Indigenous Organizational Development Benefits and Challenges Workshop

Indigenous Organizational Development Benefits and Challenges Workshop

By: Maria Maybee

The Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund Indigenous Peoples hub coordinated an Indigenous Organizational Development Benefits and Challenges workshop, which was held October 26th and 27th at the Sugar Island Cultural Camp in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The purpose of the workshop was to strengthen indigenous grassroots citizen initiatives that are working to protect and restore aquatic habitats and species in the Great Lakes Basin. Effective communication, building trust and understanding in all our relations, especially with the youth, will lead to effective organizing in indigenous communities – something that is essential for generations to come.

Our hosts Bud Byron and his wife Tammy from the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, provided workshop participants – who came from both Canada and the United States – with a warm welcome, good words and great food. The setting was very comfortable, surrounded by trees and water.

Speakers from the Great Lakes basin presented their work and provided organizational models and resources for building effective campaigns that support citizens’ initiatives. Presenters included Dwight “Bucko” Teeple – Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Maria Maybee – Great Lakes United, Paul Smith – Heifer International, Angie Reed – River Network, Cecelia Fernandez – Northwatch, Dr. Mike Skladany – Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, Dr. Scott Heron – Ferris State University Assistant Professor Biological Sciences Department, Betty Angeconeb – Atikameg (Whitefish) Environmental Committee, Mike Williams – Walpole Island Heritage Center, Jill Ryan – Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund Director and Dave Elliot – Waasnode Geomatics.

Meeting on an indigenous territory provided the group with an up-close perspective of why organizing and networking for the preservation of the future generations of all Great Lakes habitats and species is valuable to indigenous communities. Using maps, participants identified the regions where they live and listed the kinds of environmental impacts their communities are experiencing. Most indigenous Great Lakes communities are likely to be in wetlands areas. Issues identified included: loss of habitat, plants and species; impacts from invasive species; the Army Corp of Engineers Navigational Study; the impact of forestry, industrial development, and sprawling development on near-shore and wetland habitats on or near indigenous communities; long-term neglect of superfund sites, the impact of nuclear and hazardous waste sites on the health of indigenous peoples and on other species living in the vicinity; water level issues; air and water contamination from nuclear, coal and hydro plants used for power generation.

Interactive discussions addressed resources, funding opportunities, regional issues, geographic information systems, traditional ecological knowledge, how to organize to protect aquatic habitats and species, and the benefits and challenges of organizing in indigenous communities. Participants noted that indigenous communities are not given adequate consultation on processes, regulations and laws that would enable these communities to adequately protect the environment within and surrounding their communities. The federal governments of both Canada and the United States maintain a special trust relationship with Indian tribes pursuant to treaties, statutes, Executive Orders, judicial decisions, and other legal instruments. Inherent in this relationship is an enforceable fiduciary responsibility to Indian tribes to protect their lands and resources, unless otherwise unencumbered through mutual agreement. Trust responsibilities of both the United States and Canadian governments are many times not present especially to small and remote communities.

In the final session of the weekend, we discussed our common interests in moving forward for the protection of future generations. Discussion of next steps addressed communication within and between individuals, families, indigenous communities, government entities, and environmental organizations. Initiatives suggested included organizing similar meetings in Great Lakes indigenous communities to build both relationships and strong networks. Community organizers and the Indigenous People’s Hub are planning to host similar events at other indigenous locations in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River basin. Building personal relationships with each other, our families and our communities, and making sure that people’s work and efforts are appreciated, are key to effective networking. Building these relationships empowers individuals to work more effectively in both their communities and within their organizations.

If you would like the support of the Indigenous Peoples hub in your community to protect aquatic habitat and species, please contact Maria Maybee. Follow-up conversations are currently in progress and feedback and campaigns from this and future hub meetings will be posted at Hard copies can be mailed or faxed upon request by calling Maria Maybee at Great Lakes United, phone: 716-886-0142 or writing to her at Great Lakes United, Buffalo State College – Cassety Hall, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, New York 14222. Maria’s email address is:



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
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