Littorally Advancing: An Interview With Tyrese Gould Jacinto of Native American Advancement Corporation
Since 1961, the American Littoral Society’s work has been focused on caring for the coast, and we believe that there is much to learn from those who have stewarded the land and water since long before our time. The Lenni-Lenape, whose territory stretched from Maryland and coastal Delaware through eastern Pennsylvania, all of New Jersey, and into upstate New York, have lived in the Delaware Bayshore area for over 10,000 years.
As the first people of the coast, the Lenape have worked to maintain a sustainable environment well before Europeans arrived. Today, there are approximately 12,000 Lenape people in the region. Tyrese Gould Jacinto, pronounced Ty-ese, is one of them.
Known by her tribe as Bright Flower, Ty has spent her life working to protect her local ecosystems while empowering her community to fight the effects of climate change. Her organization, the Native American Advancement Corporation (NAAC), has raised over $20 million since 2010 to increase energy efficiency in homes, remediate lead paint, provide green jobs training for at-risk youth, and advocate for access to the Cohansey River.
As a member of the New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, Ty spoke out when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) - which coordinates fishing limits along the Atlantic coast of the United States - proposed changes to horseshoe crab harvest limits in the Delaware Bay. She acted on behalf of the coast’s oldest ally and was one of over 34,000 people who came forward opposing changes that would pave the way for a renewed harvest of female crabs, which are crucial to the bay’s ecosystem. As a result of the efforts by Ty and others like her, the moratorium on female horseshoe crabs was extended by another year.
Ty believes that education is the key to change. She’s currently working to preserve a 62-acre wooded area with a 9,000 square-foot facility called the Cohanzick Nature Reserve. Once complete, the reserve will serve as a nature and outdoor education center, expanding NAAC’s capacity to deliver energy, soil, water, and air conservation training programs.
When discussing the property during a recent interview, the passion was clear in her voice as she explained that this work is in her blood. She sees herself and the Cohanzick project as a vessel that can pour knowledge and resources into the community. Not only has her family lived on that land for millenia, but Ty and her people also know that it has everything they need to survive. She believes that by teaching others how to live sustainably, the threats of climate change can be mitigated.
Ty shared many amazing and inspiring stories about her work, but they weren't all easy to hear. When asked about Native American Heritage Month (held every November), she didn’t hold back, noting that she doesn’t like how it represents Indigenous People. Specifically, she calls out how people tend to refer to Native Americans in the past tense.
She recalled stories from her childhood, such as the time her teacher didn’t believe that she was Lenape because “all the Indians are gone.” Another time she was disciplined for wearing her traditional native dress because “costumes aren’t allowed in school,” but paper bag vests were encouraged during Thanksgiving.
“We’re still here!” she said, sounding both powerful and frustrated. “Words themselves are annihilating, and no one knows the pain of erasure.”
The conversation made clear that some of the most enduring defenders of the coast and an obvious ally of the Littoral Society’s mission have been made to feel invisible in the environmental field and in society as a whole.
So, the Littoral Society would like to thank Ty and the Lenape Nation for all of their efforts to care for and protect the coast. We see you and are proud to work with you.
To learn more about the work of NAAC and the Cohanzick Nature Reserve, please visit https://www.nativeadvancement.org/cohanzick.html.