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Native Americans Lead Conservation Efforts in Rio Grande Valley

Native Americans are leading efforts to restore sections of the Rio Grande watershed in southern Colorado. (Conservation Lands Foundation)
Native Americans are leading efforts to restore sections of the Rio Grande watershed in southern Colorado. (Conservation Lands Foundation)
September 22, 2016

ALAMOSA, Co. – Five young people from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico have traveled north to complete wildlife habitat and water-restoration projects at the Rio Grande Natural Area near Antonito, Colorado.

Angel Peña, conservation program associate with the Conservation Lands Foundation said the area is ripe with history and you can hardly throw a rock without hitting an ancient archeological site, some dating back 13,000 years.

"This is just a great way to take a step back in history," he said. "And for folks to really understand where we came from, and to fully appreciate why we must take care of these things for our future generations."

The foundation partnered with the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps for restoring the Rio Grande watershed. The program's crews come from Zuni, Acoma, Navajo and other backgrounds. Peña noted the projects, which frequently takes place in remote, isolated natural areas, create rare immersion opportunities for young people to learn and practice native languages and values.

Aaron Lowden, a coordinator with the Ancestral Lands Program, said projects provide critical job experience for young people hard to come by on reservations. He said the work is strenuous and crews are frequently interrupted by rain, wind and even snow, but relying on new friends to battle through hardships can bring unique rewards.

"The best part of the program is seeing a bunch of strangers come together, and then seeing them leave as like a family," he said. "There isn't a whole lot of opportunity on the reservation, and through programs like this they are able to make opportunities for themselves."

In addition to the overall learning experience, and a paycheck, Lowden said each participant also receives an AmeriCorps Education Award to put toward higher education. The Rio Grande Natural Area effort is the first Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps project in Colorado.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO