July 19, 2006
By Kristian Foden-Vencil
PORTLAND, OR (2006-07-19) Guujaaw, a leader and artist with the Haida Nation in British Columbia, was presented with the Buffett Indigenous Leadership Award in Portland Wednesday. The honor comes with a $25,000 check and recognition that the winner has improved the social, economic, and environmental fiber of his community. As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the Buffet Award, which is presented by Oregon-based Ecotrust, is in its sixth year and appears to be growing in both prestige and recognition.
(Sound of Native American singing.)
Guujaaw is a singer and carver of totem poles and canoes. He's also the elected president of the Haida Nation, a tribe of about 6,000 living on and around what Canadians call Queen Charlotte Island and which tribes claim as Haida.
Guujaaw: "So the politics of Haida is that we're in a place where there has never been a treaty and really no rightful means for the crown to have claimed our land. The daily politics is that we're constantly at issue with the way resources are used, the fact that there as in many other places around the world, the colonial power comes in and impoverishes the land and the people of that land."
Guujaaw was chosen from among tribal leaders all the way from California to Alaska — the boarders of what tribes call the Salmon Nation. He's pleased with the recognition, but he was not sure about being singled for what he says is a group effort.
Guujaaw: "You know, we live in a small place so a little bit of teasing, but some of the ladies put it in an interesting way that they were glad that somebody outside of our nation appreciated what we're doing. So it is my job to look after the land and look after the culture and try to create economies for my people, so it's odd to be recognized for it as an individual, as a council would have made more sense."He says he'd never heard of Buffett before the award, but he's pleased with the $25,000, which he's not sure if he's going to donate to a local kids camp or elsewhere.
The Buffett Award is supported by the families of Howard and Peter Buffett, the children of the wildly successful investor, Warren Buffett. Buffett senior has nothing to do with the award, but Howard and Peter developed it to improve social, economic and political conditions for Native Americans.
Elizabeth Woody helps research winners for Ecotrust.
Elizabeth Woody: "The aim is to generate awareness of the inspirational stories of native leadership out there."
For example, in past years Clarence Alexander, the founder of the Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council, was recognized for his efforts to clean up rivers. Phil Cash Cash was also acknowledged for trying to save imperiled Native American languages. Woody says Guujaw was chosen because he is inspirational.
Elizabeth Woody: "He's staunch, meaning he's not wishy-washy, people, when they know him, they know his mind. The Haida Nation has been in a lot of court cases that have set forward a lot of precedents for the first nations up in Canada with the crown. The other thing that Guujaaw has done is he's been involved in a trust fund that is set up to do economic development, not just for the Haida people but for the Canadian peoples on Haida. And they work together to invest and develop businesses that are beneficial of their communities but not destructive of the forest lands."
Woody says that while the Buffett Award has only been around for six years, it's growing in both prestige and recognition.Elizabeth Woody: "Probably the most shocking things is that we get requests to nominate people in other Salmon Nations. Pacific Salmon go across the pacific rim into Japan, Far East Russia, Siberia, Kamchatka, Korea. We've gotten requests from people over there to nominate. We've received requests from Scotland, from Ireland. We have not received any requests from Chile buy I don't know how well hooked up they are to the internet."
The two founders, Howard and Peter Buffet, decided to endow the award with half a million dollars a couple of years ago — ensuring its survival. Other anonymous donors have stepped up to give the four runners-up cash prizes of $2,500 each.
(Sound of Native American singing.)
Guujaw will be honored at a ceremony in conjunction with a two-day conference at Lewis and Clark College on indigenous populations.
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