Water is Life: How My Culture’s Teachings Shape My Work at DNR

The diversity of our employees’ experience gives shape to the work of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Lalena Amiotte has been with DNR since 2008. She is currently working as the Aquatic Resources Division’s Habitat Stewardship Unit Supervisor, where she specializes in environmental stewardship of overwater structures and endangered species recovery. Lalena previously served as the department’s interim tribal liaison. This essay is brought to you by our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council.

I often find myself thinking of the teachings that come with the species we are trying to protect at DNR. Take the beaver, for example: In my culture, the beaver brings life; water, water is life. Without water, we cease to exist. Beaver are also the most industrious of all the creatures (and probably my favorite aquatic species) – they remind us to keep working and to not give up.

Lalena Amiotte
Lalena Amiotte, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is the supervisor of the DNR Aquatic Resources Division’s Habitat Stewardship Unit.

I am constantly reminded at work of these stories and songs, and somehow this gives my work added meaning and importance.

As an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from South Dakota, and the wife of a Skokomish tribal fisherman, the connection to the water and forests is who we are. We are raising our children on the Skokomish Indian Reservation in Mason County, teaching them to know the lands, the waters, and all the creatures big and small that call those places home. But we are also passing onto them how to use their voices to protect these precious resources for future generations.

Our teachings tell us that each one of us has a role in our family, our community and this world. My husband’s role is that of the fisherman and head of family by bringing the bounty of the sea home to our family and community. My role has always been to use my voice and be the example for the next generations – especially young native women in my community – by showing that women belong in natural resource management and that tribal perspectives matter in Washington state and across this country. Our daughter’s role might be the hardest – to remember everything we have taught her, so that when we are gone our family’s traditions and culture are not lost.

Teaching our next generation is so important. Without my education, my path in life would have been incredibly limited. Thanks to my parents and grandparents, I was encouraged from a very early age to go for higher education. I’m fortunate – without those people pushing me, I imagine my life would be very challenging. I try to pass this on to the next generation, both to my daughter and to the children in my community: Once you have a degree or a trade certificate, that can never be taken away. You earned that.

I like to share my culture’s teachings with my co-workers at DNR to add to their perspective about the conservation work we do here, and I feel like my perspective and experiences are welcome here. For someone with such a diverse background and traditions, for someone who cares so deeply for this land we are charged to manage, working for DNR is a natural fit.