As a leader who looks to the future, Spring (Chugach Alaska Native Corporation and Valdez Native Tribe) preserves and protects Indigenous seeds precious to tribal communities across the nation. She inspires and engages tribal youth through on–the-ground classes focused on food preparation and traditional ecological knowledge. Early in her career, Spring recognized the food insecurity within her community and humbly stepped up to the plate, building a local and regional food presence in the Pacific Northwest that is grounded in Indigenous teachings.
Spring is the principal Indigenous agriculturalist and owner of Sakari Farms in Central Oregon, where she has developed a robust tribally owned and operated enterprise, focused on growing Indigenous First Foods, teaching educational classes, implementing research-based tribal seed production, and contract and wholesale growing.
Right Image: Spring Alaska Schreiner portrait (Photo credit: Jamie Thrower, Studio XIII).
Spring’s love and appreciation for gathering, hunting, and gardening was established at a young age while growing up in Valdez, Alaska. Her mother, who was German, farmed extensive gardens that provided nourishment during times when her family experienced food insecurity. Her father, who was Inuit and President of the Valdez Native Tribe, taught Spring how to hunt and fish, all while encouraging her to pay attention to the changes and cycles of the animals and plants all around her.
Eventually leaving her small town of Valdez and attending college in Colorado, Spring finished her higher education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) where she holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and natural resource management. While attending UAF, Spring was pulled to further connect with her Inupiaq identity. She started attending Inupiaq dance classes and learning to sing in the language. Tribal members invited her to gather plants for practicing medicine, all while teaching her Inupiaq words and phrases.
Early in her career, Spring worked on stream hydrology, mine reclamation and wetland restoration. But the desire to work with plants and their medicine kept calling her.
In 2009 while living in Bend, Ore., Spring started the first Deschutes Native Seed Resource, where she cultivated an urban nursery to grow native plants like yarrow and sweetgrass. Spring would save the seeds of the plant to distribute throughout the community for free.
As the seed bank and nursery grew, Spring felt compelled to utilize the entirety of a plant for its healing properties and created the tribal wellness business, Sakari Botanicals (Sakari translates to ‘sweet’ in Inupiaq), making salves, tinctures, oils, and lotions.
Then, in 2018, as the urban farm outgrew its space, Spring acquired a six-acre plot of land in the high desert of Central Oregon to expand growing operations. She created Sakari Farms, which boasts four 100-foot greenhouses that grow a plethora of Indigenous First Foods, such as tribal peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, herbs, and one-of-a-kind native flowers. Sakari Farms has also become a hub for tribal members to share Indigenous knowledge and gather in community.
“It’s all about getting back to healing,” Spring said. “And that’s what food does, it brings people together and provides an opportunity to bring people together, especially free opportunities.”
Spring’s contributions to Indigenous and environmental stewardship have led her to serve and participate in multiple regional and national agriculture boards such as the US Department of Agriculture Indian Agricultural Council, Oregon Department of Agriculture Farm to School, Pacific Northwest Intertribal Food Sovereignty Coalition, Oregon Community Food Systems Network for BIPOC, Tahoma Peak Solutions, Made by Native American Export Food Program, Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, American Indian Housing Authority, and more. She received the 2019 NASDA Women Farm to Food Award and, more recently, was a recipient of the 2021 Na’ahlee Tribal Fellowship.
Right image: Spring Alaska Schreiner’s family photo (photo credit: Jessica Douglas).
Spring has also been an effective advocate for the changing climate and its impacts on Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and small-scale farmers. In Oregon, natural disasters such as ice storms, record-breaking heat waves, and a long-lasting drought have pummeled farmers one after another. However, Spring has been a key partner with Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network. In Spring’s advocacy and because of her testimony, Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s office has prioritized BIPOC farmers and worked to address barriers unique to BIPOC farmers in their $75 million Drought Relief Package, which is pending approval by the legislature.
Throughout her career, Spring has always embraced the quality of sharing. At Sakari Farms, she hosts a variety of education classes for local tribal youth and classes for growing Indigenous foods, cooking, and developing Indigenous food products, and creating one’s own business for tribal members interested nationwide. Sakari Farms also hosts the first tribal commercial community kitchen in the Tri-County area of Oregon, where tribal members from the region can bring traditional foods to clean, process, and even start their own tribal food business.
“That’s why I am going to continue this work,” Spring said. “I’m going to continue to try and provide those opportunities and resources that I often didn’t have as a kid or that others don’t have now, so that they can just become better people, more self-reliant and resilient.”
Ecotrust is proud to recognize Spring Alaska Schreiner with a 2022 Indigenous Leadership Award for her many achievements.
Top Image: Spring harvests a squash at Sakari Farms (Photo credit: Sarah Arnoff Yeoman).
About the Indigenous Leadership Awards
The Indigenous Leadership Awards is a celebration of the determination, wisdom, and continuum of Indigenous leadership across our region. Since its founding in 2001, 56 exceptional Indigenous leaders have been recognized. These individuals are some of the most distinguished community leaders in the Pacific Northwest, representing a diverse spectrum of Indigenous cultures, languages, communities, and professions. They are negotiators, culture bearers, environmentalists, educators, advocates, scientists, knowledge holders, linguists, artists, resistors, and catalysts for change. All are united in their drive to protect and uplift tribal communities. For more information, visit the Indigenous Leadership Award website.