Community Engagement in Action: Tohono O’odham Earth Day and Mining Day at the Museum Events

The University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) Community Engagement Core (CEC) participated in the Indian Oasis Elementary/Middle School Earth Day event in Sells, Arizona on April 29, 2016. CEC PI, Dr. Karletta Chief, and UA SRP Trainee, Kimberly Danny, collaborated with Ms. Laurie Suter, Tohono O’odham Mineral Resources Administrator to provide a day of interactive learning experiences and local case studies on reservation mining. Ms. Suter used the CEC Mining Reclamation module lecture and “Muffin Mining” hands-on activity, in which the students replicate mining activities using fruit and nut muffins. 

Throughout the course of the day in six sessions the team worked with approximately 100 students! Other groups participating in the Earth Day event included the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center & Museum, Tohono O’odham Natural Resources Department, Tohono O’odham Fire Department, Tohono O’odham Environmental Protection Office, Cypress Tohono Mine, Indian Health Service, One Stop Job Assistance, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Sunday, April 30th, the CEC team reconvened for a second day of community engagement work.  This time, CEC Program Coordinator, Denise Moreno Ramírez and trainees Kimberly Danny, John Hottenstein, Lydia Jennings, David Hogan, Xiaobo Hou, and Emalee Eisenhauer partnered with the Tohono O’odham Nation Mining Office to provide lectures and hands-on activities at the Tohono O’odham National Cultural Center & Museum’s Mining Day at the Museum event in Topawa, Arizona. For this event, Ms. Danny developed a lecture about copper mining in the state of Arizona, with focused information on mines located on Native American lands. Following the lecture, the team provided a hands-on activity using batteries, pennies, and nickels to demonstrate copper electrolysis. Participants were surprised how at fast a nickel could be coated with the copper of a pre-1985 penny. The CEC and SRP Trainees were given the opportunity to interact with a diverse cross section of the community, with attendees ranging in age from three to 60 years old. Dr. Chief said, “Our partnership with Tohono O’odham Nation and Tohono O’odham College is now five years old, and every year our outreach expands. We are currently providing learning activities and modules on the impacts of mining and mining processes to Tohono O’odham community members, children, and tribal college students. We hope these modules will encourage tribal college students to pursue degrees in environmental science or other STEM fields, enabling them to return to their nation and assist their tribes in addressing mining impacts. We also hope that our learning modules will help to answer the questions tribal members may have about mining and mining impacts through an easily accessible learning tool.”