Funding Rural | Episode #11 | Managing the Egosystem with Belinda Brown

Belinda Brown has spent over 30 years providing leadership, developing programs, and facilitating community development in Indian Country. She has expertise in intergovernmental affairs coordination with Tribes, communities, and collaboratives. An enrolled member of the Pit River Tribe, Belinda’s varied experience links back to a consistent theme: supporting young people. Her current role with Lomakatsi Restoration Project helps to align young Indigenous and rural youth with workforce training related to cultural practices —and just at the right time.

The heart of most of our communities are the youth and families.” — Belinda Brown

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More about Belinda Brown

Belinda provides leadership for Lomakatsi’s Tribal Partnerships Program and Chairs the Inter-Tribal Ecosystem Restoration Partnership. Her career highlights include expertise in intergovernmental affairs coordination with Tribes, communities, and collaboratives.

Belinda works closely with Lomakatsi’s Executive Director and staff leadership to serve Tribal communities in their efforts to restore forests and watersheds on Tribal trust and ancestral lands. She serves as a community liaison, engaging with Tribal elders, Tribal councils, cultural resource monitors and Tribal department staff. Belinda also works to establish and promote effective working relationships among the Tribal community, Lomakatsi and federal agency and non-profit partners.

Belinda is an enrolled member of the Kosealekte Band of the Ajumawi-Atsuge Nation (Pit River Tribe) and has served as an elected official on the Pit River Tribal Council and also as a Traditional Behavioral Health Specialist and Cultural Representative as an appointed delegate at local, state and national levels. Belinda is an ecocultural restoration practitioner and currently serves as the elected Kosealekte Band Cultural Representative.

She has served Indian Country in intergovernmental affairs coordination, strategic planning and community development for the last twenty years. Her recent work has been with the 109 California Tribes and assisting them in developing resolutions, position papers and facilitating strategic government to government coordination, workshops and collaboration for the protection and preservation of water and natural resources. Her background is in health and human services, emergency preparedness and natural resources. She is a Certified Youth Life Coach and Mentor.

“We really need to look to diversify and build a restoration economy that can provide family wage jobs that can keep people in their community, and also be able to treat the ecosystem, and work on the public lands — and be able to do what needs to be done on the public lands to reduce the threats to the forests and the communities.” — Belinda Brown

Discussion Questions

  • Belinda talks about connecting youth to ecosystem restoration; not just for the workforce, but for the mental well-being of the young people. What other fields provide this type of opportunity?
  • Belinda discusses how lumping Tribal communities and other communities of color together is problematic. Do you support her claim? How can we learn to better support Tribal Sovereign Nations?

Resources

“At the end of the day, I want people to work together in their communities in a way that’s going to be empowering; that’s going to be impactful; that’s going to be relevant for what they need.” – Belinda Brown

Transcript: Funding Rural Episode #11 Managing the Egosystem with Belinda Brown

Erin Borla: 0:10
This is Funding Rural. I’m Erin Borla with the Sisters Oregon based Roundhouse Foundation. Funding youth programs and rural and Indigenous communities has been a priority for Roundhouse, especially supporting those programs that honor cultural identity and community connections. Today I want to introduce you to someone who’s taught me so much on our journey. Belinda Brown is an enrolled member of the Pit River Tribe in Modoc County, California. She grew up ranching and Modoc County, but she’s had a wild varied career ever since. She’s worked as a nurse, an EMT, she’s owned a coffee shop, been a sports fishing guide in Alaska. She’s done a lot. I met her through the Lomakatsi’s Restoration Project in Ashland, Oregon. Lomakatsi’s works on ecosystem restoration and wildfire mitigation throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California. Roundhouse connected with them on their Tribal youth ecological forestry training program on the Chiloquin Trust Lands. You should definitely take some time and watch their new short film, Tribal Hands On The Land, to learn more about the project. In recent years, she’s worked through Lomakatsi with Tribes on ecosystem restoration and climate resilience projects. And she’s developed youth training programs to get folks into natural resource careers. Whether that’s fighting fire, forestry management, or other family wage jobs that can allow them to build lives for themselves in the rural communities where they grew up.

Belinda Brown: 1:27
The heart of most of our communities are the youth and families. And if we can serve youth and families and be able to set them up for success, and especially in these rural frontier Tribal communities where we export our youth out into cities, because there’s not those family wage jobs in these rural communities, it’s it’s painful. And so I do believe in our local communities having the local solutions that we need to put our people to work on our local public lands. And in the east side of Oregon, 80% of our lands and also in Modoc county, Northern California is public lands. So we do need to work in partnership with our federal partners, our state partners, our Tribal partners, and integrate even the system services of our family services along with a workforce development that we can bring. So that we’re being able to utilize our resources, the best way we can, and being really strategic and how we build into our grants and our development processes, those youth opportunities, of really encouraging them, giving them the skill sets they need, giving them the opportunities that they need. And then the recognition from the community, the acceptance, the belonging, that they need to be successful. So, I believe in mentorship, I believe in communities that surround their youth with those positive assets.

Erin Borla: 3:01
Yeah, I think that’s such a powerful way to, to even frame it is as a confidence builder. Because I think when we look at all the different distractions that our young people have facing them today, there’s a lot of new ones that that our generations didn’t have. And we11 talk a lot about mental health and what does that look like for mental health for young people. And it’s a different world. And we need to build those those tools and skills. And it’s creating supportive spaces and supportive opportunities. And oftentimes, you’ve queued in on it quite a bit as those rural frontier Tribal communities have have those assets. But we need to build those up. And that’s, you know, the focus of this particular podcast is talking about how we funnel those dollars into some of these places that maybe are harder to reach, and recognizing that those assets exist. So I think you’ve really talked clearly about how do we, how do we do that? What are things that you wish grantmakers would know about some of those communities and how to be able to build relationships and some of those places?

Belinda Brown: 4:08
Well, I know for our Latino and LatinX communities, it’s having everything available in Spanish. And so language is the first thing that we can do. Lomakatsi’ was a community based organization during the pandemic for three counties with all three activities. And it at the first out the gate, we didn’t have the program that we needed in Spanish. And for Jackson County 47% of the population that we needed to communicate to, was in Spanish. So having that barrier addressed is really important. The other barrier that I see in being successful with are at least for Tribes and underserved communities is that they lump underserved communities and Tribes. I’m currently in collaborative resource solutions advisory committee at National Forest Foundation. And that’s what we’ve come up with right now is that underserved communities are the same as Tribes, and they’re really not at all. And I think that being able to overcome lumping in Tribes as BIPOC. And this is a awkward conversation, but we’re not Black Indigenous people of color. We’re actually Tribal nations with those traditional ties to our land, that that keep us healthy, that keep us employed, that is our sustenance as, as Tribal people. And I believe that bringing that all the way back to those ceremonies and those rituals that kept our Tribal people in that lifestyle of hunter gatherer and subsistence, and that not being honored as a good way of life has been a real challenge too. So children and youth and families who were aboriginally natural hunters and gatherers, and, and lived in that subsistence lifestyle. That is, that those are the skill sets that we have as people. And so it’s really hard to put those youth into schools and into the public school system, where I said this morning to one of our state leaders is No Child Left Behind, left a lot of children behind because not every child learns the same way. So these programs that you’re supporting, that Roundhouse Foundation’s supporting as far as the school yards, and being able to support what those communities value out in Burns, Oregon. It was the boxing club for the Burns Paiute Tribe, they had a long history of boxing and Golden Glove champions, and that’s what their community wanted to do. So as the prevention coordinator for the county out there working with the state and the county and the Tribe, that is something that I supported with prevention dollars from the state, again, some awkward conversations. However, that’s where communities come together, and they’re going to come together to support their youth. For Indian communities, the rodeo again, sports brought us together and look at the Olympics, and see how sports still brings different religions, different countries together for that, what I call healthy competition. And the skateboard park out in Burns is another one of the successful projects I remember funding. So whatever communities want to fund in their community that’s going to be a healthy activity for the youth, is is really important that we get behind them. And I know one of the things that really changed my career, is being a certified parent educator for the Parents as Teachers Program. And learning that the parents were the experts of their own children. They were their first best teachers. And just having that paradigm shift of going into every community, knowing that community knows what’s best for itself. If we listen, and we talk to people, we’re going to hear from that community, what’s important from them, what is important to them, what they believe in. What their expectations are, what they would prioritize as activities that they would want to accomplish in their community. And then really get behind that community like you do, Erin, for the Roundhouse Foundation, get behind the community, and support their vision of what they want to see happen. And it’s a win win situation for their kids, for their youth. And the beast that we’re really wrestling for the hearts and minds of our children and youth is technology. Technology is helping us do what we’re doing right now. It helps us communicate, however, as we well know, by brain research is that technology is hijacking the brains of youth, zero to five in at a rate that we haven’t seen before. And it really does program brains to work in a different way. So whenever we can come back to the basics in family, traditional parenting, the natural bonding and attachment that parents have with their children, and the singing and the dancing and the playing and the activities that help. Positive brain development and growth is important that we fortify all of those tools for the parents and as they are the first best teachers of their children. And we’re also looking at the Indian Youth Service Corps right now. Lomakatsi is after 29 years of doing this work, we’re reaching for that national level, replicable model that we can share with communities and Tribes across the nation. And this model will be able to be replicated in any Tribe, any town, USA. I’m really excited about that, that that’s like a career goal. That is a career goal of having best practice models that we can replicate and will help communities restore their ecosystems, provide service and also help build those youth and adults into family wage jobs.

Erin Borla: 10:45
I was gonna say you’ve had such a varied background, it went from sort of healthcare, your journey went for well from cattlemen to health care to, to all these different different journeys, and it led to, but but young people have been the thread that have been that’s been pulled through all of it, and the desire to help communities. And I want to, I want to touch on the fact that it’s been rural and frontier and Tribal through all of it, because I think that’s an important piece to recognize is that oftentimes in more in larger communities, we’re allowed to get siloed because somebody, it’s somebody else’s job, somebody else’s job, well, somebody will take on the hospital work, somebody else will take on take on the school, somebody else will do that. But in rural and frontier, we all wear so many different hats that we have to have a touch point in almost all the things. And I think you are the epitome of that way. You’ve done all the things. But the piece that’s drawn that I’m seeing, at least that’s drawn through all of this is your passion for working with young people and the success that you’ve seen through all of that, and I’d love to hear sort of your journey with Lomakatsi. And I know that’s how we got connected, was learning about the work and Chiloquin and on the Chiloquin trust lands. And I’ve, I’ve seen personally the work that Lomakatsi has done. And I’ve been so pleased to be a partner in that work. But I’d love to hear about the work that you’re planning, the work that you’ve already done there, the work that you’re planning on and how you’re hoping to expand on that.

Belinda Brown: 12:16
Thank you for that, Erin. There’s a vast amount of work to be done both in human community development and also the restoration of our ecosystems. Right now we’re working on Region Five and Region Six, Master participating agreement with the USDA for the Indian Youth Service Corps. And also working on an agreement with the Department of Interior for the same program, which was called 21st century partner back in the day working with the Forest Service. So just being able to provide the programming that we need. Either if it’s a four to six week summer program, and then recently with the Oregon Conservation Corps. Having that be a one year program is been very rewarding in that we have longer periods of time to train, empower and educate these youth to be successful. I think that’s important when it comes to youth programming too, is that we have those longer programs. My preference is two years, when we’re working with youth, it takes quite a bit of time to really turn a life around or being able to set new cognitive structure of how to think to think about what they’re thinking about and have the soft skills that they need to perform in the job settings that we put them in. So we are working to replicate Lomakatsi’s scaling as we speak. Getting in that funding opportunity for the DOI hopefully by the end of the year so that we would be a national keystone partner with the Department of Interior for all the National Park Services. And that again is an entry level on ramp camp gateway to a natural resource career path. It gives us the opportunity to travel around in inclement weather on the east side of the Cascades in Lakeview in Burns and Heinz and even in Modoc County. We’re getting snowed out right now. So we have to have a mobile workforce. That’s one of the challenges also of the work that we do in restoration is being able to move around and also having transferable skills. There are certain certifications that our youth need right now to have entry level access to the natural resource career paths, so they come out with their first aid, their CPR, their Incident Command System certifications of ICS 100, 200, 700. They get their wildland fire certifications, their saw certifications, their cultural monitoring and survey certifications. And we’re currently working on the wilderness first responder cert and the CERT cert, that’s the community emergency response team cert. And with that, that’s a full package to gaining access to that natural resource career path. The other thing that we do with the youth, is help them with their USA Jobs applications, and anybody who’s ever filled one out, we always joke that that’s a year course in itself is a very extensive application. And right now you need to be filling it out if you want to be a wilderness firefighter in the spring. So many of the youth don’t know that in March, they decide they want to be a firefighter, and they’ve missed the opportunities or the prerequisite courses that they need in order to be a firefighter. And so because of technology and programming, we only have their attention for a short period of time. And so we need to be able to set them up again for success, and a career path that they want. Fill out the application, here’s how you fill out the application, again, have mentorship. And I what I like to call systems navigators also that help us through the whole workforce development opportunity that’s out there signing up for those programs. There’s so much funding out there right now, that just doesn’t get utilized, because folks don’t know what’s there. Or they don’t know how to fill out the application to get the funding, they need to get a certification. So we try to package that. So it’s easy access, and then really mentor and help youth get through those programs. And I believe with the wilderness first responder and the CERT program, that’s, that’s the package that, again, could be set down in any Tribe, any town USA, as a best practice and on ramp camp for natural resource career path.

Erin Borla: 17:27
Well and talk about building up the skills needed in their own community, right, we talk a lot about it. Well, the rumors that we hear are in order to be successful in rural we have to leave. And the reality is we need those skills in those communities, as well. And so by creating that workforce opportunity and the ability to have those employable skills, those students can stay, and so there’s an opportunity there, I think that is really exciting. And I’m hopeful and so thrilled that y’all are putting that together. It’s really, really exciting.

Belinda Brown: 18:06
The Indian Youth Service Corps is also, it increased the ages we can serve and their 18 to 30 year olds. And it’s not just Native American, it’s also those rural and frontier youth. So that’s huge. And then also up to 35 year old if they’re veterans. That gives us the ability, capacity, then to hire those youth in those communities help incubate businesses in those communities that will carry on and so it’s sustainable. And building a restoration economy that replaces the big timber boom and bust or just the AG. Out here again, on the east side, folks have looked to agriculture and timber as that economic base. And we really need to look to diversify it and build a restoration economy that we can provide those family wage jobs that can keep people in their community, and also be able to treat the ecosystem and work on the public lands and be able to do what needs to be done on the public lands to reduce the threats to the forests, and the communities.

Erin Borla: 19:18
I think it’s really exciting. You also are one of my very favorite people because I think the first time we met you used my favorite quote that I say frequently, which is the egos we have to work on the ego system before we work on the ecosystem. Tell me about that.

Belinda Brown: 19:34
Again, I believe the, the human variable is, is always the challenging variable. And we have different people in different positions within agencies, different elected officials within Tribes and counties, and state, and federal governments. So we’re in an education mode, a lot of the time, just sharing Information, and making sure everybody has the same information. And a lot of times when we feel like we’re not being heard, or we feel like we don’t have the right information, or we don’t have access to the funding, it begins unhealthy competition, of us all scrambling for the same pots of money, of us in communities or even in regions not coming together and thinking and planning strategically, and really utilizing our resources better and more wisely, in the areas that we’re in. And for small, rural frontier and Tribal communities, what happens is we don’t have constituency. And this is very evident in California, from Sacramento up, we do not have the constituency to out vote from Sacramento down, in the state of California. And as you can see in Oregon, it’s Multnomah and Clackamas County that have the vote over the whole state of Oregon, no matter how big Lake and Hardy county are. So when you have folks that feel like they’ve lost power, that they feel disempowered, it’s really hard to make that playing field even, and, and make sure that everybody comes to the meeting to the table, so to speak, feeling like they have a voice, feeling like their voice is getting to be heard, and feeling like their needs are going to be met, and that they actually belong in the decision making table that they’re at. So that’s where I believe that we need to manage those ego systems. And it’s the power brokers that make decisions of where money goes. It’s the Tribal officials that sometimes believe they’ve been left out of that decision making. Sometimes it’s our Latino communities who a lot of this restoration work is done on their backs. And have we given them a voice for their wages, for you know, how they’re treated with the agencies, because that’s been perpetuated in this forest restoration economy. So that’s where I believe that we need to be very, very careful, in asking people what they need, what their expectations are. And then how do we knit that together in a way that is equitable, that’s transparent, and is accountable with the money and the resources that we have. And in every dynamic you have, in every community that you have, you need to navigate that. And I can’t think of a better example, than when I came down to Burns from Alaska with four youth suicides happening in that community. And that community just reeling from the devastation and the grief. And this wasn’t Native American youth. How to bring together a crisis response team, in that community, and I thought it would be really easy. And it was hard, it was challenging, because everybody had a piece of the pie or the funding that we needed to really come together and make that team work, or they had authority or decision making power in a certain agency in that community. And they and it was really bringing folks together to share their resources, share their knowledge, have an interagency agreement, so that we could address the obvious, of we have to work together to help our youth here because we’re, we’re losing lives. So again, it’s bringing people together at the end of the day, they’re sharing power, who makes the decisions, they’re sharing resources, sometimes millions of dollars, how are we going to distribute those resources, so it’s equitable, transparent and accountable, and then the equity in that. Not everybody feels like there’s equity in how we make those decisions, how we share those resources. So we have to be very, very careful when we’re stewarding funding and resources like that, too, to make sure that that passes that litmus test of accountability, transparency and equity. Did we make sure everybody’s voice was heard? Did we make sure that we’re overcoming all of the optical issues that happened to. You know, are we just listening to the same voices are we listened to important voices that we need to hear? And so managing the ecosystems is managing first myself, because I always show up with a blender agenda. And I have to put myself in check. And that’s important that we put ourselves in check. It’s like, what do I want here? You know, at the end of the day, I want people to work together in their communities, in a way that’s going to be empowering, it’s going to be impactful, it’s going to be relevant for what they need. So if I have to slow down to four low for everybody to get there, then thats something that I need to do. So first of all, putting myself in check, and then asking what people need, and how do we get there, in the pace that they feel comfortable in getting there, because it’s all built on trust. It’s all built on relationships. And trust is very, very easy to lose, and very, very hard to gain.

Erin Borla: 25:52
Brilliant, it’s, I think that’s the hardest part too, right is recognizing that we ,we do come to the table with our own thoughts and our own values and how, how do we bring and bridge those to be able to be a partner. And, and that’s that’s a challenge. And I think a big challenge. But it’s been so so wonderful to be able to be a partner with you all and, and hear more about your story. And I just want to say thank you so much for sharing with us today. And I’m glad that you’re here. And so glad that you’re doing all this work to support rural frontier and Tribal youth across the region. And I’m so thrilled for the Indian Youth Service Corps and can’t wait to hear all about the next steps.

Belinda Brown: 26:33
Thank you, Erin.

Erin Borla: 26:41
Belinda has it all going on. She’s doing all the things, I wanted to reflect a bit on her comments about the ego system. It’s one of my very, very favorite phrases, I use it all the time. And that is definitely a Belinda phrase. But it’s basically dealing with the human relationship part of any work that happens in a community, or an ecosystem. When people feel unheard or disenfranchised, as we often hear from rural and especially Indigenous people, they don’t have the agency to take ownership of or advantage of opportunities. So how do we shift that narrative and the balance of power to bring people to the table, we’ve heard it before we show up. We listen. And we really try to get behind the communities and what they identify as useful projects. I think that is letting the communities lead the conversation. I love that she talked about sports, about boxing clubs and skate parks, and all sorts of other things that that may show up in a way that maybe we weren’t prepared for, as a funder coming into a community saying we want to support young people with mental health, or we want to support family and Family Development. It’s supporting those activities that not only get the young people involved, but bring out mom and dad and grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles to support that young person. There’s opportunities that Roundhouse has supported, like skate park updates, or paying for the shoes for kids to participate in certain activities, whether that’s dance, or basketball or football, to go out and have those experiences. And maybe it’s music, maybe it’s singing or the band program. Maybe it’s an art program. There’s all sorts of different things that we can support in that way that will help bring families together and get students out and active in a program that they really are appreciative of. I think the last thing I want to touch on is how Belinda mentioned lumping Tribes in with underserved or bipoc communities, black Indigenous people of color. I think it was really important for her to say, that Indigenous people are Tribal sovereign nations, they’re not the same. And she said that they need to be treated differently. So I think as a funder, that means that we have to better understand how Tribal governments, how sovereign nations work, even Tribally-led nonprofits. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for some learning in this space. And I really love that she highlighted that as something that was important to her. Thanks again for listening to Funding Rural. As always, you can check out more from today’s episode, a full transcript of the show. I mentioned Tribal Hands On The Land Lomakatsi’s new video make sure to check that out. We’ll have a link at FundingRural.com.

[Transcribed by A.I. Please forgive errors.]
Published On: May 6th, 2024 / Categories: Funding Rural Podcast /