Developing tribal natural resources professionals

At 21, Tanya Eison already knows where she wants to be in 10 years. “I want to be the director of the Quinault Indian Nation’s Division of Natural Resources (QDNR).”

The Quinault Indian Nation tribal member’s ambition is exactly what QIN wants in tribal youth and hopes to see that ambition come to fruition. Creating a program that helps QIN tribal youth overcome barriers to becoming natural resource professionals was the goal of staff in QDNR.

“I started out thinking about what it took for me to become successful and get a job as a wildlife biologist,” said Daniel Ravenel, QIN environmental protection/wildlife manager. Ravenel saw an opportunity in the annual natural resources budget to create the program to meet hiring and training needs.

“In 2013, we were experiencing a lot of turnover in natural resources. New hires from out of the area work here for a few years and move on to another job. It’s expensive because there is a lot of professional development and training that goes into new employees. I started thinking it would be so much better if we could find a way to give tribal students the education they needed to apply for these jobs. Then the investment would stay in the community,” Ravenel said.

Barriers to youth applying for positions in the past included the low pay for entry-level jobs as technicians. Many tribal youth would prefer to fish or guide non-tribal hunters and anglers because the pay is better. Additionally, college is expensive and students need guidance in navigating paperwork and coursework requirements.

With the help of Jennifer Scott, QIN tribal human resources employee, the new internship was designed to provide a wage that competes with most 20-hour a week jobs in the area.. The part-time job leaves time for college classes that QIN pays for over a four to five-year period. It also provides time for professional development courses such as chemical immobilization and wildlife restraint and salmon habitat restoration training. The internship adds to existing opportunities for tribal youth to work in natural resources.

After a year in the ground-breaking program, Eison enjoys her job but admits juggling work and classes at the University of Washington Tacoma campus is challenging. “I love my job, but there isn’t a lot of time to hang out with friends.”

She recounts some of the best field work moments such as helping measure, weigh and take vital signs of a tranquilized cougar as part of a study. “Helping with an elk capture to give them radio collars for tracking was also one of my favorites,” Eison said.

“It was hectic, but awesome and the elk gets up and walks away so it’s a different experience than hunting.

“I was actually surprised just how much the tribe’s natural resources division does for our tribe,” Eison said.

Tanya Eison, Quinault Indian Nation natural resources intern, checks the GPS coordinates for a bird nesting box as part of her work.
Tanya Eison, Quinault Indian Nation natural resources intern, checks the GPS coordinates for a bird nesting box as part of her work.

Growing up, she spent time with her mom and extended family hunting, gathering mushrooms, digging clams and fishing. “I enjoy being outdoors and that’s one of the great things about this job,” Eison said.

Ravenel is mindful of the challenges that remain. “We know we’re asking a lot with a four-year commitment and it’s a big commitment on the part of the Nation too,” he said. “We hope this can be a model for other tribes as well.”