Ellen Bradley is at home in the rainforest and snow-covered peaks of Lingít Aaní — literally. A skier, scientist and passionate Indigenous advocate fighting both colonialism and climate change in the outdoor industry, Bradley returned to her ancestral homeland to ski for the first time this winter, deepening her connection with the land and her Indigenous identity through time spent in the backcountry.
“As a Tlingit woman who grew up separated from my traditional homelands, I developed my relationship with the lands and relatives I have lived apart from through skiing,” said Bradley. “Skiing has allowed me to connect with my Indigenous identity as the activity that forced me to spend intentional time connecting with the land and all of my relations in the places I have lived. This time with the land taught me countless lessons about our duties as integral members of the biogeochemical processes that touch all things with a spirit and make our world a hospitable place for all of our relations.”
Bradley’s work as a biologist and environmental scientist as well as her perspective as a skier and outdoorswoman is shaped by her Tlingit heritage and Indigenous insight. With a career focused on centering traditional ecological knowledge, she hopes to carry forward the work of her ancestors—the original scientists and stewards of the land—increasing human understanding of climate change and how to best restore balance to a changing planet. As a research assistant at Woodwell Climate Research Center, she is assisting with the development of a model to predict the impact of climate change on Arctic carbon emissions. The model will help Northern communities, including Indigenous communities in Alaska, make land and climate policy and analyze risk.
Connecting with the land of her traditional home is a vital part of her journey of healing and discovery, Bradley said. She found the time spent on her ancestral homeland this winter sacred and inspiring, a true homecoming experience:
“Returning to Lingít Aaní to ski in my traditional homelands felt like one of the most grounding experiences I have had while spending time with the land,” said Bradley. “One of my hopes for this homecoming was to face, head on, some of the intergenerational trauma I carry, traumas that are especially triggered within the outdoor industry and its romanticization of Lingít Aaní, and exploitative, colonial tendencies. I simultaneously felt the pain and seeds of healing while walking through old growth and finally putting to words the ways I had been feeling while speaking with old and new moss friends. All of the emotions I experienced on this initial return fit into the idea of ‘Indigenous joy’ on the land, from the unimaginable happiness and sense of belonging to the pain and tears.”
Bradley is of the Raven moiety, L’eeneidí clan (Raven/Dog Salmon) of Juneau and was raised in and currently lives on Duwamish, Snohomish, Tulalip, Stillaguamish and Coast Salish land. In addition to her work as a biologist and environmental scientist, she is an outdoor athlete for NativesOutdoors, Protect Our Winters and Deuter.