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Environmental portrait of Zintkala

Zintkala Eiring graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor of science in integrative studies with a concentration in applied conservation. She is also a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of South Dakota.

Degree to Let Graduate ‘Help with Her Heart’

When she was 5 years old, a medicine man gave Zintkala Eiring her second name during an Oglala Lakota Tribe naming ceremony: Wacante Oganate Win. “It means, ‘She who helps with her heart,’ ” says Eiring, who graduated in December with a bachelor of science in integrative studies with a concentration in applied conservation.

“I feel like conservation is my purpose in life. I think my medicine man knew my purpose before I did,” she says.

Eiring, a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, has used her passion for her heritage as a basis for several courses, projects, and experiences at George Mason.

She has done much to promote traditional ecological knowledge, environmental preservation, and stewardship. 

“My culture believes all living beings have a spirit; it’s almost my duty as a Lakota to care for the environment and to protect it. My ancestors were the original stewards of the environment. That’s why I’m studying conservation.”

Zintkala Eiring

At Mason, she focused on uranium contamination in drinking water and on sacred areas of her ancestral land, including writing an essay about the human cost of environmental destruction.

She says that many people in South Dakota are on well water, including her grandmother. While her grandmother’s well water is clean, water in other wells is highly contaminated from old uranium mines, leading the tribe to have to purchase water from other states.

Eiring’s project for her Introduction to Geographic Information Systems class focused on tribal lands’ spatial proximity to sacred lands of the Lakota, or federally recognized protected areas like Black Hills National Forest.

During her time at Mason, Eiring was vice president of the Native American and Indigenous Alliance at Mason, where she was responsible for hosting the 14th Annual Veterans Day Pow Wow.

She spent a semester studying wildlife ecology at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation where she analyzed and identified bat species’ echolocation calls using bioacoustics. In addition, she served as animal keeper practicum student for clouded leopards and red pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Front Royal facility. She also surveyed bat populations as an intern with the National Park Service’s Prince William Forest Park in Virginia, to help assess the presence of white-nose syndrome.

Eiring is enrolled in the Native American Political Leadership Program at George Washington University’s Semester in Washington program. Afterward, she will serve as a junior tribal liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's northeast regional headquarters in Hadley, Mass. Her future plans include obtaining a master's in environmental science and policy.