Language, Culture and Food Come Together at Lakota Waldorf School

Students learn to speak and understand the Lakota language through gardening, food preparation, and learning about traditional Lakota plants, sustainability, and ecology.

Students learn to speak and understand the Lakota language through gardening, food preparation, and learning about traditional Lakota plants, sustainability, and ecology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re a Lakota child born in South Dakota, you can now find a place to belong, where your culture and language are fostered, creating a Lakota identity that will help you thrive. This is possible thanks to the Lakota Waldorf School, formed over 26 years ago at a time when Lakota children never had such an option. Now, with its latest project funded through First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), the school is bringing culture and language to the understanding, production and awareness of food, strengthening Lakota identity and improving health outcomes.

The Need for Lakota Waldorf School

The Lakota Waldorf School serves the children of the Pine Ridge Reservation living in or near the town of Kyle and outlying districts. Isabel Stadnick, development director and one of the founders of the school, explains that children here are among the most vulnerable, disadvantaged children in the country. Poverty is high, and as a social determinant of health, it has resulted in epidemic proportions of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease on the Reservation. According to Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, life expectancy is only 47 years for men and 52 years for women, and the teenage suicide rate is 150% higher than the U.S. national average.

While the causes for these statistics are broad and deep-rooted, one reason stems from the insufficient culturally appropriate education available to Lakota children, says Stadnick. Noting the high dropout rate of Lakota students, Stadnick, her husband Robert, and a group of parents saw that the local public schools were not designed for Native children and the way they best learn. In addition, Lakota identity was not fostered or encouraged. As a result of both, performance among Native children was lacking.
“We said, if something is not good, then you have to change it,” Stadnick explained. From there, the parents mobilized, and the concept of Lakota Waldorf School took hold.

Learning with Head, Hand, and Heart

Stadnick explains that the parent group was made up of individuals from education and the community, and together, they agreed that children of a different culture need a different curriculum. Curriculum must be understandable and must reflect the essence of the people. Further, the approach must strengthen children’s self-identity, which includes their culture, ceremonial practices and their language.
Knowing this, the parents set out to explore different approaches to education and the one that resonated was Waldorf.

“In public school, learning is linear. You learn one thing, then the next, in a subsequent fashion,” says Stadnick, “But in the Waldorf method, learning is circular and story based.”

Stadnick explains that Waldorf bases curriculum on the development of the child, focusing on three capacities: thinking, feeling, and doing. For example, in Waldorf schools, teaching facts, numbers and places might be done through a story. Then the students might participate in an activity, conveying that story through clay, paper mâché, or drawing. It becomes an experience that creates a feeling, which translates into greater learning.

“It is learning with head, hand, and heart,” added adds Stadnick. “It connects and involves the students in a deeper way. Here, they learn how to apply their newfound knowledge in real life, which gives them a higher success rate.”

Stadnick says that this approach is very much in line with the Lakota culture, and the story-telling technique is how Lakota elders pass down the heritage. Committed to the Waldorf curriculum, the parents first formed a Lakota kindergarten. From there, the group formed a 501(c)3, and now offers K-8 classes. Currently at capacity, the school has 46 students and is in the process of seeking funding for a larger school bus to be able to transport 60 plus students.

Through the Lakota Waldorf School, kids are given every opportunity to learn a strong cultural identity and reverence for the heritage.

Through the Lakota Waldorf School, kids are given every opportunity to learn a strong cultural identity and reverence for the heritage.

Immersed in Language, Enriched by Culture

More than a Waldorf-based school, the school is an educational resource that integrates Lakota culture with a large emphasis on language. This is where funding from First Nations has played an important role.

Core to the school’s design is Lakota language immersion. All children begin each day with a sacred Lakota verse. They learn vocabulary, numbers, and concepts by singing, reciting, and having interactive dialogue. Language is not a class here-and-there, but a full immersion process, in which children learn language the natural way — by ear and by speaking. By integrating the Waldorf approach with a focus on Lakota language, the school empowers Lakota children to create positive futures for themselves and their communities.

“We see one of the challenges that students have is low self-esteem and low self-confidence. So this is where we put a strong emphasis,” Stadnick commenteds.
Kids at Lakota Waldorf School are given every opportunity to learn a strong cultural identity and reverence for the heritage, acquire a solid foundation for Lakota language, and gain the academic, social, and practical skills to thrive as Native people.
“Culture and language are major components of self-esteem and self-advocacy,” says Stadnick. “Research has proven that children who grow up with a strong identity are more successful — in school, life and higher education.”

In 2019, the school received a First Nations grant through the Native Language Immersion Initiative, which aims to build the capacity of and directly support Native American language-immersion and culture-retention programs. With this funding the school will expand its current classroom language program and its school gardening program, teaching students how to speak and understand the Lakota language through gardening, food preparation, and learning about traditional Lakota plants, sustainability, and ecology.

This makes a valuable tool for experiential learning. As the project develops, students throughout the school are taking part in the classes, making use of a school garden, and hearing directly from Lakota-fluent elders and Lakota-learning teachers. Parents are being engaged as volunteers, and students are presenting their knowledge of Lakota words to the community, which raises awareness of Native plants, culture, and sustainable foods.

“Children learn easy and fast, and eating healthy meals is something we do every day,” she says.

Moreover, the students are learning through imagination and by doing. “We are surrounded by plants, but we cannot name them in Lakota,” she explains. “But through the project they can learn 10 new plants every month, and that’s something they can use every day.”

Further, Stadnick notes, “If you have an experience planting potatoes, and you learn the word for potatoes, right there you have a connection to it. That’s a piece of the language that lives on.”

While the project is just beginning, it is laying the groundwork for the future. Children are finding more opportunities to use the language, and the community is gaining a food source, and ultimately even a source of revenue, as food can be grown organically and then sold locally. And, in the long-term, it is hoped that the access to Native grown food can make a dent in the staggering diabetes and obesity rates that have plagued this community.
Using gardening, students learn language and culture through head, hand and heart.

Using gardening, students learn language and culture through head, hand and heart.

Creating the Future of Lakota

Stadnick acknowledges that the road ahead is a long one, but their work is a building block. Through the Language Expansion program, the school is focusing on involving parents, training more teachers, and increasing community involvement. The simple act of labeling a garden in the Lakota language is creating an opportunity to share, and every opportunity adds up as a strategy to retain the language and the culture.

“Waldorf is not a concept, it’s a tool to infuse a rich and very old culture into the future,”  Stadnick says. With the support of First Nations, this community is strengthening this resource, training more teachers, and finding more ways to create the best outcomes for Lakota children. “It’s the most important aspect. They need the identity and culture – just like they need food and love.”

By Amy Jakober

Finding a Voice and Making it Heard: Defending Native Rights on the Border

New construction at Three Rivers is considered the hub for the Jupiter Oil Pipeline running to Brownsville, Texas.

New construction at Three Rivers is considered the hub for the Jupiter Oil Pipeline running to Brownsville, Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas — on the border and in the pathway of “the wall” — the future is precarious. Not federally recognized as a tribe and threatened daily by the impact of the Texas Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal and associated pipelines, the Carrizo/Comecrudo is in a race to identify its villages, gain proper recognition, and form a voice to protect its rights and land. It is an uphill fight, but with a new project funded in part by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), progress is being made.

The Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe works to protect the Garcia Pasture, a sacred site in the Rio Grande Valley that contains remains of ancestors and cultural artifacts from various nomadic tribes, including the Carrizo/Comecrudo. The need for protection abounds: The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are huge environmental implications. And moreover, the members and sacred aspects of the original pre-Columbian villages surrounding Garcia Pasture have been not only ignored, but not even identified. And although the Carrizo/Comecrudo is not the official holder of the site, they are taking a stand.

“We, as Native people, have a right to speak out for what has been happening,” says Tribal Chairman, historian, storyteller, and Keeper of the Lifeways Juan Mancias.

Mancias explains that it’s something their people have to do because the threats are so pervasive. Before and beyond battling the LNG terminals, the Tribe has fought for a stronghold in Texas. The Tribe has endured centuries of historical trauma and oppression. It is not federally recognized, so there is no federal funding. Its people have scattered, and some were forced into Mexico when the border was established. Pollutants from the sale of substandard coal to Mexico have jeopardized their natural resources and the quality of the air and water. Ancestors are buried on the land they can’t defend. And the health of the Rio Grande, the home of Carrizo/Comecrudo for generations, is at risk.

Now, with the help of a First Nations Broad Reach Grant, which supports Native American-led community efforts toward environmental justice, the Tribe is addressing one of the biggest challenges through the “Build a Village, Save the Earth: Project Stop Texas LNG.”

Juan Mancias stands before Mariposa Village, one of the three camps in South Texas. Funds for Project Stop Texas LNG will go toward replenishing these camps with supplies, food, water, gas, and video and monitoring equipment.

Juan Mancias stands before Mariposa Village, one of the three camps in South Texas. Funds for Project Stop Texas LNG will go toward replenishing these camps with supplies, food, water, gas, and video and monitoring equipment.

Mancias explains that “liquefied natural gas” is natural gas that is cooled to a liquid state to make it easier to transport, as it becomes 1/600th of its original volume. He says Texas LNG aims to create an export facility on 625 acres at the Port of Brownsville near the Gulf of Mexico – a site chosen because it is close to the Permian Basin, where natural gas is extracted, and near existing pipelines. With the new facility will come more pipelines, from a supplier that has not been identified, and more fracking practices, which are already having an impact. Mancias says the region has already experienced over a million small earthquakes, and there are significant concerns that natural springs and the underground aquifer is being polluted by wastewater that is being reinjected into the ground. And all of it is happening directly on the Garcia Pasture site.

“Everything is being connected,” adds Mancias. “It affects us as a Tribe, our people living along this river, and all the way up. We’re concerned about the desecration of our burial sites, but also for our clean water. Everything is coming where we maintained an existence.”

By Amy Jakober

The ocean Derricks that are brought into Port of Brownsville for repair will add to the panorama if the three LNGs and Jupiter Refinery become part of the Bahia Grande area.

The ocean Derricks that are brought into Port of Brownsville for repair will add to the panorama if the three LNGs and Jupiter Refinery become part of the Bahia Grande area.

Investing for the Future at the Isleta Pueblo, NM Helps Build Native Communities

Investing at Isleta small group 500 pixels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Achieving Native Financial Empowerment, a key program of First Nations Development Institute, is an undertaking dedicated to fostering healthy financial habits and lifestyles among Native people of all ages and backgrounds. Each summer First Nations conducts at least one Building Native Communities-themed train-the-trainer workshop to expand a growing base of community trainers who deliver financial empowerment classes to eager audiences across Indian Country.

On July 31st and August 1st, 2019, First Nations conducted Investing for the Future in Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico. Hosted in partnership with Tiwa Lending Services and made possible by generous support from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation, the interactive workshop introduced participants to engaging curriculum that featured activities, techniques, and resources specially designed for teaching basic investing skills to Native American audiences.

“We’re very pleased with the favorable response for Building Native Communities: Investing for the Future,” stated Jackie Francke, Vice President of Programs and Administration at First Nations. “We hosted attendees from a wide range of organizations that included tribal housing, the CDFI industry, and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. All these partners share a common need for investing education content that is not only timely but also highly relatable to Native communities.”

Investing for the Future builds upon First Nations’ other Building Native Communities financial empowerment training programs by focusing on challenges a beginning investor in Indian Country might face such as budgeting tribal per capita dividends, managing sales proceeds from the Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations, or simply building a retirement nest egg. Sharon Yatsattie, an office automation assistant from the Office of the Special Trustee, an office under the Secretary of the Interior with the fiduciary responsibility to manage Indian funds held in trust by the federal government, attended the workshop to improve her training skills and gain insights on money management.

“It was a wonderful training and it helped me look at my own finances in a new light,” commented Yatsattie. “I’ve taken finance courses before but Investing for the Future enabled me to take ownership of topics such as emergency savings, wealth building, and asset allocation in a more personalized context.”

In addition to Investing for the Future First Nations has created an investor education tool kit in partnership with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. The co-branded materials include Fighting Fraud 101 and Investor Alert: New Money Coming into Indian Country to address issues confronting recipients of lump sum and windfall payments. These free brochures and handouts can be downloaded at FirstNations.org while hard copies can be requested using the FINRA Foundation online warehouse at SaveAndInvest.org.

For more information on Investing for the Future and other financial empowerment programs offered by First Nations Development Institute please contact Shawn Spruce, First Nations Programs Consultant at agoyopi@gmail.com.

By Shawn Spruce

Investing at Isleta group photo 500 pixels

 

Philanthropy Opens Doors for Native Innovation

The Catalyst Fund is an example of the philanthropic community listening to the Native community and responding with action. In August 2019, the Network announced 14 grant award recipients, including four Indigenous Communities recipients.

The Catalyst Fund is an example of the philanthropic community listening to the Native community and responding with action. In August 2019, the Network announced 14 grant award recipients, including four Indigenous Communities recipients.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret there is innovation in Indian Country. It is especially apparent in landscape conservation, where Native populations have called on their centuries of knowledge, practices and traditions to honor, maximize and sustain their land for generations. But limits in philanthropic grant guidelines have made it difficult to implement and expand Native approaches and also contribute them as best practices for other conservationists. Now, in efforts to harness this Native innovation for the good of collaboration and progress, the Network for Landscape Conservation is launching a new grant program, opening new doors for Native communities and new collaborative, effective solutions for the environment.

A Mission to Meet

The Network for Landscape Conservation is an umbrella network of more than 250 organizational partners and 3,000 individual practitioners that implement and advance strategies that conserve our natural landscapes. The network supports the evolution of land conservation as a larger and more holistic approach, as people increasingly recognize that landscapes encompass our water, ecosystems, communities, culture, and recreation, and that protecting and sustaining them is essential to people’s identity, health and future.

Conservation at this necessary landscape scale calls for moving beyond piece-meal or top-down approaches and embracing inclusive, community-grounded conservation focused on the health of whole landscapes. And it means collaborating across the private-public land continuum to achieve enduring landscape health.  

This essential paradigm shift in conservation has been building for several decades, with landscape-scale partnerships forming in multiple regions across the country, but, according to Network Director Emily Bateson, these groups weren’t talking to each other at first.

“Everyone was recreating the proverbial wheel, trying to figure out how to work collaboratively across large landscapes,” Bateson explains. “The Network was launched in 2011 by more than 25 nonprofit groups, academic institutions, and agencies to connect people to the best resources, and practices, and to each other in order to accelerate the pace of collaboration and conservation on our imperiled landscapes.” The Network is fiscally sponsored by one of its founding organizations, the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC) in Bozeman, Montana.

Bateson notes that we can all learn from each other as we advance collaborative conservation of whole landscapes, and that we have much to learn in particular from the Native community, which has embraced this holistic approach for thousands of years.

Catalysts for change: Emily Bateson, director of the Network for Landscape Conservation, poses with Loren BirdRattler, project manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Agriculture Resource Management Plan, and Beth Connover, director of the Salazar Center for North American Conservation and coordinating committee member of the Network for Landscape Conservation.

Catalysts for change: Emily Bateson, director of the Network for Landscape Conservation, poses with Loren BirdRattler, project manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Agriculture Resource Management Plan, and Beth Connover, director of the Salazar Center for North American Conservation and coordinating committee member of the Network for Landscape Conservation.

A catalyst for change

The Network is fortunate to operate a new grant awards program to help accelerate the pace and effective practice of place-based, collaborative landscape conservation across the United States, generously funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Hewlett Foundation has specifically designated some of its funding for Native population grants.

Opening the doors to Native populations has required some careful thinking by the Network and CLLC on how to best award money for landscape conservation projects. To that end, they created the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund, which recognizes that:

“Indigenous collaboratives are often rich with qualities that embody and enhance landscape conservation—including a multigenerational approach, the use of traditional knowledge, the integration of other important societal issues (health, jobs, education, etc.), and a value system that prioritizes symbiotic health between the landscape and its inhabitants.”

Based on this, applying for grants through the Catalyst Fund is open to all Indigenous-led partnerships that are focused on the long-term health of their ecological or cultural landscapes or that focus on advancing and conserving indigenous/aboriginal interests, territories, and rights across a specific landscape.

And yet, Bateson explains how the new Catalyst Fund first required applicants to be designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations – a requirement that excluded many Native organizations, including those with the most need and the most promise in holistic, effective landscape conservation.

The Fund quickly adapted to include applicants with a 7871 designation, an IRS tax code applicable to sovereign nations.

Melly Reuling, deputy director of the CLLC, says that Native communities understand that conservation efforts have an ecological, economic, and cultural impact and that the Catalyst Fund provides an opportunity to build on their efforts, whether they be in wildlife, protecting natural habitats, enforcing hunting and fishing rights or treaty rights, entering into MOUs with other agencies, or other initiatives in conservation.

“CLLC is here specifically for raising money for coordination and collaboration — to get the money to the right groups, and support in Indian communities is an extension of that,” she says. “We all do better work when we’re together.”

Listening and responding

The Catalyst Fund is an example of the philanthropic community listening to the Native community and responding with action. Not only has the eligibility criteria changed, but the Fund also addresses the lack of broadband and internet connectivity issues in Indian Country, as Catalyst Fund Native population applications can be submitted by hard copy instead of online only. The Fund also support webinars and in-person convenings so that grantees – Native and other landscape partnerships – can connect and learn from each other in new and vibrant ways. “We know we have a lot to learn from our Native partners and hope the Catalyst Fund can help facilitate that,” notes Bateson.

To get the word out about the funding opportunity, the Network turned to a Native advisory committee and personal outreach to the Native community, and they received almost 50 indigenous applications in the pre-proposal stage and 271 pre-proposals overall, says Bateson. Applicants may request a one- or two-year grant of $10,000 to $25,000, drawing from $330,000 per year in the overall fund. A request for proposals will be released for the second year of funding in early 2020 and native communities are encouraged to learn more about the effort and apply.

In August 2019, the Network announced 14 grant award recipients, including four Indigenous Communities recipients.

Loren BirdRattler, project manager for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Agriculture Resource Management Plan, is a member of the Network’s leadership and is excited about how the fund can tap into knowledge that the Native community has known all along.

“Indigenous people can be leaders in this field. The Blackfeet alone have been on our land for 15,000 years. They’ve led a spiritual life and they know how people and the land are integrated,” he says. “I would hope that non-Native people could learn from that.”

And there is a lot to learn. According to Reuling, “This is a funding resource people can use to share ideas, form partnerships, and benchmark their own progress,” says Reuling. “This can build bridges where there were none.”

Pictured with BirdRattler, Melly Reuling (left) is the deputy director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, the fiscal sponsor of the Network and a key partner in the Catalyst Fund.

Pictured with BirdRattler, Melly Reuling (left) is the deputy director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, the fiscal sponsor of the Network and a key partner in the Catalyst Fund.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Inclusive Philanthropy

The call for learning from Native communities is a mandate by the two funders of the Catalyst Fund, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Reuling says that the Network and CLLC are grateful for their support and vision.

Indeed, Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation reports that Hewlett programs are committed to examining how they can expand their networks to new grantees; support field-wide efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion; and be more inclusive of the views of the people their philanthropy ultimately seeks to help.

In backing the Catalyst Fund, the Hewlett Foundation sends a message to the philanthropic community that it is listening and responding to the needs of organizations and agencies trying to effect change.

Lindsay Austin Louie, Program Officer of Philanthropy Grantmaking for the Hewlett Foundation, explains that the Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group supports high-quality research by a range of organizations about how to do philanthropy well in order to improve funders’ work. “We know that much of what influences their practice is peers, so it is exciting to see the Catalyst Fund making changes so that their philanthropy will be more inclusive.”

Mike Roberts, President of First Nations Development Institute, which has also received grant funding from Hewlett Foundation for other projects, applauds both foundations and the Network for recognizing the potential inside Indian Country and improving their approaches to making funding available. He cites research contained in First Nations report, “We Need to Change How We Think,” about the declining levels of giving by large foundations, as well as minuscule levels of giving by community foundations, to Native American organizations and causes.

“Seeing the philanthropic community take active steps to make their giving more inclusive is vital to the sustainability and success of Native-led organizations, which are some of the most innovative out there,” Roberts says. “We never doubted whether grants that included the sophisticated practices of Indian people could make a difference, and we now look forward to seeing how practices like this make a long-term difference in philanthropy and grant making.”

Bateson too sees promise in the direction. “It’s our hope that we show people the tremendous value in this area for funding and that the Catalyst Fund continues to grow,” she says. “We’re at the beginning of an important process, and the need is clearly there.”

For more information about the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund, please see http://landscapeconservation.org/catalyst-fund/, and sign up for the Network e-news to receive   future updates.

By Amy Jakober

 

Protecting Native Resources through Education and Outreach

For the RedTailed Hawk Collective (Collective) in Pembroke, North Carolina, funding from First Nations couldn’t have come at a better time, says RedTailed Senior Campaigner Donna Chavis. “We are facing an onslaught from just about every angle in terms of environmental degradation,” she says. But now, they are able to ramp up outreach and community education, taking advantage of a lull in corporate activity to get people more informed and to stop further damage to their land, air and water.

An Environment Under Threat

The Collective operates in a coastal area of North Carolina that is characterized by high poverty and extreme underservice by the state and economic developers. It is an area where Native tribes are fragmented, with many members having moved away over time. The ones remaining often have minimal knowledge of their tribal rights, or ways to unite together to stand up for them.

When companies and developers start advancing projects, there is little organization of Native populations to come together in opposition. Many Native landowners have already been talked into selling or leasing their properties, and tribal members in the area face ongoing threats against their rights, homes, and health that they may not even realize – land degradation, deforestation, fossil fuel pollution, and an increase in chicken and hog farms that produce biofuel from animal waste.

One of the biggest areas of concern is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is being proposed to transport liquified natural gas across 600 miles from West Virginia to southeastern North Carolina. The path of the pipeline will cross streams, forests, swamplands and even graves, causing direct damage to culturally important areas and the Native resources of four tribes – the  Lumbee, Haliwa-Saponi, Coharie, and Meherrin.

Organized for Action

To activate a voice for these tribes, the Southeast Indigenous Climate Change Working Group was formed under the RedTailed Hawk Collective. This group provides a unified base for the four tribes to collectively oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and raise awareness about the impact the pipeline – and all corporate undertakings – will have on the environment.

A member of the Lumbee Tribe and an anti-pipeline activist, Chavis is leading the group’s efforts, with support from the Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center and Friends of the Earth. So far, progress has been made in developing a Memorandum of Agreement to formalize a tribal partnership and generate attention to tribal, cultural and natural resource concerns, which have been greatly ignored by politicians, the media, and even mainstream environmental organizations. Through the working group, the four tribes are reaching out to the additional tribes of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi, Sapony, and Waccamaw Siouan. They are bringing in Native leadership from North Carolina State University and drawing from the large Native population at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, a school steeped in Native allegiance based on being the first state-supported four-year college in the country to accept American Indians.

Through this involvement, Chavis says, the group is doing the important on-the-ground work, organizing, and mobilizing volunteers all in an effort to amplify the Native voice – a voice that is crucial for not only protecting Native rights but ensuring tribal determination for Native health and welfare.

Perfect Timing

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline had been expedited through environmental review under the Trump Administration, and, based on this, did not follow federal law requiring tribal consultation. Construction began in West Virginia in May 2018; however — to the benefit of the working group — development was halted in December 2018 in response to concerns over federal permits issued by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of which would have allowed the pipelines to cross two forests and the Appalachian Trail. The court vacated this permit, but now the developer is appealing to the U.S Supreme Court and lobbying Congress to override the court’s decision.

To advance education and outreach efforts during this delay in political and environmental activity, the Collective applied for and received funding through First Nations Development Institute’s Broad Reach Fund, a grant program designed to support Native American-led community efforts pursuing environmental justice.

“The timing is perfect,” says Chavis. “It’s like a train got out of control and is now off the tracks. We can use this time to ramp up our local organizing surrounding the pipeline and the LNG facility.”

Indeed, funding from First Nations will allow the group to identify and develop materials that will help expand the knowledge base of tribal communities. The scope of work is large. Project objectives include:

  • Reaching out to Southeastern Indigenous Peoples and letting them know that, despite the claims of developers, the pipeline is neither necessary to meet the energy needs of the community, nor economically or environmental responsible.
  • Providing training opportunities for people to connect and strengthen their efforts to protect Native resources.
  • Leading strategies to unite the Native population and mount an opposition to pipeline developers and legislators.
  • Investigating legal remedies, including how the pipeline abuses eminent domain and uses misleading information to apply for and obtain permits.

Chavis asserts that outreach like this is costly and would not be possible without the help of First Nations.

“A lot of times funders won’t support conferences and convenings, but First Nations recognizes the importance of bringing people together,” Chavis says. “With the infusion of these resources, we’re able to focus more directly on our organizing.”

The need to organize is growing by the day, as there are already ramifications of “dirty industry,” Chavis explains. There have been increases in toxic elements from animal waste and a surge in respiratory illnesses. And without a proper opposition, the damage from both the pipeline and the LNGs will only continue. The area, known as the “Amazon of North Carolina” for its diversity in  waterways, plants, animals, and other lifeforms, will become a cesspool, says Chavis.

“It really is that serious,” she says. “This is everyone’s issue, not just one community’s.”

Going forward, the group hopes to create a ripple effect of education and awareness about the pervasive power of energy companies, the true footprints of proposed pipelines, and the effects that all pollutants have on the environment, whether it’s biofuels in North Carolina or fracked gas coming down from Pennsylvania.

“These threats come in all forms, and we do not differentiate,” says Chavis. “They all impact our resources and rights, and we’re here to address them all.”

While there is an uphill climb ahead, Chavis says Native people are becoming much more informed and empowered about their rights and ready to stand their ground when it comes to land ownership and federal laws. She is also optimistic about the mobilization of Native peoples and what it can mean for Native communities, perhaps even laying the groundwork for tribal nations to get control of their own energy sources. “We’re excited about the possibilities and the interest that the tribes have already shown,” she says. “And without funding from First Nations, that sort of thing couldn’t happen.”

By Amy Jakober