50 Solutions: The WestWashington’s Pipeline-Blocking Tribes, Colorado’s Backyard Gardening, and Morescroll down arrow

Photo by Paul Anderson


Community Support for Families in Crisis

In the Alaskan village of Kwigillingok, a group of volunteers has found a way to keep children out of foster care.

When the Child Protection Team first started 20 years ago, cases of child abuse and neglect in the village of around 300 people resulted in the removal of 10 to 15 kids each year. “These kids were being adopted out, and their tribal ties were cut,” says Lillian Kiunya, one of the founding team members. “The tribe wanted to prevent that, so we knew we had to work with the families.”

The team does this through early intervention by educating parents on the effects and prevention of neglect and abuse; hosting annual workshops and conferences for the community; and helping parents find housing or work. They also have argued on behalf of families in parental rights cases to demonstrate village support.

Kiunya believes community is key to the team’s success. Because team members have the same background and speak the same language, families see them as a source of support, not punishment. “It gives families involved a sense of security to know that there are resources [like us] in the community,” she says.


Protecting Immigrants, One Call at a Time

In Pima County, Arizona, home to an estimated 31,000 undocumented immigrants, a grassroots defense network kicks in whenever a member of Tierra y Libertad Organization (TYLO) is picked up by Border Patrol agents.

It starts with an arrest, which sets off a phone tree: One TYLO member calls another, who will then call a lawyer or the person’s family. Together they find ways to post bail or hire an attorney. When deportation is inevitable, they try to ensure that the member doesn’t get lost in the system and that their family can contact them.

The program started after the passage of a statewide anti-immigration measure in 2010. The group, which builds urban green spaces around Tucson, noticed members and their loved ones were being deported.

TYLO organizer Claudio Rodriguez says the constant presence of the Border Patrol instills fear, but “knowing what to do gives us some power.”


Oakland Locals Win Thousands of Living Wage Jobs—From a Large Developer

When the Oakland Army Base was shuttered in 1999, around 7,000 jobs went with it. During the 13 years the site sat vacant, the city’s unemployment rate peaked at 16.5 percent.

So in 2003, when the city of Oakland announced plans to redevelop the base, residents saw a chance to demand good jobs for local people—not the low-paying, temporary jobs large development projects often create.

For nearly a decade, the people of Oakland proactively bargained with the city council as it considered pitches from different developers. Revive Oakland!, a coalition of 30 local organizations, negotiated with the city to implement a Community Benefits Agreement—the first of its kind in Oakland. The deal guaranteed that the $800 million development project, a shipping and logistics center that eventually won the bid, would benefit local people in the rapidly gentrifying city.

“We heard they were coming,” said coalition member Shirley Burnell, with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. “People here need work, and we wanted to make sure they were included.”

The project, which broke ground in 2013, set a living wage standard and required that 50 percent of the work hours go to local residents and 25 percent of apprenticeship hours go to low-income or formerly incarcerated workers—and the project is exceeding that by nearly double, according to East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

A jobs center providing Oakland residents with information and training also emerged from the agreement. The benefits will continue past the construction period: The new warehouse is scheduled to open in 2017, creating an estimated 1,500 jobs, half of which are guaranteed to be local hires.

Though the original agreement took years of bargaining, it also set a precedent for future city projects. Revive Oakland! has since secured a Community Benefits Agreement with Alameda County Transit and is working toward another with the Port of Oakland.


Backyard Farms Grow into a Community Hub

Photo by Jess Kornacki

The grocery co-op will provide produce to 80 percent of the Westwood community, says Eric Kornacki. The land will also house a farm—expected to produce 75,000 pounds of food a year—and 35 units of low-income housing. Photo by Jess Kornacki

As Denver faces gentrification and a skyrocketing population, a backyard gardening movement is helping the neighborhood of Westwood keep locals from being priced out. The solution: building an economy they control.

Re:Farm started in 2009 as a program by nonprofit Re:Vision to teach low-income households to grow fruits and vegetables. As the program grew to 400 families, Re:Vision secured 2 acres to develop a grocery co-op where the community could sell extra produce. But the organization didn’t stop there: It plans to develop the land into WestwoodHUB, a network of community-owned businesses, including a greenhouse, fitness center, and educational kitchen.

“It’s about putting more resources into the community that the people are in control of,” says Re:Vision co-founder Eric Kornacki.


Decades of Bombing Leave Island Ripe for Restoration

Photo by Hawkins Biggins

Irrigation tubing runs along the red dirt of Kaho‘olawe as a crew works to plant new life in the hard-packed soil. Photo by Hawkins Biggins

The uninhabited island of Kaho‘olawe sits an hour’s boat ride off the coast of Maui. Each month, groups of volunteers travel there to clear trails, plant new vegetation, and learn about the island’s historic sites — all while sidestepping the unexploded ordnance that lies under 67 percent of the island’s hardened, red surface.

The explosives are remnants of the nearly five decades Kaho‘olawe was used for bombing practice by the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor. The island was once a sacred site where Native Hawaiians would go to study ocean navigation, but the Navy’s seizure turned it into a symbol of Hawaiian pride and identity. It wasn’t until after 1976, when a group of young activists from around the state formed Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana to stage an occupation and sue the military, that Hawaiians were eventually allowed back on the land. It took until 1994 for the deed of ownership to be handed back to the state.

Now Hawaiians want to restore the land to what it once was: a place of learning. That means planting native species and rebuilding the ecosystem while incorporating tradition and spiritual practice. Facilitated by the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), volunteers participate in ceremonies and are taught quintessential Hawaiian practices, such as assembling fish traps and making poi.

“We’re not restoring the land for the sake of biodiversity or to create a national park,” says Michael Naho‘opi‘i, executive director of the KIRC. “We are trying to create an ecosystem that is supportive of traditional Hawaiian practices.”

It’s not a simple process. Much of the island has no topsoil, so erosion is a constant battle. Invasive species flourish, leaving volunteers to create a habitat from scratch. And the presence of explosives means only a small portion of the land can be worked on at a time.

Naho‘opi‘i and those involved recognize restoration will take generations, but they believe that Kaho‘olawe has something to teach the rest of the world. “It’s a model for taking war-torn properties and reutilizing [them] for modern purposes,” says Naho‘opi‘i. “If we can restore the most damaged place, we can restore anything.”


When the State Wouldn’t Protect LGBT Rights, Its Towns and Cities Did

In one of the most conservative states in the country, LGBT people are especially vulnerable to housing and employment discrimination. For years, the Idaho House of Representatives has refused to pass a bill that would add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to legal protections of citizens statewide. So cities themselves have taken action.

Pocatello, home to Idaho State University, passed a highly contested ordinance with new protections for LGBT people in 2013. The next year, the city became the first in the state to face a repeal effort.

The community-led Fair Pocatello campaign deployed volunteers to educate citizens about LGBT rights and mobilize votes against the repeal. Their efforts ultimately succeeded, leading to a narrow win—by 147 votes—to retain the ordinance. “Residents in Pocatello can hold their heads up a little higher now,” says Diane Michel, one of Fair Pocatello’s organizers.


Wolf’s Journey Led to Land Preservation

After being fitted with a radio collar in 1991 by a group of researchers in Alberta, Canada, Pluie, a 5-year-old female gray wolf, covered about 40,000 square miles over two years. Her wanderings demonstrated to scientists the need for species protection beyond wildlife refuges and parks.

Partly inspired by Pluie’s story, the nonprofit Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) formed in Montana and Alberta to collaborate with 300 partners on projects that span the Rocky Mountains. Y2Y advocates for conservation, recognizing the ways climate change and human encroachment are altering the region’s habitats.

Since 1993, Y2Y has identified key areas that need protection, helped to establish two new Canadian national parks, and monitored more than 600 miles of highway to reduce collisions with wildlife. “We wouldn’t be able to maintain [the wildlife] if we just maintained those parks,” says Y2Y President Jodi Hilty.


Old Chain Store Turns into a Community Co-op

When the J.C. Penney in Ely (pop. 4,000) shut its doors in 2003, the residents were devastated. Some 250 miles from the nearest major city, they were left with few shopping options. It also left a three-story building vacant at the center of downtown. Officials unsuccessfully tried to bring in major chain stores to fill the space. “We couldn’t find merchants that were interested in investing in our little town,” says Virginia Terry, who lives just outside of Ely. “We decided we’d do it ourselves.”

The town came together to form the Garnet Mercantile in 2004. Through newspaper ads, town hall meetings, and the support of town officials, they sold more than 800 shares at $500 apiece — mostly to locals — to finance the store, says Terry, an original shareholder and now president of the store’s board. “We all wanted to keep our community viable,” she says.

Today, the store has a staff of four and includes a market for local vendors and craftspeople.

New Mexico

Passing Down a Tradition of Water Protection

Between February and October, Juanita Revak works with her father, Gilbert Sandoval, learning how to be a mayordomo. Mayordomos are caretakers of the communally governed irrigation systems called acequias, which feed water to family farms and date back to the 1700s. Throughout New Mexico and Colorado, there are some 600 documented acequias, serving communities from three to 300 people.

Sandoval teaches Revak all he has learned in his 56 years in the volunteer position: how to distribute the water, organize cleaning, and resolve disputes among families. Revak records the process through photos, videos, and field notes.

It’s a response to the “mayordomo crisis.” Though mayordomos are essential to the operation of the acequias, the departure of young people for school and other opportunities means that fewer people will be prepared to take on the role. In some cases, families have sold off their water rights because they no longer know how to take care of the acequias, says Pilar Trujillo of the New Mexico Acequia Association.

To pass on the knowledge that is indigenous to the communities, the New Mexico Acequia Association launched the Mayordomo Project, which connects older mayordomos with those who want to learn the skill but may not have a mentor. The process is then recorded for future generations.

Passing on the knowledge and helping youth become involved is a way of protecting the tradition. “It’s really about the joy of being a land-based people,” says Trujillo. “There’s a pride in the work. Even the youth appreciate that.”


The Seeds of Cherokee Tradition

As the proverb goes, no self-respecting Cherokee would ever be without a corn patch. But since the Trail of Tears, the nation had forgotten how to farm corn or, for that matter, any other heirloom crop cultivated from seeds passed down from their ancestors. The effects of this loss had been devastating: Diabetes and obesity were on the rise, and, like many other tribes across the country, the Cherokee struggled with addiction, depression, and violence. Around 2006, Cherokee leaders approached administrative liaison Pat Gwin about starting a seed bank. They already had launched an initiative to improve health care access and infrastructure at the reservation; now, they wanted to go even deeper by recovering ancestral seeds to preserve their cultural heritage.

“It was like peeling back an onion,” Gwin says of the process, which took years of researching and collecting. As he and staff worked with seed banks, museums, and elders to accumulate seeds, they reached a point where they had too many to save. They now had a surplus, and Gwin saw an opportunity: Why not offer the excess seeds online to members? Since then, thanks to a small team, 5,000 packages of heirloom seeds — like Cherokee White Eagle Corn and Georgia Candy Roaster Squash — find their way into the mailboxes of more than a thousand Cherokee citizens every February.

The experience has been bittersweet. “It was actually sad in the beginning because we couldn’t remember how to grow,” says Gwin. The seeds were an integral part of Cherokee language and culture, and without them, members felt estranged from their heritage. But no longer: More and more want seeds each year, and more than half of the seeds land in the hands of nation expats, many of whom live in California, reconnecting distant Cherokee across space and time.


Helping Moms Raise Kids From Behind Bars

When Kendra Wright was incarcerated for drug-related offenses at Oregon’s only women’s prison, her then-6-year-old daughter, Selene, was placed in the care of Wright’s grandparents. Prohibited from speaking to Selene, Wright cherished what little contact she had: Wright’s grandmother would call her while Selene was in the same room. “It was the only way I could hear her little voice,” Wright said.

But in 2013, Wright was accepted to the Family Preservation Project (FPP), an initiative then run by the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) designed to break intergenerational cycles of incarceration, poverty, and addiction by helping imprisoned mothers maintain relationships with their children. More than 75 percent of incarcerated women in Oregon are mothers, and many of their children are at risk of suffering the same traumas they did.

Since 2010, the FPP has helped dozens of women stay connected with their children through special visitations where families can cuddle, paint, and read together; and by encouraging women to invest in children’s education through virtual parent-teacher conferences. Women also attend daily classes and weekly counseling sessions to help them process their experiences and plan for life outside. “Before these women can even think of themselves as mothers, there’s so much work to be done in restoring their own humanity,” said program director Jessica Katz.

When the DOC decided to cut the program’s funding in 2014, Katz, along with past and present participants, launched a letter-writing campaign to local legislators to save it. They succeeded. Today, it’s operated by the YWCA of Greater Portland with state funding.

Selene, now 11, is a much happier child than the girl Wright, now out of prison, remembers five years ago. Without FPP, Wright believes, Selene would have grown up feeling hurt and abandoned: “I don’t think she would have blossomed into the wonderful, amazing young lady she’s becoming.”


Bible Belt LGBT Church Embraces Everyone

Photo from Cathedral of Hope

The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas claims to be the largest LGBT-affirming church in the United States. Photo from Cathedral of Hope

Alan Womack had just started working as a minister at Cathedral of Hope, a Dallas church with more than 4,000 local and remote members, when 49 people were fatally shot at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando that he had once visited himself.

Womack’s congregation, which is predominantly LGBT, joined thousands in a silent march through Dallas to mourn the Pulse shooting’s victims. “Seeing that sense of community from a church where I’d just started working was amazing,” he said. “Just that ability to come together and be a family during that crisis.”

The Cathedral of Hope opened in 1970 as an LGBT-affirming church, and leaders believe it is the largest such church in the United States.

For many LGBT people, churches have not offered the kind of sanctuary they promise, says Rev. Dr. Neil Cazares-Thomas, the cathedral’s senior pastor. This has been especially true in the South, where conservative values are culturally ingrained. But Cathedral of Hope provides the space to reconcile sexuality and spirituality through its mission “to reclaim Christianity as a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion, and relentless compassion.”

The congregation’s progressive leadership has had far-reaching influence. Cazares-Thomas believes Cathedral of Hope has paved the way for increased tolerance of LGBT people in more mainline Protestant congregations nationwide over the past 46 years . And the church itself is bringing together people in Dallas — including many straight allies — who might have previously rejected Christianity because of beliefs that their life experiences were incompatible with the scriptures.

Being a follower of Jesus, Cazares-Thomas says, is truly about “living by the values and not by the dogmas of religion.”


Tribe Takes Down Gerrymandering for a Seat at the Table

Growing up in San Juan County, Utah, Tommy Rock often felt the county was divided. Police were too far away and took hours to respond to emergency calls in Navajo communities; the nearest high school was 80 miles away; and when people in his community stood up for change, they got nowhere. “It’s unfair,” says Rock. “We need to be heard.”

San Juan County, located in southeastern Utah, is more than 50 percent Navajo, but its elected officials don’t reflect the population. That’s because San Juan County is divided into three county commission districts, each with one representative. The population of District 3 is more than 90 percent Navajo, while the population of the other two districts hovers just below 30 percent Navajo. This makes it highly unlikely that there would ever be more than one council member who had received a majority of the Navajo vote.

In 2012, Rock, five other Navajo, and the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit alleging racial gerrymandering — that is, manipulation of voting district boundaries so as to pack a single ethnic group into one district. When the boundaries of districts 1 and 2 were redrawn in 2011, District 3 maintained its 25-year-old boundaries encompassing 60 percent of the county’s Native American population. The lawsuit argued that the redistricting violated the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which addresses citizenship and equal protection.

In his February ruling, Judge Robert J. Shelby agreed, calling the boundaries unconstitutional and a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Shelby ordered that the county redraw its districts, though the new boundaries won’t go into effect until after the 2016 election. Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, says that while new districts don’t necessarily mean more representation, they at least make it possible.


Tribes Link Arms Against Fossil FuelsWielding hundreds of years of treaties, Washington tribes take a stand

Photo by Paul Anderson

Members of the Lummi Nation burn a symbolic check in protest of the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal in 2012. The terminal was eventually defeated when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ruled that the project would impact the Lummi Nation’s fishery at Cherry Point, which is protected under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. Photo by Paul Anderson

The Quinault Indian Nation encompasses 200,000 acres of magnificent, productive forests, swift-flowing rivers, gleaming lakes, and 23 miles of pristine Pacific coastline. The Quinault River flows from deep in the Olympic Mountains through a lush temperate rainforest to Lake Quinault before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. It’s a short hike from the Lake Quinault Lodge to visit some of the tallest hemlock, Douglas-fir, and Western red cedar trees, and the largest Sitka spruce tree in the world.

Terri Hansen

Terri Hansen is a member of the Winnebago tribe, and has covered Native and indigenous peoples’ issues since 1993. Hansen’s focus is science and the environment, and she has reported on climate change in tribal communities since 2008, as well as on indigenous participation in the annual UN climate summits. Follow her on Twitter @TerriHansen.

The Quinault own and manage Lake Quinault and the Quinault River from the lake to the Pacific Ocean, and co-manage the fisheries throughout their fishing areas — inland and at sea. But the tribe’s ancestral lands and resources are under threat by Houston-based Westway Terminals, which has applied for permits to expand its current crude oil shipping and storage facilities in Grays Harbor, Washington.

If approved, the expansion would add capacity to receive, store, and ship about 17.8 million barrels of oil annually by rail, and store an additional million barrels on site. It’s one of many proposed projects that would increase the transfer of raw fossil fuels to proposed ports on the Pacific coast, dubbed the “gateway to the Pacific,” for export to lucrative Asian markets.

In response, the Quinault have joined a growing coalition of other governments and allies to form a resistance to fossil fuel expansion along the West Coast, at the heart of which is hundreds of years of treaty rights and case law.

“We are a fishing, hunting, gathering people who care deeply about our land, water, and resources, as well as all life dependent on a healthy ecosystem,” said Fawn Sharp, the nation’s president. “These proposals threaten our economy, our environment, and our culture.”

Treaties, according to the U.S. Constitution, are the supreme law of the land, and do not expire. Many agreements between the federal government and tribal nations affirm a tribe’s right to hunt and fish on its ancestral land beyond current reservation boundaries. But projects like those proposed by Westway would degrade salmon and other cultural foods habitat, said Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents four Columbia River Treaty fishing tribes. Oil spills and coal train derailments are just some of the environmental threats that could infringe the tribes’ treaty-protected rights to hunt and fish their lands.

YES! Infographic

YES! Magazine Infographic

These treaties have proven to be a potent legal mechanism in environmental protection in the Pacific Northwest, already racking up victories based on industry violations of generations-old government-to-government agreements.

In May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for Gateway Pacific’s massive coal terminal, ruling that the project would impact the Lummi Nation’s fishery at Cherry Point, which is protected under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. “This is a historic victory for treaty rights and the constitution,” said Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew II in a statement after the decision.

The Lummi had formed an alliance of nine tribal nations, each of which had at some point dealt with their own development issues. Thousands of activists and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club stood in solidarity with the Lummi and spoke out at public hearings, wrote letters, and submitted comments. The National Wildlife Federation and the Association of Northwest Steelheaders issued a report on the potential impacts of coal projects in the Pacific Northwest, stating: “The coal industry is rushing to build without studying the full consequences of their proposals.”

Full consideration of the consequences must include full consultation with tribes. Tribes in Washington have won court victories over fossil fuel projects because they were not properly consulted with during the permitting processes, said Indian law expert Gabe Galanda.

The outcome of those court decisions have been inspiring to Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II in his tribe’s stand against the Dakota Access pipeline. “We’ve seen the success our friends from Washington state have had in their battles to protect treaty rights against the transport of fossil fuels,” Archambault told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Their support is crucial.”

Yet there are still more fossil fuel proposals pending on the Columbia River and coastal Washington that tribes have to contend with, and resisting the big-money-backed pressure is an arduous task that diverts tribes’ attention away from other pressing matters.

Treaties, according to the U.S. Constitution, are the supreme law of the land, and have proven to be a potent legal mechanism in environmental protection in the Pacific Northwest, already racking up victories based on industry violations of generations-old government-to-government agreements.

“We have to stop all the productive work we’re doing … to address the crude oil transit through our territories,” Lumley said. For the Quinault, that work includes moving half of their flood-prone village out of the path of rising sea levels, and all of the tribes in western Washington have been grappling with this year’s disastrous salmon runs.

Sharp, who is also president of the 57 Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, said the best solution to the challenges created by what she called “the temperament of greed in this country” is the grassroots momentum that rises when the people — both tribal and nontribal — share a common vision and take action in their votes, voices, lifestyles, and the lessons they convey to their families.

“We know this country can’t break its addiction to oil overnight,” she said. “But we know that, over time, it has to be eliminated from use, and we know that process of elimination is a task that must be undertaken now.”

At Grays Harbor, the state’s final environmental impact statement for one of the last remaining fossil fuel proposals found “significant and unavoidable environmental impacts to health and safety if a crude oil spill, fire, or explosion occurs,” as well as impacts to tribal resources. It recommended more than 70 mitigation measures to reduce those risks, should the city of Hoquiam approve the proposal.

Throughout the Pacific Northwest, strength against the persistent intimidation of the fossil fuel industry has been found in this tribal-led coalition. “Tribal people are now, and have always been, the caretakers of the land,” Sharp said. “Our words have not always been heard. But when it comes to our sacred land, air, and water, we will always take a stand on behalf of life and the natural heritage we have inherited.”

Terri Hansen

Terri Hansen is a member of the Winnebago tribe, and has covered Native and indigenous peoples’ issues since 1993. Hansen’s focus is science and the environment, and she has reported on climate change in tribal communities since 2008, as well as on indigenous participation in the annual UN climate summits. Follow her on Twitter @TerriHansen.


Reservation Bringing Back Bison

Photo by awalby/iStock

Photo by awalby/iStock

The Wind River Indian Reservation will soon be home to a herd of bison for the first time since its creation in 1868.

The Eastern Shoshone tribe has been working to bring back bison for 45 years in an effort to restore indigenous species, says Jason Baldes, director of the Wind River Native Advocacy Center. An estimated 30 million to 60 million bison once roamed the plains, but their population now hovers at 15,000. Most live in national parks under the custody of the U.S. government, and some carry a bacterial disease called brucellosis, which can infect cattle. Finding land where the animals would be welcome has taken time, but the tribe has arranged to receive a small herd of healthy animals from Yellowstone National Park.

For the Eastern Shoshone, the return of the bison is about restoring the Great Plains ecosystem and reviving an important part of the tribe’s culture and spiritual practices. “Being able to manage that species again allows for not only ecological restoration, but cultural revival. The two go hand in hand,” says Baldes.