Alluvion Communications follows old paths — but in new ways. Around 300 BCE, the Huhugam (sometimes called “Hohokam”) people built a vast irrigation canal system in the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix. Today Alluvion in nearby Chandler, Ariz., is pursuing the modern equivalent, sending customers gushers of voice and data information through fiber-optic “pipelines.”
The Huhugam network consisted of 500 miles of canals, some 30 feet wide and 10 feet deep, that branched into smaller irrigation channels. Alluvion serves businesses in two local counties and has plans even more ambitious than its ancient predecessor’s, according to General Manager David Ackerman.
“We’re focused on expanding our fiber network and customer base throughout Arizona, especially in rural places where we’re most needed. We’re closing the digital divide,” he says. “We have a higher vision of touching tribal communities not only in our state but also in the United States in ways that do not now exist. We dream big.”
The company’s name reflects its big plans. “‘Alluvion’ is the impact water makes on the Earth when it seeps down from mountains to create ground water. In the modern age, information is just as necessary for life,” says Brand Marketing Specialist Duncan Wiston, a member of the Gila River Indian Community.
Most of Alluvion’s 25 employees are from a nearly 600-square-mile area that makes up the Gila River Indian Reservation, home to the Akimel O’otham (Pima) and Pee-Posh (Maricopa) Tribes. Gila River Telecommunications, which provides telephone and internet services to the reservation, created Alluvion as a subsidiary in 2006 to serve business customers outside its boundaries.
Beyond the reservation, major internet service providers are lined up against Alluvion. The challenge inspires Wiston to excel. “We’re the underdog. We’re nimble, flexible, and give better service. Competing against big companies has forced me to grow as a marketing person,” he says.
Alluvion takes care of its employees, and they take care of each other. “It speaks to the values the tribe holds. We treat each other with kindness and respect. That’s ingrained in our culture,” says Wiston. He believes healthy personal relationships drive business success. “At meetings every-one bounces ideas off each other. We make sure all employees can have an impact on where the company’s going. You don’t get that when you work for a Fortune 500 company,” he says.
Unlike many businesses, Alluvion thrived during the pandemic shutdown, thanks to the booming need for highspeed internet services. “We are a central piece that is allowing the world to conduct business,” says Ackerman. “We take pride in being part of that.” The company also takes pride in their internship program, a partnership with the local youth employment center. “It’s a win-win,” says Ackerman. “They get job experience that often leads to full-time employment.”
In Ackerman’s view, the telecommunications careers these young people are creating will only get more exciting: “There are so many outstanding technologies coming in the future. They all rely on the connected world of human experience — telehealth, the internet of things, self-driving cars. Every one of them depends on the fiber in the ground. We feel like we’re doing something great. It keeps us moving forward.”
While growing up on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation between the border of southern Idaho and northern Nevada, Kenneth “KW” Pete Jr. always wanted to know more about the land and the plants that grow there. It was an interest that took deeper root in 2006, when his agriculture class at the Owyhee Combined School put shovels in the ground and built a greenhouse on the reservation. The project to build that first greenhouse was funded by a new partnership between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe — a joint endeavor that continues to this day and now operates three greenhouses with the capacity to grow up to 120,000 Wyoming Big Sage seedlings.
“We’ve grown to produce a diversity of plants, but it started primarily with sagebrush seedlings to restore the land,” says Pete, who is now employed by the Idaho BLM as a horticulturalist and the tribe’s greenhouse mentor/manager. After earning a degree in agricultural economics from the University of Idaho, he continued his education and got his master’s degree in environmental science in 2017. “The sagebrush is important culturally and environmentally,” he explains. “It provides ground cover for wildlife, attracts pollinators, and it’s essential for our landscape — especially for competing with invasive plants like cheatgrass.” The seedlings grown by the project are used on public lands for restoration of sage-steppe habitat devastated by wildfires and for private industry purchasers such as goldmines that are rehabbing mined-out areas.
The year-round program hires students who are 16 years old and up using a combination of BLM funding and sales revenues. The proximity of the greenhouses to local schools makes them a valuable hands-on classroom for Shoshone-Paiute teens, who put in hours before and after their classes and sometimes during school time through work-study arrangements. Students are involved in every aspect of greenhouse operation from planning and seeding to plant care, greenhouse maintenance, harvesting, and preparing seedlings for sale and transplant. As the program has evolved, the variety of plants it sells and donates has grown to include native forbs, bitterbrush, and grasses that help support wildlife. It also grows vegetables and other produce for the community in cooperation with the reservation’s diabetes clinic and senior center.
“We’ve grown to produce a diversity of plants, but it started primarily with sagebrush seedlings to restore the land.” –KW Pete.
The program is all about using culturally informed strategies to meet a critical need for native seedling plants for land restoration while also training students and other tribal citizens to play an active role in greenhouse management production. “A lot of students come to us not really understanding the importance of sagebrush and other native plants and what happens when they’re gone because of fires or mining practices that strip the land,” Pete observes. “The program helps to reinforce the multiple purposes that native plants serve, and how we have to make it a priority to take care of our native land.”
For the Indigenous people of Hawaii, keeping their rich culture, knowledge, and tradition of innovation alive in the modern world has been an ongoing struggle. Joining the front lines of that effort is the Honolulu-based nonprofit Honua Scholars, an innovative organization based on traditional Hawaiian values that’s executing a vision of perpetuating knowledge and fostering STEM education. To accomplish its mission Honua Scholars offers a unique mentorship program, along with opportunities such as workshops and “STEMinars” to high school students and undergraduates.
With the motto “Helping Others Navigate, Understand, and Achieve,” Honua Scholars is increasing interest in STEM in Hawaii and providing tools, guidance, and opportunities for its scholars, who have a connection to the islands. Though the organization launched in the pandemic summer of 2020, it has already achieved notable success. To date, it has served approximately 30 students directly via mentoring sessions and has reached an estimated 1,000 people via its social media channels and virtual events. The organization is sponsored by the Pacific American Foundation, a Native Hawaiian nonprofit, and recently received its first grant from the Hawaii People’s Fund.
The three co-founders are Kyle Yoshida, who serves as executive director; Maveric Abella, program director; and software developer Andie Hoshijo, technology director. Yoshida, currently a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at Stanford University, grew up in Pearl City, Hawaii, where preservation of Hawaiian resources and culture is a key focus. “In our current Hawaiian climate, there is much debate about how Hawaii should evolve through our ongoing Hawaiian renaissance,” says Yoshida. “Many people have begun to ask questions surrounding the ideal blend of science and culture.”
Honua Scholars hopes to provide answers by nurturing leadership among its mentors: Native Hawaiians and others who aim to practice culturally relevant and culturally based science and engineering. “Our mentors are cultural practitioners. They are also STEM graduate students and young professors who provide their mana’o (wisdom) on how to navigate pathways in STEM,” Yoshida explains. About 75 percent of mentors are Native Hawaiian, and most are women, another underrepresented STEM demographic.
“Our organization is largely made up of the community and constituency we are serving,” says Yoshida. “Most of our student participants come from the University of Hawaii system and Kamehameha Schools, where there are high concentrations of Native Hawaiians. We also work hard to connect Hawaiian college students throughout the nation back to their home community.” But the organization isn’t benefiting only Native Hawaiians — it also recruits students from local community colleges, who come from a variety of backgrounds.
“We have to work together as a community to build local STEM talent that can serve Hawaii,” says Abella, a medical student at the University of Hawaii. To do this the organization helps scholars determine their future role in Hawaii through interpersonal relationships, interactions with the broader community, and the mentoring process, which emphasizes reflection. The goal is to create students grounded in the community’s needs and culture who reflect on defining the future.
It’s no surprise that this young organization takes its message to social media. On Instagram (#honuascholars) and Twitter (@honuascholars), followers access Mentor Mondays and Mana’o Wednesdays. “It can be really helpful for high school and undergrad students to see someone who has come from the same background as they do set a goal and achieve it,” says Abella. “It gives them hope. If we can help them discover how their STEM career choice can benefit Hawaii’s resources, culture, or residents, even better.”
—Kimberly Durment Locke