Indian tribes today operate and manage fisheries, forests, mines and agricultural projects. Tribes are working with government agencies on highly complex environmental restoration projects such as environmental restoration of ex-government installation sites and reclamation of abandoned mine sites. Tribes have taken on most of the responsibility for protecting the environment of Indian country, and accordingly, operate pesticide regulation, air quality, water quality, drinking water, hazardous waste and solid waste programs.
In addition, activities that tribes undertake to build their economies and create jobs require a scientific and technical underpinning. Whether the tribe operates cattle feedlots or assembles electronic components, the need for a scientifically and technically astute workforce is paramount.
Mainstream educational institutions and programs are not adequately addressing the tribal need for a culturally-aware, scientifically and technically proficient workforce. The American Indian population in the United States now exceeds two million. Although there are over one million college students currently enrolled in two and four year higher education institutions in the United States, fewer than five thousand are American Indian. The drop out rate for American Indian college students is 89%.
To help counter this situation, the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management assists Indian tribes and other indigenous peoples build the cadre of scientifically, technically, and culturally competent men and women they require for the sustainable management, development and conservation of their natural resources and the protection of their environment.
To apply for internship positions, send a cover letter, three references, two writing samples, and a transcript to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Rae Alcorn, a member of the Assiniboine Tribe of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, has been awarded an environmental justice internship at the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management. The internship is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Rocky Flats Field Office. Jessica, a recent graduate of the Brigham Young University-Hawaii joins the Institute after a recent internship in Washington, DC with the Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives where she worked on key Indian legislation. Jessica will be studying the history, philosophical and legal bases and development of the environmental justice movement and concentrating on the environmental justice and tribal implications of the cleanup of the American nuclear weapons complex. As part of her internship program, Jessica will work with senior managers at the Department of Energy's Rocky Flats Field Office to examine the impacts the convergence of environmental restoration and environmental justice has on the Department's decision-making.
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Begay grew up in Baldwin Park, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, and worked for 12 years as a researcher in the library of the federal court. That experience spurred her interest in law and federal jurisdiction.
For her internship, Begay is working on an exploratory project studying how the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb that ended WWII, affected the Pueblo communities around Los Alamos, New Mexico in the 1930's-50's. "We are looking at the oral history phase at this point. A lot of people who were maids and workers who went up to this facility to work, are willing to talk to me about how the facility developed and how it affected them. I think it's a story that needs to be told," said Begay. "I'm trying to gather documentary letters and photographs as well. Right now we are collecting raw data … anything we can find. We're bringing all this information together and sifting through it to see which way we can go with our research."
A member of the Navajo tribe, Begay attended Navajo Community College in Tsaile, Arizona and got a bachelor's degree in sociology from Eastern Kentucky University. "When I was an undergrad I did an independent study on the health effects of uranium melt down on the Hopi and Navajo tribes. With further study I discovered that the majority of the run off had been affecting people and no one had done anything about it.
"I discovered that other Indian tribes have the same problem with gold mining. With Los Alamos, they have problems with contaminants which have been inadvertently dumped over the years and that it was leaking into their ground water and affecting air quality. We are looking at a facility that never took a look at the effects of this on the tribes. There are problems with birth defects, etc. and you never hear about it."
Begay said she will be working on the Los Alamos project for a year. "Being with the Institute gives me a hands on project where I can deal with people and understand their plight. I love working at the Institute. In Kentucky no one knew what I was talking about. It went right over their heads. Here, there is a compilation of people who understand what I want to do with my life and they have similar goals and I enjoy that. I have found a place."
As an independent person and a single parent, Begay says it's been extremely difficult raising her family and going to school, "but I have finally found my niche and I want my children to understand what I am doing." In the next phase of her internship, Begay is going to Germantown, Maryland where she will work at the U.S. Department of Energy continuing her research on Los Alamos.
"In the meantime I am applying to law school so after the duration of the internship I will go to law school and specialize in Indian policy and especially in environmental issues. Some one needs to go in and help them out."
Sonya's project was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management (EM-22).
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Alana Dixson earned her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Yale University. Her studies focused on American Indian cultural identity, the medical anthropology of cultural change, and women's reproductive and mental health in the context of cultural change. Other educational experience includes pre-medical studies at Harvard University Extension School and Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies at Moscow International University, in Moscow, Russia. Ms. Dixson received a Fulbright Fellowship for her studies in Russia. She has also undertaken Japanese language and culture studies in the Princeton University program Nihongo Studies in Kanazawa, In her internship with the Institute, Ms. Dixson is based in Denver. Her research focuses on the impacts of genetic research and the Human Genome Project on health care in Indian country.