NRCS Educates Nature Enthusiasts and American Indians in San Antonio
story by Melissa Blair
The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently reached out to residents of Bexar and surrounding counties, including many American Indian producers during “Native San Antonio.” This is a free outdoor event held annually at the Land Heritage Institute on the Medina River in south Bexar County. This educational, family-focused experience emphasized wise management of natural resources and provided attendees opportunities to learn what they could do to help the environment.
“This event allowed us to reach a diverse group of individuals who were not familiar with NRCS, the technical and financial assistance we can provide to protect our natural resources or our work with American Indian producers and other underserved clientele across Texas,” says Garry Stephens, who serves as a wildlife biologist for the south Texas area, as well as serving as the Tribal Liaison for NRCS in Texas. “By showing them the rainfall simulator demonstration, the participants were able to see how important proper land management is; it is for our environment, especially water quality.”
NRCS staff shared information about career opportunities with NRCS, provided educational materials for teachers, and directed attendees to their local NRCS offices for conservation planning assistance. Stephens, along with Melony Sikes, NRCS American Indian/Alaskan Natives Special Emphasis Program Manager, were able to visit with members of the American Indians of Texas Dance Theatre from San Antonio. This group presented Native American dance presentations and interpretations.
NRCS employees, Fernando Garza, District Conservationist in Bexar County, and Melissa Blair, Public Affairs Specialist in Corpus Christi also assisted with the booth and visitors.
“It is important to participate in events like this because each tribe has different cultures and traditions, and it is important for us to understand this so we can provide the best service possible to American Indian producers,” said Sikes.
“One of the things I really appreciated about the event is that we met several Native Americans that were not from one of the three federally Recognized Tribes in Texas,” she added. “One of the issues I am trying to solve is how to reach the Native American producers that live in Texas that are not associated with the three recognized Tribes. It was also rewarding to me to see how many young people understood natural resource management and came by to visit.”
More than 400 attendees enjoyed live music, Native American dance presentations and interpretations, cooking demonstrations, Native American arts and crafts, hiking, lectures, and educational tours of the historic Land Heritage Institute that seeks to preserve, maintain, and interpret 10,000 years of continual human habitation. The Land Heritage Institute is a living land museum on 1,200 acres along the banks of the Medina River on the far south side of San Antonio.