By Heather Duncan, Region 7 Tribal Liaison
The relationship between a federal employee and a Tribal representative is based on the same tenets as any other: respect, trust, and lots of honest communication. A large collection of history, policy, and case law defines the relationship between the federal government and Tribal governments. Because each Tribe’s interests and concerns are unique, I have no typical days – and that’s one of my favorite things about my job.
Since November 2014, I’ve been serving in a temporary position filling a vacancy in our Region 7 Office of Tribal Affairs. As part of these duties, I serve as a liaison between EPA and five of the nine Tribal nations in our Region. I also negotiate and manage several financial agreements with our Tribal partners.
To an outsider looking in, my day may look calm, spent sitting in a meeting room or in front of a computer. Behind the scenes, most of my day as a liaison is spent translating. I translate the opportunities, needs, and requirements of the federal government into actionable goals and tasks for the Tribes to consider. Likewise, I work to understand and translate the needs and priorities of the Tribes to create better opportunities and policies at EPA.
Outside of my Agency work, I do not have a background or experience with Tribal governments or cultures. I grew up an Iowa farm girl in an agricultural community inherently skeptical of the federal government. Neighbors may disagree with one another but are quick to unite to improve their community’s resilience. At home, handshakes are binding agreements and individuals are judged by their honesty and ability to follow through on their commitments. Growing up in an agricultural community has been excellent training for my experiences in our Office of Tribal Affairs. In many ways, working with the Tribes feels like home.
In my role as a Tribal liaison, it’s important to recognize the cultural and economic influences in scientific conversations and to share those insights as EPA discusses new policies and programs.
I have about two months left in my temporary assignment. In those remaining days, my desire is to do the right thing – one day at a time.