The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs has been working closely with the RESTORE Council and five Gulf tribes in applying $500,000 of settlement funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The project supports summer camps designed to engage tribal youth in conservation, restoration and stewardship of their lands, as well as provide valuable skills and job training.
Almost 250 youths (12-25 years old) from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida have participated in these Tribal Youth Conservation Camps since 2016. These youths engaged in a wide range of activities, from coastal cleanups and gardening, to prescribed fire training and tagging sharks.
Summing up the summer experience, one Seminole youth said, “I have learned a lot. It’s crazy what all I didn’t know. I don’t have to just call flowers ‘flowers.’ I know their names now. The people are fun and want to help us learn what we don’t know, and it’s really cool.”
Harold Peterson, a natural resources officer in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Eastern Region) is involved with the program. He says the ultimate goal is to strengthen the protection, conservancy, and long-term maintenance of natural resources on tribal lands around the Gulf Region. Speaking to a group of Chitimacha youth about their summer work, he said: “When you come back in five, ten, or 30 years, you will see the work that you accomplished, and you will remember that you were a part of making this happen. This will give you a personal stake in the land on which you are living.”
As part of the program, Miccosukee youth learned their tribe’s traditional way of fishing using a gig, a pole with a sharp object on the end that’s used to puncture the fish. They also learned the Miccosukee names for native species such as Florida gar, largemouth bass and bowfin. Photo by Amy Castaneda.
Seminole youths learned how to conduct surface water sampling, including how to make field measurements for pH, conductivity, temperature and dissolve oxygen. Photo by Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Contributed by Nadine Siak, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SE Region/Gulf Restoration Program