LEAD Agency hosted a conference and asked people to come. For the most part we learned hard science, or had it put upon us. We were impacted by what we heard from all who spoke.
People who know about our watershed want to tell us about what they know. We have laws to protect us and our environment, but they are not enforced or the laws are not protecting us because not every bad actor follows them or because the laws are just not strong enough yet.
Ga Du Gi is an old Cherokee term for working together, but we have it happening within the Tar Creek Superfund site where EPA talks with DEQ and US FWS can be in the room, tribes can sit at the table and the public sometimes has to wait for 10 years to even know there is a table. DEQ is working with the Ottawa County Health Department and at this conference got to see the Northeast Tribal Health System needs to be connected to both to be more protective to all the children here.
This was one of our goals from the beginning 19 years ago, to put people representing agencies and departments together in one room and see what can come from it for public good. But to also give the flexibility and opportunity to have these individuals meet us, the pubic and learn our hopes so they could then be our best advocates.
It is relationships, it is taking the time to know who you are sitting near and starting from there. One hundred people at a time put their minds together as one and can concentrate on how our lives and this place can be and we move it all forward. Someone who came to the first conference and returned this year saw the progress that has occurred. Some chat piles are gone, towns are gone, Miami has grown and the lead levels in children have gone down. But since the CDC changed the action level of concern we know now that in those early years MANY more of us and our children would have been deemed lead poisoned by the current standard.
Art must be woven into our lives even in a superfund site and art greeted all who registered with the banner and paintings created by Miami High School students. Music is still magical and can change everything. Music by Solace Unplugged with Colin Frayser, my nephew and Erin Fitzgibbon during the Fish Fry sponsored by the Afton Masonic Lodge # 76 took me back to the Cherokee Volunteers' Fish Tournaments on Tar Creek when they played at our early awareness events. Earl Hatley and I danced to their last song, just as we had all those years ago. Fish will be part of these events and one day the fish may be coming out of this Tar Creek like Colby Allen and many others remember.
There were many special moments, but one was having Dr. Wright return this year. He presented data on what has been learned from the MATCH Study and how the metal mixture our babies receive here is making statistically significant changes on birth weight and head size. We all listened and I remembered how smart he is and how kind he is to not notice what he says goes right over small headed people like me. He thinks we understand. And that is quite a complement to give.
At one time we lined up the health officials in the front of the room who have been with us since the big discovery was made that one in three Indian children here were lead poisoned and who are continuing that work now as those numbers have been reduced. They are still at it wanting NONE of our children to be lead poisoned.
To me they represented those people we had on the front of the shirts, the past and the present with the future next door testing children and adults for lead and the NEO nursing students who came between classes the high school environmental science students who showed up on a day out of school to take the Toxic Tour and the graduate students who brought posters of their projects. The true future were those 2 little children who ran quietly in tandem running straight into their futures clearly undaunted by the facts whirling around the room.
I looked out from the podium and saw a room full of people who cared and that should give us all renewed hope. We want this place better so make plans now to join us next year to learn of the year's progress, we will work on getting the Frisbees for the Tar Creek corridor that could be established by then by the City, take one last look at the mess at BF Goodrich, drive back through the chat piles because some of this will look different next September. Changes I am liking and a future to believe in.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim