If you follow us on social media, you might have noticed how, every Sunday, I recapped a trip I made in Southeast Alaska (and beyond) on behalf of SEACC with a focus on food security and food sovereignty — two topics I found to be recurring themes throughout my travels.
It’s been wonderful being back in the community for the strengthening advocacy and organizing events I’ve missed attending in person the past few years.
Below is a full recap of my travels this year — complete with photos, lessons learned, and incredible folks met from Ketchikan to Angoon, Anchorage to Reno, showing how SEACC interacts with its supporters, fellow organizations, and the community.
📸: Judah Haven Marr
My first trip was in April in support of protecting herring with Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) at the Board of Fisheries meetings as guests of the Herring Protectors and the Kiks.adi to honor the longstanding relationship to herring at the YAAW ḴOO.ÉEX’. SEACC doesn’t historically weigh in on fisheries politics, but that’s not quite what this was. It was more an opportunity to stand in solidarity with STA and others to fight for food security.
As an Indigenous person whose ancestors have been on these lands for 14,000-plus years and a team member of a conservation organization, it’s important for me to connect these often-dueling worlds. SEACC is, has always been, an advocacy organization. Being able to support subsistence herring harvests — which Indigenous peoples of this region have been in long-standing relationships with — feels like the right way to do my work.
Herring is a sign of emergence from the dark winter months, of continued relationships beyond Western ways of understanding. Besides deliciousness, for me, herring eggs represent joy and community and are meant to be shared with others. My children both love herring eggs and access to them is just one way to help perpetuate my culture for future generations.
SEACC has historically fought various state and federal agencies to protect clean water and stop large old-growth timber sales. But Indigenous peoples of this land spend time fighting these same agencies just to put food on their tables. To me, these issues are all connected.
📸: Tanner Johnson
Just Transition Summit 2022
For my next trip, I found myself at Nughelnik Alaska’s Just Transition Summit. This was a great gathering for me in particular because the Just Transition Summit in 2020 was the last trip I did before COVID. It was good to see familiar and new faces.
Nughelnik means “It is remembered within us” in Dena’ina, so the theme was “Remembering Forward.” As mentioned in my last post, most of my summer travel saw underlying themes of food security and food sovereignty. Many side conversations at Just Transition were on concerns over the rapidly expanding mariculture industry.
I’d say mariculture is a food sovereignty/security issue because seaweeds and kelps are an important part of the diet and way of life for most coastal peoples. Seaweeds are high in essential B vitamins and rich in iron and iodine. But there’s also a deeply interconnected relationship between kelp and humans.
Being a southern Southeast girl, I love what is often jokingly referred to as “black gold.” Some of that comes from memories of my grandmother and me going to our secret spot with our old pillowcases and spending hours tending to our harvest drying in her sunny backyard.
When I first moved to Juneau, my cousin and I were told by Alaska State Troopers to stop harvesting the small patch of black seaweed we were excited to have found because we didn’t have permits. That was a strange concept since we grew harvesting in Metlakatla. I hope it’ll not become overly burdensome to access these foods, literally practicing my way of life, with kelp commercialization. I don’t want to just get my seaweed at Costco.
I am, at this point, concerned about mariculture expansion being labeled as a climate solution and the swift permitting of kelp farms simulating a land grab. I’ll be doing more research. But one thing is for sure: I would like to see Indigenous people leading the way in this industry because of our long history of being in balance with our ocean and all its living organisms.
📸: Kerry Tasker
Alaska Conference on Mining Impacts and Prevention: A Gathering of Land and Water Guardians
For my next trip, I had the honor of sitting on a panel at the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Alaska Conference on Mining Impacts and Prevention: A Gathering of Land and Water Guardians in Girdwood, Alaska. We spoke about the issues and impacts of transboundary mining development. On the panel, we shared a lot about connections for the Indigenous people of the land extending beyond what we now recognize as a border between two countries. It was a great opportunity to talk about the importance of clan relationships that existed throughout watersheds and transcending borders for important trade relations and food security — as well as maintaining balance for important clan structures.
When talking about the impacts of mining, especially transboundary mining, it’s hard not to talk about the importance of, and our relationship to, salmon. During this panel, we had a diverse group of speakers who could help to raise concerns about heavy metal contamination from mine waste and how that impacts salmon’s ability to navigate back to spawning grounds. Our shared transboundary waters are home to other key species such as hooligan, which have also played a major role in trade among the people of this region for thousands of years.
Mining can impact water quality which not only can affect human health but also can be a detriment to our food sovereignty and food security. We have mine development happening at the headwaters of our shared waterways that is being done in a way that doesn’t take impacts into consideration of downstream communities — like the Tribes and people of Southeast. We have many ideas, but one of the things we’ve been working on is asking for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) to apply to Southeast’s Tribes and not just British Columbia’s First Nations people. Stay tuned for, hopefully, more on that.
📸: Katie Rooks
SEACC Town Hall Listening Session
My next trip was to Ketchikan, where SEACC held coffee shop office hours and hosted a Town Hall Listening Session. It’s always a pleasure to travel back to my hometown of Ketchikan, but this was my first SEACC trip since 2019, so it felt even more special to be back in this community.
Coming out of the pandemic, it seems people in Ketchikan were very concerned about food supplies and being so dependent on the whims of outside shipping. It seems most people I talked to realized the extreme vulnerability of food security the community faces when barges don’t make it in or there is an error at a storage facility down south.
There is some talk and real effort from a handful of locals to really close the loop on food security for the community. There are already operational local greens being grown and sold and there are more people looking to start up and fill voids and get fresh local greens to school and elder programs. The hope is to see Ketchikan become a food hub of sorts for surrounding areas.
There are also flourishing community gardens and ideas of creating a community composting program similar to Juneau Composts! It is encouraging to hear this momentum because not only is gardening soil expensive and has to be shipped, but it also runs the risk of bringing in invasive weeds — something Ketchikan already has a problem with.
For the past few years, whenever I go home for personal trips, I bring a cooler full of lettuce and micrograms from Juneau Greens (and cocktails from Amalga Distillery) for friends and family. I can not express how much it thrills me for that to no longer be a necessity and be able to support my hometown’s local greens.
📸: Lauren Cusimano
Kayaaní Áwé Náakwx̱ Sitee
In June, I participated heavily in the Kayaaní Áwé Náakwx̱ Sitee — Plants are Medicine symposium with Haa Tóoch Lichéesh, Tlingit & Haida, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, and Kaasei Indigenous Foodways.
It was such an incredible honor to be asked to participate in and learn about a place-based curriculum around the social-emotional teachings of plants. I had a great time connecting with so many of my fellow plant people.
For those who have been following my little travel posts, you know I’ve been talking about the recurring theme of food security and food sovereignty. With this, I want to highlight how part of food sovereignty is about connecting to the land, healing, and being in the right relation to plant and animal relatives.
Although I am not an expert on the topic by any means, I was asked to sit on a panel and discuss some of the concerns folks in the plant community have about the booming mariculture industry in Alaska. It was clear the concerns centered around the commercialization of our beach greens, seaweeds, and kelps — and that without this industry being in the right relations, there would be something lost along the way.
As an Indigenous person, it is hard to understand any commodification of the relationship between humans and the non-human world, something capitalism is often known to do. And with how quickly money is thrown around for research and investment in this industry, I worry a little that it may be another boom-and-bust economy for Alaska.
For further reading on my thoughts about our relationship to plants and their teachings, you can read a blog I did earlier this year for National Wildlife Federation Outdoors.
📸: Aaron Brakel
Angoon Community Cleanup
The next trip I was fortunate enough to make was to Angoon this summer. For those following my blog posts, this one deviates a little from our usual food security message — but not too much.
This trip would not have been possible without our amazing First Alaskans Institute summer intern, Samara Kookesh. Aaron Brakel, our Inside Passage Waters Program Manager, and I traveled to Angoon to help support Samara on her project of highlighting her concerns about the issues her home community faces with waste.
Samara developed this project because she saw a huge amount of plastic bottles in her area. She wanted to implement a recycling program for her community, but she wanted to tackle a project she knew she could accomplish in her short time with SEACC. So she decided to host a trash pick up at the Angoon Landfill, hold an informational meeting, and create a community working group to address the concerns.
Through her project, she discovered many other concerned citizens in Angoon. During our time meeting with folks throughout the community, we learned there are multiple issues related to Angoon’s trash, such as the lack of affordable options to ship out any garbage or recycling. We connected with a handful of folks looking to start working on some of these issues. This, along with connecting with some Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation staff interested in supporting a community working group.
Hopefully, there will be more to come on this from our visit to Angoon in the near future.📸: Sydney Ribera
Blueberry Festival 2022
Another awesome trip I made to my hometown of Ketchikan for Blueberry Festival, an event that’s been around for longer than I’ve been alive. It’s great to run into old friends and make new ones. With multiple cruise ships in during Blueberry Fest 2022, a sea of locals and visitors flooded past the booth all day.
I attended Blueberry with our Alaska Conservation Foundation intern, Sydney Ribera. Although her visit to Ketchikan was short, it’s always nice to host guests in my hometown. It’s also lovely when well-wishers stop by the booth, thanking us for our work and telling us how they are members of their local conservation organization back home.
I heard comments from locals about increased offroad vehicle traffic in popular muskeg areas where berry and tea harvesters frequent. For those who are not super familiar with SEACC, I got a lot of, “Do you guys work on Pebble?” That question is usually followed with a statement of concern for the impact of Pebble Mine on Bristol Bay salmon. I always use the Pebble question as an opportunity to talk about some of the effects in our own backyard from British Columbia mining at the headwaters of our shared transboundary rivers.
My post from the trip to Ketchikan earlier in the year talked about my concerns about access to western foods at grocery stores and the desire to see more local garden/hydroponic grows producing goods for local purchase. So it was a pleasure this trip to see multiple local restaurants serving locally grown greens.
Overall, it’s a basic human right to have clean air to breathe, water to drink, and access to healthy foods to sustain ourselves. Western capitalist society can interfere with this. Almost everyone I encountered on my Blueberry Festival trip wanted to talk about the importance of salmon, and I didn’t miss a chance to highlight how salmon, just like us, need clean water to survive … and thrive.
📸: Heather Evoy
WMAN 2022 Biennial Conference
Let’s wrap up my travel post series with my last SEACC trip of the year. I traveled to Reno, Nevada, in October to attend the Western Mining Action Network’s 2022 Biennial Conference. The local Reno-Sparks Indian Colony hosted the conference, and it was such an honor for us to be their guests for the week.
I spent time visiting sites like Pyramid Lake and Anaconda Mine and learning about the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine — a proposed lithium clay mining development project in Humboldt County, Nevada. Peehee Mu’huh (Thacker Pass), part of the McDermott Caldera, is the largest known lithium deposit site in the U.S. — and one of the largest in the world. Local residents, and groups like Protect Thacker Pass and Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu/People of Red Mountain, are resisting the Thacker Pass lithium mine for many reasons, one of them being water. Canadian company Lithium Americas Corp. plans to extract more than 5,000 acre-feet (1.7 billion gallons) of water annually from an aquifer in the Quinn River Valley. In addition, the mine may leach uranium, antimony, sulfuric acid, and other dangerous substances into groundwater.
I have been using these posts to discuss various ways food security and sovereignty have been recurring themes throughout my travels — and my week in Nevada ended up weaving right into that theme. I was asked to speak on a panel about mining impacts on water during which I highlighted the cultural connection and importance of salmon and the intrinsic dependence of salmon on clean water.
And I ended up getting quite the thank you treat. The pinon pine tree and its pinon nuts are sacred to many of the people of the Southwest. It was such an honor to be gifted some to bring home. Can’t wait to wash, roast, and eat these!
Gunalchéesh for reading!