KANSAS CITY, Mo—Tribal representatives attending the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) meeting February 7-9 in Kansas City, expressed concern over the de-funding of a long-term ecosystem study using information gathered from Missouri River basin tribes.
The Missouri River Ecosystem Restoration Program (MRERP) is an ecosystem study intended to identify actions that will mitigate, recover and restore the ecosystem of the Missouri River. MRERP is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, basin tribes, states and federal agencies.
Catherine J. Warren, Native American Consultation Specialist with USACE, said the MRERP study was unique because it included the experiences of basin tribes and traditional tribal knowledge that could help in river restoration efforts. “It was a great opportunity to include the tribal voice.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 prohibits the USACE from funding MRERP during the 2012 fiscal year. The legislation was signed by President Obama on December 23, 2011. Warren said tribal members of MRRIC were informed of the decision in January.
The hold on funding puts the future of MRREP in limbo. “There’s always a chance that it could be funded next year,” Warren said.
MRRIC is a basin-wide collaborative forum to develop a comprehensive plan for Missouri River recovery consisting of tribes, states, federal agencies, stakeholders and local government. Bob Walters, an MRRIC tribal member who was unable to attend the meeting, expressed frustration with the funding issue in a letter to the MRRIC. “Who made this decision? Why wasn’t this brought through the MRRIC committee before it happened?”
Walters, Cheyenne River Sioux, called for funding to be restored to MRERP. “I would like to remind you that we the tribes are the river owners and never asked to be flooded off that river,” he wrote.
At a meeting of the Subcommittee on Tribal Participation, members announced MRRIC consensus approval for the Tribal Outreach Plan to improve participation and interactions with the basin tribes. Representatives from the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe were present at the meeting in Kansas City. The Cheyenne River Sioux and Yankton Sioux are also regular MRRIC participants.
In 2011, the subcommittee organized briefings to the MRRIC on water quality on Missouri River tributaries and reported on the impacts of the 2011 flooding on tribal lands and other areas of the basin. MRRIC cancelled its scheduled quarterly meeting in July due to the unprecedented flooding.
Kim Greenwood, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tribal Liaison, said 28 Missouri River basin tribes are eligible for membership on MRRIC, and 18 tribes have joined. Members said a lack of funding for travel reimbursement remains a serious obstacle to tribal participation in MRRIC.
“We come here because our hearts are with the Missouri River,” said Elizabeth Wakeman, Flandreau Santee Sioux.
The next meeting of MRRIC will be May 2012 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. For more information, go to http://www.moriverrecovery.org/.