Forum Opens a National Conversation on Tribal Land and Water Resources
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (August 22, 2019) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded the 9th annual Tribal Lands and Environment Forum (TLEF) in Palm Springs, California continuing the important dialogue with our tribal partners on land and water resource management. The TLEF is an annual conference co-hosted by EPA and the Northern Arizona University/Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP). More than 550 people attended this year’s conference, including more than 390 tribal professionals representing nearly 160 tribal nations, as well as representatives from federal and state government, academia, nonprofits, industry, and other partners.
“Continuing to work with our tribal partners to ensure they have the resources and expertise necessary to protect human health and the environment on tribal lands is an important part of EPA’s core mission,” said Peter Wright, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management. “We are proud to co-host this annual technical training opportunity for tribal governments to build capacity and share best practices that support the successful environmental programs in their communities.”
“This is my first time attending TLEF and I am very impressed with the presentations and important dialog we’re having here,” remarked Scott Mason, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and EPA’s new Director for the American Indian Environmental Office. “I appreciate this opportunity for EPA and tribal environmental leaders to build stronger working relationships.”
The conference theme was “A National Conversation on Tribal Land and Water Resources.” Topics highlighted at the conference included solid/hazardous waste management, Brownfields, underground storage tanks, Superfund sites, and emergency response. The conference also highlighted various water topics including water quality issues, drinking water, and habitat restoration (wetlands, streams and fisheries).
“It’s unique how people from all walks of life - from EPA employees in Washington DC to staff from remote tribes - are getting together to talk about how to protect Mother Earth,” said David Toledo, Governor of Pueblo of Jemez. “It’s such a positive environment here. We came together as strangers but because we have similar issues, this is a great opportunity to become friends, to talk and collaborate and address our important environmental issues today.”
“We really enjoyed the Opening Plenary as it set the tone for the 2019 TLEF, said Rebecca Stevens, Tribal Waste and Response Steering Committee Vice Chair. “We get so wrapped up in the technical details of our work that sometimes we lose sight of our spiritual connection to the work we do for tribes in Indian country and Alaska Native Villages. We truly appreciated the Agua Caliente Tribe for sharing the cultural significance of their bird songs and for hosting this year’s TLEF. It really brought all of us together and we felt as one.”
“Our grandparents have been scientists for a long time and the TLEF offers a chance to share some of their knowledge and advice with EPA so that when EPA initiates or implements regulations, they have an understanding and appreciation of the need for tribal input,” said Ronnie Ben, Navajo Nation and National Tribal Caucus member. “I’m here to continue to educate key decision-makers and to involve our tribal leadership so that everyone understands the importance of these environmental issues.”
The TLEF is a vehicle for EPA to train and engage our tribal partners, as well as other federal, state and local governments, on effective implementation of EPA’s land cleanup, emergency response, and water programs in Indian country. The TLEF continues to serve as an important opportunity for the agency to share information and best practices as we collaborate to protect human health and the environment in tribal communities.