In January the Biden-Harris administration announced the creation of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. It’s made up of more than two-dozen leaders from communities across the country that suffer disproportionate levels of pollution and related health and economic problems. They’ve been tasked with advising the administration and making policy suggestions on a range of environmental issues that have historically impacted many tribal lands and communities of color. Havasupai councilwoman Carletta Tilousi was recently appointed to the White House council and spoke with KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius.
Ryan Heinsius: What is the mission of the council and what do members hope to achieve?
Careltta Tilousi: I believe the mission of the council is to bring community, grassroots efforts to the White House. Our voices are finally being heard in the White House on some of the environmental injustices that have occurred in our communities. And I noticed the Environmental Justice members are directly from communities that have been experiencing environmental injustices for a long time.
RH: You’ve obviously been an advocate for the Havasupai Tribe in opposing uranium mining near the Grand Canyon for many years. Did your own connection to environmental justice efforts open your eyes to similar issues elsewhere?
CT: Yes, we already have a network of environmental justice leaders in the Southwest. So this is nothing new for us. We already supported one another. So now we’re asked to serve at the national level – to make impactful decisions and policy-making at the White House is very exciting for our communities.
RH: What does it mean to have the ears of the president and vice president?
CT: It means a lot to many communities that have never had their voices heard in the White House. We were asked to be silent for many, many years and never had an opportunity to voice our concerns at this higher level. And I believe it means a lot to many community members.
RH: Are you hoping to see specific policy changes and if so what might those include?
CT: Yes, I would like to see this body of leadership be able to make suggested policy changes. One of the priorities that I see is the 1872 Mining Law that directly affects Indigenous communities that are being faced with international mining companies to come into our backyards and stake uranium claims, or any type of mining claims, that are contaminating our sacred sites and sacred places and even our waters. We’re not a large group of people. We’re also small groups of tribes that are near extinction. And all we ask is our sacred lands and our waters and our way of worship be protected. And I’d really like to see that be addressed in the White House and also tackle the 1872 Mining Law that will prevent these types of mining companies to come and contaminate our backyards, and leave with no responsibility of cleanup.
RH: Why is environmental justice important to you?
CT: Environmental justice is important to me because it means health, safe water and human life. We need a safe community for our families to live in a healthy environment. That’s what environmental justice means to me, that we need to keep our lands, our waters and our homelands safe for our children and our communities.