The Southeast Environmental Conference of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) moves forward this week with an agenda to bring more collaboration between tribes and corporations as environmental stewards.
Presentations throughout the week will focus on issues like water quality, potentially contaminated sites, subsistence and government consultations and notices. As CCTHITA environmental coordinator Leilani Knight-McQueen put it, the whole purpose is to build better working relationships and understandings between the tribes and corporations in these matters.
“The idea was for the presenters to come with already successful programs that have been done in the villages and provide those tools,” she said, explaining how this could mean anything from work plans to memorandums of understanding. “We’ll literally figure out how are we going to do this.”
All the Southeast Alaska tribes were invited as well as agencies and corporations, including the Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, Sealaska Corp., the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, Douglas Indian Association and school districts. Many will provide the presentations.
The week started with a keynote address came from Barbara Cadiente, a board member for both Sealaska and the Douglas Indian Association. She said many people at the conference hold positions in multiple entities and know how they must work together.
Cadiente went through several stories of Native culture, relating how they go with the notion of cooperation for the greater good. She described the purpose behind the conference to “bring all those that are involved in the protection and care of our land together to collaborate and find that common ground and advance forward as a people.”
“It’s about coming together and sharing our perspectives. For me, it’s about coming to terms with the ecological issues impacting out villages and communities, developing our framework and addressing issues that are concerning our villages and our people and our communities,” she said.
Cadiente and Edward Thomas of Sealska were invited to share how impacts of development may be lessened or removed in sustaining the environment.
“The politics of our ecosystem is about development of our resources and we’re charged by our ancestors to maintain a balance. We are people of the tides, people of the salmon, people of the trees, all that is seen and unseen and we have that responsibility to maintain the integrity of all that surrounds us.”
Her address reinforced the notion that “science is our stories,” describing how such stories printed in Haa Shuka, Haa Atxaayi Haa Kusteeyix Sitee and other oral works provide valuable resources.
Such resources also left an impression on the youth who joined the conference, as it followed their annual Culture Camp. Youth are a keen focus in this conference. Knight-McQueen said they are trying to incorporate more youth programs into the agenda, and Thursday will have a strong focus on youth actions.
One camp member was Nicole George, 17, of Juneau. She believes the villages should build good relations with the corporations in Southeast, even taking a stronger interest in science and developing resources through her journey.
“They are responsible for what happens to the land and will decide what the next generation will have to deal with and what they need to learn,” George said. “And they have the tools to solve problems they are facing now.”
George will be presenting issues and alternatives concerning plastics on Thursday.
Another camper, also 17, was Kevie Frank of Hydaburg. While learning new values of her culture, she job shadowed Anthony Christianson, who is a tribal environmental planner and mayor of Hydaburg. He brought forth the Haida side of Native values, saying between this and learning from the Tlingit culture, one must share in those common values plus traditional ones to engage in environmental stewardship, which means balancing resource use and protection. He used timber as building material as an example.
As far as youth involvement, Christianson said it’s important to give them the information to let them make their own decisions for the future. He believes they must learn how cooperation between corporations and tribes is vital to livelihood as well as the environment. As his analogy states: “If they have the toolbox, they’ll decide what to do with it.”
“We show them there’s a whole other side and how we can put measures or considerations in place to get some baseline information to look at the environment in a different light,” he said, adding, “The main thing is we taught them respect.”
Camp instructor Nahaan hopes bringing different perspectives, including spiritual ones, will result in new solutions and new actions to encourage a healthy environment. He believes more needs to be done.
“They should be the same, the land and the corporations, they should be working together. That’s what I think. The goal is to get that to happen,” he said.
“We’re all family in terms of our indigenous heritage and it’s about working together and collaborating together. We can’t leave our youth out,” Cadiente said. “We will not leave children behind. It impressed me to see so many of our children around the table with others in the interest of moving forward with their communities’ ecosystems.”
• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.