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Addressing Environmental Justice Concerns in Indian Country

2012 May 10

By Daniel Gogal

He had just arrived home after driving straight from DC to his reservation in the southwest. He tells me about his visit with government officials and questions whether or not his efforts will result in federal or tribal government action. His goal is to ensure his neighbors  in his remote area of the reservation are informed about the dangers of using a local pond for livestock watering, which is contaminated  by runoff from a former uranium mine when it rains. This concern is like many I encounter that deal with serious issues affecting the public health and safety of indigenous communities across the country.

Over the past twenty years, I have been contacted by many tribal members, indigenous organizations and tribal government representatives about environmental and public health threats facing their communities and about the need to develop lasting, sustainable solutions. The problems are complex and the solutions require involvement from a wide range of federal and tribal agencies and other indigenous stakeholders. This makes addressing the concerns  a challenge, but a challenge we need to rise to the occasion to meet.

Through EPA’s Plan EJ 2014, we are working collaboratively to achieve environmental justice.  In 2011, we initiated a process to develop tribal and indigenous people’s environmental justice guiding principles and policy toclarify how EPA will work with the 565 federally-recognized tribes and indigenous stakeholders to address environmental justice issues.

To develop these principles/policies, we formed the Indigenous Peoples Work Group, of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and EPA’s Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Environmental Justice Work Group,comprised of agency staff.

Now, EPA is seeking comments on the four focus areas currently planned for the guiding principles/policy. A working draft of the guiding principles and policy are expected to be available for review by tribes and the public in July 2012.

We look forward to receiving your input on the four focus areas and on the draft policy when becomes available this summer. Just like concerns raised by the southwest tribal member who recently traveled to the nation’s capital to talk about the pollution problems facing his community, we need to hear from you. Your comments will help improve EPA’s ability to respond to your concerns about environmental justice issues impacting tribal communities.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background and has worked on tribal and indigenous environmental policy and environmental justice issues for over 25  years.  He is the Tribal Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, where he has worked for the past nineteen years.

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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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Marvin S. Robinson, II permalink
    March 4, 2013

    One of the many THINGS that the E.P.A. and others around the country can do / RIGHT now- to impact optimism in the upCOMING 20Th anniversary of the ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE is issue a directive, request, intervention to stop the MEDICINE WHEEL at
    HASKELL INDIAN NATIONS UNIVERSITY from being eliminated to construct an expanded HIGHWAY link across their campus ‘sacred-spaces’ / WETLANDS, so that visitors can get to and from K.U.’s basketball games.
    THAT would be an interesting – unique way to help impact the ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE even includes the Native American’s educational importance that the MEDICINE WHEEL and the WETLANDS deserve to go into the future. THANK YOU !!!

    Marvin S. Robinson, II
    Quindaro Ruins / Underground Railroad- Exercise 2013

  2. Guy Archibald permalink
    June 10, 2013

    EJ also need to distinguish the landless Alaska Native Tribes that do not have the landed jurisdiction of reservations. This is a very tough issue especially so in a state that does not recognize the sovereign status of the 248 federal tribes within it borders.

    Alaska is currently prosecuting subsistence fishermen who traveled to fish camp along the river for the king salmon opening. Two weeks into the season AK Fish and Game closed the fishery through an announcement on their website. Needless to say there was no internet at fish camp. A couple of days later enforcement showed up confiscated the fish these families rely on for the winter, slashed their hand woven gill nets and handed out tickets. This is the state of Environmental Justice in Action in Alaska.

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