Background image of Gail Small stands behind a podium speaking with her hands in the air

Indigenous Leadership Award

Since 2001, we have recognized 58 tribal leaders with Ecotrust’s Indigenous Leadership Award (ILA) for their dedication to their culture and their work to improve economic and environmental conditions of their homelands and people.

This year’s honorees, from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California, have worked to break new ground in relations between tribes and their federal, state, and provincial partners, as well as their counterparts in industry. They have worked tirelessly to protect ocean and salmon health, restore traditional foods through innovative resource management, and revive long-dormant cultural practices.

We honored Annita McPhee (Tahltan), Arthur William Sterritt (Gitga’at), Eric J. Quaempts (Yakama), Roy Sampsel (Choctaw/Wyandotte), and the awardee, Roberta Reyes Cordero (Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation), on November 14 at a private ceremony at the Portland Art Museum, presenting them with a cash award to further their mission in strengthening their communities.

2014 ILA awardee leads the paddle to Swinomish ceremony

Roberta Reyes Cordero of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, is a cultural ambassador and conflict resolution professional. For nearly twenty years she has been actively pursuing ways to give tribal people a voice in coastal marine planning in California.

Aided by her efforts, the Chumash Nation has reestablished a connection to its canoeing and seafaring roots, which has led to a resurgence of the Chumash language, the preparation of Native foods, creation of art, and a reestablishment of family connections among tribal members. Read more about Roberta’s work.

Annita McPhee is an accomplished professional and leader who has demonstrated a strong commitment to advancing the economic prosperity of her Tahltan Nation people while protecting their lands and way of life in northwestern British Columbia.

Annita has negotiated agreements with industry and the B.C. Government on revenue sharing and shared decision making, and helped to permanently protect the Sacred Headwaters region of British Columbia from resource development. Read more about Annita’s work.

2014 ILA honoree headshot

Eric J. Quaempts is director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation department of natural resources and a Yakama tribal member who has shown visionary leadership integrating traditional ecological and cultural knowledge with scientific practice.

Building on almost 30 years of experience as a wildlife biologist, he has restructured his department around First Foods — water, salmon (fish), deer (large land mammals), cous (roots), and berries — which are deeply ingrained in tribal traditions and rituals. This has resonated with tribal community members, their partners, United States Tribes, federal and state agencies, and other indigenous communities, from Washington to Australia and Chile. Read more about Eric’s work.

2014 ILA honoree outdoor headshot

Roy Sampsel (Choctaw/Wyandotte) has made contributions to indigenous governance and environmental stewardship at the highest levels of the United States federal government. In rising to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, he worked on tribal rights protection and natural resource management and implementation of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act. He also led the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Roy recently stepped down as Director of the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University and today is president of a Portland natural resources consulting firm. Read more about Roy’s work.

2014 ILA honoree at luncheon

Arthur Williams Sterritt (Gitga’at) has fought tirelessly for protection and sustainable prosperity for the Great Bear Rainforest coastal region of British Columbia. His many leadership roles have included Chief Negotiator for the Gitga’at First Nation, Treaty Commissioner, Executive Director of the Gitga’at Development Corporation, and co-founder and Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations: Great Bear Initiative. Art is also an accomplished artist specializing in painting screens and woodcarving. Read more about Art’s work.

“This is a recognition of a new generation of leaders — the one our grandparents looked toward — with the infrastructure and the expertise to be able to do the great work we’re doing now.”

–Brian Cladoosby, President of the National Congress of American Indians

Indigenous Leadership Award Ceremony

The honorees received their awards in a private ceremony that preceded the annual NAYA Gala at the Portland Art Museum on November 14.

Ecotrust and the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) are engaging in a new partnership this year to elevate the profile of indigenous leadership across the region during Native American Heritage Month. The Ecotrust-NAYA partnership will serve to sustain NAYA’s efforts within Portland’s Native community, and to strengthen the work Ecotrust does with indigenous communities across our region on food, forests, oceans and fisheries, water and watersheds, climate and energy, and the built environment.

The late Billy Frank, Jr. responds to Jon Waterhouse's call for human connection from the podium at the 2012 Indigenous Leadership Award Ceremony

About the Award

Through the generous support of a private endowment, we award a monetary prize to each Indigenous Leaderhip Award honoree. Nominations are accepted throughout the year prior to the awards ceremony in the fall. Both Native and non-Native nominators gather stories, tribal endorsements, supporting materials, and recommendation letters with great respect and gratitude for the nominee’s service and dedication.

A reading panel comprised of three Ecotrust staff members and several tribal leaders from Alaska to California convenes to peer review the nominations and narrow the field down to five honorees. A final jury panel of senior tribal leaders and Ecotrust’s Board Chair, Spencer Beebe, choose the finalist from among the honorees.

For the 2015 Indigenous Leadership Award, find nomination guidelines and forms here.

Support indigenous leadership

Help Ecotrust expand the impact of indigenous leadership on crucial issues by supporting the Indigenous Leadership Award. Your involvement will not only support ongoing work by honorees in their communities, but also facilitate and grow the exchange of knowledge across the circle of Native leaders to the broader region and world.

Make a gift today to support this invaluable network of authentic community leaders.