The Willamette River Network board is excited to welcome Tana Atchley Culbertson as its founding Director of Network Coordination. We’re grateful that Tana has agreed to bring her commitment to environmental justice and her expertise in multicultural program coordination, communication and relationship building to guide the Network’s vision for regional collaboration toward healthy rivers and thriving communities in Oregon’s most populous watershed.
Tana comes to the Willamette River Network with nearly two decades of experience in youth education and career development in higher education and Tribal settings. Her arrival marks a significant step forward for the newly forming Network, which will evolve from the relationships, trust, collaboration and impact developed through Meyer Memorial Trust’s Willamette River Initiative. The initiative, a grantmaking program that increased regional strategy, alignment and progress toward a healthier Willamette, ends this year after more than a decade of supporting people and groups in pursuit of river health.
An enrolled citizen of the Klamath Tribes who is of Modoc, Paiute and Karuk descent, Tana grew up on her people’s ancestral lands in Southern Oregon. River health is a central value to the Klamath people, for whom salmon are a First Food with deep cultural, spiritual and economic significance. Witnessing the destructive force of dams, water scarcity, habitat loss and pollution on Klamath River health and fisheries motivated Tana to dedicate herself to addressing the environmental harm that afflicts Oregon’s watersheds and the people who depend upon them.
“When we protect communities that depend upon the river for food, everybody else is protected too,” she said. “I’m excited to serve a network that holds that concern for the most vulnerable as one of its core values.”
Tana obtained a journalism degree from the University of Oregon and studied college student services and administration at Oregon State University’s graduate school of education. While working in youth development at Portland State University, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and other organizations, she developed programs that served diverse youth more effectively. She serves on the board of OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and the University of Oregon Alumni Association. She also volunteers with the Oregon Community Foundation and is a former member of the Oregon Indian Education Association’s executive board.
Tana’s strong connections with Northwest Tribes, educational institutions, nonprofits and communities will benefit the Network’s efforts to build and strengthen partnerships among people and groups working toward river health and community wellbeing. Her lived experience and professional commitment to champion equity and justice will help expand a river health movement that reflects and serves all of the Willamette Basin’s diverse communities, especially those that have for too long been excluded from decisions about Oregon rivers.
“Her experience as a Native American person with professional connections to Willamette Basin Tribal communities gives Tana an incredible opportunity to shape an organization around those values,” said Robin Morris Collin, Co-Chair of the Network Board.
“Tana has a history of building strong and supportive partnerships that strive to achieve great outcomes,” Network Board Co-Chair Michael Pope said. “We are looking forward to having her help the Network as we begin our journey to build a more inclusive movement focused on creating a healthier river for all.”
Tana lives in Beaverton with her husband and son. When she’s not working, you can find her kayaking or dragon boating on the Willamette, hiking with her family or heading out on a road trip. Read Tana’s full bio.
“Tana brings an extraordinary wealth of knowledge, commitment and connection to communities,” Network Board Member Queta González said. “She is adept at building trust, listening, and engaging people in the co-creation process, which are really important traits for the Network.”
As director of the Willamette River Network, Tana will support partners throughout the basin as they build upon the momentum of the past decade to create a broader, more inclusive river health coalition that centers equity in its work to achieve a future in which people and rivers thrive together. Her work at the nexus between environmental stewardship and community-building makes her a strong fit to lead this work.
“In my first few months, I’m looking forward to meeting the partners who are the heart of this network,” Tana said. “I want to know how we can help lift up their stories, connect them to resources and support their work in other ways.”
In the next six months, Tana will work with the Network board and partners to develop early network strategies. The board expects to add to the organization’s leadership team by next summer with a position focused on strategic resource development.
The board is excited to bring Tana’s leadership to the Network’s vision for a healthier river for all. Welcome, Tana!