Stories of Indigenous-Led Conservation

Today, the state of Montana still recognizes “Columbus Day,” but the Center for Large Landscape Conservation chooses to recognize and celebrate a different holiday: Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in 1989 as an alternative to Columbus Day, the purpose of which is twofold: to counter the celebration of Christopher Columbus, who many–particularly tribal and indigenous people–say represents “the violent history of the colonization in the Western Hemisphere,” and to honor and and celebrate Indigenous peoples. 

This Indigenous Peoples’ Day we wish to express our gratitude for the profound contributions Indigenous people have made to sustaining biodiversity, reversing habitat fragmentation, and resisting environmental injustice. The modern conservation movement has much to learn from Native American people and we are grateful to those who have offered us guidance. 

Stories of Indigenous-Led Conservation

To celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we’re sharing stories of three inspiring Indigenous-led conservation efforts, and reflections from Indigenous conservationists.

  1. Earthkeepers: Revering, Recovering the Whitebark Pine

“The Confederated Salish and Kootenai’s ultimate goal for whitebark pine restoration is to reintroduce the seed into its culture…The tribe hopes that someday soon, it will have healthy whitebark pine populations that will contribute to a healthy tribal lifestyle with generational understanding of high elevation forest ecosystems.”

  1. A Healthy Earth Needs Indigenous Peoples

“[L]ands and waters that are owned, managed, and used by indigenous peoples and local communities are much healthier than those that aren’t. A growing body of research supports the clear implication that indigenous peoples have a vital role to play in addressing the biodiversity crisis.”

  1. Returning to roots: The Fort Belknap Indian Health Service hospital is seeking applicants for two traditional practitioner positions — the first of their kind in Montana.

“Our ancestors, did they know they were scientists? No. They were just taking care of their body, taking care of their people,” said Morales, who teaches ethnobotany at the [Aaniiih Nakoda] college. “All this knowledge, they knew it. They handed it down, and for years and centuries. We took it for granted. And here we are trying to teach ourselves, trying to learn.”

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