July 18, 2018 | After conducting my Masters research on indigenous resource use in two villages living around a recently established protected area in southern Guyana, I was left questioning some of the ethical and moral components of that research. This isn’t to say I wasn’t appreciative of the opportunity or that I didn’t love it, but, rather, I wondered whether or not I was the right person for the job. As a Masters student, who was I to ask others about their livelihoods? Not just others, but I was asking indigenous villages in a country I had never been to before about their farming, fishing, hunting, and gathering activities. So, what role, if any, should a white, young female from Virginia play in understanding indigenous rights and protecting cultural and natural resources abroad? I’ve heard a variety of responses to this question over the past three years. And, I wish I could tell you I’ve reached my own clear-cut conclusion.
Nonetheless, one of my primary reflections has been I should understand these topics in my own country, not just internationally. For those that don’t already know, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado was established in 1906 as one of the first cultural resource parks. It preserves approximately 5,000 archeological, Ancestral Puebloan sites dating from 600 to 1300 AD. Many of the descendants of the Ancestral Pueblos live in the present-day Southwest region of the U.S. With this in mind, I purposefully picked Mesa Verde as my first choice site for the Community Volunteer Ambassador (CVA) position with the hope of learning more about Native American/American Indian relationships with our federal protected areas.
Fortunately for me, the youth, education, and volunteer coordinators of the National Park Service (NPS) Intermountain Region office are very supportive and actively engaged in the CVA program. Upon hearing about my experience and reasons for coming to Mesa Verde, one of the coordinators kindly asked if I would like to take her place as a representative of NPS at the 4th Native Youth Community Adaptation and Leadership Congress (NYCALC) at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. Over the course of a week in July, NYCALC gathers ~85 native high school students from American Samoa, Hawaii, Alaska, and various parts of the continental U.S. to conduct a service project, attend a career fair, participate in workshops, kayak and canoe on the Potomac River, and present group projects on various environmental topics of interest to them in their communities. A few topics the students identified included self-empowerment, elders, politics, environmental education, and language. Apart from providing general support throughout the week, I lead a workshop on “Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) into Management Using Tribal GIS” and discussed Conservation Legacy and Northwest Youth Corps internship opportunities under the NPS tent during the career fair.
I want to give many thanks to all of the staff, junior faculty, fellow faculty, mentors, and students for their enthusiasm, optimism, and willingness to share their stories throughout NYCALC. Such events are inspiring and encouraging as we move forward in addressing environmental and social concerns. As it relates to the CVA program, it’s essential we remember the history and importance of the NPS sites we are living and working in. Through oral traditions and visits to Mesa Verde, a couple of the junior faculty participants present at NYCALC were able to tell me the exact cliff dwelling(s) where their ancestors had lived. Take a moment to think about how amazing that is. Even as interns, we have a responsibility to protect our cultural and natural resources for others, ourselves, and future generations with the hope they are around for another 800 years, just like the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde today.
Written by Julie Savage, 2018 CVA Member at Mesa Verde National Park