SCA Interns Preserve Cultural History Through Forest Service Alliance
By Jennifer Tarnacki
This summer, two interns from the Kenaitze tribe participated in a successful alliance between a Native tribal corporation, a land management agency, and the Student Conservation Association (SCA).
The goal of the collaboration between CIRI, the U.S. Forest Service, and SCA was to provide an opportunity for young people to do work on a National Forest cultural resource project which is relevant to their history, their culture and their tribe. It’s a timely partnership; the mission of the Student Conservation Association is to create the next generation of conservation leaders.
SCA is a national non-profit that has been around for sixty years. Director Jeff Samuels explained, “Here in Alaska I like creating opportunity for Alaskan youth to get involved with land management. What we do at SCA is determine where internships could be, whether part of a trail crew, doing cultural resource preservation, or interpretation. How we typically do that is by reaching out to federal partners, such as Chugach National Forest, and making connections with staff there.”
Sherry Kine is the Kenai Zone Archaeologist responsible for managing the heritage program in the Kenai Zone on the Chugach National Forest.
“We met Sherry Kine this past winter and talked about some broad overview ideas if she had a need for an intern,” explains Samuels.
The need to preserve the archeological history of the Kenai Zone of Chugach National Forest is strong. The archaeological record indicates that Alaska Natives have lived in, fished and hunted in the area for thousands of years, with the Kenaitze Dena’ina influence dominating the last thousand years.
“In Cooper Landing, there are tons of cultural resource artifacts in the whole area,” says Samuels. “The whole Russian River in Cooper Landing has thousands of years of history on it. There’s the potential to put a shovel in ground and come up with something that’s historically significant to the Kenaitze Tribe and Alaska.”
A Forest Service representative explains, “The Chugach National Forest has partnered with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe for 26 years in developing and implementing an annual archaeology camp for Kenaitze youth, and through this program we’ve identified a need for an internship to provide mentoring for students interested in continuing their education in archaeology and resource stewardship. With the help of CIRI funding and partner Student Conservation Association, we were able to work together to hire an intern to provide interpretive talks to the public about the importance of this area to Alaska Natives. In addition to interpretation, the interns located previously identified archaeological sites and provide updated site forms with GPS locations, photo records and management recommendations.”
“We were very fortunate to recruit these particular interns” says Kine, “Julianne and Ruby pretty much grew up attending the archaeology camps so they had a great deal of traditional and archaeological knowledge going in to the summer and we were able to build on that base. Throughout the summer I really saw them grow in terms of confidence and they brought a great deal of cultural knowledge to the table. Ruby and Julianne can identify house depressions and cache pits more accurately than most archaeologists from outside Alaska, and they brought so much more to our program, such as their keen interest in traditional plant use.”
Because of this knowledge, they were constantly identifying patches of plants near house depressions that were important to their ancestors, and are still important to their families today. We hope to continue our collaboration of information sharing next summer and incorporate more traditional knowledge into our management of these ancestral lands.”
Intern Ruby Willoya-Williams loved the internship, stating, “I got the privilege of working with SCA and the USFS. My partner Julianne Wilson and I worked on the Russian River campground for most of the summer going out and locating Alaska native house pits, cache pits and possible burial sites. We had to go out and survey the sites that we found and make a new site report. We had to measure and give a small description and what needed to be done to preset these old native house pit sites.”
“Archeology and agriculture weren’t the only departments we got to dip into with the Forest Service. At the beginning of our internship, we got to work with Kenaizte Indian tribe and their summer archeology camps called Susten camps. Julianne and I are actually tribal members, and as kids we went to these camps, it was wonderful being able to work with the next generation of our tribe teaching them what we knew about archeology, plants, and the land we live on. Working with the Susten campers was probably my favorite part of the internship.”
Their project knowledge holds relevance for the future as well. With the new Cooper Landing bypass project, their archeological knowledge and the bonds they help to form between land management agencies and traditional ecological knowledge are imperative for both conservation and future land use.
“I met so many great people within the Forest Service,” says Willoya-Williams. “Many of which gave me knowledge that I’m very grateful for. This internship helped me decide what I wanted to do for a career. It opened my eyes to the many different options that the Forest Service provides for careers. I plan on continuing my education so I can bring much more of my own knowledge to the table next summer.”
As for the public interpretation, the main point that the SCA interns have tried to instill is that Alaska Native people have been in this area for a very long time, and are still here. They may blend in with everyone else but they are deeply rooted to this place and it is sacred to them.
The former president of CIRI Margie Brown likes to say that “A fisherman who’s fishing at the Russian River today is continuing a food gathering tradition that lasts for 10,000 years in that area. They’re part of the continuum.”
The SCA interns are telling a story that is ages old. “I think that’s a cool story,” says Samuels, “It’s a story that connects both tourists and locals that are fishing with a long history of gathering food in that area. It’s a reminder of a rich resource.”