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KOSU is committed to being more reflective of the audiences we serve. In Oklahoma, having stories reported by Indigenous reporters for Native communities is imperative.

Comanche, Caddo Nations teach environment, culture to Indigenous youth in Wichita Mountains

Nick Plata, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Specialist, explains the prairie dogs in the area were found dead over a year ago because of unknown causes, and restoration efforts for the species are underway on June 13, 2024.
Sarah Liese
/
KOSU
Nick Plata, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Specialist, explains the prairie dogs in the area were found dead over a year ago because of unknown causes, and restoration efforts for the species are underway on June 13, 2024.

Dozens of Indigenous children deepened their environmental and cultural knowledge at the Wildlife Explorers Environmental Camp in southwest Oklahoma.

The Caddo Nation and Comanche Nation partnered together, launching a two-day youth camp last week at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton.

Environmental Education Specialist at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Comanche citizen Nick Plata led discussions about wildlife conservation and the importance of cultivating a relationship with the Earth.

Plata explains to campers why they should care for the Earth and create a respectful relationship.
Sarah Liese
/
KOSU
Plata explains to campers why they should care for the Earth and create a respectful relationship.

“It's just like if you have friends, you want to get to know more about them,” Plata said to the campers. “You want to spend quality time with them. So, with the Earth, it's the same thing.”

Plata explained this relationship can harness good energy for those who take the time to get to know the planet and the living things.

“And if they do, there is an energy on this earth that can be corralled, and it can be used in a positive way for Native people,” he said. “And it's there for us, for the taking. All we gotta do is build that relationship.”

A camper clutches a plant while listening to a discussion about local plants in the area.
Sarah Liese
/
KOSU
A camper clutches a plant while listening to a discussion about local plants in the area.

On the first day of the camp, participants made medicinal tea, pinch pots, and medicine bags. They also learned the responsibilities of refuge firefighters, how to set up and break down teepees, the uses of local plants and water testing.

On the second day, campers engaged in a scavenger hunt, listened to an elder’s story and toured the refuge, which spans about 60,000 acres and is home to many animals including buffalo, elk and deer.

Camp organizers said activities were funded by a Bureau of Indian Affairs youth initiative grant — something both tribal environmental directors were thankful for.

Following the storytelling and wildlife discussion, a camper returns to the bus.
Sarah Liese
/
KOSU
Following the storytelling and wildlife discussion, a camper returns to the bus.

“When this funding came available, we thought it, this is our opportunity,” Josh Worcester, Caddo Nation’s Environmental Protections Director, said. “So, we threw ideas back and forth at each other. ‘How can we get the younger generation wanting to be outdoors, wanting to protect the environment, wanting to keep that going on for the next generation?’”

Christina Cooper (Apache), director of environmental programs at the Comanche Nation, said tribal nations will use lessons learned here with future programs.

“We will be doing other activities this summer with the older kids and with the younger kids,” Cooper said. “We plan on exposing them to different environmental aspects.”

Cooper said high schoolers can participate in the next program, which is in the works for July.

Cooper and Worcester hope to continue the Wildlife Explorers Environmental Camp in the future. As Cooper said, environmental programs are rare in Southwest Oklahoma, so camps like this fill a need in their area.


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Sarah Liese reports on Indigenous Affairs for KOSU.
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