Rural communities face classes of environmental challenges which can be outlined as I have done for the northern Pueblos. Various efforts by various means are or have been directed towards alleviating or “solving” these conditions.
But fundamental to these challenges is the intangible one of Who are we? Rural communities in New Mexico are uniquely identified by their land and their language. These provide a lifestyle, but not a living. Increasingly, individuals must leave the land for a livelihood while outsiders arrive wishing to add rural ambience to their own style. The clashes are enormous with the biotic, physical, and cultural environments all affected, usually negatively for the indigenous community. What is needed is a way for rural communities to evolve their place within a larger national and world order in such a way as to sustain their landed values, their identity as communities. As well, a way must be found to invigorate these values and to strengthen the ties between rural and urban members.
Newcomers usually have the means, skills, and confidence to influence majority institutions, such as government agencies, by “speaking” in the language those institutions understand. It is possible for rural communities to effect change similarly. To do that, however, rural communities must be able to get into “the system”, transcending the rural charm (inaccessibility) others would apply. There is a need to build community capacity in the basic and applied sciences-– particularly electronic communications, health, nutrition, and environment.
Community-based research incorporates and builds upon the empirical knowledge of the environment inherent in the rural way of life. Programs to be developed would provide permanent information and expertise within the communities related to environment and health. There would develop appropriate methods to involve community participation in the identification and prevention of negative impacts.
When the communities ask their own questions, have their own data, and their own collation, analysis, and interpretation of others’ data they will
- understand the disease and health trends of their communities
be able to predict the health trends and prepare for appropriate action for the communities
- portray the total health and environment program requirements of their communities to other communities, organizations, the state, and Congress
- allocate scarce resources for their own protection in the most productive manner participate fully in the development of health information systems, useful to other rural communities, especially in areas of the release of hazardous materials and environmental threat
- enable community leadership to effectively communicate environmental and health concerns to their respective communities
- enable the communities to choose wisely among various outside offers of technical and scientific help; to control the quality of the data, research, analysis, and products from outside contractors, consultants, and agencies; and to oversee and coordinate the efforts of state, local, and federal agencies executed on their behalf.
(c) MP Bumsted August 1995