Be it guarding the habitat of the spirit bear, raising Native voices in coastal marine planning matters, keeping cultural traditions alive or weaving together traditional knowledge and science, the latest crop of indigenous visionaries anointed by Ecotrust show extraordinary dedication to improving the economy and ecology of their respective homelands, the progressive think tank said.
“We believe a new model of development is possible only through authentic engagement with the people who first inhabited the place we call home,” said Spencer B. Beebe, Ecotrust founder and executive board chair, in a statement on October 9. “We are humbled to present these awards to another cohort of inspiring individuals from this place we call Salmon Nation.”
Roberta Reyes Cordero (Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation) won the think tank’s annual award, and four others were finalists. The 12th annual Indigenous Leadership Award finalists were Annita McPhee (Tahltan), Arthur William Sterritt (Gitga’at), Eric J. Quaempts (Yakama) and Roy Sampsel (Choctaw/Wyandotte). This brought to 58 the number of tribal leaders who have been given the Indigenous Leadership Award “for their dedication to their culture and their work to improve economic and environmental conditions of their homelands and people” since 2001, when the awards began, Ecotrust said.
“This year’s honorees, from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California, have worked to break new ground in relations between tribes and their federal, state, and provincial partners, as well as their counterparts in industry,” Ecotrust said. “They have worked tirelessly to protect ocean and salmon health, restore traditional foods through innovative resource management, and revive long-dormant cultural practices.”
Cordero, a cultural ambassador and conflict resolution professional, has for the past 20 years “been actively pursuing ways to give tribal people a voice in coastal marine planning in California,” Ecotrust said in its announcement. “Aided by her efforts, the Chumash Nation has reestablished a connection to its canoeing and seafaring roots, which has led to a resurgence of the Chumash language, the preparation of Native foods, creation of art, and a reestablishment of family connections among tribal members.”
Slightly north of Cordero, in Oregon, Quaempts directs the department of natural resources of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The wildlife biologist and Yakama tribal member “has shown visionary leadership integrating traditional ecological and cultural knowledge with scientific practice,” Ecotrust said. Structuring his department around First Foods—water, salmon (fish), deer (large land mammals), cous (roots) and berries—that are deeply woven into tribal traditions and rituals, Quaempts has instituted measures that have “resonated with tribal community members, their partners, United States Tribes, federal and state agencies, and other indigenous communities, from Washington to Australia and Chile,” Ecotrust said.
Sampsel has been to Washington D.C. and back again, serving over the years as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, where Ecotrust said he worked on tribal rights protection and natural resource management, as well as on ways to implement the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act. He was also formerly a director of Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. He is currently president of a natural resources consulting firm in Portland, Oregon, and directs the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University.
Two honorees hail from north of the 49th Parallel, both in British Columbia. One is McPhee, who has “demonstrated a strong commitment to advancing the economic prosperity of her Tahltan Nation people while protecting ?their lands and way of life in northwestern British Columbia” by helping to draft agreements with industry and the British Columbia government on revenue sharing and shared decision making, Ecotrust said, and was part of a plan to permanently protect the Sacred Headwaters region of British Columbia from resource development.
Sterritt, for his part, has become known for his battles to protect the Great Bear Rainforest’s coastal region. Among other roles, he is co-founder and executive director of the Coastal First Nations: Great Bear Initiative, Ecotrust said.
The recipients will be honored in a private ceremony on November 14, but they will also have a chance to interact with the public. They will be honored at a gala being put on by Ecotrust in conjunction with the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) under a new partnership that aims “to elevate the profile of indigenous leadership across the region,” with particular attention paid to both the gala and Native American Heritage Month. More information is at the NAYA Family Center website.