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Native Sun News: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe hosts summit

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Cheyenne River Sioux to host land and water management event
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

EAGLE BUTTE – Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Kevin Keckler is slated to deliver the welcoming address on May 20 at a five-day series of talks, films and festivities designed to inspire sustainable land and water management.

The grassroots community leaders in charge of the events say they are hoping to cast the 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation as a ground-zero for creating an environment that promotes improved health, nutrition, and wellness.

“We’re deeply honored to be hosting this special two-day event,” said Julie Garreau, executive director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project, which is holding the “Land + Water = Food” Summit, May 20 -21, at its Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center on East Lincoln Street. The Mni Indigenous Water Summit will follow, on May 22-24 at Cheyenne-Eagle Butte High School, thanks to additional support from the Seventh Generation Fund, the tribal government and individual donors.

At both summits, sixth generation Lakota rancher Todd Mortenson, from the Cheyenne River Indian Tribe, will explain the award-winning, holistic range management practice and micro dam project his family has undertaken to halt erosion, rejuvenate the Missouri River breaks, and boost profits on their cattle ranch near Hayes.

Mortenson, who employs the Allan Savory method of livestock grazing rotation, will be joined on the program by other water conservation experts advocating micro dam construction for habitat restoration. Included among them are Goldman Environmental Prize-winning hydrologist Michal Kravcik from Slovakia and Arizona rancher Valer Austin.

On the program for both summits, Kravcik garnered the coveted international prize for environmental activism in 2009 with his Blue Alternative, which provided a water supply option to the Slovakian government. In lieu of its initial idea of displacing four 700-year-old villages with a large dam and reservoir, he created a network of small dams for 35 ponds or micro basins, restoring agriculture while protecting the traditional hamlets and wetlands.

Kravcik and his team at Ludia a Voda (People and Water) visited the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in 2012, drafting and presenting a similar proposal for funding through the Tribal Equitable Compensation Act (TECA). The act provides federal compensation for some 525 families forced to relocate from the Old Cheyenne River Agency because of Missouri River dam building.

The Cheyenne River Tribal Council members, seated as the interim TECA board with authority to disburse more than $430 million, rejected the $3-million Phase I of the overall $24-million jobs-and-conservation proposal. The package, envisioned for a five- to 10-year period was submitted by the Zintkala Luzahan Community at Swift Bird on the reservation.

However, the council voted to back the water summit, directing tribal program members and individual tribal members to budget and solicit funds for the upcoming event.

The private, non-profit Cheyenne River Youth Project garnered the funding for Kravcik to make a return visit, thanks to South Dakota State University staffer Marcella Gilbert, a tribal member.

On May 23 speaker Valer Austin, co-founder of the non-profit Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO) Foundation high in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona will explain her U.S.-Mexico conservation project. The septuagenarian rancher has been working feverishly for 30 years to replenish the headwaters of the Yaqui River by building thousands of small dams that benefit the Yaqui Tribe at the mouth of the river.

Austin has forged links with 25 organizations in the Yaqui-Gila Watershed. “The river is dry because everybody’s taking water out. We’re putting water in,” Austin told Native Sun News.

Marcella Gilbert of South Dakota State University, who organized the first two days of summit programs, holds a master’s degree in nutrition, which she has applied to the events.

“For 10 years or more, I’ve been interested in healthy diets, especially native diets,” said Gilbert, who was born and raised on the Cheyenne River Reservation. “Last September, I moved home and started working as an SDSU extension agent. I learned a lot about organic food at a conference in Sioux Falls, and I thought we should do something like that here.

“I really wanted to reach my own community,” she continued. “As isolated as this reservation is, immediate needs come first. I knew people were interested, so I wanted to provide an opportunity for them to come and learn more about these issues.”

Gilbert secured funding from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the Intertribal Agriculture Council and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Commission. The 4-H Foundation provided funding for the event’s youth component.

Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. on May 20 and continues throughout the day. Zach Ducheneaux of the Intertribal Agricultural Council will speak about economic self-sufficiency through farming and ranching. Breakout sessions, which begin at 9:45 a.m., will include “Growing Food in High Tunnels” by Geoffrey Njue, “Benefits of Rotational Grazing” by Pat Guptill, and “Indigenous Diet and Disease” by Marcella Gilbert and Linda Bishop.

The next set of sessions starts at 11 a.m. Topics include “Tribal Grass-Fed Beef Project” by Dr. Jim Garrett, “Climate Trends” by Laura Edwards, and “Farmers Markets” by Geoffrey Njue. While the group has lunch at 12 p.m. in Cokata Wiconi’s Keya Cafe, Todd Mortenson will speak about land recovery. Two tracks of breakout sessions start at 1:15 p.m. They include “Thunder Valley Development Corp. Inc.” by Andrew Iron Shell, CRST Land Operations’ “Understanding Tribal Leases,” “No-Till Farming” by Frank Kutka, “Hobby Beekeeping” by Ellen Conroy of the Black Hills Wannabees, and “Threats to Land” by Kandi Mosset of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

The day’s events will wrap up with a showing of the 2009 feature-length documentary “H2Oil” on Cokata Wiconi’s big screen.

On May 21, all-day registration will start at 7:30 a.m., and a morning prayer will take place at 8 a.m. The morning keynote address will be delivered by Phyllis Young, a tribal councilwoman for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; after her address, Kravcik will discuss his “Blue Alternative” at 9:15 a.m.

During lunch at 11:30 a.m., participants will hear a presentation about the differences between organically grown foods and genetically modified foods. After that, they may join two tracks of breakout sessions. These include “Water in Permaculture Design” by Tasi Livermont, “Blue Alternative” by Michal Kravcik, “Cooped Up: A Q&A About Keeping Hens” by Margaret Bad Warrior, “The Value of Tap Water” by CRST Tri-County Water, “Water Ecology” by Margaret Bad Warrior, and “Threats to Water” by Mosset.

The two-day summit will conclude with the 2009 documentary “Tapped,” which deals with the bottled-water industry.

A youth-track agenda will run from 10:30 a.m. to the evening hours on both days of the summit.

“We expect that our youth participants will have an opportunity to learn about vermicomposting, aviaries, raising chickens, plant medicine, wildlife conservation, medicinal creations, watershed health and so much more,” Gilbert said. Activities will include team-building exercises, archery, a fitness challenge, a hand-drum competition, a viewing of the popular 2004 documentary film “Supersize Me” on Cokata Wiconi’s big screen, and an outdoor concert featuring the band Scatter Their Own from Pine Ridge.

Mosset and Bishop will also speak during the Water Summit, along with other featured participants, including Waziyata Win, Debra White Plume, Nina Wasté, and Clarita Left Hand Begay. They will address water safety, security and sovereignty, as well as indigenous unity to promote climate justice and sustainability, according to organizer Candace Ducheneaux.

“If we bring back our ecosystems, we can bring back our people,” she told the Native Sun News.

Meals, lodging, drinking water, showers and inipi will be available at the water summit. For more information on it, contact Ducheneaux at candacedx@yahoo.com or (605) 733-2148.

To learn more about the “Land + Water = Food” Summit, contact Marcella Gilbert at 605-964-4955 or marcella.gilbert@sdstate.edu and Donita Fischer at the Intertribal Agriculture Council at 605-964-8320. The summit’s Facebook community at Land+Water=Food provides a link for online registration.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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