I haven’t seen the design for this year's shirt for the 19th National Environmental Conference at Tar Creek. Not yet. I did see it be born. Todd Willard at MISACO has been birthing this shirt all summer. We decided months ago when one of the most used public parks on Grand Lake closed due to a toxic algal bloom named after its color that blue-green would work its way into the planned shirt and since we still have Tar Creek running orange the shirt had a stateful start with colors to rest the issues representing our theme and the important work that is occurring this year at our site.

The theme for this year’s conference is Climate of Denial, but since words matter nowadays and climate is a word that has become toxic to the only federal agency with protection as its middle name, we made some adjustments on our shirts to state our ever-present Toxic Denial.

To also reflect work that has been occurring this year on wild animals, birds and their friends the frogs and snails, we asked that the raccoon join us on the shirt taking center stage as the creatures without a voice in these decisions deal with an environment that has been damaged throughout this century with legacy lead and zinc mining. A traditional treaty belt design depicts the images of people joining hands and with their hands joined, they no longer use their arms for harm to others. Three symbolic people do hold hands on the shirt, one of the past, linked to the present who joins hands with the future. Iroquois beliefs have long been known to make decisions with the lives of those yet unborn seven generations in the future in mind. Tribes and federal agencies have been seeking out our fur and non-fur bearing friends this summer to find out how this environment is impacting them. The results are in for the free-standing birds, cardinals, buntings, and titmouse, their body burden for metals is high enough to do permanent damage.

These birds and other native species cannot speak to us, our future generations cannot speak, nor are we listening to our past. We are the ones, we two-legged ones who can speak out and ask for change, we can ask for real and deep restoration of the damaged lands in the Tri-State Mining District and closer to us, the Tar Creek Superfund Site.

You can get a shirt next week at NEO during our conference. You can wear it, you can walk right in and listen, learn and ask those hard questions on why this hasn’t been done yet, why as one of the oldest Superfund sites in the country, why we are still stuck in it. You can reflect while you drive down Steve Owens on your way to NEO remembering the canoes you could rent 30 years ago to use on our once beautiful Spring River. You can listen and learn how modern industrial farming practices impact water and the health of our streams and our well water.

Once again we two-legged will be pulled together as one to learn, reflect and ask the big questions about how the decisions we make now determine the destiny of those yet unborn.

Dr. Edward Gustavson didn’t wait, he wanted to be prepared, so he asked that we compile questions we believed could be ones a developmental pediatrician might be hearing. I wanted to say simply, what have you been asked these decades by the parents of the lead poisoned children from Ottawa County. Those are the answers we need because we still have them. Start writing questions for all our presenters. Come and see the artwork of denial Dawn Hill’s art classes have produced. Meet these OU students and listen as they explain the projects they have.

Let’s sit, let’s stand together, put our minds together as one and look to a brighter healthier future. See you soon, and in the years to come as the plans come together for a healthier community and waterbodies that bring back the canoe rentals on Steve Owens.

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

Rebecca Jim is the executive director of the LEAD Agency.