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Report highlights tribal environmental successes
Monday, May 7, 2007
Filed Under: Environment

A new report from the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency highlights tribal successes in protecting the environment and natural resources.

Tribes face numerous barriers when they try to implement environmental programs, the report released this month said. The challenges include inadequate resources, complex legal issues and limited cooperation with other governments.

But the 14 tribes represented have succeeded by adopting innovative strategies, the report said. The tribes have developed partnerships, reached out to communities and leveraged their resources to develop programs to fit their needs.

"Innovation is a key variable for tribes to maximize the effectiveness of their programs," wrote DOI Inspector General Earl E. Devaney and EPA Inspector General Bill A. Roderick in the 42-page report.

DOI and EPA visited 14 tribes, from Maine to Alaska, to learn about their efforts. They found a diverse set of programs, such as wolf recovery by the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho and land restoration by the Wiyot Tribe of California.

With little funding, the Wiyot Tribe has raised money to purchase land on Island Island, the center of the Wiyot universe and the site of a massacre in 1860 that nearly wiped out the tribe. After community outreach efforts, the city of Eureka ended up donating 60 acres to the tribe.

"It was a historic occasion for the tribe as well as for the city of Eureka, which became one of a small number of cities in the United States to return a sacred site to indigenous people," the report said.

In addition to programs like waste management by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe of New York and water quality by the Penobscot Nation of Maine, DOI and EPA came across efforts in areas that aren't traditionally associated with the environment. For example, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has developed expertise in methamphetamine lab assessments.

Concerned about the meth epidemic nationwide, the tribe has learned to control the environmental and health risks associated with the drug. "The level of contamination found at a meth lab site depends on a number of factors, including the method used to produce meth, cooking duration, location, and ventilation," the report said.

Through its efforts, the tribe has educated the community about the dangers of meth and plans to conduct training sessions throughout Indian Country, the report said. The tribe's territory covers 14 counties in northeastern Oklahoma.

The Metlakatla Indian Community in Alaska also engages in unique efforts. Linking economic development to the environment, the tribe has opened a water bottling plant that supplies water to and plans to create a rock quarry.

"Our main goal is making sure that the community and island will be self-sustaining," a tribal member said for the report. "We have an abundance of resources and want to keep them."

The report, titled "Tribal Successes: Protecting the Environment and Natural Resources," was the first of its kind for DOI and EPA. The departments conducted site visits from January 2006 through November 2006 to learn more from the tribes about their programs.

Get the Report:
Tribal Successes: Protecting the Environment and Natural Resources (May 2007)

Relevant Links:
Department of the Interior -
Environmental Protection Agency -

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Opinion: Living in harmony with Mother Earth (04/13)
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