NASHVILLE – Indian Country now has new opportunities from United South and Eastern Tribes, Incorporated (USET). USET announced on Friday, Aug. 24 that it has certified its first Very Small Water Systems (VSWS) Operator. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Water Plant Operator Russell Bigmeat, Jr. is the first to be certified by USET’s Operator Certification Program through examination that has been approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Water Treatment Plant Manager, Sheila Hyatt, believes this is a great accomplishment for Bigmeat and an asset for the Tribe. “He’s very dedicated to his position and has studied diligently for his tests. He will be getting ready for his state (North Carolina) tests at the end of the month.”
If tribal members get their state certification for operating water treatment and waste water plant operation, what is the benefit of getting a USET Operator Certification?
“The majority of our operators are state certified. But the benefit of getting USET’s certification is that it allows us to go work for any Tribe,” explained Hyatt.
The individual plant operator will benefit by having the credentials to work for any Tribe, should the opportunity present itself. It also creates an opportunity for Tribes to offer a form of mutual aid to any Tribe that operates a water treatment plant. Because the certification is good throughout Indian Country, plant operators could assist any other Tribe in the United States if needed.
The greatest significance of this program and certification is self determination. “It is an affirmation of Tribal Sovereignty. You, the operator, are getting certified by an inter-Tribal organization and not by a state,” according to USET Environmental Resource Management Senior Project Coordinator, Steve Terry.
Since 2000 USET has been working to create its own certification program. The path to this first certification began with a resolution in June 2000 by the USET Board of Directors that started the Environmental Liaison Office, which is now the Environmental Resource Management Office. After years of work, USET became accepted as a certification program by the EPA Region Four. It received national approval by EPA on Feb. 10, 2012 and has recently become a member of the Association of Board of Certification. These recent certifications have given USET the green light to certify drinking water plant operators nationwide. USET is also prepared to do more.
“By having this commission, we are able to certify water treatment operators to operate plants anywhere in Indian Country. USET already conducts exams and provides certifications for waste water treatment plant operators and laboratory analysts. If the EPA ever requires waste water treatment plant operators to become officially certified, we will be able to do that too,” Terry added.
“USET is continuing to provide resources to its 26 member Tribes to improve the quality of life for American Indians through increased health, education, social services, and housing opportunities. USET is able to offer a resource directly to all of Indian Country. USET is proud to strengthen the foundation of American Indian self-determination,” stated USET President, Brian Patterson.