Prior to joining the College of Menominee Nation, Beau had a variety of experience in environmental resources. He worked in the water resources department with his tribe at Rocky Boy; for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for his tribe in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security for disaster preparedness; and with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina to provide planning for the Gulf communities in need.
After gaining experience in his field, Beau continued his education at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. Subsequently he put his interest in environmental issues to work in the biofuels industry. After the commodities market went in flux in 2008, he says he decided to seek more secure employment to support his family. “The Sustainability Institute was hiring," Beau says. “It seemed like a perfect fit for me with my background in environmental protection, hazardous waste mitigation, building sustainable communities, and energy development…I also love teaching and working with students, giving them hands-on learning opportunities, and helping them forge contacts.”
The institute was founded alongside the College of Menominee Nation 18 years ago, to provide research and innovative activities to the Menominee Nation surrounding sustainable forestry practices, health and wellness, and Native ways of knowing. A wide variety of students from the tribal college complete internships there with Beau’s guidance. “They come from varied backgrounds, including the skilled trades, nursing, and business.”
Beau speaks with pride about student interns and what their projects are giving to the Native community and region. Ben is a student intern coordinating a research project concerning Great Lakes tribal water resources. He is surveying 30 tribes in the EPA’s Region 5 area, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Through surveys, meetings, and phone interviews Ben is helping the tribes to identify water resources priorities, their readiness to monitor water quality and use, and Indian Country’s issues with water as a cultural and natural resource.
Student intern Jerard did a waste audit at the college. Trash collection was halted for a week and Jerard sorted the waste to quantify what was being recycled, composted, and landfilled.
“Waste sorts help change behavior,” Beau notes. “We learned we are recycling almost 69.9 percent of our waste, and have a goal of producing nearly zero waste. Of course some things can’t be recycled, like light bulbs, but there are almost always more sustainable options to things like cellophane and other materials, such as corn-based and biodegradable products.”
Beau was named the inaugural Energy Fellow for The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC)-National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Energy Fellow project. He works with tribal colleges to support green campus initiatives, develop energy education curriculum materials, and promote sustainable practices at the College of Menominee Nation, Diné College, Haskell Indian Nations University, Institute of American Indian Arts, Northwest Indian College, Salish Kootenai College, and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.
Part of this role includes helping the tribal colleges do transportation audits to ascertain how much fossil fuel is burned for commuting to and from school by employees, faculty, and staff. “Energy is low-hanging fruit; cutting energy use makes economic sense as well as ethical and environmental sense and is easy to get people to do,” Beau says. He notes that after the energy audit at the College of Menominee Nation, the college signed a memo of understanding with the Menominee Transit system to allow college faculty, staff, and students to ride for free to the campus. This saves fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Fellows can also do food audits, so Beau assigned Institute intern Louis to determine where food is coming from on the CMN campus. Louis determined that food sold in the campus’s vending machines came from as far as 800 miles in four tiers of shipping after packaging. “We want to purchase food that is manufactured and produced nearby to encourage food sovereignty,” Beau says.
Beau will be developing case studies via a portal to provide information about his studies and resources on how to perform similar studies on other campuses; going on six site visits to present sustainability initiatives to the tribal colleges; and working with tribal colleges to create green campuses and helping them find resources to help them reach that goal.
Beau credits a tribal college education with leading him from the Rocky Boy Reservation to his dream job. Without his education, he says he would not be in a position to be giving back to tribal colleges and Indian Country. But he acknowledges it wasn’t easy.
“If college was easy, everyone would have a degree. It's challenging, no doubt about that. College engages your mind and tests your self-discipline and your ability to 'stick with it.' I never gave up on my goal to complete my degree. It took me 10 years to get a bachelor’s degree, but I never gave up that goal. I woke up each morning when I wasn't in school trying to figure out how I'm going to get back in and finish. Leaving college uncompleted was one of the hardest things that I had to do in my life, but I had the health and well-being of my son and myself to put first. My advice is to keep your eye on the prize, embrace the challenges, and don't be afraid to fail. I failed and I felt horrible at the time, but when I finally reached my goal of completing college, it was that much sweeter,” Beau says.