Two weeks ago, the Western Collaborative Conservation Network’s Awareness & Engagement Working Group had the pleasure of speaking with Kristen Kipp, Montana Rancher, mother of three, Blackfeet Tribal Member, and Producer Outreach Manager for the Piikani Lodge Health Institute about WCCN’s 2022 Confluence. We asked Kristen about her experience at Confluence, which took place this past September in Paradise Valley, Montana– what she liked, what knowledge and connections she took away, and what inspired her.
Kristen told us that she left Confluence feeling “on top of the world.” “I was so inspired,” she said, “hearing different perspectives really opened my eyes [and] for the first time, I placed more value on these kinds of [events] and decided I would make more of an effort to communicate with others doing similar work.”
Kristen went on to explain that the work she and other collaborative conservationists do has no blueprint or manual; it is adaptive and challenging, requiring a trial-and-error approach. But Kristen is determined to make an impact and to do so, she knows that one of the best ways to improve her own skills is to learn from others. “I really want to strengthen the [professional] relationships and friendships that I have because I can see how much benefit they give me. I need to make it a higher priority because there’s so much good work that can be done through collaboration.”
Kristen confided that in past conferences and events, she often felt uncomfortable or out of place. “I don’t meet a lot of people like me,” she told us. “It [felt] so good to be surrounded by people doing the same stuff, that care about the same things, that are passionate, and who come here with good hearts. You don’t always have that.”
One specific part of the conference that made Kristen feel more comfortable and integrated was the Confluence Welcome Ceremony. To Kristen, being together in a circle, surrounded by Montana’s natural beauty, and hearing the drums and the land acknowledgement felt inclusive and calming. “Standing in a circle, it shows that we’re all working together; there’s no hierarchy and we’re not being talked at… [My] feelings in the first twenty minutes were, Oh my god, these are my people! ”
She especially appreciated the open time in the schedule which allowed participants to make connections, problem solve through big-picture conversations, and be inspired by one another. Kristen told us that Confluence overall felt inclusive and engaging, with passionate participants and authentic speakers.
All in all, Kristen made it clear that she considered Confluence a success and we asked her why: “The reason I think it was so good was because you had really great people who really cared. We [were there] because we care, we want to do good work, and we want to do good work together. The topics were valid, valuable, relevant. People could take whatever was being presented and discussed and they could incorporate it. There was benefit to everyone.”
Going forward, there are things that Kristen would like to see grow. She went on to say, “we need to include more people,” specifically representatives from smaller organizations and Indigenous communities. Kristen said that for rural and Indigenous communities, many people are less likely to be able to attend events like Confluence, whether that is due to lack of funding, time or capacity, family responsibilities, or not ever receiving an invitation. Despite these challenges, it is essential “to bring those voices to the table and create opportunities.” Kristen herself only attended Confluence after hearing from Lara Tomov, filmmaker and director of the Life in the Land series. “If it wasn’t for Lara, I wouldn’t have been invited.”
In addition to advocates like Lara, Kristen hopes to see more scholarships, childcare options for professionals with children, and outreach to rural and Indigenous communities in future events. “Email is not enough… If you want a diverse set of perspectives, you need to include, invite, and do thorough outreach. It’s really important.”
Reflecting on her own path to her current position, as the only young Native woman in the male-dominated realms of conservation and agriculture, she struggled to find her voice. “How inspirational would it be to see someone like me doing the same or similar work? It would have been life changing” she exclaimed. “The impact that we have is so huge and I just wish that we could include more people because it will increase the impact more than we could ever realize.”
Kristen is excited to see more network-wide WCCN events. She told us that “it would be really cool to have more events and opportunities to do this kind of work. It’s really undervalued. I’ve made some amazing professional friendships in which we have really helped one another in so many ways and it comes from stuff like this.”