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ANA Empowers Environmental Programs in Native American Communities

A photo of a stream in the wilderness.Happy Earth Day! With so much recent public attention on issues of climate change, particularly how human actions impact the environment and how these changes in turn affect our health, we wanted to highlight the work Tribes are doing to protect the environment with the support of the Administration for Native Americans. 

Since 1990, ANA has been able to support Tribes and Tribal consortia with funding to strengthen Tribal government capacity to identify, plan, develop and implement environmental programs. The Environmental Regulatory Enhancement (ERE) program is designed to bolster regulatory efforts in a manner that is consistent with a Tribe's cultural preservation and natural resource management priorities.

Tribal identity, culture, and traditions are intimately tied to the land and animals. For example, many eastern Tribes have kinship systems (clans) that are named after animals (wolf, bear, turtle, etc.), and in the Southwest, for the Dine, the traditional way to introduce yourself is to name where you were born, your clans, and your parents and grandparents. The connection to the land is strong in Native cultures, and desecration of the land is felt spiritually. Because we all depend on water to survive, protecting water resources is often a high priority for the communities we serve as well.

Therefore, for many Tribes protecting the natural resources, such as water and wildlife, is integral to protecting their culture and traditions.

A member of the Sun'aq Tribe of Kodiak Water Testing.For example, the Pacific Northwest depend on salmon for subsistence and economic benefit, and one of our current grantees, the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz, is currently researching the unique salmon breeding and rearing grounds in the Siletz river Basin in order to create regulations to protect the ecosystem the salmon need to reproduce.

Most of the ERE projects funded are to develop ordinances, regulations, or laws to protect the environment. For example, ANA is currently funding the Tonkawa Tribe of Indians in Oklahoma for their Tonkawa Tribe Water Resources Project. As part of the project, the Tribe will protect tribal water rights by implementing regulation of water use and water quality within the tribal jurisdiction, and by identifying off-reservation factors that affect the tribe’s water supply and future growth.

Since 2006, ANA has been conducting impact evaluations on approximately 70 percent of our ending grants, and over the last six years we have visited 47 ERE projects.  We gather both qualitative and quantitative data during impact visits, which we use to improve our own service delivery to better assist our grantees, and to share the stories of our grantees with other Native communities and the public. For instance, over 1,000 individuals received some type of professional development training as a result of ANA ERE funding, and 54 environmental codes or regulations were developed, 33 of which were implemented during the project periods.

During impact visits, we also ask grantees to identify beneficiaries of their projects and describe how they benefited. Some examples of beneficiaries reported by ERE grantees visited in 2012 include Tribal environmental departments (which can now make data-driven decisions, have built staff capacity and infrastructure, and generally know more about what’s going on on their land in terms of harvest management), and Tribal members (who benefit from protecting long-term subsistence food supplies, and now have more of a voice in state-Tribal discussions). Grantees reported an increased awareness of regulations and environmental issues among the general community as well, in addition to increased recycling, greater awareness of sustainable hunting practices, and access to wildlife expertise. These benefits also extend to the environment, as ANA projects are addressing specific problems such as poaching, burning tires, animal control, and land and water pollution.

This month, ANA will publish the ERE funding opportunity announcement for 2013, available both at and the ANA website. We look forward to being able to provide an opportunity for more Tribes and Tribal consortia to develop legal, technical, and organizational capacities for protecting their natural environments.

Lillian Sparks, a Lakota woman of the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux Tribes, is the Commissioner of the Administration of Native Americans.  Miss Sparks was confirmed by the United States Senate as the Commissioner on March 3, 2010, and was sworn in on March 5, 2010.  She has devoted her career to supporting the educational pursuits of Native American students, protecting the rights of indigenous people, and empowering tribal communities.

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