By JoVonne Wagner, Climate Change Intern, Blackfeet Environmental Office
We cannot plan our future without considering how climate change will affect us.
Lea Whitford is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation and is an active Planner for the Blackfeet Economic Development and Planning Department.
During the early weeks of our climate change internship, Lea Whitford and Cheryl Reevis gave a presentation to us. The presentation was based on the type of work that they do at the planning department. As it turns out, most of us had little knowledge of what goes on in the Planning Department – some did not know it even existed!
Lea and Cheryl explained to us how every building project on the Blackfeet Nation comes to life. The Planning Department works hand-in-hand with the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council (BTBC) and the Blackfeet Environmental Office (BEO) to ensure that our community will benefit from projects, and that any building project won’t cause harm to our land and air quality. With guidance from the BEO, the Planning Department is very aware and cautious of how and where their projects are built.
The goal for every new plan that comes to their department is to construct it with having minimum impact on the surrounding environment. Lea illustrated to us the priorities of considering all variables that go into planning a new building such as materials used, location, and duration of the project. She put into perspective for us that when we compare our reservation to crowded cities, cities’ priorities are evident – which usually means that some cities don’t acknowledge some of the negative effects that development will have on the environment. Gerald Wagner, the director of the BEO told the interns: “We will not get any more land, that this is it.” This is why he does the work the does, to help protect our homeland and to preserve the natural beauty that we, the interns, all grew up with. This is how significant planning is for our future.
Grant writers, contractors, engineers, nurses, environmentalists, teachers, and more are all needed in some way or another back on the reservation. In the presentation, Lea mentioned that because of the lack of on-reservation construction and supply, the tribe usually goes off the reservation to hire contractors.
The Planning Department Committee took this opportunity to speak to us, the interns, because they understood the significance of giving back to our community, investing in our young adults, and creating sustainability in our home and for our future. Because every one of the interns have plans or have already begun their college career, leading to different career choices, Lea and Cheryl’s message was that there are jobs available to us at home on the reservation. There is something to come back to after we have our degrees in hand, and that we can, firsthand, better our community, and watch it grow. We can be the ones who create more career and job opportunities that will benefit our youth.