OPINION: Southeast Alaska leaders agree – USDA’s new sustainability plan is a good one

As leaders from Southeast Alaska with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP), we represent entities that have not always seen eye to eye -- tribes, Regional and Village Corporations, economic development, fishing, and conservation groups. We work together to find opportunities that put a conflict-ridden past behind us by focusing on the future of Southeast Alaska guided by Indigenous values and the vision and terms of the people that live here.

Last week, the national and state leadership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) visited Southeast Alaska and met with all of us to share their new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy (SASS) that is working to transition our economy from timber extraction to sustainable, community-led economic development. We applaud USDA on this innovative approach for supporting community resilience and seek to join them wholeheartedly in its development and implementation.

For too long, Southeast Alaska has been known for conflict between industrial timber extraction and conservation. Neither of these approaches have worked for us, the residents of Southeast. SSP is a different model. We reject the conflict and instead lean on the wise, time-tested practices that successfully stewarded these land and waters for countless millennia.

SSP was born out of conflict and necessity. Below the beauty and resilience of the people and places of Southeast Alaska is a very real undercurrent of trauma. It is important to understand this history in order to move forward: the inequitable extraction and the exploitation of resources and people, colonization, boom-and-bust economies, the theft of land, boarding schools, and children ripped from their parents and robbed of their culture and language.

We acknowledge this past and incorporate healing into everything we do. Over the past decade, we have worked to provide a model forward and through. Our relationship building through trust has brought collaboration once thought to be impossible. Federal investment in our model via the USDA’s SASS proves it is working.

Though extremely challenging, we believe this is the type of community development that will bring lasting solutions. Progress over perfection is a mantra we take to heart as we:

• Develop new ways to manage the forest, such as the Native Forest Partnerships led by the Hoonah Indian Association and Organized Village of Kake,


• Decolonize imposed structures via the Indigenous Guardians Program being led by Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska in collaboration with the US Forest Service,

• Invest in the people of Southeast with Spruce Root’s Path to Prosperity program,

• Find economic value in the living forest with Sealaska’s carbon deals that have 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 all, while communities in peril make short term decisions at the expense of tomorrow, and that our collective work is to help our communities thrive. Our vision is to bring this meaningful collaboration built on trust to all Southeast Alaskans to ensure that people continue to live here on their terms for the next 100 years and beyond. USDA’s new SASS program is a step in the right direction for how we get there.

Gah Kith Tin (Alana Peterson) is the Executive Director of Spruce Root and lives in Sitka. Khaaxwáan (Dawn Jackson) is the Executive Director of Organized Village of Kake and lives in Kake. Chalyee Éesh (Richard Peterson) is the President of Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. He is from Kasaan and lives in Juneau. Kaaxúxgu (Joe Nelson) is the Chairman of Sealaska. He is from Yakutat and lives in Juneau. Gunnuk (Anthony Mallott) is the Chief Executive Officer 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 Thoms is the Executive Director of the Sitka Conservation Society and lives in Sitka.

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