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Utah conservation group honors elder of Secwepemc Nation

Mary Thomas, elder of the Secwepemc Nation, has been honored by the Seacology Foundation for protecting both her native British Columbia and her Indian culture.

Thomas, 75, received the Springville-based conservation group's Indigenous Conservationist of the Year Award Monday night for her efforts to restore a river and teach Indian culture."You honor me because of something I have lived with, the values of my people," Thomas said. Thomas teaches the Secwepemc language, crafts and plant knowledge to young members of the tribe.

Nancy J. Turner, an ethnobotanist with the University of Victoria, said, "I can't think of a more fitting recipient. She's done so much in promoting culture and environment in the community."

Paul Alan Cox, chairman of Seacology's board of directors, said Thomas brings a spirituality to environmental work. Among her beliefs are that nature should be protected, people should only take what they need from the environment and should strive to live in harmony with all things.

Those beliefs led her to fight to preserve the Salmon River, a place her people came to harvest plants and fish. Due to logging, many of the plants have disappeared and the salmon population dropped, she said.

Working with the local government, loggers and the members of the tribe, Thomas formed the Salmon River Watershed Coalition, which works to restore the river.