Native Youth Leadership Alliance

My name is Paul Cline and I am a father of a seven-year old boy, Tony. I am currently working on my Native Environmental Science degree at Northwest Indian College (NWIC) in Bellingham, Washington. I am an enrolled tribal member of Nooksack.

The Nooksack Indian Tribe has approximately 2,000 members and is located on the traditional lands of our ancestors in the Northwest corner of Washington. The name, Nooksack, comes from the name we used in our language, “Noxws’a7ak” which means “always bracken fern”.  Much like all other tribes that had suffered from colonialism, Nooksack is trying to establish a way of connecting and preserving the traditions that give our people strength. The tribe has set a Strategic Plan that outlines the recovery of cultural heritage.


However, the Strategic Plan does not refer to the revitalization of human-plant relationship. I am focused on ethnobotany for my educational goals; ethnobotany is the study of human/plant relationship. I am incorporating ethnobotany into my study at NWIC for the educational tools that benefit the cultural recovery of the Nooksack human-plant relationship.

The common misunderstanding of colonialism is that we only suffer from historical trauma. Colonialism has oppressed and separated Native people from land, each other and traditional foods, plants in particular. It was the separation of traditional foods through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservation (FDPIR) that caused Native people to be dependent of the FDPIR.  These policies made a great impact to assimilate Native people with separation of the cultural aspect of gathering, hunting, preparing, and the spiritual philosophies associated to the way of life.

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I am passionate to revitalize the knowledge of Pacific Northwest plants by rejuvenating our lands and spirits by returning to our traditional connection to nature.

Elements that relate to my theme are:

>>Plant biology and plant identification
>>Land management and anthropology
>>Decolonization and social change

This relates to Native Environmental Science by establishing an indigenous way of knowing the environment (sense of place).

An ideal project of mine is to establish a forest garden at the college. A hands-on, making and tasting experience people will come across when they are at the garden.

Untraditional gardens undermine the natural balance of our ecosystem; they are invasive plants that endanger the survival of our native species. Today our plants are suffering depopulation and disconnection the same way we have suffered. It is our sovereign right and responsibility to fight for the revitalization of cultural foods.A small action like this could shift the colonial paradigm in land management as well. We would be fighting the materialistic concept that we need the best looking lawn, with all the ornamental flowers and the greenest grass.

Areas of Focus

Environmental Justice/Food Sovereignty