First Nations Showcases Tribal Ecological Stewardship Strategies

Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska to be featured at Wild & Scenic Film Festival

LONGMONT, Colorado (February 16, 2024) – Through a series of mini-documentaries produced by Spruce Tone Films, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is showcasing Tribal ecological stewardship practices that are protecting natural resources essential to the culture and sustainability of Native communities.

The films are being produced as part of First Nations’ Indigenous Partnership to Advance Native American Communities and Producers project, which launched in 2022 with the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS). Through the project, nine Native-led and Native-serving organizations and tribes are receiving technical assistance, training, and grants of $28,000 for complementary services and resources to advance ecological stewardship, policy, advocacy, outreach, and education to benefit Native farmers, ranchers, and communities.

The new films, featuring four of the grantee community partners, were created to amplify these strategies, raising awareness of stewardship successes in Native communities and generating greater investment in Native approaches and traditional ecological knowledge.

The first film, “Usugilix Awakun: We Are Working Together,” focuses on the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska and Unangax̂ scientist, Shayla Shaishnikoff, and her unwavering dedication to preserving ancestral traditions, culture, and the health of her community. As the Tribe’s Resilience Project Manager, Shayla is researching the reasons for unprecedented levels of a paralytic toxin in the area and its impact on shellfish – a staple food for the Unangan people.

Usugilix Awakun to premiere at Wild & Scenic Film Festival

First Nations is honored to announce that the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska film is an Official Selection of the 2024 Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California. The film will air Saturday, February 17, 2024, at 2 pm PST, as part of the festival’s Indigenous Voices session, which highlights Indigenous people worldwide and their successes in preserving their cultures, lands, and ancestral knowledge in a modern world. Tickets are available here.

First Nations Senior Program Officer, Leiloni Begaye (Diné), said the Wild & Scenic Festival is an opportunity to share the Qawalangin Tribe’s story with like-minded viewers and environmental activists. Recognizing the importance of including Native voices and representation in the film’s release, First Nations will attend the festival and work in partnership with festival producers to provide additional information about the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska and ways to support its ecological stewardship efforts.

“Our role is always to shine a light on our community partners and to ensure that their stories are told with respect and reverence to our cultures and practices,” said Begaye. “Showcasing this film at Wild & Scenic is an unanticipated but valuable outcome of the project in that we can let more people know about the ingenuity and knowledge that we see every day from our community partners.”

Begaye also explained that producing the films creates a pathway for viewers to invest in specific tribal conservation efforts. Usugilix Awakun concludes with a link to support the Tribe’s Camp Qungaayux, a youth camp designed to preserve the Unangax culture:

More information

Additional screenings of the film will take place at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, March 2, 2024, and the Portland Eco Film Festival, June 15, 2024.

Usugilix Awakun is directed by Palmer Morse and Matt Mikkelsen of Spruce Tone Films and executive produced by First Nations Development Institute.

Story producers are Shayla Shaishnikoff and Kanesia McGlashan-Price, an Unangax̂ multimedia creator from Unangam Tanangin [Aleutian Chain], who serves as the Arts and Culture Producer at KUCB News in Unalaska, Alaska.

More information about First Nations’ Stewarding Native Lands program and the Indigenous Partnership to Advance Native American Communities and Producers can be found at

More information about Spruce Tone Films and a press kit for Usugilix Awaken can be found by contacting Spruce Tone Films at