Here at the Center, we wish to express our gratitude for the many contributions Indigenous people have made to sustaining biodiversity, reversing habitat fragmentation, and resisting environmental injustice.
In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, each Monday in November we will be sharing stories from four Indigenous conservation practitioners.
These conversations offer an opportunity to hear from Indigenous conservationists about their experiences, their path to working in conservation, and their visions for a future that honors Indigenous peoples and achieves collective conservation goals.
We hope you enjoy these stories.
Introduction: Whisper Camel-Means
Whisper Camel-Means is an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) who currently works as a wildlife biologist CSKT on the Flathead Reservation in west central Montana.
As part of our celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we asked her to tell us a bit about what brought her to this work. Keep reading to learn about the path that led Whisper to her current role, what drives her, and where she wants to go from here.
“I chased opportunities”
Whisper’s early career in wildlife and science began at the Salish Kootenai College (SKC) on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe (CSKT) reservation, where she enrolled in the environmental studies program before transferring to the University of Montana in Missoula where she completed her Bachelor of Science Degree in Wildlife Biology. Following graduation, Whisper headed to Montana State University in Bozeman to pursue her Master of Science degree in Fish and Wildlife Management.
During graduate school, Whisper was awarded a fellowship from The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Montana State University Western Transportation Institute (WTI) to conduct a master’s project on the US Highway 93 pre-construction wildlife movements. US Highway 93 runs through the heart of the Flathead Reservation and is one of the most extensive wildlife-sensitive highway design efforts to date in North America.
This fellowship set her up for success today, as much of her work still involves highway reconstruction and implementing safety measures which allow wildlife to safely cross; reducing the risk of animal-vehicle collisions.
“We all need to care for and understand our natural resources”
In addition to her wildlife work, Whisper is also an educator in her community. She participates in outreach and education events for all age groups, finding interactive and engaging ways for kids and adults alike to explore the natural world.
Whisper is a founding member of SciNation, a community initiative on the Flathead Reservation, which “empowers and inspires youth to strengthen their community by making STEM and higher education a part of their world.”
Before COVID-19 swept the country, SciNation would bring hands-on science activities to the Arlee Powwow and Standing Arrow Powwow. Their ‘Science Learning Tent’ serves as an interactive and engaging hub of activities. While it’s focused towards kids, the program is popular with everyone!
Whisper emphasized that when she is interacting with young people, she does not explicitly try to set them on a path towards a career in wildlife or the sciences. Rather, she tries to foster a future generation which understand that all trades, professions, and academic endeavors need to care for their natural resources and recognize this interconnection.
Her aim is to foster an interest in science among young people, without making kids feel like they need to be a scientist. She wants future generations to know that they can pursue any passion and still maintain their connection to and belief in the natural realm.
“I hope to unite the diverse CSKT community to work together and live in a respectful way”
Whisper has a vision for the future: a community united around a deep respect for their natural resources for both cultural and subsistence values. She wishes to engage and educate residents who are non-members of the tribe so they can live safely and respectfully among wildlife on the reservation.
In a final question to Whisper, we asked what advice she has for non-tribal partners who are hoping to collaborate with the CSKT:
During Native American Heritage Month, Whisper would like to direct readers to the links below, so they can learn more about the CSKT people:
- https://coehs.umt.edu/about/accred/ncate/iefa/FlatheadTimeline.pdf (full publication of all MontanaTribes at following link)