By: Vanessa Sanchez
For many, education is the key that unlocks the door of our lives. Whether that be for opportunities, self-exploration and development, making connections and friendships or developing skills that will last a lifetime, education can be instrumental to our futures and who we grow to be in our lives. Part of its impact comes from the people, the teachers who are willing to be the leaders of the next generation to come. As an incoming first year teacher who cares deeply about her future students, I have already begun to ask myself how will I make an impact on my student’s lives? It is no mystery that most of us that go into teaching and into education want to contribute in making the world a better place through many different ways and practices. However, one thing I think all prospective and practicing teachers should ask themselves is; are we truly helping and representing every child through our teaching practices and curriculums? Teaching itself is a huge task but when we factor in all the other characteristics outside of education that our students carry with them like physical and social well-being, home lives, and educational equity into our routine, it can get a bit complex to execute all of it efficiently and properly with all students who cross our paths.
Education in many ways is formed for a Eurocentric background and history from kindergarten all the way through higher educational institutions. With the positive empowerment that comes with education, there is also a very negative history that comes with it from those who do not fit the Eurocentric complex. For centuries, educational systems have been used as tools to both uplift and destroy different communities and cultures across the world, the most infamously oppressive in US history being Native American boarding school forced assimilation programs and the history of segregated schools. While both of these examples among many of the other tragic parts of education’s history may seem like part of the past, they are still very much so alive today in many of the practices we as educators utilize with our students whether we know it or not. Even though the educational system has undergone many reforms and is constantly trying to evolve with each contemporary wave of students, many of the old and traumatizing practices or tactics were never fully stripped from curriculums or pieces of legislation. And while it may not matter for all students or communities, it can severely affect others who have been part of the negative cycle’s perpetuity and history for generations.
This level of inequity within education for decades has been detrimental to the youth of many marginalized and underrepresented communities, particularly Native Youth throughout the US and the State of Washington. Not only is it evident in data and test scores but it is also reflected in the day to day tasks students engage in after leaving the educational system. Education is a key that tragically too often is only used to unlock doors for some, not all students. Many teachers are faced with the choice of either actively challenging and dismantling the norms of the system or operating within it and continuing to perpetuate some of the marginalizing and oppressive forces behind it. Educator Shana Brown has been a part of that active choice and fight by creating a history curriculum that focuses on correcting the marginalizing Pilgrims-Indians version of history and Native culture within Washington State and the US (Brownstone, 2015). This curriculum is a follow-up to Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s signed Senate Bill 5433 which has made it mandatory for schools in Washington State to educate students about the history and governance of the indigenous nations in Washington (Walker, 2015).
After years of underrepresentation and misinterpretation of history, this curriculum is monumental in changing the way we as educators communicate not just Native history in Washington but as an extension, how we teach about colonialism and racism as well. What Brown provides is a curriculum that not only teaches history from a more realistic and honest perspective, but one that instills pride and celebrates Native youth and their identity which often times does not happen outside of reservation schools. This curriculum as well as Gov. Inslee’s bill is pivotal as it begins a conversation regarding a well overdue paradigm shift in the way history is taught and communicated within not just Washington but on a National level as well. We as a society need to arrive at a better understanding of United States history beyond the Pilgrim-Indian complex that is still formally taught in schools across most 50 states and come to terms with the real history that humanizes very real groups of people who have been portrayed as long lost characters in time. If we want our future generations to be better human beings especially in today’s world where race relations are heightened, we need to end and right this perpetual lie that is communicated and delivered to our students over and over again about Native History and Native people across the nation. Brown’s curriculum will be instrumental for community healing as it steps away from the colonialist paradigm and pedagogy that was still recently inflicted on living Elders across many tribes within Washington and multiple generations after them who are still suffer from the trauma they experienced in boarding schools. It instills representation, worth, pride, growth and empowerment with Native youth who often times are not given the space to receive those qualities from the public education system. While there is no set way or solution designed to confront issues such as educational inequity or colonialism, Shana Brown, Gov. Inslee and all those taking part in this inclusive curriculum are a part of a necessary fight to help change the future of all students who will only benefit greatly from this shift in educational practices.
Brownstone, S. (2015). “Teaching Tribal History Is Finally Required in Washington Public School. The Next Fight: Getting Teachers Across the State to Embrace the Curriculum”. The Stranger. Web. http://www.thestranger.com/news/feature/2015/06/24/22438654/teaching-tribal-history-is-finally-required-in-washington-public-schools.
Walker, R. (2015). “From ‘Encouraged’ to ‘Mandatory’: Schools Must Teach Native History in Washington”. Indian Country Today, Indian Country Media Network. Web. https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/education/native-education/from-encouraged-to-mandatory-schools-must-teach-native-history-in-washington/.
By: Vanessa Sanchez
Hanford, WA has been a historically infamous site within Washington State since the 1940’s. As it was originally part of the US Manhattan Project to help build nuclear weapons for World War II, Hanford remained an operating site for decades after, generating parts and waste for state nuclear reactor power sites. After 40 years of operation ceasing in the 1980’s, Hanford has been the largest nuclear cleanup project within the entire world for almost as long as it’s operating years. While some may argue that the benefits of Hanford were boundless and bountiful, the repercussions have touch thousands of people within the eastern Washington region. Toxic chemical exposure, including nuclear waste has been an environmental justice issue since before the beginning of the movement in the 1980’s. Hanford’s old history and timeline coincides with a time where project developers were not as likely to take into consideration the real and extreme effects these chemical facilities could have on communities around them.
Communities of color’s placement within in cities and towns geographically is by far not a coincidence. On the contrary, many times low income communities and communities of color are subjugate to experience many environmental hazards at the expense of those who have the power and privilege to approve land use and facility placements. The placement of predominantly low income, Latino communities closest to Hanford is not an accident, but rather a result of gentrification and environmentally racist tendencies and behaviors that are a part of a long history that goes back to the colonization of Washington State, and even further back by extension to the first colonization efforts during the founding fathers’ time.
In the CNN article and news clip regarding the Hanford tunnel collapse, the anchor can be quoted saying “no one wants nuclear waste facility in their back yard.” This “not in my backyard” statement shines light on a deeply problematic paradigm within the US’s individualist social tendencies. While the CNN reporter’s statement may be representative of a majority of people’s sentiments, it fails to recognize the factors that control when, where, and who’s backyard the nuclear waste facility ends up. And these are decisions by no means are accidental. Traditionally, those who have more political leverage, money, and voice are the people who are heard and accommodated when deciding on land management projects. Take the Dakota Access Pipeline project and major environmental injustice for instance; the pipeline initially was planned to go through a white, middle class community but with enough backlash and after a public forum was held for community members to express their concerns and disapproval of the project, the pipeline was then moved to go through Sioux land. The Sioux people had no choice or an opportunity to voice their opinion like the community in Bismarck, ND did and were then subjected to the terrorization that followed the project move. In a similar way, those communities in Eastern Washington who are closest to Hanford were given no choice when it came to Hanford’s facility placement. And factors like the regional housing market, land management, and resource location all contribute to allocating people based off socioeconomic status with those most disadvantaged closest to the hazardous nuclear waste. And while Hanford does its best at containing nuclear waste levels so it does not impact the resources around it like the Columbia River or the communities closest to its facilities even in the midst of a leak and tunnel collapse, there is still inevitable exposure even in microscopic levels that will affect people who live and work near it.
Because working at the Hanford site comes with a high level of risk, one of its appeals for people is the high salary rate. For many within Yakima and Benton counties, Hanford is one of the most stable and promising jobs to seek within the region for these reasons. But what a lot of times people ignore are the real health risks that come with working a highly toxic chemical environment. With long-term exposure as a worker in close proximity to nuclear wasted daily, many workers are bound to show side effects or worse, become ill. Today, much of Hanford’s worker demographic has shifted to encompass more people of color, predominantly Latinos, where the nuclear waste exposure these workers face contributes to a slurry of health issues that already disproportionately affect communities of color. Even though the compensation and pay rate is one of the highest in the state off WA, it still cannot right the long-term effects these chemicals will have not just on the individuals who are exposed but by extension on the communities they are a part of.
While the cleanup process has been successfully running for the last 40 years, one question many people are left wondering is how long will it last? Nuclear waste can last 1000’s of years once it has been created. And while the benefits of nuclear energy can be great and the production of nuclear weapons immense, we need to ask ourselves at what cost are we producing them? This cleanup process will have to go on for millennia and without thorough recognition and active change, these negative impacts will continue to be perpetuated inevitably. And not only does this pose great environmental and ecological threats to come for the surrounding land, but it affects millions of people within the region who may or may not be aware of this environmental injustice. While Hanford site does its best to proceed safely and cautiously in their work, it serves as an example for people across the world to see just how complex nuclear waste can be when taking all communities and all people into consideration.
(2017). Hanford Site: About Us. United State Department of Energy, Office of River Protection, Richland Operations Office. Web. http://www.hanford.gov/page.cfm/aboutus
Chavez, N. (2017). Possible Leak Found at Washington Nuclear Site. CNN. Web. http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/20/us/hanford-nuclear-tank-potential-leak/
Zatat, N. (2017). Possible leak investigated at US nuclear site after worker discovers radioactive materials on clothing. Independent. Web. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/hanford-nuclear-waste-site-possible-leak-contamination-radiation-ashington-state-a7747096.html
By: Vanessa Sanchez
Water is a fundamental element that gives life to so much across this earth. It is a vital resource that we as a society greatly depend on accessing in a form that allows us to lead healthy lives. However, while it is one of our most sacred and needed resources, it is one of our most inequitably distributed resources. Gaining proper access to clean drinking water is a crisis we have seen across the globe for a long time now. While it may seem so easy, access to clean and safe water in today’s society is not a right bestowed upon us from birth as it should be, but is very much so controlled by social hierarchies and financial resources. This is particularly true in many cases around the United States where access to drinking water as well as the infrastructure to obtain it is farfetched for communities.
While water’s vitality can be stressed over and over, one thing that is often overlooked and not talked about enough is water access and contamination. A key question to water issues is how do we as people deal with its contamination? In many parts of the country such as within Washington State, water is extracted out of the ground in order to provide millions with clean and efficient water. Groundwater is usually extracted in areas where a larger water source is lacking; and many people gain access to it through aquifers and wells. Because this water is in such a significant area, it is also subject to many contaminates such as nitrate. Nitrate contamination has been known to happen a lot of places within the US where there are high levels of agriculture, one of the leading cases being in the San Joaquin Valley in California. However, with many parts of the Pacific Northwest, specifically within Washington State being highly agriculturally oriented infrastructures, Nitrate contamination is a very local issue affecting ground water access specifically within the Lower Yakima Valley; one of the leading sources of nitrate pollution being local dairies.
Even though Nitrate may be a natural resource that is part of the nitrogen cycle, it still can have very harmful side-effects to those who consume it. The human body has the ability to convert nitrate to nitrite which is used to produce oxygen flow throughout the body. However, high levels of nitrate can severely affect people, particularly children. Nitrate is naturally transformed into hemoglobin, a chemical responsible for carrying oxygen through the body efficiently. (Mosby's Medical Dictionary, Elsevier, 2009). Once nitrate rises above a certain level, it reduces the ability of oxygen to be carried in red blood cells through the body causing drastic affects. High levels of it pose extremely dangerous risks to infants and pregnant women, causing babies to develop blue baby syndrome where the body physically turns blue from lack of oxygen within red blood cells and essentially stops oxygen from flowing through blood. Nitrate also cannot be extracted from water in the same way as other pollutants. Unfortunately boiling water does not reduce but rather increases the chemical concentration of nitrate in the water. Some of the water will evaporate but the nitrate will not (“Frequently Asked Questions About Nitrate and Drinking Water,” 2012).
Nitrate pollution within the Yakima Valley has been an existing environmental and public health issue for about sixteen years. In 2001/2002 the EPA started conducting groundwater tests within the area and discovered the level of this chemical was well beyond the nitrate drinking water standard of 10 mg (McKinney, 2013). Currently about 12% of the valley’s wells have been tested and have not met water quality standards (McKinney, 2013).
One example would be from my home community of Mabton, Washington located in the lower Yakima Valley where this environmental injustice resides. Mabton and its surrounding outskirts is a community which is severely affected by nitrate levels where consequently two city wells had to be shut off multiple times from 2013-2016. This has taken place among various times throughout the year, including during a drought nonetheless and was very inconvenient for many townspeople, sometimes even resulting in complete inaccessibility to the city water system for hours on end. In addition to Nitrate being one of the main pollutants in groundwater, many cases of E.coli have appeared in city aquifer sources and have since been reported and resolved. The city claimed at the beginning of the shut offs that this was due to maintenance issues but it was not until the wells were fully powered in 2013 that they announced issues with nitrate levels. While currently new water towers and aquifers are being built within the city, it is still a question as to why townspeople within Mabton were exposed to nitrate levels for so long without proper education or intervention about the pollutants.
Not being able to obtain clean ground water goes beyond infrastructure but rather is rooted in deep political and consumerist power structures. And those who are the most marginalized and disenfranchised are left to deal with the consequences with their bodies and with their livelihoods. Not only are they slowly being poisoned by pollutants such as nitrates within the Lower Yakima Valley but they are paying for a problem they did not create nor that they can afford through tax dollars and levies. To ask this from already low income communities shows the lack of accountability and the comfort these largescale agribusinesses and the lobbyists that fund and partner with political forces have in profiting off the struggling communities surrounding them; the very communities who fund them and provide them with workers, profit, land, infrastructure and resources. And while it may seem easy to just blame many of the local, large scale Lower Yakima Valley dairy and cattle farms, it to an extent is not even fully their fault. This issue goes deeper into the heart of consumerism and capitalism that is the foundation of many injustices with in the US. These farms and farmers can only survive off of subsidies from the government who favor large scale, monoculture businesses without a care for the consequences that comes with them. The system many farmers operate in perpetuate these issues and injustices, particularly with ground water at a deeper level then they even realize. As a native from the area I can testify to the fact that the main economic driver is agriculture. Most families, including my own, depend heavily on the job resources the agricultural industry offers whether it is within crops or livestock. In the long run, if these local dairies involved in nitrate pollution within the Lower Yakima Valley were to be shut down it would be detrimental to the communities. However, I do also believe nitrate pollution is a major health risk and is vitally in need of a solution beyond just infrastructure repairing.
Providing a more stable water system to the residents of the Yakima Valley is not an easy task, especially for those directly involved. However, with the right amount of support and action it can be done. And while this may seem like an issue that cannot be tackled, there is definitely hope. Educating, sharing and advocating with one another allows coalitions and networks among us to rise and be one voice that can be instrumental in leading the change the communities with the Lower Yakima Valley so desperately needs. Community conversations and forums surrounding not only nitrate and other pollutants in the water but about the infrastructure and institution that brings them to people’s lives is a crucial part to changing the system that ground water accessibility issues reside in. This responsibility should definitely not only fall on the backs of the people being effected by ground water issues but rather should include us all as we as a society should collectively be moving forward toward accessing clean and safe water for all, not just for those who can afford it.
Clemens, John; Vaccaro, John. “Yakima Basin Ground-Water Use Estimated.” USGS Washington Water Science Center. USGS Science for a Changing World. 18 September, 2006. Web. 24 January, 2014.
“Frequently Asked Questions About Nitrate and Drinking Water.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), October 2012. Web. 24 January, 2014.
McKinney, Charlie. Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Quality. Department of Ecology, State of Washington, September 2013. Web. 24 January, 2014.
“Methemoglobin and Hemoglobin.” The Free Dictionary by Farlex, Mosby's Medical Dictionary, Elsevier 8th edition. 2009. 24 January, 2014.