Every summer my family would take a vacation to a small town in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior to visit my great aunt. My great aunt would love to take us to visit the Red Cliff Reservation just outside her town. It’s not every day you meet someone who is familiar with this area, but Dolly Tong is. She has even done a dumpster dive there! I sat down with her to learn more about her position at the EPA.
What is your position at the EPA?
I am the Regional Tribal Solid Waste and Pollution Prevention Coordinator. I work with the 35 federally-recognized tribes in our Region to manage waste issues.
Do you have prior work experiences that lead you to the EPA?
No, but I started as an intern at the EPA in what was called the Technology Transfer Program back then. This eventually evolved into EPA’s Pollution Prevention Program which I have been involved with over many years.
What is a typical day like for you?
I work with a team to assist tribes in whatever waste management issue comes up, and analyze what kinds of technical assistance we can provide to tribes over the long term. I also communicate as a liaison for other tribal solid waste coordinators in the other EPA Regions with Headquarters to address national tribal waste issues. I oversee two part-time Senior Environmental Employees’ work and monitor their work status.
Sometimes I get to do field work on tribal reservations as well. This is the most interesting part of my job. We have done dumpster dives with tribes and visited their recycling facilities and household hazardous waste collection events. When you visit tribal reservations, you can better understand what the tribes are doing, what they need, and how you can help.
What is the best part of your job?
Because EPA has a direct government-to-government working relationship with federally-recognized Indian tribes, I feel like my work directly impacts tribal communities. It is great to see the positive impacts with the work you do and see the immediate results. In addition, at the EPA we are encouraged to be creative and think of solutions on our own. If you think something is workable, you can try it. I like the independence and creativity.
Did you always have an interest in the environment?
Yes. When I was little, the other kids used to call me “nature freak.” I just loved animals and nature. My whole family was actually like that as well.
What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?
I majored in Environmental Studies, which was a multidisciplinary program. I took advantage of a variety of classes, to get a feel for what interested me. I wish I could have taken classes on Native American Law.
Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?
It is important not to use so much stuff or buy a lot of things. Everything you purchase has an impact on the environment because of all the pollution that comes from the extraction of materials, manufacturing, and transportation to bring you the finished product. Using less has a direct impact on avoiding the generation of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.
It is really important to learn about community based social marketing to promote sustainable behaviors in people. It is more than just handing out flyers to get people to change their ways. We need more people to learn how to apply community-based social marketing techniques to get to the root causes of why people don’t practice certain sustainable behaviors, and come up with effective ways to encourage positive behaviors that are better for the environment.
Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.