The Alaska Youth Stewards is a summer work program run by the Hoonah Indian Association that provides youth with paid, hands-on experience in natural resource management, scientific data collection, community service, and cultural stewardship. It’s been running in Hoonah since 2018 (formerly known as TRAYLS) and we’re very proud of our 2023 crew’s work!
This year’s crew consisted of Hayden Daniels, Israel Boe, Susie Houston, Leif Gray, and Chole Lane. It was led by HIA’s Environmental Education Coordinator, Julian Narvaez, and Environmental Education Specialist, Thomas Mills. Projects for the 9-week season (running from June 12th to August 11th) were developed alongside HIA, IGAP, the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership, the Forest Service, Huna Heritage Foundation, the National Park Service, The College of Wooster, Oregon State University, Tlingit and Haida (CCTHITA), Sitka Science Center, Sealaska Corporation, and the Tidelines Institute. Thanks to all our partners!
First Aid Training in Gustavus/Clan house visit
After a week of orientation alongside partners like the Huna Heritage Foundation and the Forest Service, the crew journeyed to Gustavus for two days of wilderness first aid training alongside gap year students from the Tidelines Institute.
The first aid course (put on by Desert Mountain Medical) was a rigorous test of skill, patience, and reflexive thinking. Checking vitals, understanding, and treating different types of shock, learning the correct application of a tourniquet and a splint, and basic first aid skills were all topics covered during the first aid training. The crew did an admirable job in not only keeping pace with college age students, but in some cases surpassing them with their natural and local knowledge of environmental hazards. This training session also served as a great bonding opportunity. By working together in an unfamiliar environment in a demanding subject matter, the foundation of the crew’s cohesion and identity was laid down and would continue to grow and flourish for the rest of the 2023 season.
In addition to the first aid course, the crew was able to visit the Xúnaa Shuká Hít (Hoonah Tribal House) in Bartlett Cove. While visiting the Shuká Hít, the crew met up with master carver Owen James, and Duane Bosch. Duane gave a small talk about a new totem pole that he was working on for the tribal house, and Owen shared stories and gave a brief tour to the crew describing the four interior poles and the house panel in the tribal house. Crew members left the Shuká Hít in awe of the power of the building, and a better sense of self. We appreciate the opportunity to work with the National Park Service and hope to continue having a strong mutual relationship.
Weather Chimes Deployment
In coordination with students from Oregon State University, and members of the Sitka Science Center, the crew assisted with the deployment of several environmental sensors affectionately named “Weather Chimes.” These sensors are equipped with a range of instruments that measure and catalog such things as: rainfall, air humidity, water pressure, and soil moisture. The crew assisted in successfully deploying four of these “weather chimes” in Hoonah, the surrounding area, and as far as Game Creek. The data from these chimes will be used to help Hoonah monitor variables linked to climate change and may lead to better-informed climate strategies for Hoonah.
Food Harvesting and Processing
HIA and Huna Heritage Foundation partnered for their sixth year of harvesting and processing for Hoonah’s annual food fair. This year, the crew helped harvest and process 66 pints of beach asparagus, 80 snack bags of Hudson Bay tea, 80 half-pints of bull kelp pickles, and 24 pints of blueberries. All the food was distributed to community members at the Food Fair.
The AYS crew always embraces the opportunity to give back to the community through food and are grateful for the support from Amelia Wilson, Rebekah Sawers Contreras, and Jeff Skaflestad!
Work with the US Forest Service and Hoonah Native Forest Partnership
The Forest Service funds a large portion of the work AYS does and the crew always looks forward to helping them with their projects and learning from their expertise. In 2023, the AYS crew helped both the US Forest Service and The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership with stream restoration work. Work was a process in which trees were felled into the stream to manipulate the flow, depth, and direction of the stream to facilitate a better environment for salmon. The stream chosen had been impacted by logging and restoration was required to ensure the stream provides adequate habitat for salmon.
Two days were also spent doing wood count surveys in coordination with the Hoonah Native Forest Partnership. For the surveys, the crew worked with past AYS members (Ted Elliott and Jermaine Johnson) counting the number of logs in the stream to gauge stream and salmon spawning habitat. The results of the work helps HNFP partners determine where restoration efforts may be required in future years.
In addition to the stream restoration work, the crew also cleaned up and maintained recreation sites far away from town such as Freshwater Bay and False Bay and removed invasive oxeye daisies. It was great to revisit the oxeye daisy work, as we observed that our work there last year had dramatically reduced the number of daisies present this year.
Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (IGAP)
IGAP is funded by the EPA and monitors environmental factors that impact community health, such as the presence of phytoplankton containing paralytic shellfish toxins. The AYS crew enjoyed assisting Jeromy Grant with the collection of shellfish to assess population health, collecting stream monitoring equipment, and accompanying geologists looking at the causes of landslides around Hoonah. This is the 6th year of the shellfish surveys, and the data will be analyzed this winter to determine if there are any trend changes in shellfish abundance in that area and if populations seem healthy.
Work From/For Home
While the AYS crew spent most of the summer “out the road,” we also stayed in town or nearby to work on our community potato garden, and to help prepare for Hoonah’s July 4th celebration. The potato garden was harvested with community members on September 9th and yielded 25 gallons of potatoes. 5 gallons were kept for next year’s seed and the rest was given away to the community.
We also had the honor of participating in Hoonah’s Haa Tóo Yéi Yatee culture camp, directed by Heather Powell. It was powerful being able to support such an important event and was a favorite for a couple of the crew. They enjoyed working with a team that ranged in age from young children to elders, and was all about celebrating and sharing traditional knowledge. They learned a lot and could see how they were giving back to the community of Hoonah.
Tree Coring & Forest Inventory Plots
The team cored trees with the College of Wooster to see how climate and other factors have affected tree growth in the region. The crew hiked up Ear Mountain and cored several dozen trees in hope of finding data to support oral history, such as pinpointing the “year of two winters” when Hoonah was settled. They also surveyed forest plots for a study being done by the Forest Service to record the characteristics of different areas in relation to the presence of edible berries.
Conferences and Beyond
Thanks to CCTHITA and Sealaska, the AYS crew were able to take advantage of a couple post-season opportunities. Hayden and Leif were invited to present at CCTHITA’s Southeast Tribal Environmental Forum at the end of August and shared about the work they accomplished over the summer. Forum participants were impressed with their knowledge, and it was a great way to network for future opportunities for themselves. Susie and Israel will be able to travel to Spokane, WA for the national AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society) conference in October.