July 23, 1998

For Further Information Contact: John Echohawk, (303) 447-8760

 

NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS FUND RECIEVES ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

BOULDER, CO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) with an "Outstanding Environmental Achievement Award" at a special recognition ceremony on Thursday, July 23rd. NARF staff attorneys Mark Tilden (Navajo) and Don Wharton accepted the award for their work on the development of a "Tribal Environmental Policy Act" for the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. The awards ceremony was held at the US West Auditorium (17th & Curtis) in Denver from 9:00 - 11:30 am. The "Tribal Environmental Policy Act" originated from the growing need to protect the health and welfare of the people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Over the years, development projects have harmed the environment of the reservation. And, faced with limited financial and technical resources and the lack of the necessary mechanisms for monitoring development, the Oglala Sioux Tribe was unable to address these growing problems themselves. In August 1997, they gained legal assistance from the Native American Rights Fund. After reviewing the environmental situation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, NARF determined that codes and ordinances alone would not accomplish their goal. They needed to develop a Tribal Environmental Review Code that would authorize systematic oversight of tribal and non-tribal development. Following fourteen months of regular visits to the reservation to work directly with the Tribe's Environmental Health Technical Team (EHTT), Don Wharton, Mark Tilden and the EHTT developed and obtained approval of the "Tribal Environmental Review Code" from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council on April 20, 1998. Presently, NARF is working with the Tribe on implementation of the code and is drafting operations manuals that will enable other tribes to better understand the process necessary to develop codes of this nature.

Oglala Tribal President John Yellowbird Steele, nominated NARF for the EPA Environmental Achievement Award. "They have done an outstanding job working with the Tribe in developing a document that could have the potential to change the environment of the Pine Ridge Reservation in a positive way. No thanks can ever be enough for what NARF has done for the Oglala Sioux Tribe." The Pine Ridge Reservation is the second largest Indian reservation in the United States with a total population of 37,000.

The Native American Rights Fund is a non-profit organization that provides legal advice and representation to Indian tribes, individuals and organizations nationwide in the areas of: the preservation of tribal existence; the protection of tribal natural resources; the promotion of human rights; the accountability of governments to Native Americans; and the development of Indian law. NARF is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado with offices in Washington, DC and Anchorage, Alaska.