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February 2024

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Courtesy Photo TNC has hired its first-ever Indigenous Partnerships Program Director, John Waconda, of the Pueblo of Isleta.

Elevating Tribal Voices and Choices at The Nature Conservancy

On Monday, October 11, more states, cities, and communities than ever observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day. They’re part of a movement dedicated to a more accurate history of the US than what is taught in schools.

For many years, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has worked with Indigenous Peoples, though we have fallen short. Our focus is to elevate tribal voices and listen to their choices as we collaborate to protect their homelands.

In an effort to make a difference, TNC has hired its first-ever Indigenous Partnerships Program director, John Waconda, of the Pueblo of Isleta. Waconda will lead this new program, designed to support and partner with Indigenous Peoples to create a shared future of healthy lands, waters, and communities in New Mexico.

Waconda is coming out of retirement from the US Forest Service because—as he says—“there’s work to be done.” He sees opportunities to build more bridges with Indigenous partners to create a more sustainable future by protecting our land and water, together.

“As the former US Forest Service Southwestern Regional Restoration Partnership Coordinator, I immersed myself in tribal communications so local community members had a good understanding of restoration partnerships, such as the Rio Grande Water Fund, and how it would benefit people and nature,” he said. “This work will enable me to employ my knowledge, skills, and experiences in a way that helps me and my people.”

Terry Sullivan, TNC’s New Mexico director, sees this as an important hire to build a programmatic need, filling a gap between the state’s past and future. “Indigenous Peoples have been caring for land in New Mexico since time immemorial,” Sullivan said. “TNC is committed to creating, promoting, and perpetuating a narrative and future in which nature and people can thrive and coexist.”

Sullivan said the Rio Grande Water Fund (led by TNC) is a good example of rebuilding New Mexico’s forests, using techniques such as controlled burns that have long been used by Indigenous Peoples. Another is in replanting forests, including a project with TNC, Pueblo partners, and volunteers who are coming together to plant climate-resilient seedlings across 4,000 acres of the Bandelier National Monument and in the Santa Clara Pueblo watershed. “With these and other new developments on the way, we can look ahead while learning from our past,” Sullivan said.

TNC is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. Learn more online at nature.org/newmexico