The Georgetown environmental department is working with the environmental committee with funding from the EPA to complete a project that aims to document Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as it relates to the Native Village of Georgetown. As we work toward the completion of this project, we will be documenting our goals and progress through a series of blog articles. This is the first article in that series, and we will focus mainly on exploring the question – what is TEK?
Let’s start with an “official” definition, laid out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization in 1994:
The indigenous people of the world possess an immense knowledge of their environments, based on centuries of living close to nature. Living in and from the richness and variety of complex ecosystems, they have an understanding of the properties of plants and animals, the functioning of ecosystems and the techniques for using and managing them that is particular and often detailed…people’s knowledge and perceptions of the environment, and their relationships with it, are often important elements of cultural identity.
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, 1994
From that definition, I think it’s important to note the relationship of people’s perspectives and knowledge of the environment and how it relates to their cultural identity. Georgetown member, Jonathan Samuelson, explores that idea a bit further and brings the idea home:
Sense of place is a critical component to the cultural survival of people of a community. In cases where communities are no longer inhabited a documented history and lifestyle play a vital role in providing knowledge necessary to strengthen one’s sense of place.
Jonathan Samuelson, 2016
As we move forward with this project, we have a few goals in mind:
To preserve information related to the Native Village of Georgetown including topics including but not limited to hunting grounds, harvesting areas, seasonal moves, language, medicinal uses for items found in nature, rituals & diets;
To record how things have changed in the environment surrounding Georgetown; and
To establish and offer a sense of place for Georgetown members.
The photo above is one that we found in the Alaska Regional Profiles: Southwest Region book. It offers just a glimpse into what life was like in Georgetown in 1910, just over a hundred years ago. Our hope is that through this project, we connect the people who have experienced the land and natural resources of Georgetown, document the knowledge they have and be able to offer so much more than just a glimpse.
Stay tuned for more information, and please contact Kate Schaberg at email@example.com or 907-274-2195 if you know of someone who is interested in contributing to the success of this project.
Georgetown Tribal Council staff members just got back from the fall trip out to Georgetown to complete water testing. We have been collecting information from the monitoring well sights since 2008, and the freshwater sites since 2012. In this article we will share some of the interesting trends we are starting to see in the freshwater sites.
For a complete set of water quality data for Georgetown as well as other communities on the middle Kuskokwim, please visit our online map and database here.
Figure 1 below shows the temperatures recorded in the Kuskokwim River, just in front of Georgetown (KR-1), as well as just up from the mouth of the George River (GR-1) from 2012 to 2016. Data is collected in the early part of the summer and in the beginning of the fall each year. What do all of these lines mean? Well in terms of preferred salmon water conditions: If the water temperature is found to be above the bright red line, it means that the water is too warm for migrating salmon and rearing areas. If the water temperature is above the dark red line, it means that the water is too warm for spawning and egg/fry incubation.
All of the recorded temperatures that fall above those lines are labeled in the graph above. Note that on the George River, since 2013, each recording in July has fallen above that dark red line. For the Kuskokwim River, the temperatures are coming in above both the bright red and the dark red, meaning conditions would not be good for salmon migrating through the area or spawning there.
Figure 2 shows Dissolved oxygen levels at these same sites. The only time Dissolved oxygen levels fell outside of the range set by AK DEC water quality standards was in September of this year, and it was above the maximum level, which is less concerning than if it would fall below the range.
pH, salinity & total dissolved solids are other parameters we measure, and those levels are all looking good.
It is worth asking if the rising temperature in the rivers are due to a warming climate. Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP) temperature predictions show for Georgetown (figure 3) that temperature increases will continue and it seems to agree that July is one of the warmer months. To view the interactive version of this graph visit the SNAP website – graphs are available for most communities in Alaska. It seems only likely that if temperatures are on the rise, water temperatures would follow suit.
For more information about the parameters we measure, visit our website. Stay tuned for more information about what kind of metals we are finding in both freshwater and monitoring well sites. We will post information once we receive results from Test America from the trip this September.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completed an early action at the Red Devil Mine site last summer 2015 which basically moved tailings already there away from the creek and created a place to catch future eroded tailings. This also involved some realigning of a portion of the Red Devil Creek.
Why go to all of this effort? It was determined that the tailings piles were eroding into Red Devil Creek, carrying with them high concentrations of mercury, arsenic, and antimony. It was done to provide some help to the area until site-wide clean up can take place.
Now What? In CERCLA Terms, we are awaiting the release of the Proposed Plan.
According to Mike McCrum, the Red Devil Mine Project Manager with the BLM, the BLM has finalized the Feasibility Study (FS) and developed a draft Proposed Plan, which is still under review by the EPA and AK DEC, and cannot yet be made public.
This plan will describe BLM’s preferred site-wide cleanup method. They anticipate the Proposed Plan will be ready to present to communities in the fall of 2015 or the following spring.
After they receive and consider public comment, they can then develop a Record of Decision. That will be the final document that will define what action(s) will be taken, cleanup levels, and future monitoring requirements.
If you have time to read and translate the scientific terminology of the Feasibility Study or Remedial Investigation found here, you may notice that a large amount of focus is on the tailings, and not much time is spent on the groundwater. This is because the initial Study focused on tailings and related contaminated soil.
The BLM is now working on what they are calling the supplemental RI, which will focus on groundwater and Kuskokwim River sediment. A draft of this report was completed in May 2016 and is currently under review. Once complete, they will follow the steps outlined above – eventually coming to a decision on how to cleanup the groundwater and river sediment.
Stay tuned for more updates, we will let you know when the first Proposed Plan is out for public review and commenting.
Since Georgetown is just downriver from the RDM site and we have been documenting high levels of Arsenic in the groundwater wells there, your comments will be important!!
Where you stand looking out at the landscape above is in one of the most pristine places of Alaska I have experienced. I’ve been up to Fairbanks and down to Homer, over to Kodiak and more…and still, this place stands out. There is just something about it…you can sense the sacred nature of it, and almost feel its history.
Unfortunately, keeping it this way isn’t something that will just happen. We’ve got to work together to ensure the protection of the environment here.
So, where do you stand?
So far, we’ve got 13 Tribal Member responses to the Environmental Survey that will show us where you stand on what is important. At the top is the protection of subsistence resources, followed closely behind by water quality, traditional ecological knowledge & the health of the watershed.
Do you agree? Or do you think we should be more focused on climate change or what’s going on with the mining of resources on the Kuskokwim near Georgetown?
The Environmental Department has put together a survey to get input from all Georgetown members. The goal is to be able to focus our attention on the issues you feel are most important. We’d love to hear from each and every one of you about what you feel is most important to the Native Village of Georgetown.
It takes a whole village to not only raise a child, but also to preserve and protect the natural resources for the generations to come.
We are fast approaching the Annual Meeting for the Native Village of Georgetown, which will be held on August 27 this year. This year, not only will two council seats be filled by general election for the Tribal Council, but we are excited to announce we will also be appointing one seat which is open on the Environmental Committee as well.
Currently seated on the Environmental Committee are Georgetown Tribal Members, Renee Fredericks and Debby Hartman. We would love to have another Georgetown member join us this year for quarterly meetings and discussions.
How often and where are the meetings held? Meetings are held either on the phone or in person in the Anchorage office. Travel is paid, pizza is free and delicious!
Where can I learn more about the Environmental Department? Check out our website!
What kind of projects are there? The committee helps point the Environmental Department in the direction they think is most important to the Tribe and land. They do this by developing planning materials, and helping facilitate current projects. Current projects include water quality testing, documenting Tribal Ecological Knowledge, Environmental Education for the Kuskokwim area, and more.
Have more questions about what it’s like to be on the Committee? Give me a call, send me an e-mail, or chat with Renee or Debby.
What is the deadline for volunteering? Let me know by August 26 if you are interested!
Another year, another beautiful summer throughout Alaska; and the fireweed is in full bloom…hard to ignore with its vibrant colors and impressive height. And the thought that surfaces with it is almost unstoppable: “Is the summer really almost over?”
For the GTC Environmental Department, it marks not only a change in time but also a change in staff. Jonathan Samuelson, Georgetown Tribal Member, leaves his position as the Environmental Coordinator – out to experience the next great adventure in life! He has been a very important part of this department, and we are very glad that he will maintain his role working as the Georgetown delegate for the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission.We wish him much luck and are certain he will continue to bring great influences to not only the Environmental department, but the Tribe as a whole.
Filling his role as the Environmental Coordinator – well that’s me…My name is Kate Schaberg. I worked previously in this role from 2012-2014 and it seems I can’t stay away. I have a sincere interest in helping protect the environmental resources surrounding Georgetown, important to so many – whether you currently reside in Georgetown or nearby, visit frequently or just think back on your time there with fond memories, as I do.
A little bit about me: My husband and I have got two little munchkins running around with a 7 month old puppy to keep things exciting. We enjoy camping, fishing, berry picking, and doing lots of house projects. I’m also a very amateur photographer (which I love!) and I like to make jellies and jams, quilts, and other various crafty stuff. I graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, and have been doing a mixture of environmental jobs and customer service / management related positions ever since.
Me with my munchkins
Some of our berry harvest this year
Me with a sheefish, on the Kuskokwim a few years ago
Back in the day!
I am really looking forward to the work we have coming up – topics covering Environmental Education, Tribal Ecological Knowledge, and Water Quality to name a few – ones we will most certainly keep you informed about and hope to involve you in… For now, if you’d like to learn more about our program, please visit our website. If you have questions you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And as for that fireweed? Well, I guess my best advice is to ignore it, embrace it or just pick it to use in some yummy jams! No matter your choice – enjoy the rest of the summer. Til next time..