Beginner steps in the right direction – Lance Tubinaghtewa

The history between the federal government and Indigenous nations is one full of betrayal and wrong-doing to the highest degree. This is a sentiment made clear by my initial steps as an intern with the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program here in Austin. Though this was something already understood by myself and my partner intern, Nieves Vázquez, who is also Indigenous, we found this fact to be well understood by the RTCA staff we’ve interviewed.

As a federal agency you cannot reach out to Indigenous nations without the past coming up and playing a vital role in forming partnerships. Historically, this has been attempted with no sort of recognition, or lack of sensitivity, and it has not worked out well for the approaching agency. Furthermore, or to add insult to injury, the National Park Service has often played a roll in the removal or erasure of Indigenous communities. An antagonizing mood can be found amongst the people of my tribe towards the NPS. This is something entirely valid, these traumas are still felt by Indigenous nations today. Yet, what value does this history play in our final product as interns with RTCA: the premier outreach strategy?

That value is founded in the lack of experience RTCA staff, and even broader NPS staff, have with Indigenous communities. A sort of “they all know, but are not sure what to do” comes up. The motivation is there, the individuals we’ve talked with are ambitious to form and sustain those partnerships yet there seems to be a lack in strategy. This is where Nieves and I have room to provide input. These are our steps in the right direction.

It is indeed a daunting task. There are hopes that this strategy will be applicable to other agencies and their efforts to reach out to Indigenous communities. But the support I’ve garnered from Nieves, as well as my supervisors, Gibrán Lule-Hurtado and Josh Tuck, place me in a spot of comfort to move forward. Not to mention the onboarding of an Indigenous matriarch as Secretary of Interior from the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico, Deb Haaland, does give me a sense of pride considering we both come from small tribes. I can only express my wishes but I hope that my work done as an intern with LHIP will in some ways provide the support needed for Indigenous communities to retake the rightful position as stewards of the lands. Whether that be on Hopitustkwa, Coahuiltecan lands, or the grander Turtle Island.

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