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Bridging Indigenous and Traditional Scientific Approaches:
Background

The U.S. EPA (EPA) has established grants to operate these two projects through non-governmental organizations that work with Native communities on education, training, and research initiatives. The educational partnerships are consistent with the goals established by the National Environmental Education Act of 1990. This Act establishes that the Federal government, and specifically the EPA, will work with other organizations to increase understanding of the natural and built environment to improve awareness of environmental problems and to encourage post-secondary students to pursue careers related to the environment.

The goal of the Traditional Knowledge and Radionuclides Project is to help Alaska Native communities identify and address their concerns about radionuclides, other types of contamination, and adverse changes in their environment. The arctic and sub-arctic climate and geography of Alaska is home to 227 Aleut, Eskimo and Indian Tribes. Since the environment sustains and informs their lives, spirits, cultures and economies, environmental contamination has far reaching effects on the Alaska Native traditional way of life.

The Traditional Knowledge and Radionuclides Project is a joint effort among two EPA program offices, the University of Alaska's Institute of Social and Economic Research and the Alaska Native Science Commission. In October 1993, The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Annual Convention, passed a unanimous resolution to support the creation of an Alaska Native Science Commission (ANSC). The ANSC is an independent organization designed to provide the primary link between the scientific community and the Alaska Native community. The mission of the ANSC is to endorse and support scientific research that enhances and perpetuates Alaska Native cultures, and ensures the protection of indigenous cultures and intellectual property. More information can be found on the Web at: www.ankn.uaf.edu.

The goal of the Uranium and Radiation Education Project is to develop curricular materials and conduct K-12 teacher workshops that will explain the principles of radiation science, risk assessment, and how to identify and mitigate health impacts of uranium mining and radiation. The Navajo Nation is heavily impacted by uranium mining. There are more than 1,100 abandoned mines on Navajo lands, and more than half of them are still unreclaimed. With this information, the communities will be equipped to guide decisions that effect their environment and health, whether it is clean-up of mine sites or decisions regarding future mining activities.

The Uranium and Radiation Education Outreach (UREO) project is a joint initiative by the Environmental Education Outreach Program (EEOP) at Northern Arizona University and the Uranium Education Project (UEP) at Dine College. The goal of the EEOP is to strengthen environmental studies in schools and communities, as well as to encourage collaboration between educators of Native American students and tribal environmental professionals. Similarly, the UEP implements programs to address radiation and health issues caused by former uranium mining and milling operations on Navajo lands. Both organizations have complementary missions and experience to effectively reach Navajo communities and educators. The UREO Web page address is: www4.nau.edu/eeop/ureo.

This project evolved out of Navajo community concerns about contamination from the mines and a need for better information and education. As stated earlier, uranium miners, millers, truckers, their families, and residents near the sites are learning that they may have been exposed to radioactive contaminants without their knowledge and with no warning. Many attribute the cancer deaths and lung disease to these exposures. Health studies to investigate this are underway. Communities are also concerned about contamination of water sources from mining activities, as well as the use of mine waste in the construction of building structures. Community education is one tactic, in addition to site reclaimation, by which it is hoped that the mine hazards can be reduced and prevented.

Both projects are consistent with the guiding principles of inclusive science, community right-to-know, and stewardship. Following, are examples of how these principles will be applied. The inclusive science principle brings the full range of relevant disciplines and viewpoints to bear in research to important issues of public policy. This principle will be applied as Alaska Native communities share environmental observations and findings with Arctic scientists, thereby strengthening the knowledge base for all. At the same time that Native communities learn from Western scientists, the scientists will be informed by the observations and approaches offered by the communities, in return. The Right-to-Know principle will be applied in the Uranium and Radiation Education Project as students and communities receive educational information on radiation and uranium mining. People have the right-to-know about environmental concerns that affect their communities. Stewardship applies as communities are empowered with information resources to make decisions and take action that will affect the status of the environment and public health for future generations.

			
			

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Last updated: April 4, 2002

          

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestor, we borrow it from our children”
Native American Proverb