By CHRIS AADLAND, CUJ
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s Youth Leadership Council and tribal citizen Gabe Sheoships will be recognized at a public ceremony October 18 as recipients of the 2023 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Awards.
Ecotrust, a Portland-based nonprofit, presents the awards to recognize those whose work has improved their communities.
“Guided by Indigenous values, elders, and cultures, the 2023 Indigenous Leadership Awardees are diligently working to ensure healthy, safe, and vibrant futures for tribal communities and homelands. Their unshakeable commitment and impact on a wide range of issues and needs are deeply meaningful,” said Lisa Watt, Director of the Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Program in a July 17 press release announcing the full slate of winners. “Ecotrust is honored to recognize them and their humble dedication.”
The organization has recognized 60 Indigenous leaders across the Pacific Northwest – including CTUIR Department of Natural Resources Director Eric Quaempts and Tamastslikt Cultural Institute Director Bobbie Conner – since it started the annual award program in 2001. In addition, CTUIR tribal member Antone Minthorn sits on the organization’s Board of Directors with Conner.
The CTUIR Youth Leadership Council, the first group to be nominated for the award, will also be the first group to ever receive it.
The 21-member council was selected as an emerging leader for its salmon restoration and protection advocacy, which included an online petition campaign that has received more than 26,000 signatures asking the federal government to remove the four lower Snake River dams, and its support of the CTUIR community during the COVID-19 pandemic response.
“The letters of support spoke glowingly of the council’s selfless service and care for their community, culture, and salmon,” Watt stated in a May press release. “In the words of one panelist, the Youth Leadership Council breathes the heartbeat of what the Indigenous Leadership Awards stand for.”
Sheoships, the other CTUIR tribal member who will be honored this year, is currently the Executive Director of the Friends of Tryon Creek, the nonprofit partner of the 660-acre Tryon Creek State Natural Area in Portland. The organization Sheoships leads aims to inspire all communities to identify, cultivate or reclaim their relationship with nature, according to Ecotrust.
Sheoships teaches as an adjunct professor at Portland State University and serves on several regional nonprofit boards. He has also worked as a fisheries biologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
“The thoughtful efforts of Gabe and his staff to de-colonize environmental education and re-indigenize landscapes have touched thousands of kids and visitors over the years and serves as a model for other organizations,” Watt said. “In addition, his passionate advocacy of Indigenous-led stewardship and traditional ecological knowledge, ecological restoration, and the protection of First Foods have led to this award.”
The other six awardees to be celebrated in October hail from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Northern California. They will be recognized for work that includes culture, language and traditions revitalization, and leadership in the successful push to remove two dams on the Elwha River in Washington – among other accomplishments.
A panel of previous award winners and Indigenous community leaders reviewed nomination packages to determine awardees.
October’s celebration will be held in the Main Hall of Redd East, Ecotrust’s regional food hub and event space, in Portland. More details about the event and ticket pricing have yet to be made available.