The students that represented Mescalero Apache Tribe were Cody Apachito, Jacalie Baeza, Avahlee Muniz, Ty Martinez and Velania Kadayso under the supervision of Dolores Herrera Transition Specialist for Mescalero Apache Youth Development and Maci Rodrique AmeriCorps Vista and NDE Farms.
Mescalero Apache students participated in the second annual Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Leadership Congress is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and several more federal agencies. The Congress was held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, during July 5 – 10, 2016. 87 Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students between the ages of 15 to 18, participated in a week-long youth congress to learn about climate change issues in indigenous communities, federal agency efforts, and most importantly, how the students can help their communities become more resilient in the face of these challenges.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to uniting students for the common cause of conserving the American landscape and the wildlife that depend on it. These Native American youth are on the fore-front of climate issues and will be the first people to experience climate challenges,” says Georgia Jeppesen, National Conservation Training Center course leader. “We’ve already seen several tribes from Alaska being affected by climate change and we have seen our first climate refugees. Uniting these students and teaching them their traditional ways we hope they will continue to develop the skills and knowledge to become more climate resilient.”
During the youth congress, federal scientists taught the students about climate science, traditional ecological knowledge and how a changing climate is impacting native environmental health and ways of life across the country. All the speakers expressed to the students that traditional ways of life are not fading away because of climate challenges, but rather are evolving to respond to new ecological and social conditions, as generations of Native people have had to adapt before. The other main message to the youth was the importance of learning from their elders and the imperative that the youth apply traditional teachings to current climate change challenges.
“When developing the Congress, we wanted to emphasize the importance of public service and involvement so we developed a service learning session to give students an opportunity to perform four hours of community service by contributing to citizen science efforts, removing invasive plant species and rebuilding a hiking trail down to the Potomac River,” said Jim Siegel, a National Conservation Training Center course leader, “We hope that students will take home a number of ideas and new skills from the youth congress and begin to engage their peers and community leaders in the climate change conversation.”
Each student passionately discussed their cultural values and beliefs and collectively ignited a discussion about tangible ways they could make a difference in their home communities. Through Open Space Technology, the students started to brainstorm solutions, to collaborate and lead their own discussions on climate change and how they will use their developing leadership skills and technical climate knowledge to address these issues through engaging tribal leaders, school officials and their peers in their home communities. At the culmination of this process, all students delivered group presentations with innovative ideas aimed to promote ecological and cultural resilience in their communities. Many of the students stated they now feel more confident discussing climate issues with their tribal leaders, peers and communities and hope to make a difference advancing climate change initiatives back home.
The youth at the Congress marked their hard work by celebrating with an inspirational hoop dance performance from the Sampson Brothers of the Muscogee Creek and Seneca Nations. A contemporary cultural gathering topped off the Congress with students and mentors teaching one another about their culture and traditions – from regalia to dances to games.
This event was made possible by the following federal agencies working together to create a place for Native youth to gather and learn from one another: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, U.S Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey.
By Alejandro Morales, United States Fish and Wildlife Service – External Affairs