Written by Andrea Cook, Indigenous Lands and Waters Intern
I am from Hydaburg, a small Haida village located on the southern point of Prince of Wales Island. As the Indigenous Lands and Waters Intern, created by the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP), my job was to explore the meaning of Indigenous stewardship to myself and my community. During this time, I also expanded my capacities in photography and storytelling and worked with the US Forest Service doing fieldwork in the rich environment around my home.
I was able to learn about the resources I traditionally harvest through the perspective of western science. Additionally, I interviewed people I found who were passionate about their lands and shared with me their traditional knowledge. The Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people have been stewards of these lands for thousands of years. I recently heard a meaningful quote: “This land does not belong to us, we belong to this land.” I think this paints an image that describes perfectly, the relationship between my people and our surroundings.
As an Indigenous person, my homeland is a huge part of my identity. While working with the Forest Service, I stayed in a bunk house with about 20 people who were doing projects all over the island inspecting and monitoring resources from the ocean to the mountains. I was the only indigenous person at that bunkhouse. Easily, this can be seen as an issue to some. I see this as an opportunity.
We need more indigenous representation in resource management fields. I believe this helps build an important bridge between the worlds of western and traditional knowledge, which share the interest of protecting our giving lands and gracious seas. At the same time, it helps my people have more say in the decisions that impact our resources: allowing us to once again, be the stewards of our land. My work over the summer with the SSP is a small but valuable step in helping to cultivate more indigenous leadership in public lands management.
This internship was made possible with funding, resources and additional support from Sonia Ibarra, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, Sealaska, the Sitka Conservation Society, the Alaska Conservation Foundation, The Pacific Northwest Research Lab, Hydaburg Cooperative Association, Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center, Kai Environmental and Haida Corp.