Spruce Root was invited by the U.S. Forest Service to help roll out the Tongass National Forest Plan Revision process. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

Spruce Root was invited by the U.S. Forest Service to help roll out the Tongass National Forest Plan Revision process. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

Resilient Peoples and Place: Stronger Together in 2024 — A letter from the Sustainable Southeast Partnership

Founded in 2012, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) is an Indigenous values-led collective impact network that’s based in, and working for, Southeast Alaska. Our partners are diverse, representing different agencies, organizations and governments all working in reciprocity with one another for a healthy future.

We support seven community catalysts hosted within village-level organizations, tribal governments, or Native corporations. Community catalysts work to identify and catalyze community driven initiatives. Community Catalysts are supported by 13 regional catalysts who represent areas of expertise that are critical for building regional resiliency.

The Tongass National Forest contains more than 40% of all carbon stored in the United State’s National Forest system. In 2024 the SSP is welcoming a catalyst position that will focus on regional climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience hosted with the University of Alaska. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

The Tongass National Forest contains more than 40% of all carbon stored in the United State’s National Forest system. In 2024 the SSP is welcoming a catalyst position that will focus on regional climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience hosted with the University of Alaska. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

All 20 catalysts, spread across Southeast Alaska, collaborate as ambassadors for our shared values and mission. They are thoughtful change-makers who show up for one another to connect resources, people, partners, ideas, and networks for increased impact on our communities and region.

2024 is the year when many of our dreams of being a model of leading change through Indigenous world views will come to fruition.

This year we are welcoming new catalyst positions that are more integrated into our framework than ever. New positions are created by agreements between local community partners. The catalysts are starting with a more established direction of work because we are at a point where our communities’ knowledge of what is needed, and what needs to be done, is uplifted by the relationships and support offered through the myriad of network partners of the SSP.

The community of Ḵéex̱ʼ (Kake), where some of the more than 40 individuals from across the region representing different disciplines, economic sectors, organizations, ages and perspectives, are participating in a transformative scenarios process to identify likely futures for Southeast Alaska. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

The community of Ḵéex̱ʼ (Kake), where some of the more than 40 individuals from across the region representing different disciplines, economic sectors, organizations, ages and perspectives, are participating in a transformative scenarios process to identify likely futures for Southeast Alaska. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

Keolani Booth of Metlakatla is our new mariculture catalyst. Not only will he build stronger relationships within that community, but he will be a liaison for the region to engage with a growing statewide industry. This is a critical time for mariculture or kelp, seaweed, and shellfish cultivation. It’s early and the toughest (but most exciting) time to be involved because it’s the first movers, researchers, and innovators trying to solve the toughest problems. It’s an uncomfortable time with substantial money being invested and yet so many unanswered questions of how this will impact our villages and environment. This creates tension between those concerns and exciting potential for growth. We cannot let this industry take off without it being built in a way that’s best for our communities, our culture and our unique way of life. And yet we believe there is a good way it can be done to both capitalize on the opportunity, but not at the expense of our collective well-being. Keolani, along with other partners, will push to ensure resources are being distributed equitably and that information is accessible all along the way to those who are interested in supporting, or cautious of, mariculture.

Everything we do as a partnership touches climate change — whether it’s food security, renewable energy, or economic development. However, we have not had one central strategy around climate change, adaptation and mitigation. By bringing on a dedicated catalyst hosted with the University of Alaska, who wakes up thinking about climate work every single day, we know it will lead to new projects, new strategies, and new approaches that we haven’t been thinking of.

The Sustainable Southeast Partnership is working with Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) and other regional partners to host a Fisheries Catalyst to support the health of local fisheries. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

The Sustainable Southeast Partnership is working with Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) and other regional partners to host a Fisheries Catalyst to support the health of local fisheries. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

We are working with Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) to host a fisheries catalyst to not only address concerns over the health of populations, but also support the return of permits to rural and Indigenous hands while helping influence and direct policies that impact the health of regional fisheries. This position pulls in the resources and expertise of so many great partners doing work in this area.

The Seacoast Indigenous Guardians network which has involved the labor and love of so many partners within the SSP, is really picking up speed with Tlingit & Haida’s direction and leadership. Five communities have signed on as partners, with more on the way.

More than 40 individuals from across the region representing different disciplines, economic sectors, organizations, ages and perspectives are participating in a transformative scenarios process to identify likely futures for our region. The process and results will help every interested Southeast Alaskan, municipality, or organization better reflect not on what someone wants or hopes to have happen, but what are likely scenarios and where are the points of intervention we can concentrate efforts in advance to improve outcomes for our communities. The scenarios workshops not only create a useful planning tool, but the process itself builds relationships and understanding while bringing all these different people together, pulling them out of a reactive, defensive mode, and shifting the conversation toward an analytic, logic-model process, with creative ideation, to develop proactive strategies. This approach, developed by the REOS group, has been applied successfully across the globe in all sorts of powerful ways including healing from apartheid in South Africa and addressing bushfires in Australia. We are excited to launch it here.

The author, Alana Peterson Gah Kith Tin, is the executive director at Spruce Root. (Photo courtesy of Southeast Sustainable Partnership)

The author, Alana Peterson Gah Kith Tin, is the executive director at Spruce Root. (Photo courtesy of Southeast Sustainable Partnership)

Finally, since the inception of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, partners knew that influencing how the U.S. Forest Service manages the 17 million acres that surround all of our communities would be critical to our work. The Tongass is not only our physical home, but the lands and waters that sustain our economies, feed our families, captivate our curiosity, provide wood that heats our home or that is the foundation of our canoes and totem poles. They are the homelands of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people. The forests capture carbon and nourish salmon populations. How the Tongass is managed absolutely matters to all Southeast Alaskans and touches every element of our work. To this end, partners have worked for decades to shift the way the federal government works here to better reflect the unique needs and priorities of Southeast Alaskans. We’ve done this through modeling what collaborative land management can look like in our Community Forest Partnerships. We’ve developed community-centered workforce development strategies through the Alaska Youth Stewards program. Our partners have not only been recipients of much of the $25 million in Southeast Sustainability Strategy investments, but have also helped realize those initiatives by acting as Regional Strengthening Partners disseminating funds and supporting community partners.

The author, Alana Peterson Gah Kith Tin walks her son on a playground in Sitka. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

The author, Alana Peterson Gah Kith Tin walks her son on a playground in Sitka. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)

In 2024, Spruce Root was invited by the USFS to help roll out the Tongass National Forest Plan Revision process. This plan matters. It influences the trajectory and priorities of this federal agency whose decisions affect us all. We are working through SSP to make the process of gathering meaningful public and tribal input more accessible and just than ever. Because what’s traditionally lacking between the federal government and specifically rural America and Indigenous communities is trust. No one knows exactly how to solve that and what we’re doing isn’t necessarily going to fix that mistrust, but we’re not veering away from that tension — we’re facing it. Building relationships one by one between the USFS and our region means there might not be trust between all the powers, but you can actually start to achieve positive outcomes together.

Underpinning all of this growth are Indigenous values and Indigenous leadership. Every partner and resident of this region is not Indigenous to Southeast Alaska. But every person can empower and embody values that come from the people who’ve been here for over 10,000 years. Everyone can do that. This is a diverse place, and we all have trauma to overcome, we all have so much to offer, and we all deserve to be here together — to live in, and build a future together. We just have to choose collaboration.

The sun sets over Sea Grove Kelp Co.’s farm on the waters of Prince of Wales Island. The new mariculture culture catalyst with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership will serve as a liaison between this growing industry and rural and Indigenous communities to ensure resources are being distributed equitably, and that information is accessible all along the way to those who are interested in supporting, or cautious of, mariculture. (Photo by Shaelene Grace Moler)

The sun sets over Sea Grove Kelp Co.’s farm on the waters of Prince of Wales Island. The new mariculture culture catalyst with the Sustainable Southeast Partnership will serve as a liaison between this growing industry and rural and Indigenous communities to ensure resources are being distributed equitably, and that information is accessible all along the way to those who are interested in supporting, or cautious of, mariculture. (Photo by Shaelene Grace Moler)

The work we have ahead is hard, sure. We have been preparing for over a decade together and I know we are up for the challenge. If you are already connected to the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, thank you. If you’re interested, please get involved. There are open positions across our region, internships, events, opportunities to lend your voice, and resources for all types of Southeast Alaskans. We’re always stronger together.

Gunalchéesh, Hawaa, Thank you,

Signed:

Gah Kith Tin Alana Peterson

Executive Director, Spruce Root Community Development

Steering Committee, Sustainable Southeast Partnership

• Alana’s Tlingit name is Gah Kith Tin, from Diginaa Hit, Luknahadi. She grew up and currently lives in Sitka. Alana earned a bachelor’s of science in business administration at Charleston Southern University. After graduating from college she joined the Peace Corps where she served as a small business development volunteer for two years on the southern coast of Peru. She obtained her master’s degree in business administration from Northern Arizona University. She has continued to work in economic development in her current role as executive director at Spruce Root.

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