On this January “snow day,” our Native American nonprofit, Wisdom of the Elders, Inc., is busy recruiting our third cohort of gifted Native American adults to serve as Wisdom Workforce Development interns.
For the past two years, we have planned, funded and developed this dynamic conservation project that has resulted in 16 individuals being trained to accomplish habitat restoration work in natural areas in the Portland area. This has been a great learning experience for both of our intern teams and for Wisdom. Funding has been provided by Metro, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, the Portland Development Commission and East Portland Action Plan.
The interns have enjoyed a number of rich service-learning activities at Zenger Farm, the Foster Floodplain Natural Area, Johnson Creek, the Indian Creek Natural Area, Kelly Butte Natural Area and other sites, with support from Portland Parks & Recreation, the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, Zenger Farm, Green Lents and other site partners. Our newest partners include Friends of Trees, West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, North Clackamas Watershed Council, and WHPacific.
The work has had a lot of high points. One special accomplishment was the traditional First Foods garden plot that our teams began developing in the 50-foot buffer below Zenger Farm, the organic farm and urban grange located on SE Foster Road. The interns began to research, plan and develop the First Foods garden in March 2016 with support of Native elders from the Portland area, Wisdom staff and Landscape Architect Lora Price. This plot will continue to expand through 2017 and 2018, and is important because some species growing there are threatened and endangered.
Last fall, our team also had the opportunity to work with groups of student volunteers from local schools, including a group of home-schooled students. Training younger students in tree planting and other habitat restoration work turned out to be a special highlight for our interns. They also learned to plant trees at a training held by Friends of Trees.
To honor and acknowledge Wisdom’s eight 2016 Workforce Development interns and crew leaders, we and our project partners ignored snow flurries sweeping across Wisdom Gardens back in December to come together for a lunch of Indian tacos, followed by a brief program.
Certificates of completion were passed out, and each intern spoke briefly about his or her experiences as a WWD intern. The team completed three months of classroom education in environmental assessment and habitat restoration along with service learning activities at Foster Floodplain, Indian Creek, Kelly Butte Natural Area, Beggar’s Tick Natural Area and other sites in the Lents neighborhood.
Connecting with the world of nature while assessing and restoring public natural areas has proven to be a benefit to the first Native American community members who have participated in Wisdom Workforce Development. After receiving their certifications, a number of our past interns have joined Wisdom Workforce Development, LLC, which is providing them with living wage positions fulfilling habitat restoration contracts in local natural areas.
Two members of our team, Alvey Seeyouma (Hopi) and Priscilla Standish (Northern Arapaho), have become crew leaders and are learning project management, leadership development and mentoring skills from Wisdom, Landscape Architect Lora Price and other partners. We will continue to provide environmental conservation and restoration training and career pathways for them in 2017 and beyond.
Our team is strengthening its endurance and resilience, working outdoors in any and all weather conditions ranging from hot, dry and dusty to foggy, cold and rainy to snow and ice storms. The team has learned to work around poison oak, stinging nettle, and has endured bee stings, callouses and sprained wrists and ankles. But they love the work, and continue to strengthen their workforce readiness as they progress!
Our next cohort of Native American adults will attend classes and accomplish service learning in local natural areas for three months starting in early March. We strive to provide them with individual job pipelines to meaningful environmental careers. Information and an application form can be found at the Wisdom website.
Some of our biggest highlights have been the acknowledgement of our partners. Wisdom was honored twice this past year for our conservation partnerships. We received a Force of Nature Award for Equity and the Environment at The Intertwine Alliance Fall Summit for incorporating equity and inclusion in our ongoing work, building new bridges within our community, and creating connections with under-represented community members.
We also received the Riffle Award from the Johnson Creek Watershed Council during its 21st Anniversary Celebration in June. Every year the Council presents this award to individuals and groups whose actions in the Johnson Creek Watershed best exemplify and support its mission.
Wisdom was originally founded by the Lakota medicine man and spiritual leader Martin High Bear with a vision of Native American cultural sustainability, multimedia education and race reconciliation. Since 1993, Wisdom has recorded, preserved and shared oral history, cultural arts and traditional ecological knowledge of exemplary Native elders and scientists in collaboration with diverse organizations, educational institutions and government agencies.
It has been my honor to serve Wisdom for these 24 years and a highlight of my life to see our fledgling grassroots organization evolve into a larger, professionally run corporation. As I prepare for retirement from my role as executive director this March, I am excited to see new leadership guiding and evolving not just our environmental projects, Wisdom Workforce Development and Discovering Yidong Xinag (means “Discovering the Old Wisdom”); but also Discovering Our Story and other culturally tailored multimedia curriculum; and our media: Climate and Native Wisdom documentary series, Wisdom of the Elders Radio Program, and Discovering Our Story TV Program. We continue to provide our greater community with important perspectives from the Native American community.