First Tribal Leaders Dialogue On America's Great Outdoors
by Tessa Lehto,
Thursday. August 5th
Prior Lake, MN – The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community hosted the first Tribal Leaders’ Dialogue on America’s Great Outdoors on Wednesday, August 4, 2010.
Senior Obama Administration official Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, along with undersecretaries from the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Council on Environmental Quality gathered to listen to tribal leaders from around the region at a meeting hosted by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Chairman Stanley R. Crooks welcomed everyone to this historic meeting, held at the Playworks LINK Event Center on the SMSC reservation.
President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum April 16, 2010, establishing the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to promote and support innovative community-level efforts to conserve outdoor spaces and to reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
The Presidential Memorandum calls on the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality to lead the Initiative, in coordination with the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation, Education, and the Office of Management and Budget.
The Initiative will support a 21st century conservation agenda that builds on successes in communities across the country, and will start a national dialogue about conservation that supports the efforts of private citizens and local communities.
“Listening sessions are being held all around the country, but this is the first time they have talked and listened to tribal leaders on this topic. President Obama has said that he would deal with tribes on a nation to nation basis, and this meeting was a good example of that. We appreciate that he is keeping his word. We need to be consulted on programs and policies that impact Indian Country,” said Chairman Crooks after the meeting.
Nancy Sutley (Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality), Will Shafroth (Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior – Fish, Wildlife, and Parks), and Harris Sherman (Under Secretary of Agriculture) joined Jackson participating in the meeting. Del Laverdure, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior – Indian Affairs, was the moderator for the discussion which featured leaders and representatives from 13 Midwestern tribes. Staff members from each of the government offices also participated.
After introductions of each tribal leader and government official, brief opening remarks were made by each of the senior government staff.
Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA, said, “We have to protect our water, our land, and our air. Strengthening tribal leadership is a priority of consultation. Let us know how we can do better.”
Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley said, “The President has made it very clear to all of us the importance of this government to government relationship with tribes.” She continued, “The outdoors are important for our rest, enjoyment, and spiritual fulfillment. We are pleased to be here to hear from you.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior – Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Will Shafroth sent greetings from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar who was in Houston, Texas, overseeing the BP oil spill capping efforts. Shafroth said, “We’re here to listen.”
Under Secretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman representing Secretary Tom Vilsack talked about the expectation President Obama has of the group to prepare a report on the listening sessions with recommendations. “We anticipate significant changes in how we do things (in the future),” he said.
The tribal leaders then were invited to talk about the challenges and solutions that surround land and cultural management issues in Indian Country. They talked about some of their programs which have been successful and some of the challenges they face.
Chairman Crooks talked about some of the “green” initiatives that the SMSC has currently underway: the wind turbine, the Water Reclamation Facility, prairie restoration, and water monitoring, to name a few, as the SMSC continues to shepherd the land.
The consensus among tribal leaders was that maintaining natural resources is important to the preservation of culture and that tribes know what they need to do. They just need resources, infrastructure, and support to carry out these ideas. Effective partnerships between tribal, federal, and state officials is instrumental to protecting tribal lands for future generations, many of them said.
Tribal leaders talked about conservation efforts; cultural preservation and sacred sites; water rights issues and conservation; identification, management, and protection of natural resources; land trust issues; tourism; and hunting/fishing.
Specific successes mentioned included Community gardening projects, stocking lakes, planting trees, capacity development of staff, and the support of the EPA Region 5 office. Challenges mentioned included vandalism, law enforcement issues, impacts of global warming, infrastructure, impediments put in place by federal law, and funding.
“Our natural resources are tied to our cultural resources. We’re doing our part, but we expect help. We can’t survive budget cuts,” said Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver.
Tribal representatives were from the SMSC, the Red Lake Nation, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, St. Croix Chippewa Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Ho-Chunk Nation, Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Menominee Tribe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Lac Courte Oreilles, Grand Portage Band of Chippewa, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
SMSC Chairman Stanley R. Crooks had the final words. “You need to listen to Indian Country. We appreciate that you’re out here. For true self-determination, Tribes need land bases, traditions, culture, and economic resources. Indian Country expects the U.S. government to live up to its treaty obligations for the health, education, and welfare of Indian people. And there was nothing about ‘if there’s room in the budget’ in those treaties. President Obama has told us that Indian Country has always been underfunded. We hold him to that acknowledgement.”
About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux CommunityThe SMSC utilizes its financial resources from gaming and non-gaming enterprises to pay for all of the internal infrastructure of the Tribe, including but not limited to roads, water and sewer systems, emergency services, and essential services to its Tribal members in education, health, and welfare. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has a charitable giving program which comes from a cultural and social tradition to assist those in need.
Over the past 13 years, the SMSC has donated more than $180.8 million to charitable organizations and Indian Tribes and Native American organizations. Since 1996 the SMSC paid more than $6.6 million for shared local road construction projects and an additional $5 million for road projects on the reservation.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a federally recognized Indian Tribe in Minnesota, is the owner and operator of Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, Little Six Casino, Playworks, Dakotah! Sport and Fitness, The Meadows at Mystic Lake, and other enterprises on a reservation south of the Twin Cities.
This press release and other information may be downloaded from the SMSC website at http://www.shakopeedakota.org/.
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