Mountain and clouds relfected in clear lake.
Rio Grande Rio Grande © Alan Eckert Photography


New Indigenous Peoples Program Director at The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has hired its first-ever Indigenous Partnerships Program director, John Waconda, of the Pueblo of Isleta. Waconda will lead this new program designed to support and partner with Indigenous Peoples to create a shared future of healthy lands, waters and communities in New Mexico.

Waconda is coming out of retirement from the U.S. Forest Service because – as he says, “there’s work to be done.” He sees opportunities to build more bridges with Indigenous partners to create a more sustainable future by protecting our land and water, together.

“As the former US Forest Service, Southwestern regional restoration partnership coordinator, I immersed myself in tribal communications so local community members had a good understanding of restoration partnerships such as the Rio Grande Water Fund and how it would benefit people and nature,” he said. “This work will enable me to employ my knowledge, skills and experiences in a way that helps me and my people.” 

This work will enable me to employ my knowledge, skills and experiences in a way that helps me and my people.

Indigenous Partnerships Program director

Terry Sullivan, TNC’s state director for New Mexico, sees this as an important hire to build a programmatic need, filling a gap between the state’s past and future.

Indigenous Peoples have been caring for land in New Mexico since time immemorial,” Sullivan said. “TNC is committed to creating, promoting and perpetuating a narrative and future in which nature and people can thrive and coexist.”

Sullivan said the Rio Grande Water Fund led by TNC is a good example of rebuilding New Mexico’s forests by using techniques such as controlled burns that have long been used by Indigenous Peoples. Another is in replanting forests, including a project with TNC, Pueblo partners and volunteers who are coming together to plant climate-resilient seedlings across 4,000 acres of the Bandelier National Monument and in the Santa Clara Pueblo Watershed.

“With these and other new developments on the way, we can look ahead while learning from our past,” Sullivan said. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories—37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners—we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.