"People need more than jobs and the economy. They also need art, they need spirituality and they need to touch wild, flowing water and they need it to run through their town." as the Waterkeeper for the Poudre River in Colorado said.
But they need that water to be clean and safe, they need an environment their children can explore, and they need clean air to breath.
After years of working with researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health officially and for a few years informally, on environmental and health impacts in the Tar Creek Superfund site and later to learn about the mercury in the Grand Lake watershed, her fish and the people who eat them, saying goodbye to researcher Laurel Schaider in the Raleigh/Durham airport this week, it seemed like it was for the last time. Some of the most renown experts in the field of public health and environmental issues have made their way to northeast Oklahoma to learn about our toxic waste and its effects on our babies, including finding out the fate and transport of the metals into our watershed.
Laurel and I were invited to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) for a gathering of the grantees of the Research to Action. Some of the people attending were in the early stages of their projects, but our project had been completed so we were able to present summaries of our findings.
Symma Finn, comes to the NIEHS with a background in cultural anthropology, finding the heart and spirit of the people she encounters to truly know them and more fully value each. She is as she says, a member of a tribe with a 6,000 year history and as such connects deeply and easily with tribal and native peoples. Imagine how this kind of person can influence research at the National Institutes of Health in richly culturally based communities!
At the meeting we attended, only academic researchers with community partners were able to find funding through Research to Action and only if they are truly connected with a community with a great need for answers.
These particular research projects had to be designed WITH community input, not developed only at a university and then what they described at the meeting, with researchers "helicoptered" into a place in the world, and then leaving without a trace of information left behind, as if the community never mattered, only their dilemma.
No these projects could not begin, would never happen, if they had not demonstrated at the beginning and all through the project that these were partnerships. Community engaged with research in real partnerships. So the meeting I attended was very interesting. Fifteen community projects from around the country shared what they learned from the science question, or what they hoped to learn, but also how these partnerships were guided, where these people working together got better answers.
Working together. That is what the Cherokees have known to do, we call it ga-du-gi, working together. We have known it all along. Strength is found that way, accomplishments are achieved as well as in these cases knowledge for good. While Chad Smith was Principal Chief of the Cherokees it was a theme of his administration.
On returning from the National Institute in North Carolina meeting of researchers and their community partners, after leaving the airport, by chance I saw one of my heroes, Chad Smith, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. He was also returning from North Carolina and a quick visit with the Eastern Band of Cherokees.
His appearing that night, returning as I was from North Carolina, though from different places, with his appearance it all became more clear. Symma Finn must have been born understanding this concept, ga-du-gi.
Our community and others have questions, and researchers like Laurel Schaider will be coming to help us answer them using this concept. She and others I met at the meeting are finding it works to benefit all.