By Ellen Gilinsky
What a perfect setting for the 2011National Tribal Water Quality Conference – the Posuwageh, or water meeting place, on the Pueblo of Pojoaque outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The land of big skies, open spaces and tribal traditions played host to a meeting of tribal water quality coordinators and EPA water professionals from across the country. I was honored to be asked to give the official welcome to the conference on behalf of EPA and to participate with over 300 attendees who were focusing their time and energy on coming together to learn and discuss how Clean Water Act programs can protect and restore water resources in Indian Country.
From the welcoming prayer and the first drumbeats and ritual dance of the Pojoaque Tribe, through the excellent sessions on maximizing the benefits of Clean Water Act programs, to the hands-on learning during the well-planned field trips, our water meeting place was truly a melding of traditions, culture and partnership.
The words of the keynote speaker for the conference – Dr. Daniel Wildcat of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas – particularly resonated with me. He challenged the group to use “Indigenuity” – their indigenous ingenuity – to address problems of water quality and quantity on tribal lands. The traditional ecological knowledge passed down from generation to generation on how tribes deal with different and changing landscapes makes tribes uniquely qualified to preserve and protect water resources. To me, this is reminiscent of the saying that history repeats itself unless we learn from it. We need to listen to the people of the land and learn from them the consequences of declining water quality and overuse of the water resources that they rely on for their life and livelihood.
What became clear to me on my trip is the strong connection between people and place. Our tribal partners demonstrate that a respect for the land and the people can coexist and in truth are interconnected. We can learn from the experiences of the tribal people and their environmental professionals just as they can benefit from working with EPA on technology transfer and grant funding to monitor and protect their waters. This is what the partnership of the Posuwageh is all about.
About the author: Ellen Gilinsky is a Senior Advisor in EPA’s Office of Water.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.