Building Capacity in a Nation
Photo: Blackfeet Agriculture Research Management Plan team receiving Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research 100 Grant
This post was written by Meg Desmond. Meg is a Big Sky Watershed Corps member serving with the Blackfeet Nation Agriculture and Resource Management Program in Browning, Montana.
When I committed to a position as a Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) member, I never imagined I would not only be serving the state of Montana, but the Blackfeet Nation as well. Being placed with the Blackfeet Tribe Agriculture Resource Management Plan (ARMP), I have had the privilege of experiencing a rich culture and history, deeply intertwined with the environment.
Living on the Blackfeet Nation puts me at the center of western innovation and generations of traditional knowledge. The Blackfeet ARMP was established with the triple bottom line to create sustainable economic development, improve health and nutrition, and invest in Blackfeet youth. Since its establishment in 2016, the team has accomplished precedent setting holistic planning. The Agriculture Resource Management Plan was developed over three years and with consultation from producers and community members throughout.
This term has allowed me to combine the technical skills I received from BSWC with the cultural values of the Blackfeet Tribe. Too often the world is compartmentalized. Working in holistic planning has allowed me to view our environment as the system that it is. It is our disconnect from natural systems that has led to a need for restorative environmental efforts. I have seen firsthand how conservation is purely the manifestation of the brokenness in our identity and our subconscious need to heal our spirit. Identity being not only the confluence of people and place, but the evaporation of these separate concepts into one understanding. In a kaleidoscope of diverse stakeholders, regional complexities, and systemic inequalities, I have seen a picture come together of what watershed health truly could be.
In this depth of professional and personal growth, I have learned countless invaluable lessons. As a white woman on the Blackfeet Nation, my priority is listening. Listening is the key to building reciprocal relationships and understanding your role in a community. In a world where everyone wants to be a leader, sometimes it’s not your turn. It’s not about standing at the podium, it’s about building the platform for someone else.
My proudest accomplishment during my term has been doing just that. Working with my conservation supervisor, we applied for and were awarded two grants to develop an intern program. As a result of broken institutions and generations of discrimination, Native students are inherently disadvantaged. Creating a program to assist in the professional development of Blackfeet youth was a humbling endeavor.
These students had the opportunity to experience a professional hiring process, developing their resume building and interview skills. The five candidates that were welcomed to the team were given ownership over independent projects that directly contribute to the goals and objectives of the ARMP. They have been introduced to the foundations of resource planning and will draft proposals for their projects to be presented at the culmination of their terms.
Organizing, overseeing, and supervising the intern program has been incredibly rewarding. Having the opportunity to develop five Native students and establish a lasting program that will serve young adults in the community is truly humbling. Feedback from these students, as well as insight to their perspectives, has identified gaps in our work and established a renewed sense of priority among our team.
I feel incredibly privileged to experience Big Sky in a unique capacity. My warm reception into the Blackfeet community demonstrates not only the trust established by my Big Sky predecessors, but the progressive relationships that will enhance our efforts and embolden native voices in conservation.
Find out more about Big Sky Watershed Corps here.