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Native and Non-Native Conservation Collaborations : What Works

Updated: May 23


When is the right time to begin conversations about partnerships…..?


How do we go about forging partnerships and envisioning collaborative pathways, while recognizing past and enduring injustices?


Rahiem Eleazer, Board Director of the Alliance for the Mystic River Watershed and Mashantucket Tribal Liaison for Climate and the Environment and Tobias Glaza,  Director of Stewardship for Avalonia Land Conservancy, met on a hike in the Benedict Benson Preserve. Maggie Favretti, Board Director of the Alliance for the Mystic River Watershed, set it up.

 

The Alliance for the Mystic River Watershed is dedicated to bringing together four towns and two Tribal Nations in collaboration, caring for the ecological health and resilience of all of our communities and beyond.  Our Indigenous co-led methodology mimics Nature: it’s all about the relationships.  Avalonia is an important ally, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is part of our leadership.  Maggie wanted to get to know both men better, and based on their biographies, she thought they would have lots of common interests. 


Both agreed at once (who can say “no” to the woods?), and Toby suggested Avalonia’s Benedict Benson Preserve, a beautiful piece of land that includes the headwaters of the Mystic River, now called Lantern Brook, which in turn embraces Lantern Hill, sacred to both Eastern and Mashantucket Pequots. A hike, outside, where conversations could ebb and flow naturally, punctuated by the welcome distractions of the natural world and in a context in which spouses and friends could tag along, seemed the perfect venue for a new beginning.  It was an opportunity to not only lay the groundwork for future conversations, but also to recognize and burnish our own overlapping networks of friends and colleagues. 


Left: Lantern Brook, headwaters of the Mystic River Watershed

Center: Rahiem Eleazer, Bob Graham, Maggie Favretti, Tobias Glaza

Right: Relationships, defined. Photos by Paul Duddy


When Amy Blaymore Paterson, Executive Director of the CT Land Conservation Council (who also met Rahiem through the Alliance), asked if Rahiem would put together a conversation on collaboration with non-Native groups, Rahiem immediately thought of Toby. We found out later that Toby had simultaneously recommended to Amy a “conference chat” with Rahiem! 


They went for another hike. Or two.


At the hugely successful CT Land Conservation Council Annual Conference in March, on the campus of Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, fifty-plus land trust, community land trust, watershed, and forest conservation experts sat in rapt attention around relaxed tables. There was no powerpoint. Amy thought she would drop in just to see how it was going. She couldn’t tear herself away.

Rahiem Eleazer (Mashantucket Tribal Nation Liaison for Climate and the Environment, and Director, Alliance for the Mystic River Watershed Director, at left) and Tobias Glaza (Director of Land Stewardship and Conservation, Avalonia Land Trust) in conversation with each other and the audience at the CT Land Conservation Council Annual Conference, March 23, 2024. Photo credit: Maggie Favretti


Rather than skirting around the topics, Rahiem and Toby recognized and addressed the tensions associated with unceded land and requests to aid in its restoration, the need for access to and protection of culturally important places, and the infringement of sovereignty. Both agreed that if a dialogue is to be authentic, these incredibly freighted topics, the “elephants in the room,” need to be acknowledged.


Rahiem talked openly about how Indigenous people are not all the same, but there are similarities in perspectives about relationships with the land and care for all beings that are important to understand, as well as differences in governance that many people don’t make time for. 


Maggie asked Rahiem and Toby how this conversation went for them, and whether they had one key takeaway they wanted their audience to remember:


Rahiem:

The discussions that arose from this [CT Land Conservation Council Conference] event were both meaningful and insightful. The open nature of the conversation allowed for topics to progress organically in pleasantly unexpected ways. I was pleased to express my Indigenous perspectives to receptive local land trust stewards while learning about theirs. Discovering their willingness and desire to respectfully collaborate with Native communities was refreshing and I look forward to continue to support and progress this agenda, building relationships along the way.


Toby:

The conversation seemed to me like a natural extension of some of the thoughtful talks we’ve had over the months leading up to the conference.  A key takeaway is emphasizing the importance of listening and allowing for time to develop areas of mutual interest.  It is tempting to want to jump right into the specifics, but it can take a while to determine which of the many paths forward are the most appropriate.  Like all things, it’s a process.


Dear reader, Set aside 20 minutes and let them speak directly to you: https://bit.ly/44W5Vfq

click the Playlists link and go to Native American Conversations or let simply explore!


Video 1 (8:28): “We belong to the land” Rahiem Eleazer talks about Indigenous teachings and relationships with the land (min1-6), and Toby introduces Avalonia Land Conservancy.


Video 2 (9:55min): The Art of Collaborating and addressing the “elephant in the room.” Toby and Rahiem talk openly about things to keep in mind…and take to heart.


Video 3 (2:21): American White Cedar. Rahiem discusses the cultural  importance of it and the necessity for controlled burns to foster its growth. Other examples in the area. 


Did you like this? Let us know!! We will create a series of Conservation Conversations...

 


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