Tribal leaders summit draws big numbers

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From left, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, tribal chairwoman, Lawrence Roberts, legal counsel with Kilpatrick, Townsend and Stockton, Bret Stearns, director, Natural Resources Department of the Wampanoag Tribe, and Sally Jewell, former United States Secretary of the Interior. — Courtesy Bret Stearns

The EPA New England Tribal Leaders Summit & Environmental Conference, hosted by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) at the Tribal Community Center, from Nov. 1 to 3, covered a wide range of topics, and drew tribal representatives from eight of the 10 federally acknowledged tribes in EPA Region 1, which encompasses New England and New York, and top-level officials from a number of federal agencies.

“We had a great lineup, and we had excellent interaction between the agencies and tribes,” Bret Stearns, director of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) natural resources department, told The Times. “We had regional directors from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the American Indian Environmental Office, and the Army Corps of Engineers. We were really pleased that former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell could make it. She’s done a lot of work with the tribes. She’s an amazing woman. She was a big draw to the conference.”

State representative Dylan Fernandes also attended the conference.

Mr. Stearns said a discussion with tribal elders underscored the rate of climate change.
“We had five elders that spoke. The focus was adaptation to climate change, and the decline they’ve seen over their lifetime in quantity and quality of wildlife species. That seems to be predominant in Indian country. Things that they lived off of when they were growing up aren’t readily available.”

There were also conservation success stories, which included a tribe in Maine that bought a dam and retrofitted it so salmon and alewives could once again spawn upstream.

“We also had an top-notch panel of experts that discussed the latest information in tick-borne diseases. Those talks will be up on the MVTV website soon,” he said.
The conference was the first event of its kind at the tribe’s community center. “It’s the first conference we’ve hosted in the community center building, and it worked out really well,” Mr. Stearns said. “We haven’t had a place where we can host that many people. On the second day we hosted almost 100 people.”