Awareness has grown nationwide about the need for progress on social justice. The George Floyd video shocked many into confronting racial injustice. For years, Native leaders in our area have called attention to multiple social systems and institutional processes that perpetuate inherent biases against non-whites. Our communities desperately need progress toward justice. The quality of life we pass on to our children and grandchildren requires that we make substantial progress now and into the future.

One unjust system is the failure of environmental policies to protect human health resulting in disproportionate harm to people of color. Public health professionals identify “noxious land uses” as a major category. Policies tend to allow harmful industrial activities in poor, non-white communities.

Many families cannot afford to move away from neighborhoods with bad environmental conditions.

Our neighbors in Cass Lake have suffered the painful legacy from the contamination at the superfund site there. The neglect and missteps challenge us to ask whether this would have occurred in an affluent, predominantly white community. We need to face up to and address the unjust pattern of locating harmful activities on Native land.

Research also reveals the inequities in human health damages from air pollution. For decades, science has shown that, in a typical year, tens of thousands of Americans die prematurely due to air pollution.

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Researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University have tracked the effects of recent rollbacks in air pollution controls. Evidence shows that increases in fine particulate matter, one form of air pollution that has increased since 2016, resulted in an additional 9,700 preventable U.S. deaths in 2018 alone.

The disproportionate burdens to non-whites from bad environmental quality are so prevalent and severe that experts developed the term environmental racism to describe it. The damage to human health and loss of life are frighteningly similar to the disparities we see with COVID-19. We have to ask ourselves whether we condone systems that place less value on the lives of people in vulnerable groups – the elderly, people of color, those with lower socio-economic means.

In these divisive times, advancing the common good will build a better life for future generations.

People who believe in America’s best ideals need to recommit to principles such as “justice for all,” “one nation,” “indivisible.”