KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – EM and the State and Tribal Government Working Group (STGWG) each mark 30th anniversaries this year, and they came together last week to reflect on an enduring partnership that has helped the cleanup program make informed decisions protective of people and the environment.
"I appreciate the contributions and leadership of STGWG over the past 30 years in promoting the importance of long-term stewardship and institutional controls," EM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Gilbertson told participants in STGWG’s spring meeting. He also noted that EM is counting on the group’s partnership and counsel in the next chapter toward cleanup completion and thoughtful stewardship.
Representatives from tribes and states that host DOE facilities or are impacted by activities at them comprise STGWG. The working group is focused on key topics such as long-term stewardship, natural resource damages, and tribal issues with additional interest in transportation planning, nuclear waste and materials disposition, and deactivation and decommissioning activities.
EM is committed to cleanup completion so states, tribes, and communities around EM can envision a vibrant future with enduring opportunities, including access to cultural lands, appropriate protection of cultural and natural resources, economic growth, and educational development, Gilbertson said.
"I hope you will continue to bring your ideas for solutions to the table as this process continues," he said. "That includes helping us understand tribal visons for future land use and exploring, together, the potential for expanded access where tribal interests seek reconnection with areas of great cultural significance.”
Gilbertson also emphasized the importance of science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) and workforce development initiatives to shape a 21st-century workforce in tribal communities and beyond. EM contractors will address STEM and workforce needs across EM sites, he added.
Gilbertson highlighted the Santa Fe Indian School as an example of a DOE-Tribal STEM partnership with impactful results. Many of the school’s graduates have gone on to work in STEM fields, including work for EM contractors and tribal environmental monitoring programs related to EM’s cleanup mission.
Gilbertson also paid tribute to Dr. Russell Jim, a Yakama Nation elder and STGWG founder who died last year. He described Jim as a strong leader for the Yakama Nation and a leading voice in EM’s cleanup and the national conversation to address the Manhattan Project legacy.
Meeting participants watched the film, “A Quiet Warrior,” commemorating Jim’s legacy. EM Tribal Affairs Director Albert Brandt Petrasek, Peter Chestnut with the Pueblo de San Ildefonso, and Yakama Nation members Councilman George Selam, Laurene Contreras, and Natalie Swan all shared messages honoring Jim. The film spotlights Jim’s critical role in ensuring the involvement of tribes in DOE decisions regarding cleanup, and that they received “affected status” under the U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1987.