ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland on Friday released guidelines for a new youth services program designed to create job opportunities for Native Americans while strengthening their cultural ties to nature through conservation projects on tribal and public lands.
The Indian Youth Service Corps is the latest addition to the Biden administration’s plans to build a 21st century version of the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps. The mission includes everything from clearing brush to reduce wildfire threats and restoring forests to preserving historic sites, helping with archaeological research and building trails.
Haaland spoke of a childhood spent hiking atop high desert plateaus, wading through icy streams and learning about the interconnectedness of the world from his grandparents while walking through cornfields in Laguna. Pueblo in west-central New Mexico.
“I want everyone to have this deep connection to the great outdoors that I’ve been gifted with, and we can help more people access nature no matter where they’re from or where they’re from,” he said. she said Friday during a call with reporters. “We will help raise the next generation of stewards for this Earth.”
Haaland described Native Americans as the first stewards of the land, saying they have learned over many generations how to support communities and it’s time for young Native Americans to have a seat at the table.
The Department of the Interior is providing a combined $3.3 million this year to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation to establish the Indian Youth Service Corps.
The US Forest Service is investing up to $5 million through its partnership with the body, and the National Park Foundation is committing $1 million.
Future funding will depend on agency budgets and private philanthropy.
Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, said enthusiasm is growing for programs that provide young people with paid employment and training in professions related to public lands and natural resource management.
“It checks a lot of really important boxes for donors, and I think the future is very bright for private funding to support these efforts,” he said.
The foundation funds more than 10 conservation and preservation projects from Maine to New Mexico that involve tribal youth teams. Some of the work aims to protect cultural practices, languages and traditional ecological knowledge used for land management.
One of the Indian Youth Service Corps’ first projects will take place in southern Arizona. Six members of the Tohono O’Odham Nation will work as a team in the Coronado National Forest.
Other work around the southwest will include collecting native seeds as land managers work with scientists to reforest areas charred by wildfires.
Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández of New Mexico said the new body will ultimately lead to the incorporation of more traditional knowledge into future conservation efforts as participants move into leadership roles as adults. .
“With this program, knowledge will flow both ways,” she said.