PORTLAND, Ore. - It's called Ecotrust, but anyone that terms it an
environmental organization gets an earful of correction. That's why the
many Northwest tribes like the Portland-based group. Ecotrust isn't a
hands-off crowd. The organization believes that humans can live in harmony
with the natural world, and that all will prosper.
Ecotrust's mission is building the Salmon Nation in the Northwest. The idea
is for people to connect with the place in which they live. Understand,
care and respect it.
So "conservation economy" is Ecotrust's byword. That and making sure the
wealth is shared. This is idealism to some, traditional tribal society to
Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Antone
Minthorn, is on the board at Ecotrust and he invited Ecotrust Vice
President Craig Jacobson, who oversees the organization's Native programs,
to bring the Salmon Nation flag to the Umatilla's annual Salmon Walk. So it
was Minthorn with the Salmon Nation flag and Jacobson with the Umatilla
flag, celebrating the unity Ecotrust wants to foster between local
communities in the Northwest and their environment.
"Antone Minthorn asked me to bring the flag out," Jacobson said. "And
before they launched the Salmon Walk, he swore allegiance to being part of
Salmon Nation, and he asked me, on behalf of Ecotrust, to swear allegiance
to the Umatilla Tribe."
Founding Chairman and President Spencer Beebe said, "Ecotrust is a new and
different kind of organization that addresses social justice, economic
opportunity and also environmental restoration.
Beebe himself is out of the Yale School of Forestry. "I think we have a
sort of massive institutional failure in this country today. We don't have
a context to deal with the reality. Rather our legacy is from the
scientific industrial era that viewed the world in parts," he said. "We try
to deal with the triple bottom line: Equity, ecology and economy."
And as far as the tribes go?
"It's just common sense that we would start by listening to those who've
lived here the longest. Native communities often times bring holistic
approaches," Beebe continued. "Native programs start with listening, and we
try to do that here. There's a lot of history and lessons there."
Member of the Warm Springs tribes and Director of Ecotrust's Indigenous
Leadership Program, Elizabeth Woody, agrees that listening is the Indian
way and said "the collaborative, team-oriented approach at Ecotrust has
never marginalized the tribes." The program Woody directs provides
educational opportunities for youths and also acknowledges outstanding
professionals through Ecotrust's Buffet Award. "There are many throughout
our tribal communities that are working hard on very slim resources. The
Buffet Award is a way to give these people the recognition they deserve."
According to Craig Jacobson, the Indigenous Leadership Program's goal is to
impact three generations - youths, mid-career professionals and tribal
elders. With the Buffet Award well established, the current Ecotrust focus
is on building support for educational programs for youths. Two are
projects planned over the next 12 months. In October Ecotrust sponsored a
science program for students from Chemawa Indian School. Youths will help
reforest an old mining tract and spend time with Tohono-O'odham forest
restoration expert Dennis Martinez. Set in the middle of the 35,000-acre
Opal Creek Wilderness area, the 10-acre parcel is surrounded by old-growth
trees, 600 and 800 years old. "The idea," said Jacobson, "is that the kids
will begin working outside, seeing and feeling what people mean when
they're talking about sustainable forestry and healthy ecosystems."
Jacobson also outlined other projects including the forthcoming "Klamath
Heartlands", a book Ecotrust wrote with the Klamath Tribes on their
sustainable forest management plan for 690,000 acres of their former
reservation the Klamaths hope to get returned to their control.
Additionally, Ecotrust works with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish
Commission on wild salmon marketing. "The idea here is basically to squash
the demand for farm fish."
As Outside Magazine's "Report Card," that assessed organizations like
Ecotrust wrote, the group's Ivy League pedigree can alienate some. But
Ecotrust doesn't apologize for its well-heeled connections and headquarters
in Portland's Pearl District. Spencer Beebe sees upscale lumber yards and
contractors as the answer to selling the Warm Springs tribes' certified
wood. "The Warm Springs tribe has worked hard to do the right thing," said
Beebe. "It was a perfect 3-E opportunity for all of us, and we helped them
get a better price on their framing lumber and Forest Stewardship
Council-certified lumber by connecting them to urban green-building
projects where people pay a premium for the wood."
It pays to know people in high places. And Ecotrust does. After 25 years in
the business of social change, Beebe started Ecotrust in 1991 by drawing on
a network of friends and foundations that had supported his work for a long
time. The initial endowment was around $1 million, a sum that has grown to
about $5 million today. Ecotrust has also spawned other like-minded
organizations that now operate independently - Ecotrust Canada, Shorebank
Pacific (the first environmental bank) and Shorebank Enterprise Pacific
(providing venture and enterprise capital for primarily rural community
Woody explained that "Ecotrust supports work that comes out of communities.
Sometimes the business are unusual, like the chitin manufacturing that got
started in the Willapa Bay are in Washington state that uses shells for
biomedical purposes. Unusual businesses like that started out of a genuine
love for a community because someone cared."
Thus, Ecotrust's mission to build Salmon Nation is an ambitious,
all-encompassing one. Social justice. Ecological sustainability.
Prosperity. Weaving these often disparate elements together is no small
feat, especially in a country where capitalism has run amok and people have
been brainwashed to believe more is better. But Ecotrust has a secret. It
knows abundance is not synonymous with glut. It believes that education
will free people from fear of scarcity and demonstrate that a little
quality is far superior to a mess of pottage. Finally, Ecotrust has faith
that if given half a chance, Salmon Nation will take care of its citizens.
All its citizens have to do is remember that, and remember that the work of
building Salmon Nation begins by listening to its first citizens - the