The Patel College of Global Sustainability encourages its graduate students to conduct their field internships in other countries, although if an interesting opportunity arises domestically we are also supported to work in the U.S.. So for the second part of summer, I chose a hybrid: my goal was to intern in or for Indian Country which is comprised of sovereign nations nested within this larger nation. I was lucky to spend a month at Ecotrust, an organization located in Portland, Oregon, which collaborates with tribes of the Pacific Northwest on many initiatives.
The project I helped with was the Native American Economic Sovereignty Initiative. Ecotrust and its partner, The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, are doing a one-year feasibility study for developing a fellowship program which trains and equips a cohort of emerging Native leaders with the tools, expertise and relationships needed to respond to the social demands of their communities. My month-long assignment was two-fold: to research similar existing fellowship opportunities and models and make recommendations for our own program, and to enter the data gathered from in-depth surveys completed by the tribes of the region.
I enjoyed this quiet time at the desk thoroughly, which surprised me, because I’ve always been a field worker- the more remote and rugged, the better. I think the positive experience can be attributed to the interesting content, but also to my awesome supervisors and to the organizational culture as a whole. At Ecotrust, regardless of how administrative or clerical a task might seem, one comes away feeling like even a nearly ephemeral contribution such as mine (four weeks fly by) is a meaningful thread in the larger tapestry of the universe. Everyone gets the big picture. That being said, this type of computer work doesn’t make for a very interesting picture, so below are related events I was blessed to participate in.
The highlight of the summer (and maybe of my life) was to witness the repatriation of Indian land. See, Ecotrust is in the business of restructuring the economy to serve the interests of the Earth (and its people), so it bought a very special 3,000-acre piece of land from a third party a long time ago and recently sold it back to its original owner/ steward: the Coquille Tribe. This entire process, which took many years, just happened to culminate in the weeks I was there (!!!!!!) and so pretty much the entire organization went down to the Sek-Wet-Se for a two-day celebration including a forest tour, blessing, and potlatch dinner. I am still a bit at a loss for words to describe how special the event was. I am so grateful to both Ecotrust and the Coquille Tribe for opening their doors and hearts to an intern from another world. I learned many things, especially that conservation is about managing relationships, with nature and each other, more so than resources.