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Panama Chief Cacique Celestino Gallardo visits SKC

By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

Indigenous leader Cacique Celestino Mariano Gallardo from Ngabe Bugle tribe of Panama stands outside the Arlee-Charlo Theater at SKC after a presentation he delivered on natural resource conflicts his people face between Panama’s government. (Lailani Upham photo) Indigenous leader Cacique Celestino Mariano Gallardo from Ngabe Bugle tribe of Panama stands outside the Arlee-Charlo Theater at SKC after a presentation he delivered on natural resource conflicts his people face between Panama’s government. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Panama Chief Cacique Celestino Gallardo met with Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council and Salish Kootenai College officials last month to share and learn about natural resource management, tribal sovereignty rights, and develop possible partnerships.

Gallardo, an indigenous leader from the Cacique Region of Ndrini of the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca (reservation) of Panama, the largest indigenous population in the country, told the Tribal Council about the struggles his people face regarding sovereignty and management of their natural resources.

Gallardo said their land spans more than 1.5 million acres and are eager to implement their own tribal economic development as well.

Gallardo visited the United States through a Bonneville Power Administration Tribal Capacity Building Grant awarded to Heritage University in Toppenish, Wash. to begin a natural resource expert series.

SKC environmental science faculty Dr. Steve Dupuis met Gallardo in June when he travelled to Panama to explore possibilities of starting an indigenous student research site in the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca. The goal of collaboration would have SKC students conduct baseline scientific research critical for the formation of a natural resource management plan with the Ngabe-Bugle tribe.

According to Dupuis, Heritage University has a long history with the indigenous tribes of northern Panama and has been working to connect these tribes with Pacific Northwest tribes.

“Heritage University is a partner in our 14 state All Nations Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program (LSAMP) funded by the National Science Foundation for the past 23 years,” Dupuis said. “The purpose is to develop scientific research projects around the interests of these people so that they become educated in the ‘Western Science’ way to protect their environment.

“As with most indigenous people in this world there is a strenuous relationship with the government,” Dupuis continued. “We are still developing project ideas and are seeking funding to support the infrastructure needs, laboratory equipment, and supplies to run ecology based research projects. This type of research ties in with several areas for SKC faculty and students, forestry, hydrology, wildlife and fisheries, and overall environmental science.”

Dr. Jessica Black, assistant professor for environmental science and studies at Heritage University served as Gallardo’s guide and interpreter during the visit.

“We see this as a global indigenous exchange of knowledge and potentially a powerful experience for our students while the work they do have tremendous positive impacts for the Ngabe-Bugle community,” Black said.

Black says the goal of the partnership is to expand international research experiences for Indigenous students that are a part of AN-LSAMP.

“Both SKC and Heritage have strong programs in natural resources/environmental science,” Black said. “We both work hard to have our students do undergraduate research experiences and to expand geographic and cultural horizons. Our research projects, that we hope to begin in Panama with the Ngabe-Bugle people, will allow for both of these goals.”

Black said both educational institutions have been invited by the traditional government of the Ngabe-Bugle to work with them and to have access to their Comarca (like a reservation).

“They have very few resources and little infrastructure, with high rates of poverty,” Black said. “They asked for our assistance as they view their youth - particularly students – as one of their greatest assets and are hopeful that this exchange with SKC, Heritage and other LSAMP participants will lead to the development of their students so they can one day lead and strive to protect their lands for future generations.”

Black said with help from SKC and Heritage University the Panama indigenous community can lend assistance in knowledge sharing in a positive and respectful way. “I believe this partnership will highlight to all of our students how much they know and how skilled they are – many don’t necessarily realize how much they have to offer,” Black said.

After Gallardo’s presentation he invited the Tribal Council to Panama to witness the programs that have been put in place.

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