27 July 2014

The Grad School Plan. Or something to that effect.

In one month (!!!) I will step on a plane, order up a delicious-at-altitude tomato juice, and settle into about 3 feature-length films' worth of flight haze before re-emerging into the welcoming arms of the academic world.

That is to say: I am starting my Masters in Applied Ecology at the University of Poitiers, France, in one month. ONE. MONTH. And I will be focusing on river ecosystems; bio-indicators; and how to educate communities on monitoring the quality of their local water sources.

The program is through Erasmus Mundus, an EU-based collaboration between European universities that facilitates study between multiple campuses. I will be studying at the University of Poitiers for one semester, and at the University of Coimbra (Portugal) for three semesters more. That’s the current plan. But there’s a lot of mobility, and a lot of room for switching it up. So I might just end up on another of the affiliated campuses for some of that time, very possibly the Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany. WHO KNOWS.

One thing is for sure: a month in there will be spent at the University of Quito, Ecuador, with field time in the Galapagos. So, you know. There’s that.

This program brings with it the normal academic challenges of essay-writing and deadlines and presentations, but it also presents linguistic challenges, and cultural ones; and I am fully aware that I will be diving in at the deep end. But I feel like that is exactly what is important right now. Considering how wide-spread current environmental challenges are, we need to be able to think globally and act locally; and intercultural fluency will be key.

So, stay tuned. Science, procrastination, homework, adventures, bike rides, and international river ecology to follow.

25 July 2014

Indigenous communities world wide connecting through the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, and the conviction that through the collection of data, communities can assert their rights for clean and healthy rivers.

How to change the world, starting with water rights

Everyone has the right to an undamaged ecosystem…. right?

This, along with the trippy idea that everyone has the right to clean drinking water, is the driving tenet of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council. The YRITWC, a collaboration between almost 70 indigenous groups along Canada and Alaska’s Yukon River, conducts what it calls “healing journeys” along the Yukon River every year. These journeys connect tribes along the river and give them a voice in the battle to keep the Yukon River’s water drinkable (or, in many cases, to restore it to drinkability), and as the canoes arrive at each new community they hand out water testing supplies. These supplies will be used to take samples of the river at each site over the course of the next year. This - quantitative data on the river’s health - is their weapon of choice.

The data that is coming out of the Yukon River due to these yearly healing journeys is of extraordinarily good quality, to the point that the YRITWC have been given charge of the USGS’s water quality testing program. And the data is invaluable: it is providing a scientific basis for fighting back against pollution along the Yukon. It is giving voice to indigenous communities. It is reminding them: they have the LEGAL RIGHT to be able to drink from the Yukon River. A simple, obvious right, but one which has been (and is being) compromised.

What is amazing about the YRITWC’s program is that indigenous leaders worldwide are looking at it, and deciding that it is about damn time for something like that to exist on their river, too. Tribal leaders in regions as far-flung as Siberia, Peru, and South Sudan have invited Yukon leaders to meet with them and facilitate the set-up of similar programs on their rivers.

This. Is. Amazing.

I bring up this beautiful program, and the widespread appeal of the environmental and political work it is doing, because this is the reason I am going to graduate school. We are living in a world of rapidly dwindling resources, rapidly increasing quantities of pollution and waste, and rapidly decreasing space in which to put all the crap we generate. Communities, especially those that are small and disconnected, are often at the mercy of large companies, governments, cities and other entities that are able to pollute with impunity; because small groups lack the voice to speak up. The YRITWC and other groups like it are giving them that voice, and a sense of empowerment to go with it.

And, on top of that - they are preserving some beautiful ecosystems. Kudos to great deeds.
Cool links on the YRITWC:
Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council website 
Larson, John. “Giving a Microphone to the World’s Most Remote People.” PBS. An awesome video about the work of YRITWC director Jon Waterhouse, who started the initial healing journeys. 
Rosenfeld, Rob and Jon Waterhouse. “The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council.” Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation. A presentation by Jon Waterhouse and previous YRITWC director Rob Rosenfeld on some of their ongoing projects.