Officials with the Department of the Interior presented seven area tribes, including the Ottawa Tribe, with an Award for Tribal Excellence in Conservation for their effort in creating a Tribal Apprenticeship Program. It was the first award of its kind.
(PICTURED: Suzanne Dunn, left, with the Fish & Wildlife Service, and Amy Lueders (FWS South West Regional Director), present Ottawa Tribe Environmental Director Cheryl Stafford and Environmental Assistant Lori Bailey with the Tribal Excellence Award Thursday, Sept. 15 at the Intertribal Council building in Miami, Okla.).
The tribes accepting the award included the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma, Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Seneca-Cayuga Nation, and the Wyandotte Nation.
Over the past 20 years, the Tar Creek Trustee Council has worked together to develop claims for injuries to natural resources from hazardous substance at the Tar Creek Superfund Site in Northeastern Oklahoma. This Trustee Council is the largest in the country with representatives from the State of Oklahoma, Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs), and seven federally-recognized tribes.
The seven tribes were instrumental in the development and selection of multiple restoration projects in the Tar Creek Phase I Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment (RP/EA). The Phase I RP/EA selected six restoration projects that will replace the natural resources lost from the contamination.
One unique project proposed by all seven tribes is the Tribal Apprenticeship Program. Injuries to the natural resources at the Tar Creek site have impacted tribal lifeways. The tribes have lost opportunities to transfer their cultural knowledge on gathering, harvesting, hunting, fishing, preparing, and using these resources across generations. There has also been a loss of traditional ecological knowledge about caring for the land, and traditional practices to sustain it for future generations.
The Tribal Apprenticeship Program will combine teaching tribal youth about their individual tribe’s distinct heritage, language, cultural practices, and traditional uses with natural resource restoration. Each of the seven Tribes will develop and implement a Tribal Apprenticeship Program and which will include distinct tribal lifeway practices curriculum and the traditional uses of natural resources specific to each tribe. Upon completion of the program, each student will receive a State of Oklahoma lifetime combination hunting and fishing license, which will enable graduates to continue to practice their tribe’s traditional activities after the program ends.
The development of this project and participation in all restoration planning activities takes many years of dedication. The Service recognizes the dedication and commitment to the Tar Creek Trustee Council by the Wyandotte Nation, represented by Christen Lee and Kathy Welch; Cherokee Nation, represented by Nancy John and Jason White; Easter Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, represented by Kristi Laughlin and Justin Burris; Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, represented by Heather Webb; Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma, represented by Tabitha Langston, Cheryl Stafford, and Lori Bailey; Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, represented by Erin Barnes and Buddy Shapp; and the Seneca-Cayuga Nation represented by Sara Lundstrum and MJ Shields.