Nisqually Tribe takes lead in environmental stewardship

Chairman Cynthia Iyall of the Nisqually Indian Tribe in Washington state writes in Indian Country Today about her tribe’s environemental efforts.

In part, she stated: “Despite the occasional token outreach, the mainstream leadership of this country hasn’t looked our way too often for guidance. But a new wind suggests that is about to change.

When President Barack Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, he said we would no longer “take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted; but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share.”

Finally, someone’s been listening.

Ironically, on March 4, 2010, the Obama administration released a Roadmap for Restoring Ecosystem Resiliency and Sustainability on the Gulf Coast, specifically in Louisiana and Mississippi. The report emphasized the need for collaboration between the administration’s working group, the states, local governments – and tribes. . . .

Environmental stewardship means that we carefully consider the consequences of our actions on the world around us.

Environmental stewardship means consideration of our inaction, as well.

Nothing has changed for Indian country. Our relationship to the earth is not just our cultural heritage; it is part of our spirit and our being. . . .

My tribe, the Nisqually, will host a summit of Washington state tribal leaders in September with state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. We will talk about the state’s natural resource management and the tribes’ role in it.

Tribal leaders in other regions could take similar steps to build bridges and bring their voices back to the circle. Federal, state and local leaders coast-to-coast are in the mood to hear us, and they are seeking guidance. . . .

The Columbia River is a perfect example of why tribes should unite in defense of the environment. Underneath the vast reservoir of the Grand Coulee Dam lay Kettle Falls, the ancient fishing grounds and gathering spot for the Colville, Tulalip, Blackfoot, Nez Perce, Yakima, Flathead and Coeur d’Alene people.
To feed an increasing appetite for electricity, irrigation and navigation, dozens of dams were constructed against tribal appeals and warnings. More than a half century has passed and we all are still trying to nurture the salmon population to recovery. . . .

We recently made an agreement with the City of Olympia, Washington state’s capital, to re-open access to the headwaters of Medicine Creek, a historically spiritual site we call She-nah-num. We have also created unique inter-governmental partnerships with the state and our surrounding county to manage and maintain public parks.

It took the Nisqually tribe more than a decade working diligently with Ducks Unlimited and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore more than 900 acres in a nearby estuary. The tribe was also awarded $600,000 last month from the Environmental Protection Agency for research in the Nisqually Delta.

We are entrepreneurial while building a reputation for our environmental stewardship programs. On our reservation in Thurston County, Washington, the tribe has literally made the care and management of natural resources our business.

One of those businesses, Nisqually Aquatic Technologies, has been working with federal officials to clean derelict fishing gear and other debris from Puget Sound. In addition, NAT has created a certified oil-spill response team that uses state Department of Ecology equipment to tackle oil spills. . . .

The Nisqually people are proud of a heritage espousing environmental activism and stewardship not only as our cultural mission, but as a viable enterprise. Other sovereign tribes have similar opportunities.
Tribal members can get excited about these conservation projects and new enterprises because they fulfill the basic promises of stewardship that our ancestors made to us – and the promise we make to our children. Native American communities, our values and traditions, are finding a new sense of appreciation in the movement toward a greener future for the United States.”

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