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Fifteenth State of the Council Address - March 8, 2007

 

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The Tribal Pesticide Program Council is a result of two to three years of organizing by over 30 tribal representatives who felt that it was critical to have a place for tribal-specific and tribal-sensitive priorities, issues and concerns to be addressed, as well as a place to provide services and advocacy for tribes needing to develop pesticide outreach and education, management and enforcement.  We were promised by US EPA around 1998 that if we organized and developed such a group, it would be funded by US EPA and supported to at least the same extent as the state group, SFIREG, which has now been in existence for over 25 years.

TPPC held its first meeting in 1999.  It is the tribal counterpart to SFIREG.  Our membership has consistently ranged between 25 and 44 members.  At the present time we have 31 members, 27 tribal representatives and 4 inter-tribal organizations representatives.  Any tribe that wants to send a representative to the TPPC may do so by sending an official letter naming a representative.  We recently added a representative from the National Tribal Environmental Council (NTEC) and are in the process of adding a representative from the Ak-Chin Indian Community.  TPPC has an Elected Chairperson (Irving Provost of the Oglala Sioux Tribe) and Vice Chair (Jeremy Phillips of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community) and is run by an Executive Committee of 12 elected members.

Native Ecology Initiative, Inc. is the administrator and coordinator of the TPPC, by its Executive Director, Lillian A. Wilmore.  Lillian was “recruited” to do this job by the founders of the TPPC back in 1998 and has worked with us very effectively ever since.

TPPC meets twice a year – once in the Arlington, Virginia area and once out on tribal lands.  All costs of travel for the meeting are paid for all authorized representatives.  Tribes can send a representative to “visit” for one meeting if they want, to acquaint themselves with the TPPC and decide whether it makes sense for them to join.  The Executive Committee meets twice a year, usually in conjunction with the Western Region Pesticide meeting and/or the annual NTEC Conference or the National Conference of Environmental Managers meetings (NTCEM).

We have an email list-serv that sends out notices and information on a regular basis.

We have a Strategic Plan that is fully compatible with and aligned with US EPA’s Strategic Plans, including the overall national plan, the OPPTS plan, and the OPP plan.

Since 1999 the Council has dealt with a wide range of tribally-defined pesticide issues and concerns.  Some of those are:

Ensuring that farmers farming on land in Indian Country have the same access to pesticide products in case of an emergency (FIFRA sec. 18) or a need for special use (FIFRA sec. 24) that is available to farmers farming outside of Indian Country.

Advocating against the use of lindane, a highly toxic product, for treatment of head lice and scabies on Indian children, by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in its schools.  We are happy to report that practice is now virtually ended and the use of lindane by the BIA has dropped to almost none.

Working to ensure that applicators of pesticides in Indian Country are properly trained and certified.

Supporting efforts to limit the impact of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) on tribal traditional lifeways, particularly in Alaska.  These products are generally not used in the US anymore, but as they are used in other countries they go up in the air and come back down – in Alaska and other places, contaminating the food chain.

Supporting the utilization of LifeLine as a valuable tool.  LifeLine is software that helps make exposure assessment tools relevant to tribal communities.  It amends the existing LifeLine Exposure and Risk Assessment Software so that it begins to include  the tribal traditional lifeways.  Before LifeLine, the risks assessment tools used by EPA basically considered the “general population” and not those persons living unique or traditional lifeways.  We hope that the LifeLine software may at some point in the future be further adapted for use to address exposure and risk posed by museum objects that were preserved with pesticides and heavy metals.

Assisting tribes who don’t have pesticide programs but think they may need them, in assessing whether they do or not.  In the severe budget “crunch” of the last few years we have not been emphasizing the development of new individual tribal pesticide cooperative agreements because there are no federal funds for such new programs.  We have been looking at options, such as federally credentialed Circuit Riders (who may serve several tribes), to ensure equitable, professional, legal and appropriate pesticide enforcement coverage in Indian Country.

Supporting the expansion of access to training for tribal pesticide program people.

Working to ensure that pesticides are applied in Indian Country only in conformance with FIFRA – and in accordance with the tribal pesticide code where there is one and where there is adequate infrastructure for enforcement of tribal law.

Working to ensure that state pesticide laws and state pesticide inspectors do not illegally encroach on tribal authority and into tribal jurisdictional areas.  We understand that it is impossible to generalize about this and each situation of conflict has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Working cooperatively with the Tribal Caucus of the National Tribal Operations Committee, the Regional Tribal Operations Committees, EPA’s American Indian Environmental Office (AIEO) and the other tribal environmental program groups such as the Forum on State and Tribal Toxics Action (FOSTTA) and the National Tribal Air Association (NTAA).

You never know quite what’s going to come up in our line of work.  Like a lot of environmental professionals across the country, we spent some time in January/February dealing with public anxieties produced by the televised Law and Order SVU episode (titled “Loophole”) with a story line involving a corporation’s intentional dosing of citizens, particularly children, with an unregistered pesticide.  The EPA official in the show was not portrayed in a very realistic way, although a lot of people found it entertaining.  The show was pretty scary to a lot of the folks that saw it.  Mostly we had to explain to the public that EPA’s regulations do not allow pesticides companies to do such things and “it’s only a TV show.”

One example of the unique concerns in the field of pesticides that affect tribes significantly, but may not be of such interest to others, is the impact of pesticides and other chemicals on articles and artifacts being repatriated to tribes and Indian nations under the NAGPRA law.
 
“NAGPRA” stands for the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.”  It is a federal law, 25 U.S.C., section 3001 et seq., passed in 1990.   It was supported at the time of passage not only by many Native American tribes, nations, and organizations, but also by over 30 major American church organizations and institutions.  NAGPRA provides for the inventory and return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to lineal descendents, Indian tribes, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiian organizations.  It applies to federal agencies and museums that receive federal funds.  NAGPRA is administered by the U.S. National Park Service.  A separate statute similarly governs the collections of the Smithsonian Institution.

An “object of cultural patrimony” is defined as items “having ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the Native American group or culture itself, rather than property owned by an individual Native American.”

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) has written:

Historically, one defining pattern that characterizes the relationship between indigenous Native people and Non-Indians has been the one-way transfer of Indian property from Native to non-Native hands.  This pattern began with New World gold and silver in the time of Columbus; and continued with the relentless acquisition of land, water and other natural resources in the United States during the 1776 to 1900 period.  This massive property transfer was not limited to real estate.  On the darker side of this pattern, hundred of thousands of Native dead were taken from North American Indian graves, burial mounds and cemeteries.  In addition, movable property, such as cultural objects, sacred objects and cultural patrimony, also left Indian hands by the trainload during this period, including some items which were stolen or improperly sold . . .

The major policy achievement of the repatriation laws has been the humanization of Native Peoples --- the legal recognition that we, too, have the human right to get buried and stay buried, to recover our people and property from those who want to own them, to worship in the manner and with the objects of our choosing.

NAGPRA redefined the relationship between American Indian tribes and the museum profession.  The law requires museums to return human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to tribes.  Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of artifacts are subject to repatriation.

The problem we are focusing on is one that began many years ago when museums first began to collect tribal cultural objects.  While these cultural objects were in museums, they may have been treated with toxic chemicals --- including pesticides --- to prevent insect and rodent infestations and mold.  The museums’ practice was to seek to insure preservation by use of these chemicals.  Museum history of pesticide use has often been vague and incomplete.  The potential health risk this poses to tribal cultural practitioners and entire communities is great.  It is also a risk to museum workers who may have unknowingly been exposed to toxins.  Because of the wide variation in tribal practices after repatriation (use, burial, deposit, storage, burning), the implications of  human health hazards involve impacts at individual and environmental levels.

Pesticide (and other chemical and heavy metal) residues on museum objects have been a concern to conservators for some time.  But NAGPRA brought the issue to a larger audience of museum professionals and American Indian tribes.  NAGPRA regulations mention the topic of pesticides in Section 10.1 Part [e].  It says:

The museum official or Federal agency official must inform the recipients of repatriations of any presently known treatment of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony with pesticides, preservatives, or other substances that represent a potential hazard to the objects or to persons handling objects.

Problems in following the regulation include (1) that most museums presently know little about the pesticides used or the potential hazards they might have to the objects or to the persons handling them; (2) that most tribal representatives are interested in all information regarding the use of historic museum pesticides on their repatriated collections, not just those presently known; and (3) most museums do not have the means to determine historic pesticide use.

Armand Minthorn (Umatilla) has written:  “For many tribes there is a belief that the return of sacred and significant objects and human remains has the potential to restore communities, allowing healing and wholeness to occur.”  Therefore, as more tribal communities become aware that toxic residues potentially taint the very objects that may assist in community healing and restoration, the common response is one of outrage, shock, fear, disappointment, and dismay.  Tribal representatives have expressed deep concern regarding this new problem in the repatriation process.  The steps involved in having an object repatriated under NAGPRA require tribal administrative time and money.  The energy and commitment needed to return an object to the community is emotionally and hence physically draining as well.  The additional expense of time and resources to test for pesticide residues can feels like “the last straw.”

Regardless of how tribal communities proceed, it is critical that they have all the relevant information needed to guide and direct their decision-making process.  One of our greatest concerns is that some will seek to gloss over the complexities, to seek one easy solution, and in so doing will create more human harm and contribute to fear and anxiety.  The fewer resources available, the more likely this sort of thing is to happen.  Tribes and museums need to have more information about this issue.  Education and training opportunities need to occur in a variety of communities.  The sharing of information is critical on an issue that may affect the health and well-being of a variety of cultural workers.

The TPPC has established a NAGPRA Working Group to assist in mending the circle and the restoration of tradition and culture.
 
The TPPC knows that, like our ancestors before us, we have a responsibility to the world we live in and to the people who were placed here to live.  Our members are tribal pesticide professionals; they are familiar with FIFRA, the federal law regulating pesticides, as well as state and tribal laws regulating pesticides.  “Basic training” for tribal pesticide managers includes training on integrated pest management, risk assessment, how to work with a laboratory, worker health and safety and best management practices.  The presence of pesticide (and other toxic chemical) residues on NAGPRA-related objects may pose a great risk to the health and well-being of tribal communities and museum professionals, and to the natural environment.

Because of our expertise in pesticides we are logical “tribal middlemen” who may be able in some specific ways to be of assistance in the repatriation process.  We have been approached by tribal people who want guidance regarding handling, storage, and integrated pest management of contaminated cultural objects.  We are concerned about tribes who have little or no information about this and few resources to assist them.  U.S. EPA and other federal agencies have resources in science which should be made available to assist with the many questions and concerns tribes may have about contaminated cultural and sacred materials.  Regardless of our backgrounds, this issue requires communication and consultation.  Only by sharing information and talking openly about the potential health risks can tribes make informed decisions about repatriation itself and/or the most appropriate way to handle, care, and use objects significant to their communities.

It has been over 100 years since the Onondaga Nation brought action in New York state court, requesting the return of Wampum Belts belonging to them.  The Belts were finally returned by an administrative decision in 1989.

We pause to honor the Onondaga Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Hoopa Tribe, and the Seneca Nation of New York, which are the first tribes to raise awareness of the pesticides and other chemicals issue in the repatriation context and to seek testing methods with teams of consultants.  The issue has not been discussed at great length or with appropriate resources to date.  One of the first forums designed to disseminate information on this issue was convened by the Arizona State Museum only a few years ago, and they have produced very helpful work.   The Hopi Tribe has demonstrated considerable leadership on this issue.

A project like this requires collaboration and cooperation with many entities.  The TPPC NAGPRA Work Group last spring visited the Cultural Resources Center of the National Museum of the American Indian and heard presentations from them about their programs and concerns with this issue.  TPPC expects, over time, to interact with many tribes and Indian Nations (particularly, but not limited to, their Pesticide Programs, their Environmental Programs, and Cultural Preservation Offices), tribal museums, tribal organizations and groups, U.S. EPA (especially the LifeLine Project), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Congress of the American Indian, the Smithsonian Museums, the National Park Service (Department of the Interior), the University of Arizona in Tucson (Arizona State Museum), the ASM Southwest Native Nations Advisory Board (formerly the Native American Indian Advisory Group), other University scientists, medical doctors, cultural representatives, museum collections care specialists, industrial hygienists, analytical chemists, medical toxicologists, Poison Control Centers, other museums, experts in IPM, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and others.

The TPPC NAGPRA Working Group undertakes this work with a consciousness of our limits and a great deal of care.  Generally we will neither describe objects and will not ask for nor provide details of their cultural use.  However, where physical use is at issue, implying that an object will be actively handled, resulting in physical contact with members of the tribal community, that physical use may carry some risk.  We want tribes to have a better opportunity to make informed decisions.

We leave all questions of cultural or spiritual significance to the tribal communities and spiritual practitioners.  We know that those concerns cannot in reality be separated neatly from other concerns.  But we do believe we can play a part and help with the networking, outreach, information and the science about pesticides, i.e., the physical risk.  Tribes, of course, will make their own decisions about the repatriation process, and/or the restoration of religious and cultural practice.

The TPPC NAGPRA Working Group is grateful for and humbled by the privilege to play a small part in this great work.  Chairperson of the TPPC Working Group is Glenna Lee, Navajo Nation.  For further information, contact Glenna Lee (glennahlee@yahoo.com) or call (928) 871-7811 or the TPPC Coordinator, Lillian A. Wilmore (naecology@aol.com) or call (617) 232-5742.

 

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