Engaging Tribes in Land Revitalization: A Summary of Recent Activities
Jun 1, 2023

Engaging Tribes in Land Revitalization: A Summary of Recent Activities

Reuse of contaminated land, also known as brownfields,   is a long and complex process for any entity, but Tribes can face additional challenges. These challenges range from loss of ownership of ancestral lands, dispersed tribal members with unmet needs, rural locals with limited economic development opportunity, and a long history of the U.S. Government and Corporations treating tribal lands with disrespect- exploiting resources and people and underinvesting in communities and infrastructure. All the above issues result in structural and institutional challenges that can make it difficult for tribal reuse agencies to attract and retain staff who can champion  land revitalization initiatives.  To support tribal brownfield reuse , the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR) and the Tribal Technical Assistance to Brownfields (TAB)  program collaborate to offer customized training and support at all stages of the brownfield reuse process. This Spring, CCLR  conducted in-person training and site visits, and created  a “Movienar” (a video combining elements of a  movie and a webinar)  on Tribal Brownfield Reuse Planning. 

Grant Writing Training at Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management 

Joelle Greenland (Right) works with attendees at the ATCEM Grant Writing Workshop.

The Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management (ATCEM), organized by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, is an annual gathering that “brings tribes and local, regional, state and federal organizations and agencies together for learning, sharing and networking – with a focus on Alaska’s unique environmental health challenges and solutions”. With a broad range of ceremonies and keynote speakers, the 2023 in-person meeting was that much more special, as it was the first time since Covid-19 that attendees gathered together. 

CCLR’s Senior Planning Consultant, Joelle Greenland, AICP, was honored to attend the event and meet so many of the tribes and organizations she has worked with over the past year, and  to be the lead trainer at Tell Your Story: Grant Writing Workshop. This sold-out interactive workshop provided attendees with the foundation for mastering the tenets of grant writing, identifying and communicating community needs and facilitating stakeholder engagement. 

Site Visits with Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California and Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada

A tribal site that may be eligible for brownfield funding.

In April, CCLR Consultants Ignacio Dayrit and Sheryl Gonzales met with the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California and with the Natural Resources Department staff of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to discuss their respective brownfields programs. These meetings were fruitful, providing valuable insights into opportunities for staff to work with their communities and tribal leaders to identify strategies for brownfield site reuse. CCLR also shared information on resources available through the EPA for community outreach and visioning.

In addition, they discussed upcoming grant opportunities to further expand the tribes’ brownfields programs. This collaborative effort is expected to advance the goals of the tribal communities in promoting sustainable land use practices and improving environmental quality.

Tribal Brownfield Reuse Planning Movienar

Tribal TAB wanted to share advice from Tribal brownfield leaders to spread their knowledge to other communities. With a quick timeline and budget, Tribal TAB asked CCLR to produce, direct and edit the Movienar: Shared Thoughts on Tribal Brownfields Reuse Planning.

The 20 minute Movienar features Wilfred Lambert of the Fort Peck Reservation, Lily Bermejo of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Michaela Paulette Shirley of University of New Mexico, Indigenous Design and Planning Institute, and Micky Hartnett of the Kansas State University, Tribal TAB program. Together, these four leaders impart advice and share how they approach and overcome challenges.

Some challenges tribes face are similar to those faced by other governmental entities.  Lily Bermejo speaks about struggles early in the reuse journey, “The first challenge is getting everybody to want the same thing. To agree for the cleanup and to agree on what we do with the site are two different things.” 

Michaela Paulette Shirley speaks to why tribal members may not be enthusiastic about reuse projects,  “We’ve found community members being completely disengaged because this is just yet another iteration to a conversation that they’ve already added to and there were no fruitful manifestations of what they said.” 

To combat these two issues, Shirley recommends partners have clear expectations of what community engagement will look like, and what role the community will have in shaping the final outcomes. These expectations should be shared with the community at the start, so they are aware of how their opinions will impact the process. Once barriers such as the above are overcome, successful transformations on tribal land can and do happen. Wilfred Lambert shares his community’s journey to reuse an airport contaminated with herbicides and pesticides from crop dusting planes into residential homes and a wellness center with future plans for a Head Start school and other measures to advance economic and employment opportunities. At the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, a former drag racing track is now a demonstration garden; providing education on native plants and ecosystems, and on the hazards of other brownfields and encouragement to avoid these sites.

Learn from these leaders’ experiences by watching the Movienar: Shared Thoughts on Tribal Brownfields Reuse Planning

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLCj3YHZdws

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