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Interior Department awards $1M to Wood for Life to help heat Indigenous communities’ homes

Seven other Indian Youth Service Corps grants were awarded throughout the nation as well
The Wood for Life program helps the Juan National Forest by putting beetle-killed or thinned logs to good use rather than burning them or leaving them in the field. Aedan Hannon/Durango Herald

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced today that eight projects involving more than 20 tribes and tribal organizations were awarded close to $3.5 million in 2023 Indian Youth Service Corps grants.

Wood for Life, a program that helps heat Indigenous communities’ homes from firewood harvested in Southwest Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, was awarded $1 million. The grant will expand the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps’ program to further engage youths from the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Acoma, Pueblo of Zuni and Pueblo of Isleta. The program will increase forestry, reforestation efforts and wildland fire mitigation. The U.S. Forest Service will supplement additional program coordination support.

A previous Journal article explained how Wood for Life increased firewood for the Navajo Nation from the San Juan National Forest.

A news release announced Monday that funds will help bring Indigenous youths the opportunities to engage in public service projects on tribal and federal lands. This will be accomplished through a combination of education, work experience, mentoring, basic life skills and training.

The program's goals also include stories and shared experiences for current and future generations, creating awareness of Indigenous culture and history, and conserving and protecting tribal and partner organizations' landscapes.

Secretary Deb Haaland established the first awards for the IYSC as a partner-based program planned to bring forth Indigenous youths with meaningful, tribe-led public service opportunities that support conservation and protection projects for natural and cultural resources. This is done through rehabilitation, construction and restoration of natural, cultural, historic, archaeological, recreational or scenic resources.

The awards announced today are planned to assist with developing tribal capacity in climate resilience, conservation and natural resource management. It will help with financial resources that enable tribes and tribal organizations to recruit, invest in and train a new generation of skilled Indigenous workers.

The $3.5 million will provide tasks for the grantees that may include habitat surveys, invasive species removal, recreational expansion, oral histories, invasive species removal, development of educational, informal or communication materials for the public, climate mitigation, watershed restoration, fire fuels reduction, research projects and trail restoration.

IYSC projects will encourage self-determination and economic development on Tribal lands and federal lands where Tribes have ancestral connections. The projects will be drafted and directed collaboratively with nation-to-nation consultation before the start of any project.

Other IYSC grants were awarded to Ahtna Cultural Heritage Youth Program in Alaska, Wabanaki Youth in Science Program in Maine, Traditional Farm Corps in New Mexico, Hopi Youth Services Corps in Arizona, 7Gen Service Corps in South Dakota, Connecting System Impacted Native Youth to Careers in Natural Resources in New Mexico and Intergenerational Natural Resources Summer Youth Camp at Coronado National Forest in Arizona.

“Growing up in New Mexico, I helped my grandfather tend to our family’s cornfield. My experiences taught me invaluable lessons about how deep our connection to the Earth really is,” Haaland said. “I launched the Indian Youth Service Corps to help empower the next generation of Native leaders as they engage in the co-stewardship of public lands and the application of Indigenous knowledge. The Corps will help these young people strengthen their connection to the lands and waters that their ancestors have cared for since time immemorial.”