Indigenous communities have thrived in our ancestral homelands for thousands of years. Our resilience flows from our deep connection to our lands, air, animals, minerals, and waters (collectively, our homelands). Our ways of life are inextricably tied to our homelands; we are an intrinsic part of and provide care for our environment and it to us - if one is affected, so is the other. The health of a place can be measured by the ability for both to flourish now and into the future. As our planet adapts, ecosystems have been forced to rapidly shift with deep impacts to the vitality of Indigenous communities. Our peoples depend on the lands and waters to provide physical and spiritual sustenance – we’ve inherited an ancestral imperative to protect the health of the environment as an extension of our family. This care, done correctly, will continue to provide in perpetuity.
Despite thousands of years of our stewardship (also called “resource management” by those who only see our homelands as a resource to benefit them), Indigenous voices throughout environmental management and conservation regimes have been, and continue to be, consistently marginalized, ignored, and removed from decision-making positions and authority. The need for a unified Indigenous voice to protect our oceans grows in urgency each year. The rate of disappearance of vital communities will double if Indigenous populations are no longer able to rely on our ways of life to fulfill essential needs, including our spiritual, collective, and continuity needs, leading to further undermining of our ability to live in our homelands, forcing some to move away from their ancestral homelands. No matter where our Indigenous peoples live, they are born with an inherent responsibility to steward our ways of life and our homelands, and most continue to practice this no matter their location.
This collaboration capitalizes on a unique opportunity to advance Indigenous stewardship in Alaska and around the Pacific. This opportunity builds from growing Indigenous observation, monitoring and science programs like the Indigenous Sentinel Network (Bering Sea) and Guardians Program (Southeast), which, among other values, can help lead to Indigenous-led management change. There are already some foundational components in place that show the value of this approach, including the return of the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.