Native American youth should be recruited into conservation projects

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland on Friday introduced guidelines for a new youth service program designed to create job opportunities for Native Americans while strengthening their cultural ties to nature through conservation projects on tribal and public lands.

The Indian Youth Service Corps is the latest addition to the Biden administration’s plans to build a 21st-century New Deal-era version of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The mission includes everything from clearing scrub to reduce wildfire risk and restoring forests to preserving historic sites, assisting with archaeological research and building hiking trails.

Haaland spoke of a childhood spent hiking high desert mesas, wading freezing streams and learning about the interconnected world from her grandparents while walking through corn fields in Laguna Pueblo in western New Mexico.

“I want everyone to have this deep connection to the great outdoors that I gifted, and we can help more people access the great outdoors, no matter where they’re from or what background they’re from,” she said during a conversation on Friday with reporters. “We will help build the next generation of stewards for this earth.”


Describing Native Americans as the original stewards of the land, Haaland said they learned how to sustain communities over many generations and that it was time for Indigenous youth to have a seat at the table.

The Department of the Interior is directing a combined $3.3 million this year to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation to create the Indian Youth Service Corps.

The US Forest Service is investing up to $5 million through its partnership with the Corps, and the National Park Foundation is providing $1 million.

Future funding will depend on agency budgets and private philanthropy.

Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, said there is growing enthusiasm for programs that provide young people with paid jobs and training for careers related to public lands and natural resource management.

“It checks a lot of really important boxes for donors and I think the future is very bright for private funding to support this effort,” he said.


The foundation funds more than 10 conservation and conservation projects from Maine to New Mexico that involve tribal youth teams. Part of the work aims to protect cultural practices, languages ​​and traditional ecological knowledge used in land management.

One of the Indian Youth Service Corps’ first projects will be in southern Arizona. Six members of the Tohono O’Odham Nation will work as a crew on the Coronado National Forest.

Other work in the Southwest includes collecting native seeds as land managers work with scientists to replant areas charred by wildfire.

Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández of New Mexico said the new corps will ultimately result in more traditional knowledge being incorporated into future conservation efforts as participants assume leadership roles as adults.

“With this program, knowledge will flow both ways,” she said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Native American youth should be recruited into conservation projects

Sarah Y. Kim

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