Leave it to the Society of Environmental Journalists to do a fine job of chronicling a tour of Indian Country on this SEJ blog on the Flathead Reservation.
A round of applause to the SEJ folks for putting on a top-notch conference, Oct. 13-17, here in Missoula at the University of Montana. And another round of applause for the organization’s attention to Native voices.
Rebecca Miles, Nez Perce Tribe executive director, spoke on a plenary panel Friday morning about tribal water rights. She offered a number of her experiences that surely inspired a few stories. Meanwhile, the SEJ presenters and participants keep marching on.
On Saturday, Oct. 16, I have the pleasure of moderating a panel with four exceptional speakers — Gail Small, Alexis Bonogofsky, Pat Spears and Rob McDonald. Each person has a unique perspective about climate and energy development on tribal lands. The panelists experiences range from legislative and renewable energy advocacy to first contact with tribes to protecting tribal homelands from environmental injustice.
And I’d like to begin by sharing some noteworthy tidbits about each panelist. First, Gail Small is a national role model who established one of the first reservation-based public interest organizations in the United States. Gail is the executive director of Native Action and she lives on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, a reservation that is 15 miles from the largest coal stipmine in North America.
Alexis Bonogofsky is the tribal lands coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, Alexis represents a small minority of people who work for a national environmental organization that has a program specifically created to work with tribes.
Pat Spears is one of the country’s leading wind power advocates for tribes. Pat has been working hard to get tribal windpower on the energy grid. Here’s a link to Wind and Hydropower Feasibility Study comments by Pat Spears. He wrote them after the Western Area Power Administration released a long awaited report about using wind energy generated by tribes to supply power to WAPA. Spears comments provide much-needed context about roadblocks to making tribal wind power a reality.
Finally, Rob McDonald, communication director for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, is one of the few Native communications directors who has worked in mainstream journalism before returning home to work for his tribe. He’s here as a great resource for journalists who might not know where to begin when telling a story on tribal lands.