©2002 Environmental Education Outreach Program & Northern Arizona University
Chapter 1, Section 4:
Over the centuries our ancestors watched the tribal lands diminish. Today, tribal land are reduced to small islands surrounded by federal, state and private claims. This loss was not our doing. For thousands of years we were the only stewards of this whole continent—caretakers of its resources—but our portion today is reduced. Should our generation focus upon our losses and the past, or upon our duty to the present and the future? Our responsibility ought not be less because there are fewer acres to protect. The following maps depict the chronology of the loss of American Indian lands.
In fact, we must be even more alert and energetic precisely because so little natural landscape remains. Much land in tribal control has already been despoiled, and contamination will continue to occur where weak vigilance permits it. Land is not lost merely to conquest. Land can also be lost to hazardous dumping, over grazing, reckless mining, cutting too much timber, channeling in arroyos, aquifer depletion and smokestack pollution. We must be watchful.
As tribal elders and leaders you perform important traditional functions that require one set of skills. You rely on another set of skills in your role as leaders of a business: the tribal political and economic enterprise. As political leaders, you are responsible for the health and welfare of your people, including its homeland. Sound environmental policies are not merely designed to satisfy federal authorities or to clean up ugly messes. The first goal of sensible tribal environmental policies must be the desire to improve individual and community health and well-being. This is why you serve: to improve the lives of your people. Clean air not only helps children develop good lungs, it makes it possible for elders to pray while viewing familiar sacred landmarks on the distant horizon. Physical health and spiritual well-being are at the heart of environmental consciousness. Your job is to create and implement policies that serve these goals.
Tribal leadership must also protect and cultivate the community’s heritage and rights while preparing the next generation for its turn at leadership. The tribe’s businesses need knowledgeable, qualified professionals to manage resources and to expand effective control over its territory. There is no place our people can move; the tribes are not going anywhere. We have been left with a very small land base, and it is the extent of our domain. We can regret our losses and look only backwards. But as leaders, our responsibility is to look forward and to protect what we have for future generations. We start that process by guiding and supporting our young people to choose environmental careers that respect our traditions and spirituality.
As a counselor to your tribe’s youth and their families, you may teach reverence and observance of traditional ways. Some may choose to conduct their lives entirely in the old manner. But many in the tribe have other appetites; they long to prosper materially and to educate their children for the new era. Like the wind, economic forces blow from far away and cannot be stopped. Tribal youth can be trained in many skills, including the traditional reverence for natural harmony as well as expertise in modern science.
Our homeland has been changed and problems fester on the landscape. Water is under threat, foreign plants spread like wildfire across the countryside, hazardous trash has been heaped in our neighborhoods and whole families of Earth’s creatures are dying out. We lost control of our land but now is the time for recovery. The environment is endangered and the people wish to assert their sovereignty and administer and restore balance to the old homeland. Educated tribal professionals are necessary to deal with pollution and other environmental issues and to restore balance to our land. Tribal environmental professionals are needed.
Long-range tribal environmental policies are also needed. Your tribe may already have economic policies and policies on tourism or gaming. But many tribes have postponed making environmental policy. Well-made plans yield the best results, and policy is the flower that produces fruitful plans. Your young people cannot know their tribe’s intentions for its land and resources if no policy exists. Your neighbors and adversaries also need to know your tribe’s guiding environmental principles and strategies for resource management. Now is the time for tribal leaders to counsel among themselves and to question their members in order to create clear and specific environmental policies for their communities.
The newly elevated status of American Indian voices in the national councils that debate and administer environmental policy requires us to provide worthy environmental ambassadors. At home, these educated ambassadors become valuable resources for the tribe; leaders and planners who respect the old ways yet also comprehend the new.
There are a number of things you can do to increase the number of students who become tribal environmental specialists. Stronger community awareness of the need for such students creates a supportive atmosphere for classroom learning and academic success. At home, families provide encouragement for learning the sciences, time for study and respect for achievement. Tribal support of educational programs in the schools can provide instructional tools and resources that will motivate and empower young students and their teachers. The community’s preparation of these students for training should address college education as a brief but important apprenticeship that is served away from home.
There are many options for American Indian students who choose to go to college and there are schools in the Southwest that offer environmental technical training or baccalaureate and advanced degrees in the environmental sciences and engineering. Chapter 4 identifies Arizona’s college environmental education programs.
Financial support for college is among our students’ greatest needs. College life can be very demanding and studying can consume many hours. Worry about the rent or about next week’s groceries or other basic expenses can shake the student’s focus. There are many sources of financial aid, but the competition for the dollars is very great. You will find scholarship and loan information in Chapter 5 of this manual, but tribal scholarships are the best guarantee that children from your community will be able to undertake a college course of study. Establishing tribal environmental scholarships should be a goal for all of Arizona’s American Indian peoples.
The environmental professionals currently employed by each of Arizona’s tribes are listed in Chapter 3 of this manual. The tribes have made a worthy start toward managing their own resources. Future generations will look back on this era and say, "This is when the tribes awoke.” This generation of tribal leaders has taken the American Indian voice into the mainstream of U.S. culture. Tribal advocates have won notable victories in the law courts, at the ballot box and in the court of public opinion that have begun to restore status and dignity to our communities. Tribal governments are strong and growing stronger; the definition of sovereignty is expanding. In the last twenty years we have done a good job of increasing our own awareness and that of the European-American majority. We must now make way for a new generation of American Indian problem solvers: engineers, lawyers, chemists, hydrologists and other educated warriors who can lead our campaign for self-determination to a new level. The decisions you make will determine how well prepared these new warriors will be.
Last updated: May 26, 2005