and values as well as landowner needs before they are finalized in the watershed management plan. Hoonah Indian Association Community Catalyst Ian Johnson will be hosting meetings with community members, and maintaining regular dialogue between the teams. This project will span the winter with a final watershed management plan being completed by April so that the local crews can complete projects. Although the projects are yet to be determined, it is possible that crews will be build on the stream restoration work they learned in 2017.
Check out the presentations on each of the resources that the technical team presented to learn more:
The technical team met at the Sealaska Plaza to go over results and next steps in the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership. Their results will be provided to the community and land managers to collaboratively form the final land management plan for the study area.
To learn more about Hoonah Indian Association’s Environmental Programs, check out their new beautiful website here!
To learn more about the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership or to get involved with the Hoonah Stewardship Council, please get in touch with Ian Johnson. email@example.com. 907 945 3545.
Written and photographed by Bethany Goodrich for Salmon Life
From sea to summit, Yakutat’s horizon boasts the tallest, most rapidly ascending mountain on Earth. It is here, below Mt. Saint Elias (Was’eitushaa), where the Yakutat Tlingit (Yaakwdáat) have carved their home.On the banks of the S’itak River, Elora fearlessly admires the beating heart of a freshly killed sockeye salmon.
Elora’s Tlingit name is Sei S’oox’, and she belongs to the Teikweidí clan. Her people settled in Yakutat centuries ago. Today, she is salmon (Xaat) fishing.
“When I was a little girl, I would make mom crazy trying to run into the river to swim with the salmon,” she asserts, her eyes transfixed on the heart as it dances its final rhythm into her palm. “I ate a salmon heart once because sister dared me to.” Gasps and giggles erupt across the plywood processing table. Boys and girls are learning how to properly fillet sockeye salmon they plucked moments earlier from turquoise set nets.
The group is participating in Yakutat’s Culture Camp (Haa Yaakwdáat Kusteeyi Yanshuká). This overnight camp is a place where kids are given space to be their honest selves.
“Culture Camp strengthens us as a native community, and it shows kids a lot of the skills they need to just feel proud of who they are,” says Gloria Wolfe. Gloria’s Tlingit name is X’aal Eex’ Tláa, and she belongs to the Wooshkeetaan clan. She is the Cultural Heritage Coordinator with Yakutat Tlingit Tribe. “A lot of native folks here feel lost in their identity. It can lead to things like suicide or not really knowing how to combat bullying because they just don’t have a strong base.” Across society, people are increasingly estranged from their heritage, the land, and the local resources that feed their families. Culture Camp is changing that for people with ancestral ties to the Yakutat area.
Whether in the art of salmon filleting, weaving or pulling oars through the S’itak River, the children are naturals and their movements instinctual.
“We had one girl who came here from a difficult background who lives in a city separated from all of this,” Wolfe says as she opens her arms to embrace the scene. Siblings process salmon, and kids chase each other with fistfuls of mud, teeter on giant driftwood castles, or wade in the silty river. “What that girl told us was very impactful,” Wolfe continues. “She told us that ‘During this camp, I realized why I am the way that I am. I have never felt like I fit in anywhere before, and now I know why I feel the way I feel, why I do things the way I do. I never knew that I belonged to a people before.’” Wolfe smiles, her son tugging on her waistband. “It was emotional for her to have that connection. That is what we are hoping for with this camp, to ground kids and let them be healthy being who they are.”
Forty kids aged seven through seventeen are participating in this year’s camp. Activities include salmon and seal processing, Tlingit language classes, canoe paddling, form-line painting, and cedar bark weaving. The goal is to encourage campers to respect themselves, the natural environment, and the traditional tribal values and clan systems of the Yakutat Tlingit.
“Every single kid wants to try and cut fish and smoke the fish. There is 100 percent participation. Same with seal, you would think blood and guts would freak them out, but they can’t wait for their turn. There are these impulses and these instincts that show up out of nowhere, and their amazing fish cutting abilities just come out,” says Wolfe.
Whether in the art of salmon filleting, weaving, or pulling oars through the S’itak River, the children are naturals and their movements instinctual.
“Culture Camp strengthens all of us, and it strengthens kids who may be fishermen and hunters. They can be one of the top dogs here and share those skills, whereas in other scenarios, they may not feel like a leader. Here, they can be shining stars,” says Wolfe.
Culture Camp Reborn
The Yakutat people have not always celebrated Culture Camp beside the S’itak. In addition to carving their homeland into one of the most dynamic landscapes on Earth, the Yakutat Tlingit have overcome myriad social challenges in their journey. Under an increasing concern for Japanese attacks during WWII, the US military scrambled for a foothold to defend the Aleutian Islands. One of the communities they looked to was Yakutat. At its peak, 15-20,000 troops were stationed in this isolated Alaskan village, which is now home to roughly 600 people. Military occupation brought dramatic changes in lifestyle for the Tlingit and new technologies, and it increased pressure on natural resources. Tlingits were denied access to many traditional fishing grounds, and important berry sites were replaced by roads and regulations.
“After the war, land was redistributed and the Yakutat Kwann (the local Native Corporation) acquired the Ankhouw area,” explains Wolfe. “We were thrilled to return back to where we traditionally harvested, and we celebrated and had a Culture Camp on that land for many, many years until we came to find that there was tons of contamination left on-site: asbestos, agent orange, unexploded bombs, quonset huts, a huge oil tank that has been leaking ever since.” The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe ended Culture Camp abruptly in 1996.
“Those days at Culture Camp were the best times of my life, seriously,” says Wolfe. Later returning to Yakutat after years of schooling, Gloria Wolfe became the Cultural Heritage Coordinator and went to work. With the help of countless volunteers, financial risk-taking, and hours of grant writing, the Yakutat Tribe was able to secure a permit for new lands from the United States Forest Service and begin building camp. Yakutat’s Haa Yaakwdáat Kusteeyi Yanshuká was reborn in 2015. “It was a truly collaborative effort,” adds Gloria.
Salmon and Strength
The sun starts its slow summer tilt toward the horizon, illuminating the children’s faces as they race through the wildflowers with makeshift bows and arrows. In the smokehouse, seal fat oozes from purple flesh beside carefully hung strips of dry salmon. Students focus intently on form-line as they paint a new house front for their camp. Others practice weaving by dipping strips of red cedar into water for their regalia. One baby collapses in the mud with shrieks of joy. Tlingit is spoken casually across generations.
In the cookhouse, volunteers prepare dinner. Unsurprisingly, the food that sustains this sacred scene is fresh sockeye salmon. Ted Valle, Naatsk’i.éesh of the Galyáx Kaagwaantaan clan, is a community elder. He prepares his famous “supersoup” for bustling campers. He stirs seal fat, ribbon seaweed, salmon roe, salmon, and onions into a cauldron. The savory aroma crawls across Culture Camp.
“Here, steak is the rich man’s food and salmon, the poor man’s food,” Wolfe laughs. “Salmon is a major staple, and we literally eat it twice a day for three to four months out of the year. Unfortunately, kids, we are eating king salmon again for dinner,” she mocks.
Coho, King, Dog, Sockeye, and Pink salmon all pulse through the braided rivers and streams that surround Yakutat. In town, access to fresh healthy food and affordable protein is a challenge. Yakutat is not alone in its pursuit for community health. Across the state, 65 percent of Alaskans are either overweight or obese (dhss.alaska.gov). Access to salmon and the sharing of recipes, processing skills, and preservation is not only integral for cultural wellbeing in rural Alaska, but it is essential for community health.
“Not all of these kids come from healthy homes, and this is a healthy environment to talk about things. They get to be safe here, are well fed, and they have a place to laugh and have fun. We don’t serve sugary drinks here, and the kids don’t ask for them. The whole theme of this camp this year is ‘What makes me healthy?’ Part of that is having a cultural identity and part of that is eating your mother’s food.”
Gloria and a group of kids are running fingers across a blanket of black seaweed, carefully separating the pieces to dry.
“These recipes, these foods have been passed down to you, and your body craves it, but sometimes you don’t even realize what exactly you are craving. It just feels like you need carbs or energy,” she says with a laugh. “But actually, what you need is seaweed! Or sockeye!”
Nearby on sheets of cardboard, Kimberly Buller, Kuwúx, empties buckets of fresh salmon roe that the kids harvested this morning. She and her sons begin to prepare the roe for the smokehouse. “My son told me that all he wants for his birthday is fish eggs,” she says and then laughs. Clearly, the smallest generation at Culture Camp has the appetite to herald family traditions long into the future. He plunges his chubby fingers into the glowing orbs, pounding fistful after fistful past his toothy grin.
This site, these rivers, these practices, these foods, and these ceremonies are sacred. Organizing this camp has demanded resilience and community champions in the face of asbestos, loss, and hardship. The true champions, however, are the kids themselves.
“Even though we eat salmon all the time, those skills are not necessarily passing down. Some families here make the best dry fish, and their grandkids have no idea how to make it. That generational separation is hard to navigate. But, when the kids are here, their peers provide the positive influence that brings more of their peers to the table. ‘Hey, this is what I know how to do, and I’m pretty cute, and I’m going to fillet this fish faster than you!’” Wolfe teases.
Across the camp, supersoup is served. “I could wrestle a bear after this,” Ted whispers after taking his first sip. Tlingit words are practiced, and elders share stories of great migrations and the Little Ice Age. Beside a blazing driftwood fire, counselors remix old songs with fresh beats. With salmon in their bellies, their smokehouses, and their streams, Yakutat’s Haa Yaakwdáat Kusteeyi Yanshuká closes another day beside the swelling S’itak.
Culture Camp is a cultural leadership resource for Alaska Native youth. Elders believe that Tlingit values, worldviews, and a sense of morality are embedded within their culture. It is important to the entire community of Yakutat that their children become culture bearers, Tlingit language speakers, and ambassadors. Culture Camp focuses on the health of the mind, body, environment, and community.
Written and published with Salmon Life.
Written by Sienna Reid for Capital City Weekly
As a lifelong Sitkan I have grown close to our coastal rainforest. As I head off to my first year of college this fall, I know I will miss this place. However, I can’t help but wonder — how much will it change?
Having just graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School, a boarding school that serves students across Alaska, I have heard many stories of successful hunts and summers spent at fish camp, but I also hear stories of quickly changing ecosystems. Every community in Southeast Alaska depends on natural resources in some way. Whether it’s harvesting wild foods or building homes out of local wood, our people depend on the land. In order to maintain our unique way of life, it is important that rural Alaskans have opportunities to pursue meaningful careers that promote sustainable living and wise management of these resources.
Today, many Southeast Alaskan communities are home to a variety of youth workforce development programs. These programs help prepare the next generation of Alaska’s scientists, field crews, and resource managers with the experiences, drive, and skills to pursue careers in their backyards, whether on the water or in the woods. This summer I visited three of these programs — in Sitka, Klawock, and Kake — to get an inside perspective on the impact they are having on our region.
Ocean Acidification Mentorship
On a drizzly Sunday morning I hopped in the car with three girls and a tote full of water sampling equipment. We made our way from the Sitka Sound Science Center to the sampling site, walked down a slippery dock, and got to work.
The team used a niskin bottle to collect water samples at five feet, both from the surface and at the ocean floor since acidity can vary throughout different depths. After transferring the water into a tinted bottle to lessen light exposure, the water temperature was recorded and mercury was added to poison the sample. Mercury kills all of the living organisms in the water to preserve the exact conditions at the time of collection; for example, it would stop processes like photosynthesis which could potentially alter the results of the test.
Through this mentorship program with the Sitka Sound Science Center, Lily Hood, Muriel Reid, Gabrielle Barber and I had been testing Sitka’s waters to get baseline information on the acidity of our ocean. High acidity poses a threat to the marine food chain, putting our fisheries at risk. Later this fall, the team will process their samples, interview local fishermen, and present their findings at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium.
Muriel Reid, 16, appreciated the chance to learn through fieldwork this summer.
“In classrooms…whenever you’re confused the teacher is right there to help you, and so it’s a good thing for a learning environment, but it’s not necessarily good for jobs — learning how to be good in a job,” Reid said.
She said her favorite day was learning about calcium carbonate chemistry with mentors Lauren Bell and Esther Kennedy.
“That really shined (a) light on a lot of things that people don’t touch on in regular schools,” she said. “It’s definitely important to have connections to scientists in your area so that you can learn more easily, and not just be confused by a bunch of numbers on a page.”
By speaking with the participants, it was made clear that programs that get kids out of the classroom and into the field make the lessons learned in school more tangible. When science is applied, carbon chemistry is no longer a question on a test, it is a challenge that may affect the fisheries that feed our families. The opportunities this mentorship provides make science more relevant to the next generation of homegrown Alaska scientists.
Training Rural Alaskan Youth Leaders & Students
South of Sitka by 134 miles, I had the privilege of meeting a team of seven young Alaskans who were spending their summer in Klawock learning to work outdoors in the challenging conditions of the temperate rainforest. These hardworking teens and young adults were part of the Training Rural Alaskan Youth Leaders & Students (TRAYLS) program.
Founded to help youth learn workforce skills, many partners were involved in making TRAYLS a success. Bob Girt, environmental compliance and liaison specialist with Sealaska Timber Company, as well as one of the founders of TRAYLS, considers partners as those who donated resources, offered access to land for work, or in some way “provided major thrust for the program.”
Those partners include native organizations such as the Bureau of Indian affairs, Native American Fish & Wildlife Society, Organized Village of Kasaan, Sealaska Corporation, Sealaska Timber Company, LLC, Klawock Cooperative Association, Organized Village of Kake, and Kake Tribal Corporation; as well as other groups such as the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, USFS Ranger Districts Petersburg & Prince of Wales Is., State of Alaska – Division of Economic Development, City of Thorne Bay, and the City of Hydaburg.
This year marked the launch of the pilot program, one that partners and participants hope will continue for years into the future. The five crew members, aged 16-22, and their two crew leaders whisked me up a mountain to show off their hard work on the newly revitalized One Duke Trail. They pointed out the work they had done along the way.
“We want it to be friendly to everyone that wants to go on the trail,” explained crew leader, Talia Davis, 19, from Kake.
Although they were proud of the work they had done, Davis admitted that the labor was difficult in the beginning.
“You’re working in the mud in Southeast weather and you’re just questioning it all. But you know, if you make it through the first couple weeks it’s really rewarding… I’ve definitely decided that I want to work outdoors after this summer.”
The entire crew agreed that working outdoors was important to them. Crew member Yahaaira Ponce, 17, from Klawock, commented that TRAYLS had changed the way she saw her future.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted, going into college, to study something to do (with) outdoors or not, because I was kind of in-between. But after this, I think I’m definitely looking to a career outdoors.”
This was exactly what Girt hoped the students would gain from the experience. Getting the young participants involved and excited about the work can have long lasting benefits for the towns they live in, explained Girt.
“I think it’s important that communities stay resilient, and the way they stay resilient, one of the ways is, they keep talented people that have some passion and ambition, and those people don’t go away and live in some other state or some other country,” Girt said. “They might go away for a while to get their training and get their skills, but they eventually will come back and…help their communities.”
Resilient communities need sustainable resources and a local workforce to manage those resources. But pursuing a career outdoors in Southeast Alaska can be daunting and folks are often unsure whether they would actually enjoy being out in the elements all day. As Girt and the students explained to me throughout the visit, programs like TRAYLS provide students a unique opportunity to try out these professions, all while gaining experience and valuable life skills that will benefit them no matter what career path they go down.
Sea Otter Research
Sonia Ibarra is a Ph.D. student originally from California, but has been living in Alaska for the past five years. Through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, she has been working in the rural villages of Southeast to study the effects of sea otter predation on shellfish. I visited Kake on a low-tide week so I could follow Ibarra and her three field assistants, who were recruited from rural Southeast villages, through the data collection process.
At 4:30 a.m. the first morning, we headed to the harbor with buckets and yawns. From the boat we scouted out a good sample location. Moving quickly down the zero tideline, quadrats were laid out, holes were dug, and clams were sifted into buckets. When we returned to Ibarra’s house it was time to sort and measure the clams and shells. It took a lot of work, but it also made great field experience.
Sarah Peele, 19, from Hydaburg, said the chance to get real-world research experience got her interested in this job.
“Working with Sonia, she’s showing me how to pair traditional knowledge with science,” she said.
I noticed the emphasis put on this idea while I was in Kake. In the living room of Ibarra’s house, where the floor was covered with medicinal plants laid out to dry, Ibarra explained how she had been criticized on her work; people had told her that speaking with locals wasn’t ‘real science.’ However, not only has she been gathering different perspectives, she has been backing them up with data collection.
“A lot of research in rural communities, and specifically native communities, you have a researcher come in, get their data, and leave,” Ibarra said. “And to me it’s very disrespectful to live life that way, or to do research that way.….I do research together with people in the community.”
By hiring these students from rural Southeast, she is keeping the work local and inspiring them as well. Shawaan Jackson-Gamble, 19 from Kake, has been working with Ibarra for the past three years.
“I wasn’t really looking for a biology job,” he said, “but it opened my eyes a little more, and by my next year working with her it’s what I wanted to do.”
With his family roots in Kake and growing up with a traditional lifestyle, he hopes to return to Southeast after college to work for his tribe with a focus on subsistence. Programs like Ibarra’s are encouraging local students like Jackson-Gamble to see how science can be a tool in answering questions that are important to their culture, families, and communities.
After a summer spent traveling around Southeast Alaska, I was reminded of how fortunate we are to live surrounded by natural resources. I also discovered the significance of this human resource; young, eager learners who are preparing themselves to take on the challenges of managing these lands and waters. These programs require time, money, and the dedication of everyone involved. However, the opinions of the young participants indicates the work is well worth the effort. Youth workforce development programs like the ones I visited this year are more than just a summer job. They are an investment for the future of Southeast Alaska.