19 June 2021

Andes to Alaska: Indigenous Solidarity

Written by: Sydney Ribera

All of my previous internships have been focused on the biological research side of environmental science, so I was excited to try something new and experience the communications and relations side. This is how the Arctic Youth Ambassador program stood out to me amongst all the other opportunities, where my objectives would be to share the stories and perspectives of Alaskan youth regarding their communities and environment. Several of the youth are Alaska Native and Ihave a personal interest in Indigenous informed environmental science, so I’ve been helping the Alaska Native Affairs Specialist, Crystal Leonetti, with her projects.

Through her I’ve also been able to connect withother Indigenous employees and learn about the relations between U.S. Fish & Wildlife (FWS) and Alaska Native peoples. FWS has a history of suppressing the subsidence rights of Alaska Native peoples, and since then they have issued formal apologies for the hardships they caused. I admire what Crystal does as an Alaska Native liaison to educate FWS employees and heal relations with tribes, and I aspire to apply what I learn inmy home. I work remotely from the unceded lands ofSomiSe’k (Rio Grande Valley) of theCarrizoComecrudo Tribe, and I want to see a future where their sovereignty and land management decisions are respected since they are the original stewards of the land. 

Getting to meet other Indigenous people who are Yupik, Diné, Aleut, Sugpiaq, Native Hawaiian, Lakota, Mohawk, Gwich'in, and Karuk and hear their stories has been like a spiritual salve for me. My family is Quechua and Guaraní, Indigenous to the Andean lowlands of Bolivia, but through colonization we have lost much of our cultural knowledge. This is the shared experienced of Latinized Indigenous people in Somi Se’k, and as a result many of us only know enough to call ourselves “Mestizo”, “Latino”, or “Hispanic”My grandparents faced many hardships and were not even able to attend school, but through HAF, Ihave been given an invaluable learning opportunity that I will use to help my community and descendants. I’m looking forward to what more I will learn from my colleagues and the Arctic Youth Ambassadors, and I hope to share their successes to inspire other young Indigenous people.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Alaska Regional Office

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