21CSC Champion of the Year, 2020 – Garry Cantley

The 21CSC Champion of the Year Award is presented on an annual basis to dedicated individuals from organizations and federal agencies that partner with 21CSC programs. The 2020 honorees will be recognized in Washington, DC during the annual meeting of the Partnership for the 21CSC, part of The Corps Network 2020 National Conference. RSVP to attend the annual meeting by clicking here.


Garry Cantley
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Western Region

Based out of Phoenix, AZ, Garry Cantley is an Archaeologist for the Western Region of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Garry has worked in this position since 1994, helping protect cultural resources, fight against looting, and assist in the reparation of human remains and funerary objects. Garry has been instrumental in helping Conservation Legacy, a co-chair of the Partnership for the 21CSC, establish an Ancestral Lands Corps program for Hopi youth. Upon first meeting with Conservation Legacy, Garry quickly recognized the impact a Corps could have both on Hopi young people and on the lands and cultural resources of the region. Garry has been a champion for the program, supporting ways to engage the Corpsmembers in education and meaningful service.

“Garry is an incredibly supportive partner and has been a huge asset in the development of our program. With his help, we have been able to serve both our youth and community in a greater capacity. We want to thank Garry for his understanding of our home community and for directing needed resources to our community in order for our small program to grow and continue growing. Kwak-Kwa (Thank You).”
– Marshall Masayesva, Hopi Program Coordinator, Ancestral Lands, Conservation Legacy

Continue reading for Q&A with Garry


Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get started in resource management?
I got into it through a summer job. Between semesters in college, I worked on an archaeological excavation in advance of a big construction project in Tennessee. I was just there for summer employment, but a lot of my coworkers were involved in anthropology and archaeology. That sparked an interest. When I went back to school, I tried an anthropology class and then pursued it from there. I ended up getting my bachelor’s degree at the University of the Americas in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico (Universidad de las Américas). Then I got my master’s degree at Arizona State University.


Tell us about how you have engaged with Service and Conservation Corps.
At BIA, we are always looking for opportunities to engage tribal youth. Partnering with Conservation Legacy provided an opportunity to combine helping tribal youth with also doing important restoration on archaeological sites that had been damaged. What we’re trying to do is disguise holes caused by looters, because holes tend to attract even more holes. We are trying to “heal” these sites, including an ancient ancestral village that probably dates to about 1200 A.D. As a result of the Corps’ work on this project, we were able publish a backfilling and restoration guide, which is something we will share with tribes and other stakeholders.

That is how this partnership started, but now we’ve expanded the work to include doing preservation of other culturally important sites. We’ve engaged young people in working on sites that might be threatened by erosion, or on various trails that are significant to the tribe (in this case, the Hopi tribe).

I do appreciate this award, but I have to say that a lot of this work is dependent on Marshall Masayesva, the Hopi Program Coordinator at Conservation Legacy. We respond to very smart, active individuals like Marshall. I’m on the lookout for his counterparts at other tribes, too. We are engaging tribal youth in cultural resource-related protection through other programs, as well. We hope it gives the young people work experience, but also an awareness of some of the issues happening on their own ancestral lands. Because these sites are remote and not particularly easy to get to, the youth might not know about the degradation happening to their cultural resources. Through this program, they become aware, and then they go home and tell their families. We are building community awareness.


What advice would you offer to other employees from land/water management agencies and nonprofits that are interested in partnering with 21CSC programs (What to expect, etc.)?
What are the most beneficial aspects of partnering with a 21CSC program?
It’s all very positive to me. Look for Corps that are working in your jurisdiction. It’s an excellent (and relatively easy) opportunity to engage tribal youth not just in cultural resource work, but in all types of natural resource restoration and repair projects. In my experience, I’ve also appreciated that Conservation Legacy is strong on the administrative side of the project. They are on top of it when it comes to doing quarterly reports, organizing budgets, etc.

Also, the young people will bring a lot of enthusiasm to the project. And the experience will have a lasting, positive effect on the young people. The program helps expose them to their cultural heritage, but also helps the youth develop a strong work ethic and learn about teamwork. Getting along with folks is very important when you’re working in some very remote places and sometimes arduous conditions.

I found the Corps to be very flexible. Additionally, in my particular case, they are in tune with the local tribal needs and issues. They are going out and asking what the villages want. That’s better than me down here in Phoenix dreaming up projects. With the help of Conservation Legacy and the Hopi Lands Conservation Corps, we know we are in touch with the local concerns and interests.


What advice would you offer to young people in 21CSC programs who are interested in careers in conservation and land/water management?
Be cognizant that all these professionals you see in your daily life were once exactly where you are. They got to where they are because they had direction, conviction, ambition. They took that first step, and then that second step. Don’t be intimated by these professionals; they were once young, just starting out, and not really sure what they wanted to do. You’ve just got to take that first step. Show up, be on time, and doors will open.