Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Oct. 10, 2022 @ 9:45 a.m.

Resighini Rancheria, Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation Help Launch Tribal Marine Stewards Network

From the Tribal Marine Stewards Network:

SACRAMENTO – As California prepares to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which falls on Oct. 10 this year, leaders from five Native American Tribes gathered today to officially launch the Tribal Marine Stewards Network (TMSN). TMSN is a unique alliance of Tribal Nations poised to be a nationally scalable model for adapting to climate change and building more resilient, equitable communities. TMSN is a partnership between five Tribes of Indigenous Peoples in California, who are working collaboratively to steward, protect, and restore the ocean and coastal resources within their ancestral territories. The four founding Tribes of the TMSN are the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewarts Point Rancheria, the Resighini Rancheria, and the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation. The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians will soon join as the fifth Tribe of the TMSN. Together, their work includes 12 Tribally led initiatives covering 220 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline within ancestral territories. The California Ocean Protection Council, a cabinet-level state policy body nested within the California Natural Resources Agency, voted Thursday to make a new funding commitment of $3.61 million over three years for the TMSN. 

“For too long, the state has forcefully separated Tribes from their ancestral territories and cultural practices, which has harmed both people and nature. The Ocean Protection Council is proud to support the Tribal Marine Stewards Network as an inspiring example of how we can work in partnership to enhance the capacity of Tribes to steward their ancestral lands and waters, and move closer to co-management,” said Wade Crowfoot, California Secretary for Natural Resources.

By applying Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, Tribal science, and management practices passed down over generations, these Tribes are poised to help the State of California apply time-tested solutions to new problems like a changing climate.

“The power of the TMSN is to leverage intertribal collaboration in a way that builds the capacity of each Tribe as a sovereign nation. Working together, this effort is focused on Tribal stewardship, but with the intention of supporting cultural lifeways, Tribal workforce development, and community healing,” said Megan Rocha, Executive Director of the Resighini Rancheria, a Tribe of Yurok people. 

Resighini Rancheria Tribal members are monitoring traditional marine wildlife within the rocky intertidal like seaweed and mussels while conducting interviews with community members, especially elders, to learn traditional knowledge that can inform stewardship of species that are culturally, spiritually, and ecologically important. The effort is intertribal and also intergenerational, as knowledge is passed to Tribal youth via camp programs that get young people out on the beach, learning traditional conservation and marine biology practices. 

Amah Mutsun Tribal Chair Valentin Lopez says Tribal members are carefully restoring rivers to ensure spawning beds there can nourish migrating salmon. Salmon need abundant food resources at the mouths of rivers to summon the strength needed to transition from saltwater to freshwater. Tribal experts are examining not only food and habitat for migrating salmon but also analyzing water temperature, pollution, dams, and other factors that impact their likelihood of success. Through DNA testing, the Tribe is able to search for proof of the return of salmon that thrived in places like the Pajaro River and the San Lorenzo River prior to colonization. 

For the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, projects will include catching surf smelt in traditional A-frame fishing devices and drying them on driftwood. Tribal Council Member Jaytuk Steinruck’s great-grandfather first devised the approach of using invasive beach grass as a part of this process, addressing its overgrowth while also keeping sand off the fish as they dry on shore. The Tribe is monitoring surf smelt (which they call lhvmsr) in collaboration with universities and Western science experts, a practice reminiscent of traditional fish camps of generations past. Their work was informed by trips to Canada and Australia to learn about similar Indigenous-led conservation programs there. They have also partnered with California game wardens to provide enforcement of restrictions on fishing in marine-protected areas that is comparatively less punitive. 

According to Nina Hapner, the Environmental Director with the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of Stewarts Point Rancheria, TMSN projects will involve collecting baseline data on mussels and phytoplankton within a coastal reserve, sending it to the State of California lab for evaluation, and then jointly tracking them over time. The Tribe also owns and operates a drone, enabling them to conduct flyovers of underwater kelp forests that face climate change threats. In the future, their work may involve scuba-diving researchers. 

“This network represents a strengthened partnership between the State of California and Tribes, and a recognition of how critical Indigenous knowledge and stewardship is to the future of our state lands and waters. It is an honor to support the vision and dedication of these Tribes in reasserting their important stewardship role along the California coast,” said Kaitilin Gaffney, Director of Ocean, Coast, and Fisheries at Resources Legacy Fund, which also supports the TMSN

For the first time ever, the 2022-2023 California state budget includes $70 million for Tribal nature-based solutions programming (item 77). In addition, the new budget also includes $10 million for Tribal wildfire engagement (item 58) and $38 million for California Conservation Corps and local and Tribal conservation corps (item 76). While the $70 million allocation for Tribal nature-based solutions falls short of the full $100 million Gov. Newsom had requested, it represents a first-of-its-kind effort to meet 30x30 conservation goals and address looming climate threats by returning land directly to Tribes for monitoring, conservation, and co-management. Via its 30x30 initiative, California seeks to protect 30 percent of state lands and waters by 2030–part of a parallel global effort. In doing so, it will be critical to uplift Native leadership, as colonization has jeopardized delicate ecosystems and wreaked havoc on natural resources.


About the Tribal Marine Stewards Network

The Tribal Marine Stewards Network is a unique alliance of California Tribal Nations working collaboratively to steward, protect, and restore the ocean and coastal resources within our ancestral territories. For thousands of years, we relied upon our ocean and coastal territories to provide for us. In return, we took care of these places through traditional knowledge and management practices. We are reclaiming our right to manage and steward our ocean and coastal territories. We seek to establish long-term, consistent engagement with state and federal agencies while implementing Indigenous Traditional Knowledge (ITK) and Tribal Science into management practices. By restoring our ecological resilience, we are building econo


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