When the first "Tar Creek Conference" happened 21 years ago, LEAD Agency was a baby as we sat down with the Quapaws, the Health Department, university researchers, high school students and community members to plan a conference. Why? Back in those days, too many children were lead poisoned and our hopes looked bleak. There was an urgency to get action to protect CHILDREN and to do that we needed to get federal and state agencies to LIKE US, to get those same agencies to break their own barriers, let us be part of the solution and TALK to each other SO they would help fix our environment quicker.
Miami High School Cherokee Volunteers were at a table then and Cherokee Volunteers returned for this conference as full functioning adults setting aside their responsibilities to rejoin the mix of the thing they helped create. The son of one was a winner in our first ever Poetry Slam Monday night.
These conferences pulled people who knew about acid mine drainage and health impacts of mining to share with the pubic, students and to put this out in front of the agencies charged with doing their job here. We wanted to create a place, a time for collaboration to spawn. And we wanted to be able to see it happen, right before our eyes. We figured if we made the possibility of it, added art and music, and a pie auction, why wouldn't it?
We wanted to get people in the chairs. We needed the diversity of our cultures to be valued in a space that provided time for it.
It was thought through. The template was established. Each year since, the pieces look different, but the components lego-together as we build how the conference will be the vehicle to bring us closer to cleanup of this environmental disaster we call home.
We learned about aquifers from the USGS, how they hide and where they lay and what divides them and their age, where they go and how they can bleed out and can be contaminated by what lands on the land, is absorbed and comes finally out of our tap at home.
Tons and money with lots of zeros. Tons of chat hauled off land costs lots of money. And will take MORE time and more money to bring those once Quapaw Reservation lands back, but 800 acres have been done and crops are growing there, not chat blowing there. We celebrate and wait and honor the workers there who are doing it. And their environmental department who put the plans together for the next plot of work to be done.
If you want to keep the attention of your audience, we learned you need to entice them with birds, or butterflies and we had both. It gets different when you look at how the environment we get up in the morning each day can harm the least amongst us, the birds we barely notice, continue to be the "canaries" for us.
Our hope is for each conference to spur our attendees to action. The action this time was to tell our senator he has made us mad. The Inhofe Amendment was blatant and the kiss of death to the City of Miami and a promise the next floods will continue to be worse. What came of it? Tribes, the City and LEAD Agency standing together, he will not divide us, only bring us together, stronger.
Most conferences you will attend are built to make you smarter. Ours does that, but we aim to make you feel human emotions. I had many and having my niece, Mary Moon, my brother Clark Frayser and my son Dana Jim there, gave me courage.
It takes time to move mountains. But it takes tears to move us. I had them this year. Maybe you did, too, attending or Facetimed with us.
That child did not see me cry. But the man he asked did. The question he raised was, " as a soccer player on the fields near BFGoodrich am I at an elevated risk for lung cancer?”
The only child in the room asked the question we all could not muster courage to ask. What about those children going to school nearby? or their teachers, the neighbors? Parents go to sleep each night wondering. But parents, it is worse. Your children may know enough to worry themselves.
Each day EPA is removing more danger by driving TONS of it out the gate. The urgency moves it and moved Mike McAteer to fight for us. I can't begin to tell you how important it is to know someone inside that agency.
It is a remarkable thing to see people from the past set back into one of the last places I saw them in action, 21 years ago. Cori Stotts and Chris Robinson were a force when they were in high school. They took on Governor Keatings' Tar Creek Task Force and bellied up there and asked the big questions, because they deserved answers and they were not getting them.
Collaborations occurred this time, I witnessed them, snapped a few, and others will surface. People in charge sat down with our moms and talked one on one to reduce their fears.
The annual conference at Tar Creek was filled with citizens, agency people, not nearly enough angry people but all informed and inspired to demand this place better.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim