By Karina Mazhukhina | Mar 4, 2016

A handful of students make their way to the University of Washington’s Forest Club Room as Todd Woodard stands in front, getting ready to discuss land preservation in Coast Salish country.   

Restoration projects are an integral part of Samish Native American culture  – whether it’s restoring ecosystems in the Samish river watershed or reviving landscapes in Cypress Island.

“The heart of restoration is getting things back to the way they are,” began Woodard, director of the Samish Nation Natural Resources Department.

Woodward works directly with the Samish Indian Nation to revitalize landscapes and create more wildlife and amphibian habits. Over the past few years, Woodard, several workers from his department, and Samish tribal populations have been working to restore Secret Harbor at Cypress Island, especially the wetlands there.

They perform surveys, including amphibian, clams, fish, and vegetation monitoring, as well as water sampling of fresh and salt water. From this information, Woodard is able to detect what areas and species need to be restored. After reviving the landscape, Woodward’s department resumes monitoring to see what has changed. 

From their findings last year, the team noticed that amphibian, bird, and other wildlife populations increased in Secret Harbor. An additional survey will be conducted this June to see what else has changed. The data collected also helps agencies and local and regional policymakers figure out where to best target its resources.

“We bring a tribal perspective,” said Woodard. “We’re turning data into info, and then (instilling) action.”

When it comes to Woodard’s department, they're not just thinking about how to maintain the landscape for a few years, but rather what can be done to preserve the land for future generations.

“The common theme in Coast Salish country is to be thinking seven generations into the future,” he said. “How will your actions today affect your great-great-great-great grandchildren?”

A series of videos filled the projector screen in the room. In each one, the idea of living in harmony with nature emerges.

“Our ancestors knew how to live in symbiosis with nature, and embodied their role as a steward of the natural resources that provided their every means of subsistence,” said one Samish tribal member in the video.

“This is food for our souls,” another added. “This is who we are.”

When telling the story of Samish Native Americans, a cultural narrative emerges. It’s not just about restoring the land to how it once was, but identifying the personal and deep connections that come with living on the same piece of land for hundreds of years. It’s about taking what you need and not overfishing. It’s about passing down knowledge from one generation to the next in hopes of instilling the same appreciation for the land as the generation before it.

It’s a fascinating perceptive – one that this lecture has helped me think more critically about.

Like Woodard said, “It’s more than just worrying about what you’re going to do today or if you’re going to make next month’s rent.”

It’s about gaining a deep appreciation for the environment around us and doing our part to preserve it for generations to come.