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Meeting Tribes in Montana!

2011 August 19

By Leah Tai

I was energized as I woke up at 4:30 am, grabbing my bag and a handful of almonds before heading to catch my flight to Billings, Montana. After three months of assisting and learning about my branch’s grant program to provide infrastructure to Native American Tribes, I was finally going to meet tribal recipients of this funding!

After college I traveled in Asia and South America before joining the Peace Corps in West Africa, and I always found that my favorite experiences involved chatting with locals about their community (or simply attempting to learn “Hello” in a new dialect). The personal connections and cultural understanding that comes from hearing the stories and seeing the favorite places of a new acquaintance­­ is irreplaceable. In Montana, I would have the opportunity to meet members of various tribal nations, Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, among others, at an EPA training to improve operation and management of tribal water and wastewater infrastructure.

On the first day I immediately took a liking to one of the few training participants, Tina, as she abruptly interjected with opinions and comments gained from 13 years of experience managing the water system in a town of 250 people on the Fort Peck Reservation. Throughout the next three days, Tina never failed to make her voice heard. She and other participants slowly began interacting with one another, realizing they had lots of knowledge and experience to share. One tribal operator was surprised and excited to hear that a neighboring reservation had their own equipment to lift out well pumps in order to do maintenance and started discussing future contact and mutual support. Others discussed their communities’ resistance to increased water and wastewater rates, realizing that they face similar challenges in educating their neighbors and elders about the true cost of clean water. Two members of the Crow Water and Wastewater Authority were happy to give us a tour of their federally funded wastewater lagoon; lagoons were a popular topic during the training because many tribes in the region use them but not all knew about the regular maintenance steps they require.

It was inspiring to talk, learn and work with tribal members on improving their water and wastewater systems. I fell in love with Big Sky Montana but was happy to get back to DC on Monday and continue working to help these underserved communities.

About the author: Leah Tai began her ORISE Fellowship in May of 2011 working with the Sustainable Communities Branch in the Office of Wastewater Management. After extensive travel abroad and work with the U.S. Peace Corps, Leah is excited to work with SCB programs supporting underserved communities around the U.S.A.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. jack permalink
    August 19, 2011

    nice article leah. felt very nice reading it.

  2. ron permalink
    August 19, 2011

    i think alot of people need to go green every body like to wait till the last minute then when it’s to late to change things everybody want to point the finger at each other but society need to change fast #team green all the way

  3. eddd permalink
    August 20, 2011

    WHERE CAN I SEND MANY HIGH SCHOOL TEXT BOOKS, USED, FOR THE RESIDENTS OF FORT PECK?

  4. atif silal permalink
    August 20, 2011

    thanks for posting such unique and sourceful information

  5. Peter Batiste permalink
    August 22, 2011

    Keep the good job Leah!!

  6. Ray permalink
    August 24, 2011

    Hopefully the conversation included some of the near-future changes to the water system, such as Poplar slowly no longer having potable water. Once the drilling and fracking really kicks in up that way I can only imagine how things will change. Hope you got to spend some time in Wolf Point, also.. nice little town up that way.

  7. Leah permalink
    September 21, 2011

    Sorry, I don’t have specific contacts in the school system at Fort Peck. You could try contacting the local community college at http://www.fpcc.edu/ and see if they could help. Good luck!

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