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National Dialogue Session with 8th National Tribal Conference on Environmental Management

June 24, 2008
Billings, Montana

Breakout:  Environmental Information:  What Can We Do to Enhance Access?

- University Professor, American Indian Studies Program
- EPA Regional Tribal Affairs Director
- Tribal Representative/Water Quality Specialist

What info do you need most?

Professor: aging population but very young population, too.  Older population (Elders) with no computer experience – need to connect with their everyday life, re: household cleaners, garden chemicals – not interested in scientific info.  Linkage must be relevant.

Tribal Representative:  looking for water quality history.  USGS – could not understand site and never went back.   Visuals good but can be too much – can’t see forest for trees.  Make information more simplistic, more relative.  Citizens just want to know: am I safe?

Tribal Affairs Director:  likes information available in Envirofacts on grants allocation recipients.

Comment: First impressions important.  If site isn’t user-friendly at first visit, folks won’t return. 

What happens when EPA puts a 200 page report on the internet?

Professor – unlikely to happen.  Large reports need exec summary – maybe one on science and one on practical implications to cover public and technical audiences.  Make practical sense of science.  Scientists and engineers are not the best communicators.  Get Junior High School/High School kids to develop competence and ask translators to their aunts and uncles.

Tribal Representative:  need to be careful not to assume everyone is on same level.  Slow access in many places.   Don’t lose human element in information transfer.  Nine tribes in Region 7 – going to get regional folks to do more to help me, to listen better.  Human involvement needed. 

Tribal Affairs Director:  agree with others.  Need gist of something.

Audience 1:  2 things – EPA got rid of libraries; everything can be on the Web.  Tribal citizens don’t all have computers.  Lots of poor people don’t have access at home.  Second issue- some EPA offices just put up on Web but don’t do paper when they have new information.  Go to Regional offices first before HQs.  He will mail documents.  Phones are still important.  We even email each other in EPA. 

Audience 2:  Have executive summary plus Plain English summary.  Like Wikipedia page.  Grants require lots of paper vs. paperwork reduction act. 

Audience 3:  need an internet online librarian.  Reallocate grant money to help tribes navigate web information.

Audience 4:  pushing information?  Public is not computer savvy – TV adds to get attention You Tube, IPod cover?

Audience 5: build EPA resource center on each reservation; need money to maintain; lots of turnover in reservation staff.  Tribal EPA offices exist now but need more money.

Audience 6: recommending TV spots; liaison with public health folks

Audience 7:  STORET is difficult; need a middle package to help data sharing.  Wouldn’t take too much work for each region to help the tribes’ informatoni needs

Audience 8:  proprietary software issue; got a bunch of computers; section 508 issues – PDFs are no good.  All federal documents should be accessible.  Scanned documents need to be accessible.

Audience 9:  posters are hard to print.  Contact heads of agencies and tell them you want less online. 

Tribal Representative:  really liked comment about using tribal papers to get information out.  EPA should send stuff to tribal papers. 

Tribal Affairs Director:  important to build partnerships among tribes and share information and ideas.  Federal agencies need to work together to share information. 

Tribal Representative:  There is sharing of water data.

Professor:  Climate Change workgroup – communication is a problem.  Need some research on how we can do better.  NCAI may put up dollars to start a workgroup on how to share climate change information. 

If you could suggest one thing we could do – what would it be?

Audience 10:  I am from a small tribe – I have networked.  How do we share information?  Don’t have newspapers in my tribe so we are doing a website. 

Audience 11: Tribal Science Council trying to put traditional information and Western information out

Audience 12: EPA search engine stinks; RSS, Podcasts EPA is doing are good; EPA needs to use You Tube and other ways to reach young folks

What should we do differently?

Professor – form partnerships to work on projects with tribal colleges (all federal agencies) e.g. SW Indian Polytechnic, Haskell, NW Indian) young folks have shown him how to do things.  Don’t overlook tribal colleges – students could provide personal touch and help elders understand information.

Tribal Representative:  get personal – don’t make assumptions about people.  Learn about each other and really listen

Tribal Affairs Director:  make sure we measure things that matter to the ordinary people like his 100 year old Navajo grandfather on the reservation

Audience 13: do a survey and ask tribes what they want.


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