Update: 9 a few minutes ago Published: 27 a few minutes ago
As leaders of Southeast Alaska with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP), we represent entities that have not always been in agreement – tribes, regional and village corporations, economic development groups, fisheries and preservation. We work together to find opportunities that put a conflicted past behind us by focusing on the future of Southeast Alaska guided by Indigenous values and the vision and conditions of the people who live here.
Last week, national and state leaders from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) traveled to Southeast Alaska and met with all of us to share their new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy. Alaska (SASS) which aims to shift our economy from timber extraction to sustainable, community-led economic development. We commend the USDA for this innovative approach to supporting community resilience and seek to join them wholeheartedly in its development and implementation.
For too long, Southeast Alaska has been known for its conflicts between industrial logging and conservation. None of these approaches have worked for us Southeasterners. The SSP is a different model. We reject conflict and instead rely on the wise and proven practices that have successfully managed these lands and waters for countless millennia.
The SSP was born out of conflict and necessity. Beneath the beauty and resilience of the people and places of Southeast Alaska, there is a real undercurrent of trauma. It is important to understand this history to move forward: the inequitable extraction and exploitation of resources and people, colonization, ups and down economies, land theft, boarding schools and children taken from their parents and deprived of their culture and language.
We acknowledge this past and weave healing into everything we do. Over the past decade, we have strived to provide an end-to-end model. Our relationship based on trust has brought a collaboration once considered impossible. Federal investment in our model through USDA’s SASS proves it works.
Although extremely difficult, we believe this is the kind of community development that will bring lasting solutions. Progress over perfection is a mantra we take to heart when we:
• Develop new ways of managing the forest, such as indigenous forest partnerships led by the Hoonah Indian Association and the organized village of Kake,
• Decolonize imposed structures through the Native Guardians program led by the Central Council of Alaskan Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in conjunction with the US Forest Service,
• Investing in the people of the Southeast with Spruce Root’s Path to Prosperity program,
• Find economic value in the Living Forest through the Sealaska Carbon Accords which also helped launch the Seacoast Trust, a fund that will allow SSP to continue this work in perpetuity.
We recognize that thriving communities make long-term decisions that benefit everyone, while thriving communities make short-term decisions at the expense of tomorrow, and that our collective job is to help our communities thrive. Our vision is to bring this meaningful, trust-based collaboration to all Southeast Alaskans to ensure people continue to live here on their terms for the next 100 years and beyond. The new USDA SASS program is a step in the right direction to get there.
Gah Kith Tin (Alana Peterson) is the executive director of Spruce Root and lives in Sitka. Khaaxwan (Dawn Jackson) is the executive director of Kake Organized Village and lives in Kake. Chalyee Eesh (Richard Peterson) is the President of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. He is originally from Kasaan and lives in Juneau. Kaaxuxgu (Joe Nelson) is the president of Sealaska. He is from Yakutat and lives in Juneau. Gunnuk (Anthony Mallott) is the CEO of Sealaska. He is from Yakutat and lives in Juneau. Christine Woll is the Southeast Alaska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy and lives in Juneau. Andrew Thomas is the executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society and lives in Sitka.
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