As a member of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, Alexii Sigona made a decision to focus his education and experiences in ways that support the tribe. The tribe is a part of his everyday life and he focuses most of his time and energy building his knowledge and expertise in food sovereignty to ensure that he can contribute to the tribe’s existing knowledge and abilities to gather endemic plants and cultivate traditional crops.
At the recommendation of Chairman Valentin Lopez, he enrolled in Green Foothills’ Community Advocates Leadership Academy (CALA) in 2018 hoping that the training might help him build his ability to advocate effectively for his tribe through partnerships with non-Indigenous environmentalists. “I knew I was going to have to learn how to make an Indigenous worldview legible to the non-Native population,” he explains. The concept of private land ownership is central to western understandings of land — this is not the case for the Amah Mutsun. One of the only ways California Natives can lay claim to land they don’t “own,” Alexii points out, is when ancestors’ remains are found there. It’s very difficult to explain vital land-people relationships and sacred sites to non-Indigenous people.
Alexii’s CALA experience brought about an understanding of local government and what persuades local public officials. He learned that building relationships and organizing local campaigns and events that leverage that knowledge are instrumental steps in reaching a goal. CALA’s focus on local policymaking has allowed Alexii to think more expansively about the work he is doing, “Tribal governments should be more active and could be more influential than they currently are,” he observes, and he’d like to see them taking their power back to the extent that they are recognized as legitimate and equal peers to institutionalized local governments. “Using tribal governments as progressive platforms to push other local governments could be helpful.”
In September 2020, Alexii started at UC Berkeley, taking the first step to earning his PhD in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, with a current emphasis on collaborative land management. He balances his formal education with the learnings he pursues through work on behalf of his tribe. Ultimately, he wants to ensure that Indigenous communities lead environmental decision-making that affects their respective homelands.
All of us at Green Foothills are so glad that Alexii went through the CALA program and is now a member of the Alumni community and our Advisory Board. We are honored to have the opportunity to work in solidarity with Alexii and have so much to learn from his leadership journey!