You’re not just caring for nature. Nature is caring for you. This is a reciprocal process. This is a relationship like you would have with a friend or a mother.
Amanda Craig is the Oregon Project Manager for the Trust for Public Lands‘ Oregon Rural Schoolyards Program and a citizen of The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. Last month, COLT staff Kelsey and Anna-Liza sat down with Amanda to talk about her work, what inspires her, and her hopes for the future.
This interview is part of a series in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. Throughout November, COLT is elevating the voices of Indigenous leaders in the Oregon land trust community, and highlighting the many ways they are transforming how land trusts approach conservation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
COLT: Thank you so much for talking with us! Can you start by asking you to tell us a bit about yourself?
Amanda: My name is Amanda Craig. I am a citizen of The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been lucky to have been able to work for my tribal community for the last 20 years, on and off.
Recently, I graduated from the University of Oregon with a master’s in landscape architecture. From there, I found some work within the land trust community. I now work for the Trust for Public Land based out of Bend, Oregon as the project manager for the Oregon Rural Community School Yards Program, which focuses on renovating outdated elementary school playgrounds into accessible nature-rich schoolyard for students during the day and the greater community after school hours.
How would you really define your role as a member of the land trust community in Oregon?
At Trust for Public Land, I’m primarily working on schoolyard projects, but I am still able to learn about land trust work here in Oregon. In my personal time, I’m also working with another tribal member in my community to take the first steps in researching what a native land trust could look like here in Oregon.
What drew you to this kind of work?
First, growing up in the Pacific Northwest and having the privilege to be so connected to the outdoors—the ocean and the land. And then second, having a strong connection to my tribal community and seeing the importance of holding onto and rebuilding our culture.
As a teenager, I participated in a lot of tribal youth education camps and I saw how we were restoring our culture through stewarding our landscapes, basket weaving, and cultivating plants that our communities have been using for millennia. I saw how that connection to plants and our other nonhuman relatives was giving our youth a connection back to their culture that was lost for so long. And through that we were creating teeny tiny stewards. That meant a lot to me, so I went to school and studied environmental science and then landscape architecture. I feel like this is the future for our tribe and probably many others—reconnecting back to the land.
So, this work is a way of navigating that space and seeing how we can get lands back to tribes, or at a minimum, tribes back on the lands.
Could you talk a little bit more about how your Indigeneity informs your approach to this work?
I am a white passing person. I live in a dominant white culture. And that allows me to have a foot in both worlds, for lack of a better term. So, I’ve always gone into this work with the ability to see a perspective that maybe modern white Western culture and science doesn’t see.
I try to come to the work with that in the forefront of my mind, and take into account all of the beautiful and amazing cultural and spiritual practices that my ancestors lived through and lived by, and make sure that those are accounted for in my work with the land trust and the school yards.
Making sure that children have access to the landscape is the first step in all of this. And trying to find that middle ground in between worlds where Indigenous folks can participate in these programs and ways of getting land back, where we’re not continuing to take things from them.
What are some of the challenges ahead for land trust in your work?
I think one of the biggest first steps is that land trusts are having conversations about how this isn’t going to look like what it always has. The land trust process is designed in a way that excludes tribes. For example, with sovereignty rights, there are a lot of legal processes that go into land transfer and land ownership that tribes can’t necessarily partake in because it would be against their best interests in holding their sovereignty.
So, I think that first step is going beyond educating themselves—learning the lands you’re working on, know the people that have been stewarding those lands since time immemorial, and then be open to the to the fact that if you want to work with tribes, then it’s going to be a different process. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a lot of trust building. But it’s going to be different, and it needs to be different.
What motivates and inspires?
Nature, and building community and connection to the landscape. I think there’s been a loss of that connection for the last couple hundred years. And I think that’s one way we’re going to move forward in taking better care of the earth, and all these things that nourish and feed us spiritually and physically.
What that means is that you’re not just caring for nature. Nature is caring for you. This is a reciprocal process. This is a relationship like you would have with a friend or a mother. We have choices in how we treat this planet—our lands and our waters. It matters.
There seems to be two very big pieces of rebuilding culture: having tribal people back on tribal lands and being able to do tribal practices. That’s what drives me.
What makes you feel hopeful?
We’re in a moment right now where important conversations are happening. There are conversations that are happening now that I don’t think would have ever happened 20 years ago. There’s an openness to acknowledge that things aren’t working the way we thought they were going to, and that maybe things need to look different. What does that look like?
There’s a respect for the Indigenous people who have been stewarding the land for so many years before anyone else came to Turtle Island. And looking back to those folks and starting to give them the space and the time at the table to talk about those practices and how things could change within the world we’re working in now.
What does your identity as an Indigenous person mean to you?
Honestly, it’s something I’ve struggled with as a white Indigenous person. But for a lot of people I know, there is a lack of connection to culture, family, and place. I’ve never had that. I’m lucky enough to have lived in a place where my family and my ancestors have stood for thousands of years. We’ve been able to be a part of cultural practices and traditions and celebrations that always gave me that sense of community and closeness and home. I just feel lucky and honored to have it. And I feel so honored for what my ancestors had to go through to maintain it and keep it and hold on to it.
It’s important to me as an Indigenous woman to hold my truth and my reality and my privilege and do the best I can to support Indigenous efforts in any in any of these facets— land acquisition, access to education, food sovereignty, and honoring what my grandmothers went through. I’ve had the privilege to get a good education, and I want to use that to do work in support of Native people, practices and culture.