Environmental Warriors Unite: The 2023 Tribal Lands and Environment Forum
Syracuse, NY – August 17, 2023
In a world grappling with climate change and pollution, the resilience of Tribal communities across Indian Country shines as a beacon of hope. Battling environmental challenges that cast long shadows over their people, tribal communities are taking a stand, forging local and federal partnerships, and becoming advocates for change nationwide.
Last week, the vibrant city of Syracuse, New York, hosted the 2023 Tribal Lands and Environment Forum (TLEF). This momentous gathering brought together Indigenous leaders, environmental experts, and policymakers from the vast tapestry of Indian Country. These diverse voices exchanged ideas and solutions for an entire week, united under ecological stewardship.
TLEF was a collaborative endeavor masterfully orchestrated by the Institute for Tribal Environment Professionals (ITEP), the Tribal Waste and Response Steering Committee (TWAR SC), and the US EPA's Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM). This event served as a critical platform for addressing pressing issues plaguing Tribal communities, including the insidious scourge of environmental racism. It ignited a robust dialogue aimed at crafting sustainable solutions for future generations.
From August 14th to the 17th, the Marriott Syracuse Downtown Hotel was the epicenter of this dynamic gathering. Here, the emphasis was on strengthening the bonds of kinship among Tribal nations and exploring innovative avenues of environmental activism. The forum's overarching mission was clear - cultivating a space of understanding, cooperation, and collective action.
The 2023 TLEF was a cornucopia of insightful discussions, engaging plenary addresses, invaluable networking opportunities, and active community participation. The program boasted an impressive array of breakout sessions and workshops. Topics ranged from emergency management and climate adaptation to the fine art of grant writing, conservation efforts, and Indigenous rights. Esteemed speakers, including Tribal leaders and seasoned environmental activists, graced the stage, delivering inspiring plenary addresses and shedding light on the complex challenges and opportunities at the nexus of Tribal lands and environmental sustainability.
Water Program Manager Crystal Keys from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Oklahoma shared her enthusiasm for the event, particularly singling out a compelling breakout session on data sovereignty. She remarked, "The sessions have been so informative, and the forum is a great space to discuss our environmental issues with other Tribes to find resolutions for our challenges."
As the relentless march of climate change and the specter of environmental disasters loom ever more prominent, the need for swift and dependable emergency messaging has become paramount for Tribal communities. In a strategic partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Native Public Media (NPM) unveiled groundbreaking technology to bolster emergency response preparedness. Their presentation spotlighted the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the Emergency Alert System (EAS), and NPM's ambitious goal of instituting a national Event Code to combat the tragic epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
NPM is spearheading a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a national event code for Missing and Endangered Persons (MEP). Much like the well-known AMBER alert, this event code would deliver vital alerts across radio, television, and the internet, reaching many communities when an individual goes missing, with the overarching aim of ensuring the safety of the disappeared person. Astonishingly, there currently needs to be a national event code for missing and endangered adults, underscoring the urgency of NPM's initiative. While several states have taken it upon themselves to establish event codes to address this gap, there needs to be a unified national protocol in place.
The 2023 TLEF was not just an event; it was a rallying cry, a call to action, and a testament to the unwavering commitment of Tribal communities to protect and safeguard their peoples, lands, and the environment for generations to come. As the forum concluded, it left an indelible mark, inspiring hope, and determination in the hearts of all who attended, ensuring that the fight against environmental challenges continues more vital than ever.