Miami High School students named themselves the Cherokee Volunteer Society, in preference to the early members' tribal affiliation and the funding source! They began after school only. A directive changed it to doing service learning during the school day. Creative teachers up and down the halls were involved in one or more of their classrooms. When Cherokee Nation offered to purchase items for the teachers' classrooms for projects, that helped. We thought school budgets were tight then!
I spent some time with Nancy Scott this week reflecting on the powerful work Miami High School students did for over a decade culminating with their Tar Creek Project. It was exciting to share with her what has happened at the site since 1995. There are still teachers in Miami and in the county weaving service learning into their classrooms with students doing impactful environmental projects that benefit the continued efforts on educating the public about Tar Creek and the multitude of issues that can encompass as well as the other environmental issues effecting us.
Nancy shared with me a conversation she had with one of the early EPA officials associated with our site back then who told her in confidence our site could never be cleaned up. No one said it would be quick, but bit by bit it is happening. It took almost a century to ruin the land and the water and reversing it will take time and if it was fully funded it could be done in our lifetime.
George Mayer found mine drainage had ruined his land. He was told the damage was irreversible. What we are learning from University of Oklahoma's Bob Nairn and his passive water treatment system on George Mayer's land in Commerce that IRREVERSIBLE can be REVERSED! Bad water to good. Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, EPA and the Quapaw Tribe are taking bad land to good, now too.
But also in our lifetime, we have to look downstream and even globally at the big and bigger world issues and the direction we are on must change and quickly. We are fouling the only planet we have, our very mother. What good will it be if we "fix" our corner of this county if calamity hits the coasts and island homelands with seas rising? Or if man-made earthquakes collapse it all? Greenhouse gases are causing the arctic ice to melt. Climates are changing so quickly we nor those we share this planet with will have no time to adapt. Flooding we certainly know can happen, and serious droughts in other parts of the globe are occurring.
Our once beautiful Grand Lake o' the Cherokees is one of a million man-made dams or reservoirs in the world. Reservoirs are a classic instance of how major human alteration’s to the Earth’s landscape can have unexpected effects. We have seen this lake change over the years as permitted waste water discharges and agricultural nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are trapped in it causing algal growth.
"Flooding large areas of Earth can set off new chemical processes as tiny microorganisms break down organic matter in the water, sometimes doing so in the absence of oxygen — a process that leads to methane as a byproduct," said Bridget Deemer, a researcher with Washington State University. The study has found these reservoirs "to be a major cause of one of the worst greenhouse gases: methane more than natural lakes, ponds, rivers, or wetlands.”
Standing Rock Sioux tribe chairman Dave Archambault said recently about their pipeline protest, it is not just to protect their lives but to protect the lives of generations to come. In a recent article by Mary Katherine Nagle and Gloria Steinem, "They are the canaries. We are all living in the mine." As canaries we know a lot about damage mines can cause.
Since the original Cherokee Volunteer Society's Tar Creek Project was such a success, we need to reconvene those members with their children and keep pushing on that front. Then I am thinking we have a great need for our youth to take on more additional projects, Climate Projects, Water Projects, Air Projects, Living Creatures Protection Projects, I could go on. Let's get started, give us a call at LEAD Agency, we will partner with your kids, you and your families, and any teacher. There are projects needing to begin.
Your Fellow Canary,
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim