On April 21, President Biden signed an executive order to revitalize our nation’s commitment to environmental justice for all.
“President Biden and Vice President Harris believe that every person has a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy community – now and into the future,” stated The White House. “For far too long, communities across our country have faced persistent environmental injustice through toxic pollution, underinvestment in infrastructure and critical services, and other disproportionate environmental harms often due to a legacy of racial discrimination.
“These communities with environmental justice concerns face even greater burdens due to climate change.
“With this action, the President is working to ensure that all people – regardless or face, background, income, ability, Tribal affiliation, or zip code – can benefit from vital safeguards enshrined in our nation’s foundational environmental and civil rights laws.”
The Executive Order recognizes that “racism is a fundamental driver of environmental injustice.
“The Executive Order also underscores the vital importance of Tribal consultation and coordination, including to strengthen nation-to-nation relationships on issues involving environmental justice.”
Regarding respecting and elevating Indigenous knowledge:
“The Biden-Harris Administration has formally recognized Indigenous Knowledge as one of the many important bodies of knowledge that contributes to the scientific, technical, social, and economic advancements of the United States and our collective understanding of the natural world.
“The White House engaged more than a thousand individuals, organizations, and Tribal Nations to develop guidance on elevating Indigenous Knowledge in federal research, policy, and decision-making.”
The term “Environmental Justice” (EJ) is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”
For Native Americans such “environmental justice” is long overdue, which is why it is the theme of this year’s Running Strong for American Indian Youth® 10 Dreamstarters® who are using their $20,000 Dreamstarter® grants over the course of the next 12 months to address the “environmental injustices” faced by tribal communities for generations.
For many years, the EPA’s tribal program and environmental justice programs focused on helping federally recognized tribes develop their own environmental programs.
“Since the creation of the EPA’s EJ program in 1992, EPA understood the need to work with both federally recognized tribes and all other indigenous peoples to effectively provide for environmental and public health protection in Indian Country and in areas of interest to tribes and other indigenous peoples,” the EPA states.
In 2014, the EPA completed its “Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples” which explains how the agency works with tribes to protect the environment and public health in Indian Country.
“This policy acknowledges our need to focus more closely on environmental justice issues as they pertain to tribal governments and all other indigenous peoples and communities,” stated then-EPA administrator Gina McCarthy at the time of its release.
Nearly a decade later, many tribes have been working to meet the challenges posed by the changing climate, The New York Times reported October 2021. The tribes have expressed hope that their concerns would be addressed by President Biden who appointed Deb Haaland, the first indigenous cabinet secretary, to head the Interior Department.
“The stakes are very, very high,” the Times quoted National Congress of American Indians president Fawn Sharp. “We’re running out of time.”
That’s something our Running Strong 2023 Dreamstarters® are not only very aware of but are working to change in their tribal communities throughout Indian Country.
Among them are:
Cruz Collin (Oglala Lakota), 19, of Florence, Alabama, who is working to build and test a modified solar technology that is sustainably produced and is not environmentally harmful in its disposal and is also cost effective and produces more electricity than current solar panels.
“It is my dream to help Indigenous Peoples lead the world toward a sustainable future through the implementation of our sciences and traditional knowledge,” says Cruz. “This design will help strengthen tribal sovereignty.”
Autumn Harry (Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe), 30, of Nixon, Nevada, whose project is to strengthen and support ongoing environmental justice initiatives within the Great Basin.
“Numu, Wasiw, and Newe homelands are continually threatened by water theft, urban sprawl, and the mining industry,” said Autumn. “My dream for my community is for our future generations to have access to clean, healthy water and for our Numu lifeways to be maintained.”
Noah Proctor (Piscataway Conoy Tribe), 22, of Clinton, Maryland, whose project is to create a community garden to address hunger in his tribal community while educating youth about agriculture, ecology, and nutrition, with an emphasis on Native knowledge and modern green agriculture.
“Through hands-on farming and food preparation activities, children and teens will learn about Piscataway history, farming methods, and food,” said Noah. “They will be empowered to become the next generation of agriculturalists promoting conservation, food sovereignty, and respect for Mother Earth.”
Loren Waters, (Cherokee Nation), 27, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, whose project is to bring awareness to the Tar Creek Superfund site cleanup in northeastern Oklahoma, declared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “as one of the most toxic areas in the United States.”
“The Dreamstarter grant will support a two-part project that will bring together Indigenous environmental activists for a weekend of environmental film screenings, knowledge sharing and community events,” said Loren.
“U.S. government officials have designated Tar Creek as ‘irreversibly damaged,’” but the Executive Director of Local Environmental Action Demanded Agency (her mentor organization), Rebecca Jim, refuses to accept that.
“The ᏗᏂᏠᎯ ᎤᏪᏯ Project (Meet Me At The Creek Project) is needed because I believe that it will bring hope and inspiration into our community.”
All of our 2023 Dreamstarters® have big hopes and dreams to create solutions to environmental injustices and heal tribal lands, and thanks to the supporters of Running Strong from across the country, they are certain to succeed and bring forward the justice they are seeking.