Despite considerable efforts to decrease the impact of the Environment on the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives, many health problems attributed to environmental factors continue to pose significant challenges for many tribal communities. The challenges in particular point to the need for environmental protection policies, especially agricultural communities where high and persistent uses of pesticides have bearing on human health conditions. Although there is a need for tribal environmental health policies, research on tribal leaderships' interpretations and the implications the interpretations have for constructing environmental health policies are minimal. For example, understanding how one tribe defines environmental health is central to how they construct and develop environmental protection laws aimed at protecting the environment and human health.
This qualitative research study took place in a rural agricultural Indian community on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Parker, Arizona. The qualitative data assessed Tribal Council leaders' interpretations and understanding of how environmental health is defined and understood. The study method employed a semi-structured interview process with selected tribal council members who served a term on tribal council between 1980-2002, especially members who were appointed to specific sub-committees concerned with agricultural activities (i.e. pesticide, agricultural, and farm board). The rationale for conducting qualitative interviews was to determine and ascertain how environmental health has been defined and understood over the past 22 years when these tribal leaders constructing, developing, and implemented various environmental protection laws. Other forms of data acquisition was through relevant public records from Tribal Council and special committee meeting minutes that centered on developing environmental health policy.
The central aim of this research was to recognize and comprehend the level of understanding, and consideration employed by tribal leaders as they defined environmental health for their agricultural Indian community. By examining and presenting the core values and interpretations of environmental health policy of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, other tribes may learn from this as they formulate and develop appropriate environmental health policies aimed at protecting their environments, human health, cultural beliefs and practices and become more accountable and responsible to their allegiance to their communities.