The CCC Indian Division: Native Americans in the Civilian Conservation Corps

Via WPAToday, YouTube: "During the New Deal era, tens of thousands of Indians enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps. This brief film clip shows some of their work. The clip is from a longer film created by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and is provided courtesy of the National Archives."

Blog by Ashley McNeil, Communications Assistant, The Corps Network 

Created during the Great Depression, a time when the United States faced grave economic peril, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a federal work relief program that, from 1933 until 1942, put 3 million unemployed young men to work building and restoring America’s natural resource infrastructure.

Though the CCC was intended to provide stability and a new beginning for its participants, the benefits of the program were not equally distributed among all populations; the main beneficiaries were white enrollees. As detailed in a previous blog, the CCC failed to live up to its promise to provide equitable work and training opportunities to African American Corpsmembers. Many African Americans faced hostility from white supervisors, or were forced to serve in black-only camps, where conditions were poor. For Native Americans, however the federal work relief experience was quite different.

Technically, most Native Americans did not serve in the CCC, but rather in a parallel program. In 1933, not long after the formation of the CCC, the Indian Emergency Conservation Work (IECW) program was created at the request of John Collier, Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). It was Collier’s hope that work relief projects, like those performed by the CCC, could benefit reservations. Pressure to create a separate program came from Native Americans and the BIA, who objected to having the standard military-style CCC camps on tribal land.

President Franklin Roosevelt initially approved $5,875,200 in funding for the IECW, which, by executive law, was renamed the Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division (CCC-ID) in 1937. The program was focused on “Indian work”: employing Native Americans on federally recognized reservations with a goal of preserving tribal lands and promoting sustainable ranching and farming. Projects involved road construction, erosion control, reforestation, and water resource development.

Records indicate 80,000 – 85,000 men served in the CCC-ID during the years of the Depression. Outside of work on reservations, the CCC-ID built dams, roads, trails, and fences on land near reservations. Native Americans received training in gardening, animal husbandry, safety practices, and academic subjects. As stated by political columnist Albert Bender in the article “History shows that joblessness among Native Americans can be lowered,” “The Indian Division produced awesome results. To cite only a few, reservation forests had 9,739 miles of truck trails laid out; 1,351,870 acres put under pest control; and countless fire lookout towers constructed. Indian grazing and farm lands had 263,129 acres subject to poisonous weed eradication, and 1,792 large dams and reservoirs were constructed.” Some of these accomplishments are still visible to this day.

While day-to-day operations at CCC camps were largely managed by the military, the BIA and tribal governments, or “agencies,” oversaw the CCC-ID. For example, branches of the CCC-ID were overseen by the Crow Agency of Montana, the Northern Cheyenne Agency of Montana, the Flathead Agency of Montana, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa of North Dakota, and the Sioux of South Dakota.

The CCC-ID was one part of what would be the called the “Indian New Deal.” In 1934, John Collier encouraged President Roosevelt to sign into law the Wheeler-Howard Act, otherwise known as the Indian Reorganization Act. This legislation reversed harsh restrictions enacted through the Dawes Act of 1887, which had authorized the federal government to assimilate and strip Native Americans of their culture and claim 90 million acres of tribal land.

Under Wheeler-Howard, Native Americans could purchase new land. Additionally, the government recognized tribal institutions and repealed prohibitions on Native language and customs. In conjunction with this legislation, the CCC-ID was the first measure to bring material aid to reservations, encouraged self-administration by Native Americans, conserved tribal land resources, and employed thousands of Native men.

As Collier said, the CCC-ID was, “the greatest opportunity and the greatest challenge confronting the Indian Service and the Indian tribes.” In simple terms, this was the first time the federal government allowed Native Americans to, at least to some extent, hold the reigns. Collier went on to state, “No previous undertaking in Indian Service, has so largely been the Indians’ own undertaking.”

Once the CCC-ID received funding, the program grew quickly. Within six months of its inception, 72 camps were present on 33 reservations in 28 states. The CCC-ID received more applicants than anticipated. To accommodate this, officials staggered employment of enrollees and allowed them to work on neighboring reservations only if it was approved by tribal council.

With assistance from the BIA, tribal councils oversaw CCC-ID camp enrollment, structure, and projects. Because of this, records of enrollees were processed differently, with some tribal governments collecting more data than others. Many tribes created narrative reports detailing work completed by enrollees. Some tribes opted to publish information about their work in their own newsletters, such as the Shoshone Tattler and the Blackfeet Tom Tom Echoes. These publications featured anecdotal history, as well as jokes, stories, and drawings from corpsmen.

One notable source that discussed Native contributions was, Indians at Work. This monthly publication, produced by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), contained articles, photographs and drawings of Native Americans, reservation life, and western scenes that helped promote the accomplishments of Native corpsmen.

Besides its management structure, the CCC-ID program differed from the CCC in many ways, including such elements as age restriction, living arrangements and wages. The CCC only enrolled men between the ages of 18 and 25. The average age of Native American corpsmen was 34; 172 enrollees were over the age of 35, and three were over the age of 75.

While CCC camps employed 200 men for six-month terms, only 40 to 50 Native Americans worked in units together. Also, as opposed to the traditional camp-setting, Native corpsmen lived in one of three types of domiciles: the permanent boarding camp for single men; the home camp for those wishing to live at home; and the family camp for projects of short duration where the entire household could reside temporarily in tents (another difference about the CCC-ID was that married men could serve). African American and white corpsmen did not have these housing options.

The basic wage for CCC-ID members was $30.00 for twenty workdays a month, or $1.50 per day, plus a 60 cent-per-day subsidy for those living at home. Enrollees also received from $1.00 to $2.00 per day for use of their own teams of horses. For those who lived at home, their pay was $2.10 per day for not more than twenty days in any one month, a possible total of $42.00 per month. In comparison, white and African American corpsmen earned a flat $30.00 per month, $25 of which had to be sent home to their families.

While the CCC-ID had what could be considered advantages over the CCC, there were some downsides. For instance, some living conditions were unsanitary. In all, however, the CCC-ID was more flexible than the CCC. It had less militarily structure and focused primarily on the goals of the Wheeler-Howard Act and improving Native American self-sufficiency.

The CCC and CCC-ID came to an end in 1942 when, as the U.S. joined WWII, Congress rejected funds to continue programming. For Native Americans, the CCC-ID was progressive in many ways. Native peoples reclaimed aspects of their culture, gained new educational and agricultural skills, and saw employment opportunities. The end of the CCC was arguably a setback; the program was important to Native Americans because one of their most valuable resources – their land – was cultivated, and small parts were returned to them. Collier stated, “The ending of a heavy, heavy blow to Indian Service, to the Indians, and to social policy in the United States. It is just that: a heavy and undeserved blow.”

For your consideration 

As you read this blog, here are some questions for you to consider: 

  • The CCC and CCC-ID were disbanded in the early 1940s as the country turned its attention to WWII. John Collier described the end of the CCC-ID as a “heavy and undeserved blow.” Do you agree with his statement? If the CCC-ID program had continued (or possibly still functioned to this day), how do you think it would have influenced Native communities culturally? Economically? Socially?
  • The Smithsonian Libraries website offers the opportunity to read old copies of Indians at Work, the Bureau of Indian Affairs publication from the ‘30s and ‘40s. What do you learn from these publications? What do you not learn?
  • After decades of stripping Native peoples of their land and culture, the federal government gave tribal leadership a degree of agency over the CCC-ID program. How do you think tribal governments felt about this?
  • It has been over 80 years since passage of the Wheeler-Howard Act, or “Indian New Deal.” However, as stated by the National Congress of American Indians, “Tribal communities are among the poorest in the country and unemployment rates in Indian Country often stand above 50 percent.” What do you believe the federal government should do to address these ongoing issues?   
  • What can land management agencies do to better share the history and accomplishments of Native Americans on lands that are now national parks, national forests and other public spaces?
  • For Corps: Do you engage Native American youth in your programs or offer programming specifically for Native youth? If so, how is programming for Native youth different? How might any specialized education and activities offered in Native American programs also benefit non-Native Corpsmembers?
    • If your Corps does not actively engage Native American youth, what steps can you take to better engage Native populations in your region?


These resources, and much more, can be found in the Moving Forward Initiative resource library.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Indian Reorganization Act.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 10 October 2016.

Bender, Albert. “History shows that joblessness among Native Americans can be lowered. People’s World. 22 September 2014.

“Native Americans.” Digital History, 2016.

White, Cody. “The CCC Indian Division.” Prologue Magazine. Vol.48, No.2. 2016.


Gower, Calvin W. “The CCC Indian Division: Aid for depressed Americans, 1933-1942.” Minnesota Historical Society.

Bromert, Roger. “The Sioux and the Indian-CCC.” South Dakota State Historical Society. 1978.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Dawes General AllotmentAct.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 12 December 2016.

McLerran, Jennifer. “A New Deal for Native Art: Indian Arts and Federal Policy 1933-1943.” The University of Arizona Press 2012. 

Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Indians at Work.” 1933 Bureau of Indian Affairs.

WPAToday. “The CCC on Indian Reservations.” YouTube, 27 June 2015,

Moving Forward Initiative Guest Series: Interview with Dr. Dorceta Taylor on Diversity and Equity Initiatives within Environmental Organizations

Dr. Dorceta Taylor is the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the James E. Crowfoot Collegiate Professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Dr. Taylor is the author of The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations, and Government Agencies (a publication prepared for Green 2.0: 2014) and The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection (Duke University Press: 2015). Both publications fundamentally seek to examine the state of gender, racial, and class diversity within environmentalism.

As part of The Corps Network's Moving Forward Initiative, we spoke with Dr. Taylor about her inspiration for environmental work, her education and career path, as well as the efficacy of diversity and equity initiatives within environmental organizations.

Click here for Moving Forward Initiative Homepage

- By Cassandra Ceballos, Programs Assistant, The Corps Network

Growing up in 1960s rural Jamaica, Dr. Dorceta Taylor found herself instinctively drawn to the natural environment.

"I really think I was one of those people who was just genetically hard-wired from the womb to come out caring and wanting to know about plants and animals," she said.

As a young girl, one of Dr. Taylor's many chores was to take care of a rose garden near her home. The garden fascinated Dr. Taylor; the various colors and kinds of roses, the bees pollinating the different flowers. She thought it was "the coolest job ever," and credits this early exposure with cementing her "respect, understanding, and curiosity" in biology.

Unable to attend school until the age of seven due to family responsibilities, Dr. Taylor taught herself how to read and write. In her studies, she came across a book that talked about the prestigious Yale University and decided then, at age seven, that she would one-day attend. "Ignorance is bliss," she shares, "because, at the time I said that, Yale did not admit black students and it did not admit women. But since there was nobody to tell me otherwise, I put it as one of my dreams and decided to pursue it."

In her first years of college in Jamaica, Dr. Taylor continued to pursue her interests in the biological sciences, specializing heavily in zoology and botany. Upon immigrating to the United States at age 20 she chose to continue along a Biology track at Northeastern Illinois University but was unable to register for an upper level Botany class in her first semester due to limited enrollment. Dr. Taylor instead enrolled in an environmental class at the suggestion of a professor. Her experiences in that first environmental class fundamentally shaped her life's trajectory.

Though medicine is a common career trajectory for biology students, Dr. Taylor never wanted to be a doctor; she hates the sight of human blood. She felt stifled in the sterile setting of labs and much preferred to work outdoors. The environmental course offered Dr. Taylor an "opportunity to see how you can connect people to the environment and focus on human interactions with the environment," rather than following more traditional STEM career paths. Yet, there was another side to this revelation. The lack of diversity in the environmental class both startled and disturbed Dr. Taylor.

"We were learning all this cool stuff about the environment, and pesticides, and I thought to myself ‘where are all the other black kids?’"

For the first time, Dr. Taylor found herself sitting in a science classroom as the only person of color. Surrounded by about fifty white students and a white male professor, she remembers thinking, "I know I left Jamaica, the Caribbean, but did I go that far out of space that I'm in a place where black and brown students are not taking these courses?"

Never one to be deterred, Dr. Taylor posed this question to the professor, who responded in front of the class that blacks are simply not interested in the environment. "I was stunned," she said. This comment lead Dr. Taylor to the library, determined to debunk his statement. She left disappointed, "I pulled out every book I could on behavior and the environment and every single research article said exactly what he said: blacks are not interested in the environment."

Those findings directly contradicted Dr. Taylor's lifelong knowledge of environmentalism. She grew up amongst black and brown people who cared about the environment, studied the environment, worked in the environment, all with excellence. Dr. Taylor realized the problem was not with participation, but with perception, "this perception that somehow an entire race of people does not care about the environment. How, how is that possible? And what does that mean if you have that kind of racialized understanding of caring about the environment?" Fostering stereotypes about the parts of society that do or do not involve themselves in environmental work establishes a logic about who to hire or engage in those capacities.

Dr. Taylor graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies and Biology. She enrolled in the Yale School of Forestry and the Environment later that year. Concurrently, the environmental movement was in full swing on national and international stages. Intrigued by the interaction of society and nature, Dr. Taylor found herself particularly drawn to the burgeoning environmental justice movement. This interest influenced her decision to pursue an interdisciplinary field of study. Not only did Dr. Taylor fulfill her childhood goal of attending Yale University, she did it with pizzazz. Dr. Taylor holds a Master of Forensic Science in Social Ecology, both a Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy in Sociology/Forestry, and dual doctoral degrees in Environmental Sociology from the Department of Sociology and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Even now, Dr. Taylor vividly remembers her experience in that first environmental class, her shock at the professor's racist remarks.  Unfortunately, this kind of racist understanding is not unique to the conservation movement. Such beliefs spring from historical rhetoric that erases the active participation and extraordinary contributions of persons of color in many aspects of our society. Growing up in a rural area of a developing country, however, she knew intimately the extensive body of environmental knowledge necessary to survive in such communities. Much of Dr. Taylor’s research works to rewrite, or “re-right,” the traditional narrative of environmentalism. She wishes to disprove, "the idea that black people are somehow so different from everyone else in the world that we don't care, we have no knowledge."

Documenting Black Contributions to Environmentalism

Authored by Dr. Taylor in 2016, The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection comprehensively details the roles of race, class, and gender in shaping the environmental movement from the mid-1850s to the early 1900s.

"I thought that if I looked at slavery, I bet you we will find people of color doing amazing things either for the environment or to survive in the environment. We just haven't documented it,” said Dr. Taylor. “…If you look at slave plantations, what slaves did. The fact that they had incredible knowledge of the plants, the animals, it's just not written about. These were environmental activities. These were sustainable activities."

In The Rise of the American Conservation Movement, Dr. Taylor analyzes the environmental characteristics of prominent figures like Harriet Tubman and Phyllis Wheatley, providing nuanced perspective on their lives. She writes about the environmental knowledge used by Harriet Tubman in operating the Underground Railroad, "she was a human minesweeper before we knew about minesweepers. She understood the water, could read the water so very well. It's really quite a hard thing to navigate along water in a forest, much less at night."

Dr. Taylor further argues that Phillis Wheatley, enslaved in the late 1700s, "was writing about the environment in a very positive way. Telling us to care about it for almost a century before Ralph Waldo Emerson, yet he gets credit for it." Traditional narrative surrounding these women and their accomplishments does not include these environmental elements. 

The 1960s saw an explosion of social movements in the United States, including the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the anti-war movement, the women's movement, and the environmental movement. 

The rhetoric of the civil rights and environmental movements established a false dichotomy between the two. The environmentalists at the time framed the environment as everything except for urban areas and everyone except people of color. It was mostly focused on middle and upper-class white people and the places where they lived and recreated.

"Through the 1960s and 1970s the environment is framed as the forests, the trees, the beautiful birds, the perfect oceans and lakes. It didn’t include the issues that related to urban areas or to poor people. Certainly not to persons of color,” said Dr. Taylor. “Part of the pushback of communities of color was a sense that, we’re not going to come out and march to save the bald eagle when we don’t have food in the house to feed our children. We have to take care of that first."

As a result, documentation of the civil rights movement fails to account for the environmental activism of its participants. "We talk about the fact that blacks were carpooling and we talk about it in the context of we couldn't get on the bus therefore, we had carpools. And guess what? Everybody now knows carpooling is environmentally friendly. But we don't frame our activism in those terms."  Dr. Taylor points out that, "there were more blacks carpooling in the South than environmental activists carpooling in the North. But white environmentalists get the credit for carpooling."

Dr. Taylor stresses the importance of telling these stories, "I’m hoping a whole new generation of people of color go back into their literature, go back into their stories that their parents and their grandparents and great-grandparents tell them about the way they lived. About activities. And, rather than seeing it as backwards, understand not only how it plays into who we are as a people, but how we can use it to understand our contribution to the environment and that we were always extremely connected to the environment. If we weren’t, we absolutely would not have survived."

The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations

In her 1997 journal article, American Environmentalism: The Role of Race, Class, and Gender in Shaping Activism, 1820-1995, Dr. Taylor writes that "the [environmental] movement faces enormous challenges in the future. Among the most urgent is the need to develop a more inclusive, culturally-sensitive, broad-based environmental agenda that will appeal to many people and unite many sectors of the movement.” In the 20 years since making that statement, Dr. Taylor has good news and bad news.

 The good news is there has been some increase in diversity.

A 1990 survey found that less than two percent of the staff at the largest environmental organizations were people of color. Most of the employees of color worked in the mailroom, on the janitorial staff, or strictly in entry-level positions. In Dr. Taylor's 2014 report, The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations, and Government Agencies, she studied several hundred mainstream environmental organizations and found that people of color made up about 16 percent of the workforce, an increase of about 14 percent in 24 years. Meanwhile, white women have made incredible strides, making up 60 percent of the staffing at environmental organizations, up from 14 percent in the 1980s.

Dr. Taylor says her report acted as, "a jolt to organizations. Because I put so much data out there, it's become very difficult for them to sit around and simply say people of color are not interested in the environment, that they don't want these jobs or apply to these jobs... And all the data we have says exactly the opposite. Young people of color, old people of color, they will take these jobs, want these jobs, and are qualified for these jobs."

The bad news is that we aren't where we need to be.

Currently, people of color make up 38 percent of the population, a number expected to increase to over 50 percent in the coming decades. "We are a growing segment... 16 percent in environmental organizations is well below our representation in the general population. We are underrepresented, by a significant amount."

Additionally, people of color working at environmental organizations continue to be concentrated in entry-level positions. "When you get to senior staff, Presidents and Vice Presidents, it's rare to see [people of color]. We need to look at diversity as we look up the hierarchy. The mentoring piece is missing. People are being hired but they’re also leaving because they feel alienated, isolated, and the conversations that are taking place in these organizations are sometimes very hard for the young people of color to deal with, especially when there are very few of them. So, the institutional culture has to change."

Moving Forward with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Dr. Taylor offers suggestions on how organizations might better approach diversity. Her first recommendation involves improved wages. "I find most [organizations] underprice the labor of young people of color," she said, "they don’t put a market value on it. So that's one of the first things."

When many foundations talk about funding diversity they talk about it in terms of how many bodies are in the room. But when Dr. Taylor approaches it, she thinks in terms of wages and salary scale. "Your wages today determine your wages tomorrow, and next week, and way down the road. That part of the diversity piece is so critical in building job negotiation skills.”

Dr. Taylor's undergraduate and graduate summer internship programs provide generous financial compensation to participants.

Spanning two summers, the undergraduate program consists of two cohorts of twenty students each. With over 400 applications a year, competition is high. The program focuses on very high achieving STEM students, with GPAs above 3.4. The grant includes money for travel expenses, including a car service from the airport. Meals and housing are also covered. Students make $4,200 for eight weeks. Dr. Taylor does this, "with the idea being that, when they leave here, they can go home and take their entire stipend back with them to help with college in the fall"

The graduate students start at $10,000 for 12 weeks in the summer, so that when they leave, multiplying the weeks over the summer, their biggest salary history is about $55,000/year. They can negotiate a different base salary than if they were paid $2,000 for the summer.

"It’s not just getting good students academically. It's about getting the ones that participate to be really excited and proud of what they’re doing. And they can say ‘wow, look at what I earn.’ People tend to say ‘oh bring me some students of color’ but then don’t want to pay these kids. That’s the dirty underside to this diversity piece, is that nobody wants to pay for it."

Dr. Taylor stressed the need to prepare young adults of color to be leaders in environmental conservation, rather than just entry-level employees. In her program, the undergraduates spend their first summer in a lab and their second summer in various environmental organizations.

"We have to think about where are we placing the students. If we’re not placing them in the labs and in the professional setting, we won’t diversify upwards through the pipeline. Otherwise all we have done is for them to say to us: find us these students and train them, when in reality we’ve only trained them for entry-level. So, chances are they’re only going to be in the organizations a very short time because they’re frustrated and don’t see the upward mobility. The hardest thing within diversity is for folks to realize that we are not just talking about back office. We’re talking about the front office. The presidential suite. Every part of the organization. And for these young people to have access to those [positions], to know that they can have access to these spaces, becomes really critical."

Dr. Taylor hopes to prove there are students of color interested in conservation work. "We’re not the only program that is seeing that incredible demand from students of color," Dr. Taylor said. "High-performing students of color, that want to do environmental justice, want to do conservation, forestry, those kinds of things. Those students are absolutely out there."

Finally, Dr. Taylor advocates developing a strong cohort and network amongst young adults of color participating in environmental programs, guided by the spirit of mentorship.

"The few of us who run these programs can't fix everything. In communities of color that kind of networking, especially in the environmental field, is not common. It’s important for students of color to understand how networks work. Some of these students are actually really good peer mentors and so we’ve actually appointed some of the very mature ones to help with the mentoring of their counterparts. It’s amazing how they can start helping each other."

For Your Consideration: 

1. Read this summary of Dr. Taylor's 2014 report, The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations. What surprises or stands out to you the most? Given the changing demographics of the United States population, what are the implications of the current state of diversity in environmental organizations?

2. Many stereotypes exist about what communities or types of individuals care about the environment. In your own career or education, have you been stereotyped or witnessed the stereotyping of others? If so, how have you reacted or responded? What are the effects of these stereotypes? Ask yourself, “what can I do to change the narrative?”

3. Dr. Taylor mentions carpooling as a sustainable activity most often credited to white environmentalists, despite the earlier use of carpooling by people of color during the civil rights movement. Consider other sustainable activities generally attributed to the mainstream environmental movement. Thinking critically, might there be other stories behind these activities?

4. In The Rise of the American Conservation Movement, Dr. Taylor documents the environmental consciousness of Harriet Tubman and Phillis Wheatley. Why do we not view the work of these women through an environmental lens? What are the effects of omitting such individuals from the collective of historic environmental figures? Pick a figure from this list of civil rights activists. Can you find information on the individual’s environmental contributions? If not, think creatively. In what ways might this individual have been an environmentalist?

5. Skim through Dr. Taylor's latest research publication, Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Reporting and Transparency. What are the major findings from the report? Why do you think transparent reporting of diversity data is important?

6. For Corps: Dr. Taylor credits her early experiences tending a rose garden in Jamaica for sparking her interest in the natural world. Do you have a similar story or memory? Think back. When do you remember first gaining interest in conservation and preservation? Is there a standout influence?

7. For Corps: In this blog, we identify equal representation, mentorship, and fair wages as important elements of "diversity, equity, and inclusion". What do these terms mean to you? How can you contribute to making the environmental workforce more diverse, inclusive, and equitable?

8. For Corps: What do you do (or can you do) to promote “professionalism” in your program? What do you do to help Corpsmembers explore career and educational pathways that build on their Corps experience?



An Interview with Reginald "Flip" Hagood, The Corps Network 2018 Legacy Achievement Honoree

Flip Hagood with Liz Putnam, Founder of the Student Conservation Association (SCA)

Reginald "Flip" Hagood, formerly of the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service, is the 2018 Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winner. We interviewed Flip to learn more about him and his experience in the Corps movement. Click here to read his bio.

Tell us a little bit about your personal background.

I'm a local kid here to Washington, DC. I grew up and went to public schools here, and still live fairly close to the same neighborhood where I grew up. My old high school, Eastern High, is two blocks away.
I also went to university here: Howard and American University for undergrad. For graduate school I went to NOVA Southeastern while I was stationed for the Park Service in Georgia.

I've lived in other states and traveled a lot in the last 50 years, having worked in Georgia and Arizona and in the beltway area in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, but right now we're living on Capitol Hill near Lincoln Park. Most of my life has been spent here in the Mid-Atlantic region. I have a small family here in the DC metropolitan area. I'm married and I have one son and two grandchildren. 


Tell us about your career with the National Park Service and how you transitioned to the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

Career with the National Park Service (NPS)
I joined the National Park Service after serving three years in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam era. I spent a little bit of time in Vietnam and served the country. Upon my return, I learned about a program that transitioned returning veterans to public service careers. I passed the exam and got hired with the National Park Service as a law enforcement officer.

I was familiar with national parks. Growing up, I knew many of the parks within the National Capital Region (Anacostia Park, Rock Creek, etc.). As a Boy Scout, I went to Prince William Forest Park for my first overnight camping trip. As I grew older, my interest in the outdoors expanded when I went to Shenandoah as a high school student.

My interest in the Park Service came about by playing in parks and learning about the outdoors as a child. I credit my grandfather with a lot of that; every summer, up until I was 14, I spent with him in the Carolinas. That was outdoor time for me, doing everything one can do in the outdoors as a young person and exploring with him and learning about the land. Many ethics and lessons came from spending time with family in rural South Carolina during those 90-day summer breaks from school.

I have always had a love for outdoor work, and that certainly inspired me when I decided to look for a career. Even with the National Park Service, it always had what I call a “green side” to it, or what I think later translated into an environmental and conservation career for me.

I spent the first 15 - 20 years of my career in what they call law enforcement and protection work in the National Park Service. At the same time, however, I was developed as a training officer for the Park Service and was eventually assigned to be an instructor for law enforcement employees. That position sent me to Georgia for six years at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where I taught in the academy, including instructing national park rangers. In Georgia, I continued my education and did a little adjunct teaching at a couple community colleges and colleges in the Southeast. I worked with younger people, primarily college age and high school age, both as a formal instructor and as a volunteer.

In the latter part of my National Park Service career – a career that ultimately covered 30 years – I moved to the administrative part of the house. I eventually was in charge of both formal and informal training and professional development for the National Park Service. I served 20,000 employees as a key proponent of training and education. Within the Department of the Interior, I served 70,000 employees, looking at the human resource needs, educational needs, and training needs of all the employees. Working with youth in these agencies helped build a bridge for when I moved over to the conservation side of my career with SCA.


Career with the Student Conservation Association (SCA)
I became familiar with the Student Conservation Association working at the National Park Service because of the partner relationship that existed. That relationship – based on educating and training youth – was in my purview. My position at the Park Service gave me the opportunity to learn about a lot of youth organizations, like scouting groups, Corps, and other programs. I had staff assigned to help train park rangers and interpreters how to educate young people; this certainly fortified my understanding of working with young people and educating them in the outdoors.

After my career with the Park Service, I had an opportunity to retire early at 51 years of age with 30 years of federal service. I took that and went out to the non-profit sector. The opportunity to become director of SCA’s Conservation Career Development program came about. I worked to help them diversify their student base of participants.

The transition for me was an easy one because I was very familiar with SCA; I knew staff there. This new opportunity afforded me a chance to take my learning in the federal service and apply that to the non-profit area. I've counseled many others in public service careers to do the same. I let them know many of the skills, knowledge, and abilities they acquired in public service are applicable to the independent and non-profit sector.

That's an overview of my Park Service and SCA story, but what I'll add to that is that I started to work very early on. My first formal job was at 14 years of age, when I no longer went to Carolina in the summer. I had a job every summer. I had my first government job at 15 in a new program started in the Washington area where they hired local youth. I was a laborer in that job, working at the Pentagon. I worked while I was at Howard University at the government printing office, working on a night shift, running machines and binding books that were then sent out to governmental folks. So, my government and public service career started quite early in my life. That allowed me to retire with 30 years of service when I was still in my early 50s; all that time accrued. I got a real jump start on the federal career and federal retirement.


Who are some of your heroes? What did they do to inspire you?

I have two people that I lean towards as heroes: Frederick Douglass and Thurgood Marshall. I’m inspired by Douglass for his life well-spent in championing the cause of freedom for slaves. Many people know who he is and the work he did, but it’s interesting to learn more about him personally, in terms of how he was self-educated and later acquired formal learning. He transitioned himself from someone who toiled as a youth on a farm, to become a respected leader in the abolition movement. Douglass has always been a champion of mine. I have numerous photos that I have collected of him. As an early park employee, I worked at the Douglass home in Southeast DC. It was one of the places where I often had protection and security responsibilities. There was a caretaker who worked at the building that I got to know well. I'd stop by to check on her in terms of her personal safety, but it also gave me real exposure to the house, the property, and the man. She shared many stories about him and I learned insights about the work Douglass accomplished. I also learned about how he spent part of his life in New England. When I met my wife in Southeast Massachusetts, we spent time in New Bedford, MA, where Douglass lived at one point. I could broaden my understanding and get a different look at him at that point of his life.

I’m inspired by Thurgood Marshall because I'm a child of the sixties and grew up during the Civil Rights Movement. I recognized the need for change, having spent many a summer in the South and dealing with bias and Jim Crow laws; dual water fountains and those kinds of experiences. One of the real icons in law at the time was Marshall, later to be Justice Marshall, the first African American on the Supreme Court. He has a special place in my heart and is a hero because of the personal fortitude he showed and the impact he had on our society.

I view both men as having very impactful lives. The work they did helped change this country.

Given your experience, what is the primary piece of wisdom you would give to a young person currently enrolled in a Corps? What is the primary piece of advice you would give to staff at Corps?

For both Corpsmembers and Corps staff, I have very similar advice. Focusing first on the Corpsmembers: simply listen and learn. When I say listen and learn, I mean it in a very broad sense. Open yourself up to new experiences, challenge yourself, and do things that you might enjoy, as well as things you might not enjoy. Try to expand your boundaries.

By listening, I mean listening in every way. Listen to advice and counsel. On the counterbalance, I encourage Corpsmembers to question. I think a lot more is learned through the answer of a question than it is by just having information told to you. When you can learn and find answers through your own inquiries, I think the assimilation of information occurs in a much better way. To young Corpsmembers out there, I’ll say what I always used to say to SCA participants: you don’t have to be as verbal, but turn on your ears. You have two of them, but one mouth. Embrace that 2:1 ratio. Make a query and listen to the answer.

I apply the same advice to staff, because as educators, trainers, leaders, and supervisors, staff really need to listen to the youth in every way. One must hear them, validate them, take in their messages, be respectful of them. Even though the relationship is somewhat parental in terms of the age and experience dynamic, open yourself to also be a receiver of information and the relationship will be much stronger. The fact they know they've got someone they can go to who's willing to listen provides a safe place and an opportunity for you to be impactful. Taking the time to understand their music, dance, culture, heritage goes a long way.

Listening is important, but the questioning role also applies to staff. Through what I call the one-on-one's and the one-on-group, one should posit questions that hopefully motivate and inspire others to seek out learning. Positing questions can be a platform for learning, for the growth of the Corpsmember as well as the growth of the staff member.


You’ve worked to try and break down barriers and increase diversity and equity in the conservation movement. In short, what do you believe is the primary reason for the lack of diversity in conservation? What are steps we can take to address this disparity? 

I've spent a lot of time in this work over the last 50+ years. That includes my own personal experiences of not being allowed to participate, whether that was not being able to swim or get a drink of water because of someone's perception of me primarily based on color. Exclusion to me is a negative that I won't accept.

It's always been a motivator for me personally to, at any chance, try to open opportunities across the board and break down barriers that might keep someone separate because of their race, ethnicity, gender, age, any factor. I’ve tried to break down those barriers and create more equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the green movement. This isn’t easy because exclusivity is a part of this movement and part of its history.

To remedy that, and allow people to experience what I think are the values of spending time outdoors and experiencing nature, we can meet people where they are. It’s all very relative.  I'm working on the steering committee of a group called the “Green Leadership Trust,” which is trying to increase diversity among the board members and professional staff within not-for-profit and green organizations. I am working with them and other conservation and environmental justice organizations to strengthen their leadership by having more brown, yellow, red, and black people at the table; more women; and more young people.

I think one reason a lack of diversity exists in the conservation sector is its heritage and history. It also has to do with opportunity. A lot of times, getting to the outdoors is part of an economic issue, or because someone is excluded. Opportunity and exclusion are the primary reasons for the lack of diversity that we face in conservation, environment, and recreation.

We see a lot of this being institutionalized and present today. I certainly see change within my life and I applaud every step that has been taken. I also see our losses occurring today when decisions are made to stop the protection of cultural heritage sites and natural resources. I think we have to continue to work very diligently to address this disparity, this lack of opportunity, lack of inclusion, and lack of the ability to be a voice at the table.

When we talk about biology and the concept of diversity, its value to the planet is so overwhelming. Without diversity, there would be nothing. I believe the same analogy aligns with human beings: the more diverse we are the stronger we are.

In the future, what developments would you like to see happen in the Corps movement?

Growth. I know many of the recipients of this award in the past have said the same thing, but we're not there yet. There needs to be many, many more gateways to the outdoors through conservation Corps, as well as service Corps and educational Corps.

The more learning opportunities like these, the better, but we need to be on guard and know our budgetary facts. We hear about budget constraints on education and youth and public lands; that should alert all of us who are part of Corps. We need to be focused on that so we don't lose what we have gained. At the same time, we need to seek the investment to grow more in every dimension and open ourselves up to new opportunities.

I was in this movement long enough to remember a time when the number of women who participated in Corps was miniscule. In my lifetime, I've seen that change. I know we're not there yet. Among other diversity issues, the gender imbalance needs to change. One of the things that was a great moment in my life at SCA was when the percentage of women participants versus males changed. There was a flipping of the script. It used to be male-dominated and finally there was a 51:49 year, I recall. To me, that was momentous. I can remember the first all-women crew and the first crew for LGBTQ youth. Broadening up the platform, broadening up the gateways, expanding the number of Corps... they don't need to be government-sponsored, they could be corporately-sponsored, they can be foundation-sponsored. Those in leadership need to be entrepreneurial and creative so that we build towards this future of expanded Corps opportunities. I think that's the one development I would like to see happen: continued growth so that more young people can be impacted by serving in a Corps.


What do you hope your legacy will be?

Well, that's a tough one, because you don't quite know. I guess my wish would be that every young person that I have touched, if there's any seed I planted in them, I hope they would do the same for others.

I hope through their learning and experiences in the conservation movement, their public service, their working on the land and working to aid others, I hope that that inspires them to be servants throughout their lives. I hope they take on a philosophy of learning and apply that in service to others.

If I have any legacy at all, I would hope that I would have some motivational impact such that others would pick up the mantel and be champions for younger people in their field, even if they don’t work in the conservation arena. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you’re, doctor, public servant, laborer, educator, any job in technology…there are ways to impact the next generation. Hopefully they become inspired to be the next champions so we're always growing a larger cadre of those to follow us than those that came before us.

Next Generation of Aquatic Restoration Leaders: Michael Muckle

By Luke Frazza,
Trout Headwaters, Inc. 


Mike Muckle, director of the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg (NJYCP), a program of the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, is passionate about aquatic restoration. That’s why, after attending The Corps Network 2014 National Conference and learning about Waders in the Water (WitW), the brand new aquatic restoration training built for The Corps Network, Mike volunteered his Corps to pilot the program. Since then, aquatic restoration has become the biggest focus of the NJYCP. Twenty-six Corpsmembers have earned their WitW certification and worked on multiple stream and wetland restoration projects.

Recently, Mike, now a representative to both The Corps Network’s Board of Directors and the Corps Council, took some time to explain where his enthusiasm for restoration came from and how it’s influenced NJYCP and its Corpsmembers.

Nineteen years ago, when Mike was the new program coordinator for NJYCP, he attended an Urban Waterways Restoration workshop designed for youth Service and Conservation Corps. The event was presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (now The Corps Network). Mike says that’s when he got the bug for environmental restoration work. After the workshop, Mike brought his interest in restoration back to NJYCP and he and his staff sought out those types of projects. It wasn’t long before NJYCP was partnering on nearby U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service projects

Over time, Mike realized the value of restoration work. However, upon being promoted to Director of NJYCP, he understood they would require additional resources in order to build their capacity to perform such projects.

“While we’ve done restoration work since I’ve been here,” Mike observed, “until recently we were never able to bring resources or funding back to our program.” Mike credits that change to the WitW third-party certification.

“Since our Corpsmembers have completed the WitW training, I’ve been able to secure funding for our program in return for project work our Corps was doing.”

Register your Corpsmembers here for the next WitW training.

Mike has discovered a trusted project partner in New Jersey Audubon’s (NJA) Stewardship Project Director John Parke. NJYCP now routinely partners with the NJA and others to restore local habitats and improve water quality on streams. As part of the growing Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), NJA recently brought in NJYCP Corpsmembers to help plant 1,900 native trees and scrubs at five different riparian restoration projects near NJYCP. The projects were all funded by both the William Penn Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. During this work together, John Parke told Mike “there’s never been a shortage of project work, only a shortage of trained workers. This training and certification has addressed that issue, allowing us to provide qualified, competent, and informed candidates to work on these important ecological projects.”

After working on his first stream restoration project, 18-year-old NJYCP Corpsmembers/WitW graduate Zach Oefelein said: "It definitely gives me a good sense of pride. There aren't enough people focused on things like this. A lot of our world is focused on what you can get out of nature and not what you can put back into it."

Mike happily shares that, with all the training and project work his Corpsmembers have done, “they now realize a career in ecological restoration is attainable, and that this important work to save our planet, is virtually all around them - in every community.”

Register for Waders in the Water here

Hurricane Maria Recovery: Firsthand Account of Relief Efforts in Puerto Rico from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa AmeriCorps Member Landon Acre-Kendall

In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, several member organizations of The Corps Network have sent crews to Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coordination of most of these deployments has been through the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team (A-DRT) program

Corpsmembers from across the country have assisted with a range of activities, including clearing debris, coordinating volunteers and donations, conducting damage assessments, and helping muck, gut and tarp homes. Below, read the firsthand account of Landon Acre-Kendall, an AmeriCorps member from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) who deployed to Puerto Rico in November.

By Landon Acre-Kendall, CCMI AmeriCorps Member

When our AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team had our first day in the field, it truly became clear that Maria held nothing back on the island. The landscape was a ruin of decimated vegetation. The trees were plucked out of the ground like weeds. There was endless debris and trash piled above my head on sidewalks and scattered about open areas. People were living in destroyed homes without roofs, power, and water. It was an eye-opening experience and it motivated us to work that much harder, every day, for those less fortunate then us in Puerto Rico. 

To me, one of the most enlightening and heartwarming aspects of my deployment was working with all the new people we met in Puerto Rico and getting to know our own teams so well. The members and supervisors from Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) were great. Elliot always surprised us with his own blend of strange and unexpected humor and, at the same time, was a very professional and knowledgeable Incident Commander. The people from other teams and organizations, such as California Conservation Corps (CCC), Team Rubicon, and Samaritan's Purse, all made lasting impressions on us as well. However, the friendships and teams created within CCMI will be everlasting. We all grew to know each other very quickly and, within weeks, it felt as though I'd known these people my entire life. 

Another part of my trip that I will always remember will be my interactions with the local people of Puerto Rico. Though there was a language barrier, I could always read the voices and faces of the people around me. I would see elderly couples laugh, smile, and say thanks to me and my team and it was always a touching moment. I saw a younger couple with a baby and children have sighs of relief and cries of joy and laughter as they watched a tree come falling down from a very hazardous situation on top of their house. Though I couldn't fully understand their words, I thought as though I could feel what they were saying. 

My favorite part of being here was using our specialized skillset for an amazing cause. I will always remember one of the bigger trees we tackled (see image). One afternoon we were canvasing for a job and we stopped to talk to some locals. When we mentioned that we cut trees, one old man’s eyes lit up and he started talking about a giant tree blocking entrance to his entire house. He was talking about how, every day, he would be forced to climb through a massive tree's hazardous wreckage just to access his house. We followed him around a couple blocks to his house as he told us bits about his life. This man once lived in the mainland United States and was a horse jockey for several years. When we arrived at his house we immediately were excited by the challenge of this project. We slowly took apart the massive tree piece by piece. It was one of my favorite big jobs with a very grateful and kind man. I will never forget his face or his house. 

Puerto Rico was a great experience. I feel as though I've grown a lot as a person, but, more importantly this trip has inspired me to grow even more beyond this trip alone and never stop growing. I want to continue to inspire and help others for the rest of my life.

2018 Corpsmember of the Year: Senga Lukingama, Urban Corps of San Diego County

Every year, at The Corps Network’s National Conference in Washington, DC, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young men and women have exceeded the expectations of their Corps by exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and demonstrating an earnest commitment to service and civic engagement. The Corpsmembers of the Year are role models; their personal stories and accomplishments are an inspiration to Corpsmembers nationwide. Learn more.

When Senga Lukingama showed up at Urban Corps of San Diego County (UCSD), he came with a story of war and almost unimaginable personal loss. What he found was a way to channel his work ethic and his determination to, as his father had urged, get an education. Senga has explored his interest in leadership, resulting in a seat on the Urban Corps’ Corpsmember Advisory Board. According to one of his supervisors, “Senga is always proactive towards his future goals and sets high expectations for himself and works diligently to complete every task.”

Finding his way to the Corps was not easy or at all likely. When he was 14, civil war forced Senga to flee his town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the chaos of leaving, he was separated from his family. All alone, he walked what seemed like a never-ending road to find himself in a refugee camp. There, Senga looked tirelessly for his family, but never found them.

“I couldn’t stop blaming myself for not being able to go back and find my family. I was afraid and spent many days hungry,” said Senga. “I was very sad and did not know what the future would hold for me, or even if I had such a thing as a future.”

A new life in the United States began for Senga in January of 2016. He came alone and without much direction, but found housing with the help of a community organization.

“It was my first night at my new home that I realized I could finally accomplish my dreams and aspirations,” said Senga.

The next day, while walking the streets and getting to know his new hometown of San Diego, Senga ran into a sign promoting opportunities with UCSD. He signed up and started to work hard to earn money and skills, and studied long hours to complete his high school education. He found a community where he could belong, and where he could be of service to his peers and to his new community.

“In the Corps, we have a lot of kids who have similar backgrounds and stories and I don’t feel alone anymore. I have been able to overcome the pictures and horrible memories in my mind and be at peace,” said Senga. “I have learned many new skills and work experience that I had never thought I would ever reach. Helping my community has always been something that I have wanted to do and I am able to help my community as well as my peers. I can drive in the city and think back at good memories of how I helped with projects around my community.”

Senga’s supervisors salute him for setting high goals and for his dedication to the program. They also note his leadership among his peers; he was promoted to a Crew Leader position. 

“Senga serves as a great role model to our students and shares his story with many who are having a hard time,” said one supervisor.

Senga graduates from the Urban Corps’ Charter School this December. During his time in the Corps, he also obtained his driver's license and saved to buy his first car. He is currently enrolled at San Diego City College and hopes to eventually transfer to San Diego State University and pursue a degree in political science. His goal is to one day become a diplomat or politician. He hopes to return to his country to help to bring peace. He knows that the key to that future is through his education.

“I have learned about many new things that I hope to bring to my country, like the different opportunities that work can give you,” said Senga. “When you work hard and study, you begin to see the light at the end of the road and believe that the world has a lot more for you to see. I plan on meeting new people and sharing my story with others. I know I am not the only one with this story, but hopefully it can help others know they are not alone.”