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From Inian’s Board President

My approach to life is to “just say yes” to opportunities to grow, learn and/or help make this place a better world. This approach has led to me becoming President of the Inian Islands Institute Board of Directors in June of this year.  Here’s how I got there.

Three years ago, I was talking to my friend Molly (who is the treasurer on the Inian board) about possible kayak trips that summer, and she said, “I can’t go in early May because I’ll be at a work party at the Hobbit Hole; would you like to join me there?” “Sure!” I said, without having ever heard of the Hobbit Hole or the Inian Islands Institute and without even knowing what a “work party” might involve.  Now, three years later, I am filled with gratitude that Molly invited me and that I said yes. Those five days at that work party were transformative for me in many ways. They introduced me to a beautiful place, they introduced me to a wonderful organization with in inspiring mission, and they opened up a new way of seeing the world. And I am honored and grateful that I can continue contribute to, and learn from, the Inian Islands Institute.


For every volunteer hour I gave during that work party, I received so much more in return. I learned how satisfying it is:

  • to work with others towards a common goal;
  • to do hard physical labor (such as removing, bucket by bucket, rocky soil from under a building so that a new foundation can be installed);
  • to be part of  a community of caring people of all ages and backgrounds; and
  • to experience directly how scarcity leads to innovation (e.g., if a wheelbarrow handle breaks during a work party at the Hobbit Hole, you can’t just run to the hardware store for a new one so you have to figure out a way to fix it).  

But my biggest learning experience, and corresponding satisfaction, at that first work party came when I was asked to make a new pole for the III flag.  Me, a retired lawyer who has minimal knowledge about constructing things, make a new flagpole? I have no doubt that others could have done this in a fraction of the time it took me to do this, but with their patient guidance I learned how to:

  • select a young spruce tree that had to right height and circumference;
  • work a chain saw to cut down that tree;
  • strip off the branches with pruning shears and handsaw;
  • strip off the bark with a handheld planer;
  • drill a hole towards the bottom of the trunk (with drill bits that don’t fit properly) for a pin to raise and lower the flag pole; and
  • lash to the top a pulley system to raise and lower the flag.

A steel pole from Home Depot would have been straighter and longer-lasting than my creation but would not have been in keeping with Inian’s spirit to be sustainable, to use our funds wisely, and to be a place of learning. 

When I joined the Inian board earlier this year, the organization was at an important crossroads, having just completed the purchase of the Hobbit Hole.  This has been an exciting time: now that we own the property there is much to do to keep it and our programs running smoothly. In the eight months since joining the board “we” (meaning Zach and others with board oversight) have purchased a boat; hired long-term caretakers; strengthened relations with the Huna tribe (the ancestral caretakers of this land) by finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding with Hoonah Indian Association; had our 3rd week-long work party; hosted a community-wide celebration; and successfully ran a summer’s worth of programs, including a long-format program with students from diverse racial and ideological backgrounds from across our country (see our video here).

There is much work to still be done to build our campus and scientific programs, but with everyone’s generous contributions of time, financial donations, and creative in-kind donations of useful tools etc (the wood fired hot tub and yurt representing two of these surprises!), I know we will get there.  Please join me this holiday season in “just saying yes” to the future growth of Inian Islands Institute, by lending your energy, your finances, or voice to our cause and spreading the word about this special place. I hope you too feel the satisfaction that comes from being part of this amazing community, near or far. 


Read more about Inian’s Board of Directors

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