Expanding the dialogue at WildLinks 2018

Expanding the dialogue at WildLinks 2018

ConservationNWAdmin / Nov 21, 2018 / WildLinks Conference

The 2018 WildLinks Conference included Indigenous priorities for the first time, and initiated self-reflection on inclusion in the environmental movement.

By Heather Hutchison, Development and Events Associate

Conservation Northwest greatly recognizes and appreciates the Wenatchi People, the original stewards of the land where this year’s WildLinks Conference took place. We also thank the Colville Confederated Tribes and Yakama Nation for joining us and sharing their work on Traditional Foods, climate adaptation and other critical work in Cascadia.

Last month, Conservation Northwest and the Cascadia Partner Forum brought together more than 60 participants in Leavenworth for our annual WildLinks Conference. WildLinks fosters a network of natural resource practitioners in Washington and British Columbia to strengthen the adaptability of species, the landscapes they inhabit, and the human and wildlife communities we cherish.

Our tribal allies have been important partners in our efforts to reintroduce fishers to the state. Photo: Kevin Bacher

The conference has focused on a specific priority each year—Canada lynx, ecological connectivity, salmon, grizzly bears and climate change to name a few. This year, WildLinks began to take on questions related to inclusion and the dominant voices in conservation.

First Nations and Indigenous peoples are vital partners for Conservation Northwest’s work. Over the years, WildLinks has hosted numerous Tribal and First Nations leaders and citizens from both sides of the border. But conference organizers have observed cautious engagement from some Tribes and First Nations. The lack of Indigenous priority issues and space for discussion on the cultural and social aspects of conservation during the conference have been among the feedback we’ve received on WildLinks.

The Indigenous dialogue on species conservation is too often limited or separate from the larger conservation dialogue. But when we take the time to listen and learn, it is clear that we have the same concerns. We both know charismatic species are signs of a healthy environment, but many indigenous communities prioritize the protection of native species for the health of their people as well as for the health of ecosystems—the two being integral to one another.

A grizzly bear in central British Columbia. These animals are priorities for all WildLinks participants.                                          Photo: Jeremy Williams

The Okanogan Legend of the Four Chiefs stresses that if we strive to take care of grizzly bears, we will take care of everything else as a result—including ourselves. While many conservation groups have pushed to protect old-growth forests and mountain caribou habitat, including our own Mountain Caribou Project with our Canadian allies WildSight, the Kalispel Tribe near Spokane has launched their own Caribou Recovery Project, making the species a main focus of their natural resource priorities.

Furthermore, Northwest tribes and First Nations often identify grizzly bears and mountain caribou as First or Traditional Foods—species they’ve relied on for generations for subsistence, medicines and cultural purposes.

So why aren’t groups working more closely with the Indigenous dialogue to empower us all to achieve greater conservation goals? Why aren’t Tribal and First Nations’ priorities the larger conservation movement’s priorities, too?

This year, we listened to this feedback and attempted to address these questions. WildLinks priorities expanded to include fire and First and Traditional Foods. The topics are new to the conference, and we’re cautious about expanding the breadth of our focus in an already jam-packed event. But the partner forum expects to continue the discussion, led and molded by Tribal and First Nations participants in years to come.

In addition to knowledge on First Foods, friends from the Colville Confederated Tribes and Yakama Nation discussed ways our region can work together to restore our cultural health. Amelia Marchand, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes and a Conservation Northwest Board Member, taught us about the spiritual and cultural relationship the Colville have with biodiversity and native plant habitats.

A live lynx before release. We are working with First Nations in Southern British Columbia to reduce lynx mortality, in hopes to one day restore them to Kettle Range. Photo: Okanagan Nation Alliance

We heard from Bob Rose, Hydro Coordinator for Yakama Nation Fisheries, about the Yakama Nation’s Climate Adaptation Plan, a living document and ongoing process for adapting to new lands, lifestyles, analysis and science. An initiative to push for action now, the adaptation plan seeks to coordinate with tribal, state and federal governments to organize around the Yakama’s biggest priority: water—the beginning and end of everything.

After hours of rich discussion about our priorities and the future of the Northwest landscape, the conference left us to wrestle with bigger questions. For three decades, Conservation Northwest has been a regional figure for landscape connectivity and habitat protection, with its origins inspired by both white-led environmental activism and coordination with tribes and First Nations in Washington and British Columbia. Now, we are increasingly asking how our work supports Indigenous priorities, where our interests overlap as well as how we can support the leadership of indigenous people for healthy wildlands, wildlife and communities.

From water and biodiversity to native plants and habitat, Northwest Tribes care about many of the same environmental issues as conservation groups and government agencies. However, they can lack a space to share with others what climate adaptation, restoration, connectivity and other conservation issues mean to their people.

Indigenous communities in Cascadia are asking to be meaningfully engaged in the conservation dialogue. They also want their priorities and knowledge integrated into the planning and implementation of conservation projects. We hope our WildLinks Conference will continue to grow, and become a space where Northwest Tribes and First Nations can work closely with state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations in support of shared progress.

Amelia Marchand shares her hope for a resilient future in Cascadia at the 2018 WildLinks Conference. Photo: Heather Hutchison

While Conservation Northwest and the Cascadia Partner Forum continue to examine our work and ask ourselves how and where we can be more inclusive, one priority is clear. At WildLinks, Amelia Marchand stated it best when, in English and Okanogan, she shared her hope for a resilient future in Cascadia—“With one heart, we swim together.”

Through meaningful partnerships and intentional discussions like we had at this year’s WildLinks, we hope to continue connecting our hearts, and swim together to strengthen our conservation efforts.

Find out what others hope for in a resilient future in the Cascadia Resilient Future Photo Project, or check out the summary of topics at the 2018 WildLinks Conference.