You can't see or touch air, so how is its importance relayed? How do we protect the intangible?
I start with two simple questions:
• How long can you live without breathing?
• How long can you live without air?

And, now I have you thinking about air. What is the value of fresh, clean air to the average person? What can we do in our lives to protect it for ourselves and for our children?

This is where I come in as an air-quality professional - a protector and educator of air quality.

What I didn't realize 16 years ago, when I started, was how complex this work would be: Indoor air versus outdoor air; from permitting pollution to rules for cleaning up what we've polluted; old ideas and new technology. Air quality is as vast as the sky and yet as simple as breathing.

I can enter a home and make a suggestion that can immediately change habits, keep a child with asthma out of the ER, help prevent lung cancer, or identify what is causing the family to have a "continual cold."

Air quality is influenced by secondary projects that reduce energy consumption or use alternative energy. These projects "clean" the air by not polluting it in the first place. And, if you don't use the energy, then you don't have particulate matter, mercury, sulfur and nitrous oxides released into the atmosphere.

In this effort, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has been leading the way by promoting solar heating, solar photovoltaic, energy consumption reduction and by providing outreach education on these topics.

Leech Lake is the first GreenStep Tribal Nation and is currently undertaking a 23-building energy reduction project designed to save hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as reduce tons of air emissions. The Band is moving forward on a solar community garden for tribal members on energy assistance and promoting local food use. All projects reduce energy consumption, which improves air quality and makes an impact.

I am blessed to work for a Tribal Nation where I collaborate with people to provide a better, cleaner breathing space for all who call northern Minnesota home.

Brandy Toft has been working on air quality and green improvements for the Leech Lake Reservation since 2001. She was awarded the 2012 Virgil Masayesva Excellence Award to recognize contributions to the protection of air quality, health and the environment throughout Indian Country.

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