Nez Perce

Northwest Native Youth Lead on Sustainability

Last month, I got to spend time with Americans who have championed sustainability for a lot longer than the 45 years EPA has existed: our northwest tribal nations.

My trip to the Pacific Northwest was the second stop on the Generation Indigenous, or Gen I,Gen-I-LogoCabinet Tour. President Obama launched the Gen-I Initiative at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference to focus on improving the lives of Native youth by removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed. A clean, healthy environment sets tribal nations up for stronger economies and communities where young people can thrive.

groupI had the chance to sit down with the Columbia River Tribal Leadership Council, including the Lummi, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Yakama, and Umatilla tribes, to listen to their concerns, hopes and dreams. And most importantly, I spent quality time with the tribal leaders of the future when I visited the Lummi and Swinomish nations.

The tribes in the northwest face significant water quality challenges that are threatening their ability to maintain their precious resources: the fish they rely on for nourishment and continued economic stability, as well as their way of life. The visit gave me a chance to discuss next steps in the work EPA is doing with states and tribes to protect resources, like clean water, to which many tribes retain treaty rights.

I also spent time at the Northwest Indian College, talking to students about what a college degree means for their futures and the futures of their tribes. It was amazing to see the hope and pride on their faces, as well as the faces of their remarkable teachers.

boatTribal members welcomed me as part of the extended Swinomish family—I tasted a bounty of native foods, took a boat ride along the Skagit river (the last river in the Northwest healthy enough to be home to all species of wild salmon), rowed a canoe with tribal members of all ages and sizes, and learned a traditional dance. It was a trip I will never forget and didn’t want to end.

Last year, President Obama visited Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where he heard directly from Native youth who described the challenges their families and communities face. Afterward, he launched Generation Indigenous, or Gen I, an initiative to create new opportunities for our Native youth and to cultivate the next generation of Native leaders. He challenged all agencies to support those efforts.

EPA is proud to support Gen I by engaging with Native youth in a number of ways, including the Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program, which partners EPA scientists with Tribal College professors and students to solve local environmental issues. I was pleased to see the progress the Northwest Indian College Tribal ecoAmbassador Program has made, including the rehabilitation of clear-cut areas of campus into medicinal and rain gardens. A nut and berry forest is used to teach traditional ecological knowledge and is a “living lab” used by students and the community. Since 2011, the Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program has created the opportunity for hundreds of students to gain over 4500 hours of STEM training.

diggingEPA is proud of the progress we’ve made to support tribes, but there’s a lot more work to do. Native American children are more likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses linked to air pollution than white children, while more than 1 in 10 homes on Native American reservations lack access to clean water and sanitary sewage disposal—compared to less than 1 in 100 nationwide.

Working alongside tribes to protect public health and the environment is a critical part of EPA’s mission. It’s only when we work with tribes, states, and communities that the benefits of our work will be realized by every American.

The northwest tribes are working toward a brighter future every day, using both traditional and scientific ecological knowledge to safeguard their natural resources and their way of life. EPA is proud to partner with them to help continue their commitment to sustainability for many years to come.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Remembering a Colleague

By Jeffery Robichaud

I’m a couple of years younger than the Environmental Protection Agency, which had its 40th birthday back in 2010.  There aren’t many charter members of EPA still working for the Agency today.  Here in Kansas City I think we might be down to our last one.  Most have retired.  Unfortunately, we lost one last week, Les our former videographer.

I will always remember the time I spent working with Les on a video almost a decade ago in 2003.  The next year (2004) marked the Bicentennial Anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the Corps of Discovery.   A set of men were going to re-enact the entire two year journey as the Corps of Discovery II and the National Park Service was creating a travelling exhibit to accompany Corps II.  The Park Service had reached out to its Federal Partners to help with educational activities.  Since EPA doesn’t have field offices along the route, we decided to develop a video that could accompany the travelling exhibit, led by Les.

Les attacked the project with vigor.  I marveled at what he was able to do with a shoestring budget, working with A/V equipment that was a cross between home and professional, and a rag tag bunch of folks willing to help on the side.  A few of us had a chance to moonlight with Les to develop a script, storyboard shots, and collect footage all while continuing with our normal work.   Somehow Les found a way to pull it off, even managing to capture footage of the Corps II in St. Louis, work the footage into the end credits, and cut copies of the DVD before they began their journey up the Missouri.  The DVD was the Agency’s contribution to the Tent of Many Voices which served as the centerpiece for educational activities of the Corps over the next two years.

Large festival-like celebrations greeted the Corps II at big cities like Kansas City and Omaha, their schedules jammed with local speakers and exhibits, including Les’s video as a small piece of a tremendous program.  But as the keelboat moved further upriver and away from the cities, the speakers and the festivities waned yet Les’ video stayed with the Tent of Many Voices.  It was seen by children and teachers at small towns all along the historic route.  Towns like Kamiah, ID, a small village on the Nez Perce Reservation, where young children were able to watch the following video, which still holds up today.

By the time the Corps II returned through Kansas City two years later, I had moved into a different position and didn’t really get a chance to circle back with Les.  I wish I had told him how amazing I thought it was that his efforts were seen by thousands…and how important it was in helping to show kids how history can be relevant to them, and to protection of the environment.  Thanks Les.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

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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