MOENKOPI, Ariz. - A special three-day conference took place last week at the Hopi Legacy Inn during which the Colorado Plateau Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology and representatives from both the Hopi and Navajo nations came together to examine challenges, successes and opportunities that can protect the region's biodiversity while strengthening tribal sovereignty.
The end result was to blend western science with Native perspectives on conservation planning, aligning resource interests between tribes and conservation biologists and strengthening efforts through cross-cultural collaboration.
While all parties agreed that humans are dependent on earth energy to power our livelihoods and varied lifestyles, we also must look to less invasive, more innovative and practical, sensitive ways to conserve resources, particularly water and coal.
Eli Bernstein, President of the Society for Conservation Biology, and Andy Bessler, local Sierra Club organizer and Plateau Chapter Board member, hosted the event.
Other presenters included Wahleah Johns of Black Mesa Water Coalition; Tony Skrelunas and Ethan Aumack of Grand Canyon Trust; Anna Rondon of Navajo Green Economy Commission; Billy Parrish of Energy Action Coalition; Jihan Gearon of Indigenous Environmental Network; Shawn Mulford of Indigenous Youth Experience; Bill "Bucky" Preston, Hopi farmer; Cora Maxx-Phillips, To'Nanees Dizi representative; Krista Beazley of the White Mountain Apache Tribe; Mark Maryboy of the Utah-Navajo, San Juan County Land-Use Legislation; Paul Beier, NAU School of Forestry; David Ostergren, Judy Bischoff and Erik Nielson of the NAU Center for Sustainable Environments; and Karla Kennedy and T.G. Whitham of the NAU Department of Biological Sciences.
Bernstein stated, "Colorado Plateau tribes and conservation biologists discussed climate change, protecting the San Francisco Peaks, regional conservation planning and found that we had much in common on these issues. We saw that conservation science and Indigenous wisdom, when combined appropriately, can yield elegant strategies for protecting both cultural traditions and biological diversity. The work ahead lies in finding ways to cooperate around specific issues where we have strong common interests. Protecting the San Francisco Peaks from artificial snowmaking, human health and coal/uranium mining, climate change and renewable energy, joint advising on regional conservation issues and the Four Forests Restorative Initiative."
The opening session on Oct. 22 included a brief history of tribal environmental activism on the Colorado Plateau by Johns and a presentation by Bernstein on Conservation Biology on the Colorado Plateau. The remainder of the day included a panel discussion on "Indigenous Lands Stewardship view of Climate Change, Developing Alternative Energy on the Colorado Plateau" and an informative discussion on "Cross Cultural definitions of Sacred Geography: What are we trying to protect and why?"
The "sacred geography" session featured viewpoints on both cultural and professional values that make a place sacred to tribes and conservation biologists alike.
The Colorado Plateau, which encompasses approximately 130,000 square miles, is a melting pot of tribal cultures and administrative interests. With 12 Native tribes currently occupying 24 percent of the Colorado Plateau (including Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico), 34 counties, 225 communities, 26 national parks, varied monuments, national historic sites, 15 national forests and 10 Bureau of Land Management district, each having different mandates for protection and each defined as "sacred," this topic was hoping to move towards solutions and building bridges across cultural considerations and tribal sensitivities.
Another major topic was the recent challenge to protect the San Francisco Peaks. No other mountain in the state of Arizona currently holds a clear definition of what the 21 Arizona tribes define as "sacred geography."
Recognizing that the San Francisco Peaks hold a special and unique challenge to protection efforts, the panel discussion looked at not just tribal perspectives but also water conservation issues.
The panel discussion lent itself to the most creative problem solving with the presentation on the "Cultural Gap Analysis: Western Science meets Native Perspectives on Conservation." The Society for Conservation Biology recognizes that dominant culture conservation efforts have never formally included Native voices in conservation discussion and this conference will be the first of many to share the conservation table with Native professionals and advocates.
Bessler expressed his thanks to Hopi farmer Elliot Selestewa of Moenkopi for his time in providing the group his Hopi perspective on water issues critical to Moencopi Wash and surrounding Hopi lands impacted by coal and uranium mining."
He added, "I think the conference attendees and presenters all walked away from this meeting inspired and eager to explore new partnerships and opportunities to protect what we all consider 'sacred lands' on the Colorado Plateau. We hope to offer this conference again, to build on this new tribal and science endeavor."
For more information on upcoming tribal bio-conferences, contact the Colorado Plateau Conservation Society by e-mail at email@example.com.
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