Alaska Native peoples have sustainably managed their lands and waters for thousands of years, maintaining abundant natural resources while harvesting enough to support their communities and ways of life. The advantages of traditional stewardship continue today, with research showing that lands managed by Indigenous communities have greater biodiversity, lower levels of pollution, and less natural resource degradation. Acknowledging this, Indigenous stewardship and co-management initiatives are being created around the globe, providing social, ecological, and economic benefits to people and ecosystems while formally recognizing Indigenous values and sovereignty.
This month saw the launch of the Alaska Indigenous Peoples Ecosystem Stewardship Virtual Exchange Program, a series of online events bringing together Alaska Native leaders to explore the opportunities for similar initiatives here in Alaska. For the next three months (October-December 2021), nearly 30 Indigenous leaders from the Bering Strait, Bristol Bay, and Southeast Alaska regions will gather to learn from Indigenous peers from around the world who have successfully created large land and marine stewardship projects based on Indigenous values. Building on the experiences and inspiration of these examples, the program hopes to spark big ideas for Alaska-based projects and create space for the dialogue and connections that will help make them a reality.
Speakers addressing the group over the coming weeks include Indigenous leaders from the Great Bear Rainforest and Tallurutiup Imanga in Canada, where First Nations co-manage a vast coastal region alongside the Canadian government, and also from Australia, where Indigenous Protected Areas are managed by local Aboriginal peoples who use a combination of traditional methods and Western science to safeguard their land and culture. Speakers will share how they turned their ideas into action, the difference these projects are making to their communities today, and the lessons they learned along the way. Closer to home, community leaders from Bristol Bay will discuss their ongoing work on self-determination, sustainability, and the bringing-together of Tribes and corporations for a common purpose.
Set against the backdrop of the Biden Administration’s “America the Beautiful” plan to conserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, the exchange program comes at a pivotal moment for Alaska and Indigenous-led conservation efforts. It presents Alaska Native leaders an opportunity to chart a new course for advancing their priorities–one that reestablishes management of their ancestral lands and ensures the economic, spiritual, and cultural well-being of their communities.
The Indigenous Peoples Ecosystem Stewardship Virtual Exchange Program was designed by a team of Alaska Native leaders brought together from the three regions participants are drawn from. Katya Gray, Executive Director of the Alaska Nannut Co-Management Council and a member of the design team, said that the program responds to an ongoing need for support for these types of projects in Alaska: “Through my work, I have been involved in marine mammal co-management and Indigenous ecosystem stewardship initiatives, but these efforts are often limited by the resources available to the local organizations doing the work. The Exchange Program is an opportunity to bring people together who are doing similar work in order to learn alongside each other and establish connections to move together toward more innovative ideas and effective capacity building.” By making the content of the program actionable as well as inspirational, the team hopes that participants not only “learn from other successful Indigenous-led models but will connect with partners to learn the practices we need to bring big ideas into action.”
As we look ahead to 2030 and beyond, these newly forged connections and ideas, and the Indigenous-led projects they spawn have the potential to reshape what conservation looks like, not only here in Alaska, but across the nation and beyond.
Alaska Venture Fund believes in a vision of the future of Alaska that honors Indigenous sovereignty and incorporates Indigenous values into natural resource management. We are proud to facilitate the Indigenous Peoples Ecosystem Stewardship Virtual Exchange Program and are thankful for our partnership on this program with the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic Program and The Nature Conservancy.