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Bíawaatchaache Collective taking action for environmental issues

A group of young women known as the Biawaatchaache Collective are learning how to take action for environmental issues affecting their native lands
The Biawaatchaahce Collective
Posted at 1:12 PM, Jul 08, 2024

CROW AGENCY — A group of young women in Crow Agency, known as the Bíawaatchaache Collective, are learning how to take action for environmental issues affecting their native lands.

Bíawaatchaache translates to Good Woman, and Dreamstarter mentor JoRee LaFrance is encouraging young women to be just that.

 "It's important for our collective and our community to learn more about the environmental issues that we face because we're the ones that are living the reality. We're the ones feeling the impact first," LaFrance said.

The Bíawaatchaache Collective was created to inform young women how to address the many environmental challenges that reservations face.

"Specifically, we're dealing with a lot of air quality pollution, water contamination. A lot of our river systems are compromised,” said LaFrance, “this past week, we tested 31 houses on the Crow reservation owned by Crow people who rely on home wells and we provided free water quality testing to them."

Adora Big Hair, a member of the collective, said she is learning how to address the environmental challenges she grew up with.

"Growing up, you know, you knew about the water and how it was not safe to drink and, but with this collective, they kind of opened my eyes more with what can be in the water and in the air by testing it," said Big Hair.

The collective is a yearlong program that hopes to empower young women to be change-makers in their own communities.

The collective is supported by the Dreamstarter program with the Running Strong for American Indian Youth Foundation.

Each year the Dreamstarter program selects applicants to take the lead of a project. Tillie Stewart was selected as a Dreamstarter this year and started the collective group.

"We're the first scientists of this land and we'll continue being the first scientists of this land," Stewart said.

If contaminants are found in the water or exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's safe drinking levels, then the collective provides a free water cooler as a temporary solution.

"It's not an end, all be all solution, but it at least provides an immediate remediation act for them to have direct access to clean water to drink," said LaFrance.

The data collected will also help the Crow Tribe to obtain treatment estate status, under the Clean Water Act which will allow them to set their own water quality standards.

 "Our land is, you know, is related to our health and it's related to how our culture, and transmits to the next generations," Stewart said.

 This year the collective has participated in workshops learning more about water quality, air quality, land and water rights and learning from educators and elders from the community.

LaRance said the young women will end the collective with more than environmental understanding.

"If our women leave our collective knowing that they have agency in our community, in our nation — our Apsáalooke nation — that they are decision-makers, that they have their own agency, that we have the power to make the changes within our families, but within our community."

"And that's my hope is that we empower them to have confidence in themselves and in their own agency as we go about and moving about in this world, but especially in our community," LaRance continued.

The Bíawaatchaache Collective hopes to run another program in the future. Home water quality testing is funded through the Denver Health and Hospitality Authority.