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Cultivating the Next Generation: The Northwest Youth Corps Tribal Stewards Program

By Angela Noah and Don Motanic

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Don Motanic

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Angela Noah

Don—The Intertribal Timber Council (ITC), along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Forest and Wildland Fire Management Division, is developing a strategic plan to increase the number of Native Americans involved with forestry and natural resources. As part of the plan, the first step was conducting a survey with Tribes to assess and find successful programs and practices to replicate throughout the nation. [Click here]

The Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) Tribal Stewards Program is one program identified through the survey and could be used as a model elsewhere. In 2018, Jeff Parker, the executive director of NYC, introduced me to Angela Noah when I requested a speaker to represent their organization at a Regional American Indian Science and Engineering Conference. Angela is one of a select few who has received the National Corps Member of the Year, which includes a visit to Washington, D.C.

I was inspired by Angela’s presentation, work, and achievements, and wanted to share some of her thoughts about her journey and advice for people trying to encourage youth toward careers in natural resources.

Angela Noah giving speech.JPG
In 2016, Angela Noah was recognized as Corps Member of the Year for her work
with the Northwest Youth Corps. As part of the award ceremony, she delivered
a speech on Capitol Hill that is available at https://tinyurl.com/y5r2e46m.

Angela—Dagotee’–Hello! I am White Mountain Apache and Oklahoma Choctaw. I am from Cibecue, Arizona, but currently reside on Kalapuya ancestral territory, which is named as Eugene, Oregon. I am a non-traditional first-generation student at the University of Oregon pursuing a degree in planning, policy, and non- profit management. I am the oldest of seven siblings and enjoy the outdoors. I am very fond of the Oregon coast but do miss the spectacular Arizona sunsets at home.

I became involved with NYC through a partnership with Chemawa Indian School, which is located in Salem, Oregon. Chemawa is a Native American boarding school open to Native American high school students from across the country. In 2014, I attended Chemawa and committed to working my summers in Oregon since I wanted to see more of the Pacific Northwest. My school counselor informed me of a work opportunity through NYC that would allow me to travel, work on trails, camp, and make new friends. All of these intrigued me, so I pursued a five-week outdoor camping trail crew position.

Being on a NYC trail crew and disconnecting from society and social media was a healing space, and I felt an immediate connection to nature. One of the things I really enjoyed about the outdoor spaces were trailblazing organizations and the ally-ship to assure under-represented communities had access to the outdoors.

In 2015, the NYC launched its first Native American young adult crew, which included two brothers from Warm Springs and me. We were a tiny crew of three plus our crew leader. One of the things I immediately noticed was the cultural difference of these brothers when adjusting to the culture of trail crews, being excited to work in conservation, and having fun while learning applicable outdoor skills. I noticed my crew struggling so I took it upon myself to help these brothers see the positive side of being in nature and part of NYC’s first Native crew.

When our crew graduated that summer, I was a senior at Chemawa Indian School. I finished high school and returned to NYC as their Tribal Stewards Inclusion Coordinator in partnership with Chemawa Indian School. In this role, I worked with Native American youth and young adults through the summer for ten weeks.

Tribal Stewards Learn trail maintenance.jpg
PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHWEST YOUTH CORPS
As part of the Tribal Stewards Program, Tribal Stewards learn trail
maintenance, plant identification, and riparian habitation restoration, along
with receiving career mentoring.

This specific program was geared to young adults ages 15 to 19. We wanted a program where students could work toward an AmeriCorps Education Award so that they could participate in longer conservation crew programs while earning this scholarship. I used my AmeriCorps Education Award to attend an international backpacking program in New Zealand through NOLS, which is a global wilderness school.

As their mentor, I worked closely with these students while their crews were in the field. One of the highlights was working with a crew who was doing a reroute for the Pacific Crest Trail in Mt. Jefferson Wilderness in eastern Oregon. I am grateful for the experience and often miss the Native youth and the sense of family we felt when we were making change in the backcountry settings or nearby state park. It was a humbling experience having two years earlier shown up to a summer program not ever building a trail and walking away with that skill five weeks later. I experienced growth and enjoyed seeing the same for these students.

When I received the 2016 Corps Member of the Year, I had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC. I wish I could have met the Obamas, which would have been a dream come true! While I did not have that honor, I did tour the White House and met the Obama’s dogs. There were five honorees that year for the award, and we all gave a speech on Capitol Hill. At the end of the trip, each of us were honored with a flag flown over Capitol Hill. This continues to serve as a formative experience for me since I was on my way to being the first in my family to graduate high school and vowed that I would return to the White House with a college degree.

As I finish my first year of college, I am grateful that I spent my gap years after high school working with a nonprofit dedicated to youth education and outdoor empowerment through inclusion. I am grateful for the professional networks I had and the opportunity to share my story with high school students across the region. I truly believe that representation matters. The outdoor spaces continue to hold the stories of Indigenous peoples as there is much to learn in nature. I walked away from this chapter of my life knowing how to help this kind of movement and wanting to start my own nonprofit organization for women and girls of color. I am grateful for the work experience as I feel my studies in college make them feel more applicable.

To accomplish my goal, I am obtaining a degree in policy and nonprofit management. I am also inspired by urban development, which is a little different from my extensive conservation background. My holistic lens is this idea of what a decolonized healthy community looks like for the 70 percent of Native Americans who live in cities. Coming from a rural reservation, I am learning of urban settings and people’s lack of access to gardens, nature, and fresh produce. These barriers exist for some reservations as well. My hope is to be filled with knowledge and remembering ancestral wisdom in assuring Indigenous communities, both urban and rural, have access to healthy food, clean water, clean air, and have culture and community empowerment.

Because of my experiences with NYC and as a mentor, I am often asked to share advice to other young Native youth interested in forestry and natural resource careers. I say that the outdoor space is a healing space and is what connects us to spirituality, identity, and culture. In my experience, I quickly noticed a need for these out outdoors spaces to be taken up by those who were here first—Indigenous peoples.

I am inspired by outdoor organizations working to uplift the original stories of these lands. If you serve in this work, I applaud you. This work is ensuring the future generations will be healthy and continue to have access to clean air, clean rivers, plenty of food, and resources to make the things that have cultural significance. As Native people, it is our calling and we know that Mother Earth needs our help. When you work toward healing yourself, you work toward healing her too. We need healing and unity now more than ever. Be inspired and do not be afraid to take up space.

As Don mentioned in the introduction, we need Native youth to enter the forestry and natural resources profession to accomplish this vital work. What can professionals, both tribal and non-tribal, do to reach these youth? Many cultural education departments exist in tribal communities and I have seen workshop or events offered for basket weaving and arrowhead making. These events are ways for tribal members to connect to their culture.

If you’re a professional interested in partnering with a nearby tribal community, consider asking these departments how you can help. In my tribe, our natural resource department worked with reservation high schools to employ water testing crews for a month during the summer. This was my first outdoor work with the land, and I valued it because there was an elder who accompanied us throughout the entire internship. Not only did I learn how to test E. coli (Escherichia coli), I learned the Apache names of our springs in our watershed.

In my experience as a recruiter for NYC, I found opportunities to volunteer and build relations with tribal communities in the Northwest. This was invaluable because I could see the needs of a community and recognize how our organization could help. This taught me the value of being present and showing up for a community rather than my own agenda.

Angela Noah is a sophomore at the University of Oregon. She can be reached at anoah@uoregon.edu. Don Motanic (Umatilla) is a technical specialist with the Intertribal Timber Council. He can be reached at 360-600- 4079 or donmo@itcnet.org.

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