In the first step of a new collaboration between UNT and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on environmental issues and indigenous peoples, UNT served as the U.S. site for an international indigenous youth environmental videoconference.
The U.S. portion of the Second International Indigenous Youth Conference on the Environment and Culture was March 6 at the UNT Gateway Center.
The videoconference, which was conducted with generous support from the U.S. State Department, also included students from Baskiria, Russia; Kuching, Malaysia; and Kampala, Uganda. It focused on global climate change and efforts within the native peoples' communities to deal with the problem. The conference also looked at ways indigenous cultures affect and shape environmental protection in their communities.
"UNT has long been a respected academic leader in addressing environmental issues through research and outreach education," says UNT President Gretchen M. Bataille. "This new partnership with the EPA provides us with a unique opportunity to expand our outreach to the international community, which will strengthen the work we already do with many global partners while also opening our doors to even more Native American students."
Twenty-two Native American student participants from Oklahoma - from the Kiowa, Wichita, Apache, Comanche, Osage, Lakota, Kialegee and Navajo tribes – were welcomed by students from the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. After a shared dinner, the group was treated to a viewing of "Here Comes the Sun," a presentation at the UNT planetarium, and storytelling led by a Kiowa tribal leader.
After the video portion of the conference, the student participants took a tour of the UNT campus lead by the Eagle Ambassadors and meet with faculty members. The visit concluded with a luncheon at the UNT University Union, where a group of the students performed a traditional dance.
Sam Atkinson, UNT professor of biological sciences and a co-organizer of the conference, says, "It is vitally important for native peoples to be able to discuss the environmental issues facing their communities. This videoconference helped build bridges and hopefully led to solutions to some of the most complex environmental problems faced worldwide."
The First International Indigenous Student Video Conference on the Environment and Culture was held in March 2007. It included youth from the indigenous populations of Russia, Malaysia and the United States focusing on the issue of environmental protection and its relationship to the culture of native peoples. Part of this year's conference will look back at the impacts of and developments from last year's conference.
Atkinson says, "Last year, the EPA was looking for finite projects with resources that were easily available in the communities and doable in any context with minimal cost. They settled on composting. The three groups who took part in last year's conference reported back on their efforts at this year's conference, and a new project will be initiated."
Jonathan Hook, the director of the Office of Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 in Dallas and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, says the conference is vitally important.
"First, it promotes dialogue between secondary level indigenous students from around the world, nurturing networks and broadening the vision of future leaders," Hook says. "Second, it enhances the self-esteem of indigenous youth as they explore their heritages and cultural connections with the environment. Third, it tangibly illustrates that every community, no matter how small, rural or urban, on every continent, can make a difference in protecting the environment."
Hook added the conference demonstrates that individuals, communities and governments can work effectively together.
UNT News Service Press Release
Rafael McDonnell can be contacted at RMcDonnell@unt.edu.