For me personally this 18th conference was "peach seed game full" of emotions, beginning with a former Cherokee Volunteer from Miami High School, Ashley Jenkins greeting everyone as they entered the Miami Civic Center. Students were instrumental in beginning awareness events about this site years before the first Tar Creek Conference.
Ariel Ross a professor of literature at Oklahoma State University took me to the underworld rich with natural resources, rivers and ancient oceans. As a pregnant woman nearing the birth of her baby she comforted her young son during the state's largest earthquake this month brought on by the oil and gas industrial practices of hydraulic fracturing known as fracking and the resulting need to dispose of the contaminated waste water in deep injection wells.
Lots of other places on earth have experienced earthquakes of great magnitude, but Oklahoma's was the only one that man made happen. And though she cries with fear and sadness when these occur she repeated "What can I do?" And answers that she can talk, she can tell her stories and believes these can create feelings that can change minds. We can do the same, tell our stories, and tell hers.
As an environmental conference, climate change is a given topic, but Sara Hill, the Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources woke us up with a concept: tribes forcibly removed experienced "eco-shift" when moved to different region, zone with new plant species. They had to learn quickly to adapt to their extreme climate shift. According to Cherokee Nation code our responsibility is for the next generation, reminding us as Richard Zane Smith had done the day before that we are not the only inhabitants of this earth. "It is wild out there, let's keep it that way!" Secretary Hill expressed, also stating the stance Cherokee Nation has on the upcoming state question 777 is a NO vote to be protective of our environment.
We learned about bees and I was spellbound with Jonathan Tinsley's description of the hive as a living organism with bees wiggle dancing and even becoming lazy if they are located too close to fresh water and flowering plants. This Beekeeper for the Quapaw Tribe produces the needs for the restaurants at the Downstream Casino, and will produce candles and honey for sale, while the bees help pollinate this corner of their lands. We learned from Bob Nairn that the irreversible is being reversible!
With Ean Garvin's presentation of the Six Treaty Tribes study of metals in edible plants found outside the boundaries of the Tar Creek Superfund site and hearing the results I could hardly breathe, in some areas zero plants are safe to consume, not even one bite of one. Our transplanted tribes who learned to adapt to this area have since 1870 or earlier been consuming plants loaded with toxic metals.
My heart hurts for the damage to the earth that has occurred and for all who have been damaged by consuming her gifts. "That compulsion to dig” a line from Maryann Hurtts poem has had consequences including lead poisoning in local children with numbers rising once again in Ottawa County. But the hope now is the DEQ and the County Health Department are working together to get children tested for lead but also to get their yards sampled for lead. DEQ's Brian Stanila said they are not done and the rise of lead poisoned kids has been a wakeup call for the agency. They have no intention of stopping until all is done and I have no intention to stop advocating for the children.
With the conference passed we are left with the question: what can we do? We can stand up as Casey Camp-Horinek tells us, we can tell our stories as Ariel Ross says, we can vote NO on 777 as recommended by the Cherokee Nation. The list goes on. But to complete the list of what we might also do, we may cry for the losses and damage, but we may also smile a bit when we think of the Linda Warner story of coyote's entrapment by the Rubber Boy or those bees doing the wiggle dance.
Human emotions, we have them. Experience and feel them and then stand up.