The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) supports a number of local community initiatives to encourage public involvement in decisions regarding environmental waste management and remediation. Native American tribal communities, in most cases, operate as sovereign nations, and thus have jurisdiction over environmental management on their lands. This paper provides examples of initiatives addressing Native American concerns about past radioactive waste management practices — one addresses uranium mining wastes in the Western United States and the other, environmental contamination in Alaska.
These two projects involve the community in radioactive waste management decision-making by encouraging them to articulate their concerns and observations; soliciting their recommended solutions; and facilitating leadership within the community by involving local tribal governments, individuals, scientists and educators in the project. Frequently, a community organization, such as a local college or Native American organization, is selected to manage the project due to their cultural knowledge and acceptance within the community.
It should be noted that U.S. EPA, consistent with Federal requirements, respects Indian tribal self-government and supports tribal sovereignty and self-determination. For this reason, in the projects and initiatives described in the presentation, the U.S. EPA is involved at the behest and approval of Native American tribal governments and community organizations. Objectives of the activities described in this presentation are to equip Native American communities with the skills and resources to assess and resolve environmental problems on their lands.
Some of the key outcomes of these projects include:
• Training teachers of Navajo Indian students to provide lessons about radiation and uranium mining in their communities. Teachers will use problem-based education, which allows students to connect the subject of learning with real-world issues and concerns of their community. Teachers are encouraged to utilize members of the community and to conduct field trips to make the material as relevant to the students.
• Creating an interactive database that combines scientific and technical data from peer-reviewed literature along with complementary Native American community environmental observations.
• Developing educational materials that meet the national science standards for education and also incorporate Native American culture, language, and history. The use of both Native American and Western (Euro-American) educational concepts serve to reinforce learning and support cultural identity.
The two projects adopt approaches that are tailored to encourage the participation of, and leadership from, Native American communities to guide environmental waste management and remediation on their lands. These initiatives are consistent with the government-to-government relationship between Native American tribes and the U.S. government and support the principle that tribes are empowered to exercise their own decision-making authority with respect to their lands.