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The role of indigenous tribes in maintaining clean air versus the spread of pollution without boundaries

In the 1970s, the Forest County Potawatomi Community in Wisconsin began to notice changes in the local ecosystem, impacting the tribe’s traditional practices and beliefs. Upon studying the lakes on their reservation, tribal researchers discovered mercury contamination from a nearby coal-burning power plant. Tribal elders played a critical role in identifying the pollution and raising awareness of the issue.

The tribe’s belief in the Seven Generations, where stewardship of the environment is essential for future generations, led to their fight to obtain Class I status under the Clean Air Act. This classification serves to protect pristine air quality and gives the tribe a voice in proposed projects that could pollute the air around the reservation. The process to achieve this classification was lengthy and involved legal battles with industry lobbyists and developers, but in 2008, the Forest County Potawatomi Reservation gained the Class I designation.

Tribal communities’ influence in air quality extends to their involvement in air monitoring programs, air pollution permit reviews, and carbon sequestration projects. One such project is the Menominee Forest in Wisconsin, managed by the Menominee Nation, which has been recognized for its ability to remove pollutants from the air and store carbon. There are efforts to ensure that if carbon credits are granted in the future, tribes will benefit from their environmental stewardship. Organizations like the National Indian Carbon Coalition are working to help tribal nations and Indigenous landowners develop projects to take advantage of potential carbon credits.

Overall, these efforts demonstrate the importance of tribal knowledge in addressing climate change and maintaining environmental health, and the need for fair recognition and compensation for the care of natural resources carried out by the tribes.

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