Indigenous rep added to Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts board

Staff Report

Published: 07-02-2023 4:09 PM

The board of the Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts is expanding its membership to include Indigenous representation.

Following a unanimous vote taken during the board’s June meeting, the Ohketeau Cultural Center of Ashfield, a multi-tribal organization that seeks to provide a safe space for the Indigenous community to pursue creative projects, will join the board and have full voting rights as of Nov. 1. Rhonda Anderson, co-director of the Ohketeau Cultural Center and a member of the Iñupiaq Athabaskan nation, will serve as board representative to the woodlands partnership.

“Ohketeau Cultural Center is honored to be voted unanimously on the Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts board,” Anderson, who also serves as the western Massachusetts commissioner on Indian Affairs, said in a statement. “We have worked closely with the woodlands partnership to increase Indigenous voices, perspectives, education and inclusion. Our relationship is essential in furthering reciprocity between the state and town forest management, land conservation, sustainable ecological practices and accessibility with Indigenous communities.”

Outgoing Chair Henry Art said the board has had several conversations about building relationships with Indigenous community members and reached out to tribal organizations. Several grants the partnership has received with regional partners are also funding educational events with the Ohketeau Cultural Center related to traditional ecological knowledge, cultural awareness and forest stewardship.

The Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts, which formed in 2013 under the name of Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership, is a grassroots program focused on conserving forests and supporting sustainable management with relation to economic development in rural towns. Nineteen towns in western Franklin County and northern Berkshire County are members.

Board leadership changes

While Art is stepping down from the role of chair, a position he has held since January 2020, he will continue serving as a Williamstown representative. Windsor resident Dicken Crane is the new chair.

“The woodlands partnership has had a large impact on the member communities and organizations, as well as the northwest Massachusetts region,” Art, reflecting on his time as chair, said in a statement. “We have been able to channel over $1 million of state and federal funding to support efforts in forest conservation, ensuring high-quality ecosystem functioning and economic development through sustainable forest practices.”

“The goal of protecting these natural resources and the communities that live among them benefits the entire state and beyond,” Crane added. “Expanding the partnership to include the wisdom of Indigenous people who have long inhabited this landscape is an important step to achieving this relationship.”

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Heath resident Art Schwenger will serve as the new vice chair, and Jeffrey Thomas of Lever Inc. is the new treasurer. Alain Peteroy of Franklin Land Trust will continue as clerk.

To learn more about the Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts, visit MohawkTrailWoodlandsPartnership.org.

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