Fearless Voice: Adrienne Moat - Columbia Land Trust
Defining resilience, Adrienne is working hard and making change for Native Americans in the Environmental sector.

Adrienne Moat is a Community Outreach Coordinator at Johnson Creek Watershed Council. She’s passionate about environmental justice, first foods, and her culture’s influence on the environmental movement. Adrienne has worked extensively with Native American Youth Association and Wisdom of the Elders and shared some of her story with us this month.

Hi Adrienne! Nice to talk with you this month. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Quileute, which is a Native American Tribe with traditional homelands on the Olympic Peninsula. I’m Indigenous but I’m also white and hold white-passing privilege, so that is something important for me to recognize and be transparent about. I grew up in inner SE Portland with my mom, step-dad and two step-siblings, and have a lot of love for the area. Growing up in Portland I was separate from my Tribe and culture but I began working to reclaim that culture many years ago. I’ve come to understand that my story began far before I was ever born. Getting involved with the Native American Youth and Family Center has been a huge support in my life, and the organization is one of my favorite things about living in Portland. The cultural connections and education they provide are so important, and many urban Native Americans don’t always have access to these kinds of things. I’ve been volunteering there for many years, participated in the Oregon LEAD program, and eventually became an employee there. NAYA has shown me the importance of being civically engaged. Getting to know more of the Native Community in Portland helped me realize that one of the privileges I held was being apathetic about voting and advocacy. Somebody once said that privilege isn’t about the things you have, it’s about the things you don’t have to experience. Seeing the way Native leaders in this area encourage civic engagement and advocate for their community is inspiring. I have much love and thanks for NAYA and everyone I’ve connected with through that place.

What is your relationship with Pacific Northwest nature?

It begins with plants. The women in my family and life have gifted me with this passion. Fresh out of high school I went in to culinary school because my love for cooking was so strong. Living with my Auntie when I was little contributed a lot to this, too, because she was vegetarian so there were always veggies in the kitchen. In culinary school I took botany courses and volunteered in community gardens. Collecting seeds, planting, watering, harvesting, cooking and sharing the food you grow is so satisfying and brings you pride. These experiences introduced me to concepts like permaculture and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which is what led me to wanting to work in the environmental sector. Connecting with culture deeply defines my relationship with plants and nature. Food is a major passion of mine – I love eating, cooking, talking about food and learning about our traditional First Foods. I recently did an internship with Wisdom of the Elders, which reinforced my interest in plants and knowledge of TEK – I’m so thankful for the experience. I see that there is a lot of room for growth and collaboration between TEK and Western science and am curious how these two ways of understanding the world can be in conversation with each other as we face this changing world and rapidly changing climate.

Who are you working with these days?

I currently work for the Johnson Creek Watershed Council as Community Outreach Coordinator. I run the Community Science and Bilingual Nature programs, as well as support volunteer and internship programs. I am tasked with keeping the wheels turning on our efforts to be more inclusive, equitable and diverse. One goal I have is to keep making space for environmental knowledge outside of Western Science – this includes Indigenous ontologies, TEK, and Indigenous voices as authority in the environmental sector. I have to keep my identity and non-traditional upbringing in mind when I get the opportunity to shine a light on Indigenous ways of knowing which often translates to upholding others, as opposed to leading. As a student at Portland State University, learning more about TEK from Judy Bluehorse-Skelton jump-started my desire to reach this goal. I also remain inspired by the good work of other Indigenous environmental professionals like Linda Meanus, Ed Edmo, Gabe Sheoships, Carlos McNair, Greg Archuleta, Cary Waters, Isabel LaCourse, Dawn Lowe, Alvey Seeyouma, and Jessica Rojas (just to name a few in Portland!). The work these people are doing is an ongoing part of working towards the inclusion we need.

In the first two weeks of my new position with JCWC I had an uncomfortable experience at a really large environmental conference. In a room full of hundreds of environmental professionals, I saw that there were only two Native people attending. I immediately asked myself – Did I belong there? My fight/flight/freeze kicked in. I remembered encouraging words from Laura John (City of Portland Tribal Liaison) and Dawn Lowe, one of my teachers at WOTE about belonging and occupying colonized spaces.

Last month I attended the Region 10 Tribal Environmental Leaders Summit (TELS ) in Portland. There were hundreds of environmental professionals, but almost all of them were Native people and doing amazing work for their people and the earth! I’ve reflected a lot on the variety of representation I’ve seen at our sector’s conferences and summits. It will take a lot of work, no doubt, to get to the inclusive place I dream of – but attending conferences like TELS was humbling and gave me hope about the future of environmental work.

Can you think of an example of “Fearless Conservation” in your life? What issues of Northwest conservation do you care about most? 

I’ve been yearning to have watershed councils become more involved in advocacy and social/environmental justice. I believe if these organizations are ever to make real strides in making the environmental sector more equitable, diverse and inclusive that this work must include social and environmental justice campaigns. It is also the most effective way we can support the many communities that aren’t represented in this workforce. When we advocate for our brothers and sisters it shows a reciprocity that is foundational to true community. Where are our campaigns for equal housing, transit equity, and farmworkers’ rights (among other things)? These issues might seem far off from environmental restoration, but they come up very often from the volunteers I work with. How can we collaborate with social service organizations and sponsor their campaigns without fear of losing funding? We hear it so often these days, but using our platforms and our voices to push for systemic change is perhaps the strongest way we can be influencers.

What comes to mind with the question — Where’s Your Place?

The Pacific NW, hands down! I have tons of family from Portland to Seattle, Spokane to the Olympic Peninsula. This is probably the biggest contributing factor to my sense of place in this corner of the world. I have lived in Portland more than anywhere else and I have a lot of civic pride. Two of my favorite natural areas in the Portland area are Oaks Bottom and Foster Floodplains. Oaks Bottom has great memories and I love wetland areas. Foster Floodplains is a newer one for me: It tells such a dynamic story of environmental restoration. Some days at work if I need a break I’ll stop there briefly to listen to the birds and the breeze, see what they can teach me or remind me of to help push through the day. For years I’ve been dedicated to the idea of staying here my whole life, but those feelings aren’t as strong anymore. Over the last year I’ve experienced a ton of major life changes and loss, including a no-cause eviction from my home, so for a short period I felt like the city was kind of pushing me out. It’s still a struggle. The good news is that I’ve learned a lot through this time of change and I also see now that if I do ever decide to leave it doesn’t have to be for good.

Visit nayapdx.org, wisdomoftheelders.org, and jcwc.org for more info on the work these groups are doing.