Sunday, June 10, 2007

Udall Legacy Tour highlights Native American projects across the country

by Terri C. Hansen
Environment and Science Writer

News from Indian Country
Native American Times

WASHINGTON, D.C.--He championed the rights of Native Americans.

He was a fierce advocate for tribal sovereignty.

He sponsored the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Former Congressman Morris K. Udall, better known as Mo, saw 184 bills affecting Native American interests enacted during his 14 years as chairman of the House Interior Committee. He served 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives until 1991, when Parkinson’s disease precipitated a fall causing irreversible brain damage and loss of speech. The following year Congress established the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Protection Foundation in honor of his distinguished congressional career.

Scholarships, internships and fellowships totaling $4.6 million have been awarded to students pursuing careers related to the environment and Native Americans engaged in health care or tribal policy studies. The Udall Legacy Bus Tour is drawing attention to the programs laudable accomplishments and mark the 10th anniversary of the Udall Foundation’s education programs.

Thirteen Udall scholars embarked from Washington, D.C. on an 8,600 mile, 54 day journey June 12. “This bus tour is about honoring Mo Udall's legacy by bringing attention to young people nationwide who are finding solutions to pressing environmental and Native American issues,” said Udall Scholar Bob Filbin, the tour photographer.

“At a time when we are faced with so many problems, we felt that this bus tour could tell a different story – a positive story about young public servants leading the country in new directions.”

Projects related to Native communities will be highlighted during much of the Tour. They arrive at the Penobscot Nation June 19, where Boys and Girls Club members will be given digital cameras and lessons on digital photography on nature hikes featuring Arcadia’s natural history.

Members of the Cornell American Indian Program and representatives of local tribes will host a dinner there June 23, followed by a presentation by the Transboundary Indigenous Waters Program Initiative and a discussion of healthy environments to Native Peoples.

The United Houma Nation is sponsoring the Legacy Bus stop July 6, where several tribal members will join the Udall scholars in exploring the swamps, bayous and canals of southern Louisiana by boat, learning the importance of these local ecosystems in the Houma culture. The afternoon will be spent touring the United Houma Community. Scholars will meet with tribal council members to discuss the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the Houma Nation.

In Haskell, Kansas the group will tour the Haskell/Baker wetlands July 9 to learn the historic, cultural and ecological importance of the site and the environmental justice issues and concerns surrounding it.

The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde hosts the Legacy Bus July 25. Scholars will join tribal members in helping develop a number of campsites on the reservation in order to mitigate environmental damage and facilitate enjoyment of the reservation’s natural beauty. Other tribal outreach includes a Native American Healthcare Symposium in Oklahoma City, and an irrigation and tree planting project with Salish and Kootenai College students on the Flathead Reservation in Montana.

These projects were made possible by alumni of the Udall Foundation scholarship and internship programs. Udall intern Brian Mercier coordinated the Grand Ronde venture. The Salish and Kootenai College project involved connections made by Udall Scholar Lauren Caldwell.

Tribal coordinator Martina Gast, Ojibwe and a 2006 and 2007 Udall Scholar said she really wanted to be involved in the Native American aspects of the tour. “I hope to bring more Native people doing awesome work into the public eye since so often they are not.” Gast plans to network with people throughout the tour to further her insight into their tribal nations. Future plans are law school to further her career in tribal public policy.

Jennifer Vazquez joined the tour as a tribal coordinator while working at traditional farms, community centers and eco-villages in Japan. “I was so amazed at the network of people and ideas that I became part of, then the opportunity came up to do the same thing in the U.S.” Her work with tribal communities in Wisconsin was some of her most rewarding experiences, so the tour “presented me a way to continue working within Native communities, only now, all over the country.”

The Legacy Bus is “not your average bus.” It runs on B-20 biodiesel and ultra low-sulfur diesel, and is equipped with real time emissions-monitoring hardware. Their goal is a carbon-neutral tour—carbon dioxide being the pollutant that is contributing to global warming—by purchasing carbon offsets from Native Energy, a corporation largely owned by Native Americans.

Udall Foundation programs have provided hundreds of awards and opportunities to Native American student leaders. Any Native American student interested in learning more about the scholarship or internship programs can find information along with applications on the Udall Foundation web site:

© Terri Crawford Hansen 2007