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Reflections on Confluence 2024 Keynote Speaker: Lorraine Marquez Eiler

By Aireona Bonnie Raschke

Lorraine Marquez Eiler, who is a Hia C-ed O’odham Elder, and the co-founder and board vice-president of the International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA –, was our keynote speaker for Confluence 2024. And I couldn’t have been more honored and excited when she accepted our invitation to come speak with the Confluence audience as our keynote. Lorraine is a collaborative visionary with decades of experience, not only working with partners from a variety of professional backgrounds, but among partners from three different nations – the Tohono O’odham Nation, Mexico, and the United States.

During her keynote, Ms. Marquez Eiler gave us a glimpse into the story of the ISDA and their experience spearheading community-building and conservation work in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Founded in 1993, ISDA has built on its roots as a convener of stakeholders across the Sonoran Desert, and it now embraces the working philosophy that “that substantive and resilient resource preservation was impossible without simultaneously engaging the needs and aspirations of the peoples living within the environment.” Most recently, some of the exceptional work that ISDA has been doing includes working closely with the community of Ajo, Arizona, where ISDA is based, to address the emergent needs of the people there and rejuvenate the town and its surrounding environment. They are also leading the Sonoran Desert Biosphere Region with several current focal projects including a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, restoration and stewardship of A’al Vaipia or Quitobaquito Springs, and expansion of the Cabeza Prieta NWR.

Along with the legacy that Ms. Marquez Eiler has had through her co-founding and leadership of ISDA (along with an amazing team of folks, including their current executive director Aaron Cooper), the story that she told at Confluence 2024 was full of elements of her collaborative philosophy that I found deeply inspiring and impactful. Here are some of those insights that stood out the most to me from Ms. Marquez Eiler’s keynote speech, and which I will be keeping in mind for my own work:

  • Know your partners not as organizations, but as people. Know them as human beings.
  • Think about how your environmental work is linked to people’s livelihoods and well-being, and find innovative ways to do good work that has multi-dimensional, positive impacts.
  • Show that you mean well by showing up consistently for people.
  • Be willing to share openly – that includes not only your successes but your failures.
  • When you do the work to bring together people, you also bring together skills and knowledge.
  • Be patient – Collaborative work takes time and a lot of friends.

If you would like to learn a little more about her work, consider checking out this 2022 article that she wrote for Emergence Magazine on “Rights of Nature at the Border” (

We are so grateful to Lorraine for spending her time to come share her wisdom and experience with us at Confluence 2024 as our keynote speaker!

photo by Miguel Angel