Can you share some of who you are and the work that you do?
I’m a local Mechoopda Indian Tribal member, advocating for ecosystem health based on community land management. Importantly, I’m an activist who brings up historical knowledge of colonization and promotes decolonized education to local youth. My work centers around Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which is based on 20,000 years of place-based knowledge of our local ecosystems and watersheds. My people managed this land collectively to achieve peace, prosperity, and health for all who lived here. This is why it’s important now to educate the whole community on how to manage the land, as it sustains our economy.
When was the moment you fell in love with water?
I was more fascinated and loved water and its relationship to fire. My love for water came after I understood its relationship to fire, and learned that putting fire down on the ground brings water to the watershed. Water responds to fire in a natural way, and through our land management with fire, and that dynamic is so magical.
What is the state of the waters in Mechoopda Maidu territory (Chico)?
The Chico watershed has issues based in colonization and colonial policy: the history of gold mining, agriculture, and urban sprawl, and lack of community-based engineering and planning based on the needs of the ecosystem. For example: the Oroville Dam lacked maintenance and risks the health and safety of the community, while the dam itself proves no economic benefit to the community. It’s privately owned water.
After the Camp Fire in 2018 what do you feel have been the most significant learnings in terms of water management?
Restorative land management practices have to be promoted to have a healthy ecosystem that is resilient and fire-adaptive. The ecosystem has to be restored with native plants, not firs for timber. Because we need fire in order to restore the watershed, we need a fire regimen that works with fire-adapted plants to restore sustainable and clean water management in this watershed.
When I first met you a couple of years ago you were beginning to develop education initiatives that supported the restoration of our relations with waters, lands and peoples – How is that going?
We have begun to develop a TEK certification program to train both Natives and Non-Natives as an ecological workforce to restore and manage our ancestral territory. Our initial training session drew over 150 people, who learned the basic five “cultural keystone species” of the riparian zone in this area. We have been talking with local public agencies and took a trip to the Capitol to meet with the Governor’s Tribal advisor, to seek greater participation of Tribes in the development of land management plans, practices, and contracts.
What issues are you currently focused on around water issues and community?
Currently, I am focused on developing large land management projects on public lands, using native species of plants that benefit water quality and watershed ecosystem health. These projects will need a large workforce, which is why educating the community is a vital part of the work.
Ali Meders-Knight is a Mechoopda tribal member, mother of five, and traditional basketweaver based in Chico, CA. She is a Mechoopda Tribal liaison working to form partnerships for federal forest stewardship contracting and tribal forestry programs authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. She has been a Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) practitioner for over 20 years, collaborating on environmental education and land restoration projects with Chico State University and the City of Chico. In 2009 she helped plan and establish Verbena Fields, a unique 17-acre interactive food forest and interpretive park in North Chico to help educate the community about the rich ecological heritage of the Mechoopda people.