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Tribal youth tapped for conservation projects

Projects would connect Native American youth with conservation projects on ancestral and public lands. Here, youth workers plant a tree outside the Nihi Dine’é Bá, for the People Wellness Center in Fort Defiance, Arizona. (ALCC Facebook)

Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), unveiled a renewed Indian Youth Service Corps (IYSC) program June 10 at a news conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The program seeks to connect Native American youth aged 16 to 30 with conservation projects on public and Indian lands and into potential career paths.

Organizers intend for the program to help provide good-paying jobs while also tackling the climate crises. The IYSC is also designed for tribal youth to deepen their connections to the nation’s natural and cultural resources.

The IYSC was created through the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019, and is modeled after other successful programs like the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps (ALCC), which began at Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico in 2008.

The Interior Department is providing $2 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, $700,000 to the National Park Service and $600,000 to the Bureau of Reclamation to launch the renewed program. In addition, the National Park Foundation said it would commit $1 million to IYSC projects, as well as continue its support of ongoing tribal youth service corps projects. The NPF is currently funding more than 10 such projects across the U.S.

The IYSC projects seek to protect Indigenous cultural practices, languages and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) used for land management practices. Activities can include research projects, oral histories, habitat surveys, climate mitigation, trail restoration, invasive species removal, fire fuels reduction, watershed restoration, recreational expansion and the development of educational, informational or communication materials for the public.

“Indigenous people have a strong and abiding connection to the earth – increasing their access to nature early and often will help lift up the next generation of stewards for this earth,” Haaland said at the news conference.

The projects are to take place on tribal lands, or on federal lands where tribes have ancestral connections. The program authorizes tribes to enter into agreements with qualified youth or conservation corps to carry out the projects. It also allows the secretaries of the departments of the Interior, Agriculture or Commerce to enter into cooperative agreements with tribes to provide funding and other support.

The full program guidelines are available at doi.gov.

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