Washington State Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon was recently interviewed on being Native American and how growing up in the Pacific Northwest shaped her worldview and ignited a passion for working with communities to solve environmental problems.
Editor’s Note: This Article Originally Appeared on CrossCut.
By Hannah Weinberger, CrossCut
Maia Bellon grew up exploring Washington’s woods and coastlines. As Washington’s Department of Ecology director, she’s putting environmental justice front and center.
I grew up below the poverty line, and [outdoor recreation] was our vacation. My parents had us outside all the time — we were swimming, trout fishing in lakes and fly-fishing in rivers. My dad would do things like grab a bunch of sea kelp and seaweed, wrap himself with it and run after us on the beach pretending to be a sea monster.
I loved romping around in the woods. My father had me convinced as a little kid that some of the moss growing off of trees was Sasquatch hair, so I was the self-appointed Sasquatch tracker. It was wonderful; I loved it. We did a lot of hiking, climbing and camping, while living in Washington, Montana and Northern California on the Fort Bidwell Paiute Indian Reservation. It was all very rural and isolated.
I am part white, and I am part Native. When I was going to a very small rural high school, and half of the school population was native and half was from a non-Indian ranching community, my brother and I were the only two mixed-race children. The bus was divided, and this was 1983! The non-Indian children sat up front and the Native children sat in the back. By the time we moved to Tumwater a few years later, that bus was integrated.