TULSA, Okla. – The Osage Nation’s first-ever Watershed Forum brought representatives from tribes around the state to discuss the importance of natural resource preservation Aug. 24.
Watersheds are important to many Native American tribes, including the Osage, because they are viewed as playing a role in spirituality and identity.
“They called our ancestors by the Osage name Ni-U-Ko’n-Ska which means ‘the children of the middle waters’ and they also called us Wah-Zha-Zhi – that means ‘water people,’” Chief John Red Eagle said in his opening remarks to the crowd of about 100 on the forum’s first day. “It is our hope that our water that comes to us in our streams is clean and clear as it comes from the sky.”
A watershed, as defined by guest speakers from the Environmental Protection Agency, is “the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place.” In the continental United States, there are 2,110 watersheds; including Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico, there are 2,267 watersheds, according to the EPA Web site. Dr. Andrea Hunter (Osage) of the Nation’s Tribal Historic Preservation office spoke about the cultural perspective on water.
“We view water as a viable importance to our culture and know you are all in the same agreement with that and that’s why you are here today,” Red Eagle said at the forum. “The world would surely be a poor place without healthy streams where we can teach our children to fish,” he said hoping the event generated ideas on protecting the area’s water.
Also delivering remarks was Muscogee (Creek) Tribal Councilman George Tiger who is also a TV personality for hosting “Inside Native America.”
“We are indeed the original environmentalists. We were taught to take care of this land, we were taught to take care of the resources that we have,” Tiger said. “We were also taught to defend the resources that we have.”
He said he believes the time has come for tribes to negotiate good-faith partnerships at the state and federal levels where Native lands and resources are concerned. Tribes are obtaining more and more leverage every day, whether it’s through casino profits or some other means.
The water quality director for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Shanon Phillips, spoke about the steps her entity used to address watershed issues. “Our primary partners are through the conservation districts” as well as local people who know the areas at issue, she said.
Phillips, who represent various state, tribal and federal environmental entities, said that one of the most important components of addressing watershed issues is education in addition to partnerships.
“The more partners you have, the more likely your program is to be successful.” The event was sponsored by the Dallas-based Region 6 office of the EPA (which covers Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as 66 Native tribes) with additional support from the Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino and the Nation’s Childcare Department.
The view information on the Nation’s Environmental and Natural Resources Department visit www.osagetribe.com/naturalresources. The EPA Region 6 office Web site is www.epa.gov/region6.