In March, the ACLU of Alaska’s Queer and Trans Justice team traveled to Juneau to attend the Just Transition Summit. The summit brings together land and water protectors, community members, organizers, and activists to imagine what our world can look like beyond extractive economies, and how to build regenerative futures of care. The theme of the summit is “Remembering Forward,” a phrase that calls on us to learn from our past and invoke the teachings of our ancestors to build a better future for ourselves and those who will come after us. Over the course of the summit, as we connected, learned, and shared knowledge, we found five emerging themes that connect to our work:  


A topic that came up frequently throughout the summit was how to engage with communities with respect and understanding. Nithya and Jordyn share their thoughts:  

Nithya: Effective outreach cannot coexist with extractive language that frames relationships as transactional. Early on at the conference, President of Tlinglit & Haida Richard Peterson emphasized that Native people are not stakeholders. During a session on reclaiming sacred spaces, panelists critiqued the use of the word “subsistence.” A stakeholder implies a profit and ownership-based model for who has power and who does not. Subsistence implies that someone is just barely getting by. Using this language implies a prioritization of profit and ownership, and the de-prioritization of Indigenous ways of being, which is not in alignment with the values that so many of us espouse as community organizers. While we may not all agree with doing away with terms such as ‘stakeholder’ and ‘subsistence,’ learning to shift our language away from a colonial lens will help ensure that our work is truly just and equitable.  

Jordyn: There was a lot of helpful and applicable information about advocacy and outreach throughout the summit, especially regarding respectful, non-extractive interaction in natural and social ecosystems. The session “Indigenous Knowledge and Energy in Yedatene Na,” in which a researcher on alternative energy described their decolonized research and outreach approach as they worked in the communities their research would affect, gave a very practical and personal way to apply this. A decolonized outreach approach involves seeing oneself as part of the ecosystem and also part of the problem, to get a better view of what individual change might help solve the problem, and keeping the people involved centered. “Lobbying 101" emphasized knowing the people involved in the subject, approaching their perspectives with curiosity, and truly caring about the subject of one’s advocacy and lobbying, and during the “Building a True Multi-Racial Democracy” panel, the panelists focused on the need to listen, build relationships and trust, and ensure comprehensive representation in outreach efforts. Building relationships of trust with the people one is working with, even when disagreement exists, allows constructive feedback. It’s important to not just drop into a community, take what’s needed, and then leave without any care or follow-up. 

Indigenous Worldview  

The Just Transition Summit was grounded in Indigenous knowledge sharing, which was central to our experience.  

Nithya: So often in nonprofit work, we like to silo certain issues. When we talk about racism it is only within the confines of equity and diversity trainings, never within the context of our everyday work. The Just Transition Summit frequently challenged that way of thinking, and called on attendees to imagine what a just future could look like if we stopped setting Indigenous issues apart and began to look at everything through an Indigenous lens. The policing of gender has always been a colonial project. As we learned in an incredible Decolonizing Gender workshop hosted by Native Movement staff, queer and trans justice cannot occur until everyone is free from colonial structures of oppression.  

Jordyn: The Just Transition framework incorporates Indigenous knowledge into an entire worldview. Indigenous knowledge is place-based rather than assumed universal. It is experiential, grounded in relationships, and built by the stories, land, and experiences that have been passed down for generations. In “Healing from White Supremacy Culture,” we explored how to shift to this Indigenous lens by rethinking methods of communication, understanding, safety, and curiosity. We practiced identifying the subtle ways we may assume what is right and wrong and recognizing how those values are often not universal nor the most effective. In “Decolonizing Gender,” we examined these different lenses further and learned about Indigenous feminisms and liberation, which acknowledge the interrelatedness, intersectionality, and inseparability of many of the systems we fight to change. These systems—of patriarchy, sexisms, ableism, and the like—are interlocked with each other and are the underlying means to oppression of LGBTQIA2S+ people. Environmental justice was also discussed through an Indigenous worldview throughout the summit, emphasizing protection of land and animals while avoiding harm to the people who rely on them. This means considering how well-intentioned changes in laws and access may restrict and remove people from culture and social life. In Alaska, working through an Indigenous worldview also means looking to Alaska Natives and valuing the knowledge and experience that they have preserved despite outside attempts to erase their cultures, as well as following their lead, especially in terms of land usage and rights. 

Relationship (to people, land, animals, water) 

Nithya: Nonprofits tend to frame their relationships with communities as a transactional exchange of resources in which “beneficiaries” often have no say in how these resources are used. At the Just Transition Summit, I attended a session about plant medicine that helped me challenge the idea that organizations know what is best for communities. Throughout the session, panelists shared their experiences with gathering food from the land and referred to plants as their teachers. This approach to gathering acknowledges that the land has something to teach us, and we cannot simply arrive with preconceived notions of what’s right. If we are to be in just relationship with the communities we serve, we must acknowledge that communities have so much to teach us, that we don’t know everything.  

Jordyn: For me, the greatest value of the summit was in the stories shared and people connections made. Every speaker and every session put great emphasis on relationships, with people, land, animals, water, self, and culture. One speaker put it as “speaking the love language of relationships.” Putting these relationships first means connecting and feeling what others feel, caring for ourselves in the midst of our work, valuing the lessons we learn from plants and animals, and honoring work with tribal governments and Indigenous cultures. Some simple ways to start prioritizing relationships are by making group agreements clear and accessible, considering how conversations and experiences feel in our bodies, talking to the people we are working with to be sure of what they are or are not comfortable with, considering impacts during and after our projects, and actively incorporating principles of safety and consent into all our work. In considering these relationships, it’s important to also consider our relationship with future generations. An elder comment about this from the last day has stuck with me: “Future generations could forgive us up until we knew we could do something.” We have a responsibility to those who come after us. To see so many elders fighting for the youth and giving that level of respect to those who would follow them was inspiring. With this respect of all relationships and cooperation across generations, we could see so much progress toward a kinder and safer world. 


Nithya: At the end of each day, we attended regional breakouts. I was in the Southcentral breakout group. What was most striking about the makeup of the group is that there was only one person in the group who was Indigenous to the Southcentral region. Many of the other members were connected to Anchorage-based nonprofits. This raised an important consideration for me—who has access to these spaces, and who doesn’t? Who gets the grant money and who doesn’t? It’s a question I will continue to ask myself as I do this work. 

Jordyn: The Just Transition Summit pushed me to consider representation in new and deeper ways. The “Building a True Multi-Racial Democracy” panel started out discussing representation and diversity amongst voters in ways that I am familiar with—age, location, beliefs, etc—but in continuing discussion there emerged questions about how to include people in recovery, homeless individuals, and people with access and transportation issues. Elections and advocacy work make changes that directly affect these people, and if they are not included in these processes, it will be impossible to make the best changes for everyone. During the panel, Autumn Cantu of Native Movement put it well: “True democracy hears every person’s voice.” Democracy cannot function without representation, and equally, positive social change will not occur without representation from every community. It is important to include and support the voices of all, so all can speak up on the things that affect them and matter to them. And when others are speaking, it’s important for us to listen—Royal Kelly put it simply during the Youth Advocacy Panel: “Shut up, sometimes, when we’re talking...don’t tell us not to rock the boat. Throw your weight into it, too, and help us spill the boat over.” 


One of the most powerful aspects of the Just Transition Summit was the hopefulness that we witnessed from attendees across generations.  

Nithya: I had the honor of getting to hear from a group of Youth panelists on the last day of the Summit. One of the common themes among the participating youth was that they were all striving to reconnect with their culture. Many of them shared that assimilation was a form of survival for their ancestors, but now, thanks to the battles that their ancestors fought, these young people have been gifted with the freedom to explore who they are. I think about this often in the context of queer community. We all have queer ancestors. All of us. It’s just that not all our ancestors had the freedom to connect with that part of themselves. Every time I connect with queerness, I heal an ancestral wound. Every time I connect with my queerness, I get to do so knowing that one day, I’ll be someone’s ancestor, and that someone will know my story. 

Jordyn: Even as we were discussing overwhelming, heartbreaking, and seemingly insurmountable issues, the strongest theme was always hope. From stories of 20-year fights to protect land to elders who have experienced tremendous loss still saying, “We have to try,” and “Tomorrow will be better,” there was the distinct energy of perseverance and belief in a better future. In many sessions, especially the regional breakouts, we spent time envisioning what a just transition would look like in our communities and looking at both obstacles and the actionable steps we can take right now to start working from that vision. Spending this time learning from and with such an inspiring, diverse, multi-generational group of people who felt free in this space to be themselves was a beautiful picture of where we can go as a society. This is what we are fighting for in our work in Queer and Trans Justice. In the words of Heather Kendell-Miller of the Native American Rights Fund, “It’s time we, the collective dreamers, decide the world we want to live in.” 

The Alaska Just Transition Collective is an intersectional cohort of regional organizations who collaborate through an aligned vision for a just and equitable transition away from an extractive economy into a resilient one based in care. The Collective recognizes Indigenous knowledge as essential to our work. By honoring the original stewards of these lands, Alaska Native peoples, the Collective uplifts a knowledge system that has a deep relationship to the lands and waters. The Just Transition Summit is the biennial gathering to share knowledge, skills, inspiration, and connect about the equity and justice work in Alaska communities. Learn more about the Alaska Just Transition Collective here.