Alaska Tribal Conservation Alliance

Date: August 8, 2019
Interviewer: Sarah Ballew, Headwater People
Interviewee: Tyler Mockta, Eden Romero, Kyla Gongora

Quick Stats about Alaska Tribal Conservation Alliance:
The Alaska Tribal Conservation Alliance (ATCA) is a nonprofit that was established in 2011 by the first three tribal conservation districts and is an umbrella organization that serves as a bridge from tribes to USDA. ATCA connects and supports tribes through site visits, regional conferences and an annual symposium partnership meeting.

ATCA’s mission is to provide education, collaboration and outreach to the tribal conservation districts in Alaska to preserve and enhance the natural resources and traditional subsistence way of life.

Key Considerations:
Tribal conservation districts (TCD) combine local and traditional knowledge with technical resources to actively manage natural resources in a defined area. The goal of tribal conservation districts is to set local priorities for conservation and ensure sustainable use of natural resources for subsistence, economic opportunity, resource development, and cultural preservation.

A tribal conservation district establishes its conservation priorities through a comprehensive planning process. The plan is implemented locally by the district’s governing board of directors and members. Once a tribal conservation district is established under Tribal law, it can enter into a mutual agreement with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal agencies to carry out programs to accomplish conservation goals.*

Strengths, Keys for Success:
The first tribal conservation district was established in 2005. Since ATCA’s work began in 2011, the number of tribal conservation districts went from three to 18. They project the number to be 19 by the end of this year and up to 25 in Alaska by the end of 2020. Alaska is now leading the nation in the establishment of tribal conservation districts, with 18 out of a total of 58 throughout the country.

ATCA spreads the word to tribes throughout Alaska about what tribal conservation districts really are and how they can assist in establishing food sovereignty through resources and federal programs. Because they are not a state or federal organization, they are able to connect with people at a meaningful level. They can have conversations at a personal level, which can take a lot of the stress of working directly with government officials.

ATCA also uses their tribal connections and rapport to support tribes’ actual practices once they establish tribal conservation districts. Their goal is for the TCDs to have self-sustaining capacity as far as their own practices of food sovereignty.

Alaska is unique to the rest of the lower 48 states in that tribes were not organized on reservations and instead formed corporations. Corporations have the largest say over what happens on Native land and ATCA has been able to successfully support both tribes and corporations.

Barriers and Challenges:
A primary challenge is the structure for federal work through TCDs are based on working with tribes outside of Alaska. An understanding of the context of tribes outside of Alaska doesn’t necessarily transfer to the experience inside of it. From the vocabulary to define terms and processes to the costs of operations, Alaska tribes have a diverse and distinct context.

Travel costs for visiting TCDs, or bringing representatives to ATCA’s offices range between $500 and $1200 per person.

The seasons also dictate what activities can be done. In winter months, travel and even communication technology can be quite difficult due to the weather. Subsistence hunting, gathering and fishing happen seasonally and any community activities or gatherings have to be scheduled around the seasonal rhythms.

Cell and internet services are not robust in all communities and access to those kinds of communities may be limited.

Another challenge is working between the tribe, the corporations, whether it be regional or village corporations. There's a lot of entities involved and making sure everyone's involved and on the same page and at the table during these events is definitely a challenge.

Primary Funding:
Primarily through federal and charitable grants at this moment.

Insights for others:
Understanding the community, because every community is different and having faith in us that we can actually get what they want done is very important.

Know about the organization that you're funding or wanting to fund. Don't be scared to ask questions. One of the differences in terms is that in Alaska, rural is used to described locations off the road system and not as just far from urban areas. And everything in Alaska costs a lot more than people understand. I would just say be open to differences on a local level. If you're used to funding in the lower 48, be open and willing to hear our point of view.

Like we've mentioned before too, the timeline of things. So like subsistence, fishing and hunting and gathering, that does take up a large portion of the summer. As we were saying earlier, sometimes it can seem like things are moving really slowly, but that's such an important part of life up here that it's important to take it into consideration.

*from US Dept of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Services: Forming Tribal Districts in Alaska.