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Soul food in southeast Alaska

Miakah Nix (Haida and Tsimshian) is the newest Indigenous Fellow with Ecotrust. Her work includes seeking opportunities to foster transnational Indigenous networks, revalorizing the biodiversity and multiculturalism of Native country, and reclaiming the power of Native voice and testimony to inspire healing and cultural reclamation.

Miakah Nix doesn’t hike.

“My favorite thing is going outside and getting food,” she says. “I will spend six hours looking for the next best place to get mushrooms and berries. That’s where I feel a sense of purpose for being outside. I do love beautiful views, but hiking just to hike? It all has to be a part of the same system for me. Maybe if there’s a good swimming hole … ”

This summer, Miakah will be spending a lot of time pursuing that sense of purpose in Hoonah, Alaska — a place that is close to her heart, even if she hasn’t been able to spend much time there.

My family is from the region, but we weren’t able to spend much time in Hydaburg or Metlakatla while I was growing up, so there are a lot of cultural activities that I haven’t had the opportunity to participate in,” she says.

A few months ago, at the start of her five-month position with Ecotrust, Miakah made her first trip to Hoonah.

“When I introduced myself to the clan house leaders at the Hoonah Clan Workshop, I was introduced to family that I didn’t even know existed. One of the Elders told me, ‘You are not alone here! You have family here.’ People welcomed me with open arms. It was an amazing feeling to fit so naturally into the community,” she says. “When you introduce yourself properly, peoples’ historical memories reach back to find you. So not only am I mapping forest and marine resources, I’m mapping family.”

During her time in Hoonah, Miakah will be engaging with the community around the Hoonah Stewards tool — an online application built specifically for the community to track and map their resource use with the hopes that information gathered will one day guide land management activities.

I’ve always wanted to live in Southeast and work for my tribal communities,” she says. “This fellowship is a step towards my dreams. Working with Ecotrust, Sustainable Southeast Partnership, and the Hoonah community is just the beginning of developing innovative support networks for Southeast Alaska tribes and beyond.”

More than pursuing her professional interests, living in Hoonah and learning from community members, many of whom are also family, means Miakah can both contribute to community well-being, and be a provider as well.

“When I hear the words ‘Soul Food,’ I don’t think Louisiana, I think Alaska,” she says. “I’ve been lucky to have a diasporic relationship to the foods my family sends down. Since my family knows I’m up in Southeast, it’s my turn to provide. I’m so excited to send my grandma her favorite foods.”

Miakah says she hopes her time in Southeast Alaska, working with Hoonah Stewards, will help build a pathway for community knowledge to inform land management decisions, and that establishing a baseline for community wellness — especially as it relates to traditional foodways — plays a role.

“It is a priority for the people who live in the villages to get enough to fill their freezer. Not only for themselves but to send to family that’s not in the village. I’m not going to be surprised if part of that baseline for wellness is not just to fill their own freezers, but to share with family living elsewhere,” she says.

“The Hoonah Native Forest Partnership (HNFP), using the Hoonah Stewards App, as a model, has a lot of positive potential for the region. At this point in the project we must be flexible and creative, so I am looking forward to seeing how the community shapes the program to fit their needs.”