Commemorating National Native American Heritage Month at EPA
Today, I had the honor of commemorating National Native American Heritage Month with Jodi Gillette, President Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, and many EPA staff members. We had a great conversation that follows up a series of trips and meetings I’ve had with tribal communities across the country. One of my first trips as EPA Administrator was to Alaska, where I met with Alaska Native villages around the Bristol Bay area. Last week, I hosted my fist tribal listening session and later joined President Obama, fellow cabinet members, and other senior Administration officials at the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference. Every conversation we have underscores our trust responsibility with tribes–a responsibility that strengthens our government-to-government relationship.
Day in and day out, EPA is working side-by-side with tribal governments to make real progress in tribal communities. That’s why I’ve made launching a new era of EPA-tribal partnership one of my top priorities.
In my various meetings with tribes, we’ve talked about safeguarding sacred places and spaces that are at the heart of tribal custom and tradition. We’ve talked about improving air quality, knowing that more than 10% of Native American children suffer from asthma. We’ve discussed reducing pollution in our waters because access to safe drinking and fishing water, and headwaters, is critical to the health of Indian Country. We’ve also listened to calls to improve inter-agency efforts on a range of issues like dealing with solid waste, chemical-safety, radon, housing, and more.
Importantly, these conversations have been candid and frank. Honesty is the strength of our government-to-government relationship. It’s the core of our trust responsibility to Tribes.
I’m especially excited to continue our work with tribes on another priority for EPA—climate change. Tribes have long been leaders in mitigating and adapting to a changing climate because they see the impacts firsthand. Southwestern tribes like the Navajo see severe droughts affecting their crops and water supply. Coastal tribes are dealing with warming waters and changing weather patterns, affecting the fish and shellfish harvest. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw face increased frequency of superstorms, just like Northeastern communities felt during Hurricane Sandy.
It’s clear that our government-to-government relationship is as important as ever—and it’s why President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is so critical. The plan helps us cut carbon pollution, invest in clean energy, and waste less energy. Tribes understand that resilience also means preservation and protection of natural resources and sacred places. It’s about the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, and the health of the animals that graze tribal lands. It’s about making sure tribal communities’ voices are being heard.
Speaking on our commitment to tribes during the White House Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama said we are called “to keep strong the covenant between us—for this and future generations.” That’s the same motivation driving us to protect the health of our planet and all of our people—so our children and grandchildren will inherit clear air, clean water, and fertile soil upon which they too can flourish.
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