Native peoples have always been the best keepers and stewards of their land, yet they are often left out of conversations and funding opportunities. This panel discussion features First Nations’ community partners who are at the forefront of climate and conservation solutions.
About the Panelists
Willow Hetrick, Executive Director, Chugach Regional Resources Commission
Hetrick has a BA in marine resource management, an MS in natural resources and environmental management, and an MPA in public administration with a focus on natural resource policy. She is born and raised in Prince William Sound and takes pride in serving the region to this day. Her work experience includes a variety of marine and terrestrial biology research; collaborating on projects with state, federal and public agencies, NGOs, and private stakeholders; state and federal permitting; regulatory compliance; and cultural community sensitivities. Hetrick has experience in climate change sustainability planning and how the environmental effects of climate change, including on coastal zone management, fish and wildlife management, sustainable energy, forest management, food security, land-use planning, and environmental equity and policy coordination, are affecting the region.
Joey Owle, Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources Joseph “Joey” Owle, of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI), is responsible for a range of environmental resources, regulatory, and renewable energy initiatives for this tribal nation of more than 16,000 citizens. His team worked to bring the first electric school bus in the state of North Carolina to the ECBI reservation, known as the Qualla Boundary. This process involved multiple buses as well as solar power, and Owle also helped the tribe’s casino set up a solar farm to offset its electricity usage. Secretary Owle oversees a staff of more than 30 people, interacts with the tribe’s executive and legislative branches, and coordinates with all levels of local and national government agencies. Besides leading coordination of the ECBI agricultural economic development plan, he has lobbied for millions of dollars for a new tribal fisheries program, new cannery, and stream restoration. After a period of advocacy, Owle and multiple partners have raised $10 million to decommission and remove the hydroelectric Ela Dam that, for 100 years, has blocked Oconaluftee River connectivity and fish migrations to ECBI lands. Owle has a master’s degree in crop science and is the first secretary of the ECBI Agriculture and Natural Resources Division appointed.
Sayokla (It Snows Again) Kindness-Williams, Indigenous Caucus Coordinator, Western Mining Action Network
Sayokla (It Snows Again) Kindness-Williams is of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of WI/Turtle Clan. She resides in Baraboo, Wisconsin, on the traditional lands of the Ho-Chunk Nation.
Sayokla is the Coordinator of WMAN’s Indigenous Caucus. Her work promotes Indigenous Peoples leadership within WMAN through the support of the WMAN Indigenous Caucus, fundraising, and collaboration with the WMAN Network Coordinator and the WMAN Steering Committee.
As a lifelong activist, Sayokla’s career in environmental justice began in 1999, when she was hired by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and their partner, Project Underground, to lead the Indigenous Mining Campaign Project. Her past work also includes working for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin as a Grant Development Specialist. Sayokla is a member of the IEN Board of Directors and is active in the local fight in Wisconsin and Michigan to save Menominee Nation sacred sites and the Menominee River from the proposed Back 40 Sulfide Mine.
Learn about Western Mining Action Network:
Learn more about Chugach Regional Resources Commission
In this Q&A discussion, First Nations Development Institute’s President and CEO Michael Roberts introduced the newly established Tribal Lands Conservation Fund.
Launched in 2023 as part of First Nations’ Stewarding Native Lands program, the TLC Fund is an opportunity to amplify Native voices. The fund is designed to support land and natural resource stewardship in a way that is Native-led and centered on tribal priorities, Native knowledge, and cultural traditions.
Every day, there is more and more news of the climate crisis and reports of the devastation to our oceans, forests, and deserts. The urgency to find climate solutions cannot be downplayed. The time to act is now.
The TLC Fund directly confronts the inequitable distribution of resources to tribes and Native communities and invests in Native-led climate justice and conservation efforts. The fund is rooted in the belief that strengthening direct support for Native-led stewardship is essential to ensuring sustainability for us all.