Kenny Swift Bird is a hydrologist and a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe studying water issues on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota where he grew up. The reservation suffers from uranium and arsenic water contamination and he is working with engineers to solve this problem in order to help his community. "Discovering You: Engineering Your World" is produced by NBC News Learn in partnership with Chevron, the American Society for Engineering Education and the National Science Foundation.
Discovering You – Engineering Your World - Kenny Swift Bird
KENNY SWIFT BIRD (Hydrologist):
My name is Kenny Swift Bird and I'm a hydrologist. I am an Oglala Sioux tribal member and I grew up both on and off the reservation in South Dakota and Nebraska. Going into college, I got more and more interested in learning about problems faced by people back home. And ultimately it actually drove me to study water itself. Water is really the life blood of the west. And from a cultural perspective, the Lakota view the water as sacred. We are on Wolf Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is on my family's land where I grew up. And this entire area, the Pine Ridge Reservation, suffers from some water quality and contamination problems. Around the reservation, you can find high levels of uranium and arsenic within the water. But uranium and arsenic are both naturally occurring within the geological deposit. Those kinds of contamination can be worsened by things like mining that are exposing them to air and water. As those contaminants come into ground water, it's especially important to understand and solve these problems in rural areas because a lot of these people are relying on this water that might not undergo any treatment before they drink it and can cause lifetime health impacts. The process ultimately begins with taking a water sample. Getting a water sample from a well or a river is almost the same as going to the doctor's office for people. It's almost a checkup where you can find problems, identify them. I was able to design strategies to try to characterize the sources and causes of contamination, which can then be used to design solutions. Studying science and engineering, I have a chance to work on things that impact my local community, impact Native Americans as a whole. So it can give you a lens to actually solve problems faced by yourself or those around you, which is incredible.
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