Lake Superior NERR education coordinator Deanna Erickson (center, facing camera) plants kalo (taro) during a volunteer work day at KākoʻoʻŌiwi, an agro-ecological restoration site within the Heʻeia NERR.

In February, Deanna Erickson bought some apology flowers for her ice-bound officemates and boarded a flight for Hawai‘i, headed for the He‘eia Reserve, the newest in our national system. With her, the Lake Superior NERR education coordinator carried Wisconsin’s own maple sugar and wild rice and a more than suitcase full of lessons learned about creating education programs from scratch.

“The designation of a Reserve is a momentous event, the product of years of work by community partners and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management,” says Erickson. “But what happens next? For a new Reserve, a little support from the NERRS network comes in handy.”

As the first education coordinator at the Lake Superior Reserve (founded in 2010), Erickson was eager to compare notes with Fred Reppun, the founding education coordinator at He‘eia. The two discussed potential programs and shared their experiences and the local contexts that influence their work. Fortunately, Fred and Deanna were willing to share a few thoughts on the exchange with all of us…

From Deanna

Surprisingly, the Heʻeia Reserve has many similarities to Lake Superior! Our landscapes are enmeshed in indigenous history and managed through modern, indigenous-led land use practices. Also, both Reserves are housed in universities and partner with robust, existing education programs.

Fred and I each spend a lot of time listening to elders and partners to plan our next steps. He‘eia’s partners include the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology and Papahana Kuaola, a cultural learning program. Likewise, I work with the University of Wisconsin and tribal-run Fond du Lac Resource Management. These commonalities allowed me to engage with the He’eia ahupua’a (a traditional socio-ecological land division) informed by relevant experiences in Wisconsin.

Spending time at He‘eia reminded me that starting a Reserve from scratch isn’t always straightforward. Staff must find the overlap between best practices in education, community needs, their own expertise, and the Reserve’s structure to create effective programs. He‘eia is in that process now.

Eric Enos (center), is the executive director of Ka’ala Farm, a restored kalo lo’i that also provides cultural education for students. The relationship between indigenous land knowledge and institutional scientific methods is key to the cultural and educational work at both the He’eia and Lake Superior Reserves.

We talked about community resilience, grants, internships, branding, communications, research and the interrelationships between indigenous knowledge and institutional scientific methods.

And we went snorkeling! On a windy day, Fred took me out in choppy seas so I could have a chance to see coral, reef fish, and a sea turtle. When he saw I hadn’t brought flippers, he handed me one of his. We were both able to swim successfully in the current. That’s the benefit of a network in a nutshell!

Another thing we share—community discussions and needs drive what we do. I started the Rivers2Lake education program that’s now been running for six years.  Fred has some exciting ideas about internships and programs that can support He‘eia’s partners. It’ll be fun to see which ones move forward, and how they evolve.

Fred and his colleagues taught me a great deal about the unique Hawaiian context that informs his work. I came back with new perspectives that have already enriched discussions with our partners on Lake Superior.  For example, I shared the Hawaiian concept of biocultural landscapes at the St. Louis River Summit this past week, and took ideas about kalo (taro) to our Manoomin (wild rice) work group here. These ideas have been helpful and well received.  

From Fred

From the first day, Deanna was willing to literally jump in and participate in all of the activities of our Reserve—from testing a coral bleaching monitoring tool in frigid Hawaiʻi waters to removing invasive mangrove in knee deep mud. She attended meetings with our site partners, where her presence and comments helped bring key issues to the surface.

Deanna observed that He‘eia is well positioned to build bridges between communities focused on contemporary science and those focused on traditional ecological knowledge. This was something we had already sensed, but she validated both the importance and the difficulty of this approach, based on her own experience working with tribes in the Lake Superior Area.  

We also talked a lot about community resilience and how to build it into our programs. I am looking forward to continuing this conversation with her and others at the next annual meeting.

One of the things I most enjoyed was seeing the exchange of gifts between Deanna and the people she met—wild rice and maple sugar for bone carvings, in one instance. It was a physical symbol of the exchange of ideas and aloha between our two places. Hawai‘i is the most isolated island chain in the world, but when we connect with people like this it doesn’t feel that way.

ReservesHe‘eia, Hawai'iAloha, Wisconsin!