Samantha Redheart STEM Coordinator with Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration Waste Management Program shares her connection to Hanford.

Since 2017, Columbia Riverkeeper has partnered with Yakama Nation’s Environmental Restoration Waste Management Program (ERWM) to fund a portion of the program’s outreach and education position, the STEM coordinator. In the following essay, ERWM STEM Coordinator Samantha Redheart reflects on the intersection of educational sovereignty and fostering the next generation of Hanford cleanup advocates.

Generational Advocacy

By Samantha Redheart, STEM Coordinator, Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration Waste Management Program
Originally published in Columbia Riverkeeper “Currents” Issue 1, 2023.

Photo by Bear Sky Media

I am an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. I have worked for the Yakama Nation for more than 23 years and started at the Environmental Restoration Waste Management Program (ERWM) in 2009. I enjoy learning about Hanford past, present and future. I am dedicated to ethical Yakama values, am a fast learner, and enjoy a challenge. In 2009 I started as the program bookkeeper, then transitioned to a procurement position and now I am the STEM Coordinator.

If you happen to have people in your genealogy who have done great things, you might find that you want to further their accomplishments. My maternal grandparents are the late Clara and Aleck Sohappy. Look up Sohappy v. Smith, 302 F. Supp. 899 (D. Or. 1969), a federal case heard by the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, decided in 1969 and amended in 1975. It began with 14 members of the Yakama who sued the state of Oregon over its fishing regulations. My paternal grandparents are the late Audrie and Jesse Redheart. Th e city of Vancouver, WA, hosts an annual Chief Redheart remembrance ceremony that honors those held captive in the Nez Perce war. Th e ceremony is meant to serve as a reminder of the events, but also, to heal. It is important to me to teach my children and grandson to learn and to honor the elders in our community and those who died before them. It is our heritage and where we come from. It is also important that non-Indians come to understand our people.

*Tila means ‘grandfather’ and, as referenced here,
includes Zora’s grandfather’s brother.
Photo by: Bear Sky Media

Currently, I help plan and facilitate Hanford educational outreach to Yakama Nation members, community and youth. My goal is to get tribal youth interested in environmental STEM fields related to ongoing cleanup activities at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Th is is based on the shortage of qualified engineers, scientists, technologists, managers, and analysts needed to clean up the environment damaged by nuclear and hazardous waste materials. I also provide Yakama Nation members and community with necessary skills to make informed decisions and take responsible action. Hanford’s future will depend on the next generation’s advocacy for a cleanup that is thorough and just.

Yakama Nation ERWM has collaborated with Columbia Riverkeeper to facilitate Hanford nuclear waste presentations for students in grades 8-12 who identify themselves as affiliates of a recognized tribe. We hosted successful Hanford events with everyone fully engaged and eager to learn. I would describe myself as naively enthusiastic about reaching out to further develop skills through communicating Hanford science to diverse audiences, mentoring, and training junior scientists. I’m sharing why Hanford needs your voice. I need to look out for my people. I know my community. I need to inform my people.