Portal Profile: MidA RPB Tribal Co-Lead Kelsey Leonard

As a tribe whose name means “people of the shore,” the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s cultural and historical identity is integrally bound to the Atlantic Ocean.

So for Shinnecock citizen Kelsey Leonard, becoming a leader in the Mid-Atlantic ocean planning movement was a natural extension of her heritage.

“We prioritize future generations,” Leonard said. “We ask, how do we make the ocean better than we received it? How do we make the ocean planning process better than we received it, so that when future generations have to go through similar processes, or have to fight for their right to use the ocean in a manner that is in tune with their spiritual and cultural ways of being, that they won’t have to struggle as much as we had to?”

Leonard serves as Tribal Co-Lead for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body (MidA RPB), established in 2013 to develop an ocean plans for the five-state region (New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia). One of her goals is to see new tribal-specific map layers added to the Portal.

Kelsey Leonard

In 2015, Portal Team members conducted a series of meetings with tribal representatives throughout the region to demonstrate the Portal’s capabilities and gather input on what types of information they would like to see included. One of the meetings was held in Long Island during the Shinnecock’s Nipi Kesuk (Water Day), a community event that celebrates all aspects of water and the tribe’s connection to it.

Among Leonard’s ideas for potential map layers are traditional tribal trade and navigation routes, which could be useful in teaching future generations about their history. She would also like to see tribal headquarters and historic zones of influence delineated on the maps so government agencies know who to contact when an important project is proposed in a given area.

“Right now, there is a disconnect between tribal representatives and state and federal entities when it comes to communication,” she said. “So how can we use the Portal to help alleviate some of that breakdown in communication?”

The Shinnecock Nation and the Ocean

The Shinnecock Indian Nation is a federally recognized tribe whose ancestral homeland and reservation is located on southeastern Long Island. Per the MidA RPB charter, each federally recognized tribe is invited to hold a seat on the planning body and represent its respective interests in the regional marine planning process.

Leonard was invited to represent the Shinnecock Indian Nation on the MidA RPB after serving three years on the tribe’s Natural Resources Committee, which is involved in various environmental projects. She feels that through her involvement with the MidA RPB, the tribe can provide valuable perspectives on major decisions concerning the ocean and discussions about emerging issues such as climate change.

“The Atlantic was the conduit for coming to America, for coming to our shores. We welcomed you, we fed you, we made sure that you survived the first winters,” she said. “So I think it’s only right now that in the protection of the Atlantic, you heed our advice, traditions and knowledge for its preservation and stewardship.”

Tribal Blessing to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body

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