DENVER, Colo. — The National Wildlife Federation and partners hosted the fifth in a series of environmental justice and frontline community roundtables, with elected officials joining leaders from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The virtual meeting gathered nearly 20 community advocates, local, county, state and federal officials, faith, youth, and nonprofit leaders to explore how people of color in cities like Denver; Albuquerque, N.M.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Phoenix; Salt Lake City; Carson City, Nev.; Las Vegas; and the Navajo Nation are coping, planning and preparing forward thinking to resume conservation practices, policies, education, and engagement.
“The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the health and environmental challenges facing frontline communities and communities of color — and underscored why we need to have real conversations with people about the solutions they need and how to get there,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s important to support our frontline communities to endure through this incredibly challenging time. We need to seize the opportunity to respond in ways that create a smarter, more resilient, and more nature-based future through equitable and just recovery packages that enable our most vulnerable to move from surviving to thriving.”
"Headlines across the nation have been reflecting what our communities have known for generations -- that environmental disparities exist, and will continue to prevail if we do not address and dismantle the systemic oppression that so many experience," said Camilla Simon, Executive Director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO). "Public health challenges such as pollution and climate change disproportionately impact communities of color, and dialogue that connects local leadership to policy makers and community leaders is essential to finding solutions that address and prioritize community experiences.”
National partners supporting the series of roundtables include American Public Health Association, Amnesty International, NAACP, National Children’s Campaign, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, National Environmental Justice Journal, and Union of Concerned Scientists.
Participants included U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.); U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.); U.S. Rep. Selena Torres (D-Nev.); U.S. Rep. Mark Wheatley (D-Utah); a representative from the office of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.); New Mexico State Land Commissioner Garcia Richards; San Miguel County Commissioner Max Trujillo; Rio Arriba County Economic Development Director Chris Madrid; Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal; Arturo Sandoval, Center of Southwest Culture; Las Vegas City Councilor Olivia Diaz; Taishya Adams, Colorado Parks and Wildlife; C. Parker McMullen Bushman, Ecoinclusive, Inclusive Journeys and Colorado State University; Collinus Newsome, the Colorado Health Foundation; Joshua Mahan, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs; Nizhooni Hurd, Environmental Learning for Kids; Tara Benally, Rural Utah Project; Kent Salazar, National Wildlife Federation; Dr. Daniel Mendoza, University of Utah; President Duane “Chili” Yazzie, Shiprock chapter of the Navajo Nation.
The event provided a forum to discuss the intersection of conservation issues — such as biodiversity, resilient ecosystems, habitats, farming and agriculture — with justice issues such as tribal affairs, urban community mental and public health, COVID-19, housing, jobs, education, voting, migrant labor rights, brown and green infrastructure, water affordability and shutoffs. Through its work focusing on urban initiatives and environmental justice, the National Wildlife Federation recognizes that all of these factors are interrelated.
"The current pandemic has exposed the centuries-long oppression of Indigenous, Mexicano and Chicano peoples by mainstream systems that specifically intend to keep our peoples forever poor and marginalized,” said Arturo Sandoval, executive director of the Center of Southwest Culture. “This pandemic is an opportunity for our communities of color to take control of our own lives and radically transform society. Now, not tomorrow.”
“The crisis before us, created by the COVID-19 pandemic, is multifaceted. It is an economic crisis, a health crisis, an education crisis, an outdoor equity crisis, a racial and environmental justice crisis. Unless we face it together, the only winner of the pandemic will be the widening of the already exacerbated wealth gap experienced by people of color,” said Stephanie Garcia Richards, New Mexico state land commissioner. “As the only state in the country with a majority-minority population, New Mexico has faced all of these challenges since long before statehood. With a people driven focus, we can and will recover together and hopefully we’ll come out on the other side stronger than before.”
“Everyone deserves access to clean air, water and land, but communities of color and low-income communities are most impacted by pollution and environmental disasters. I come from a community that sees higher rates of cancer and poison in their blood caused by a legacy of environmental racism, and before I came to Congress, I was an activist and an organizer for disenfranchised communities,” said U.S. Representative Deb Haaland (D-N.M.). “This pandemic has magnified environmental injustice in our country. The National Wildlife Federation’s series of roundtables seeks to develop solutions by listening to our communities, and I’m proud to be a partner fighting for environmental justice as Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.”
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