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Water science, policy and law merge with immersive art and culture at the Oka’ (Water) Sustainability Conference scheduled for Nov. 8-9 in Ada. The seventh annual event will be held on the East Central University campus.

The curated lineup of state and tribal water leaders, researchers and other experts will share the latest developments, as well as future prospects, related to sustainable water use and protection in Oklahoma as well as its Tribal Nations. Featured speakers include Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby; Dr. Chris Frey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator of Research and Development; Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Ken McQueen; and Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice, Dustin Rowe. John Hargrave, CEO of East Central University Foundation, Inc., will emcee the event.

“The conference is designed to put a spotlight on relationships between our water resources and various other vital aspects of today’s society,” explains Duane Smith, executive director of the Oka’ Institute at ECU. “Obviously, water is essential to life itself, but we also want to illustrate how sustainability of the resource is imperative to maintaining healthy ecosystems, state and Tribal economies, and our culture. Our intent is to challenge preconceived notions of water — its use and protection — and, in doing so, create a distinct course to water sustainability for future generations.”

The conference kicks off on Tuesday, Nov. 8, in the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center with a coffee and art experience in Inasmuch Sculpture Garden exploring “The Shape of the Blue River,” one of the projects funded by the Oka’ Institute’s Summer Research Opportunity at ECU.  The day continues in Ataola Theatre with local, state and tribal perspectives on the future of water in Oklahoma, and how collaboration is the key to sustainable efforts.

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anaotubby will provide the Keynote Speech at the Sustainability Luncheon at the Chickasaw Nation Business and Conference Center.

Later that afternoon, water officials will participate in a unique “fireside chat.” Oklahoma Water Resources Board Executive Director Julie Cunningham and Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality Director Scott Thompson will join Smith, Frey and McQueen to converse in an informal setting about emerging issues related to water sustainability.

In addition to investigating the scientific aspects of water, the conference also seeks to inspire conferees by simultaneously highlighting the resource’s rich cultural and artistic elements. Tuesday night, the immersive dinner will surround guests in water utilizing 360-degree visual projection. The Martin & Pratt Duo, Gary Pratt and & Caleb Martin, will take the audience even deeper with a songwriter’s performance of songs, poems and stories. Meanwhile, renowned artist, Brent Greenwood, will take the audience on a visual journey though live painting performance art throughout the dinner. 

The conference continues on Wednesday, Nov. 9, focused on pathways to progress with invited speaker Meredith Ellis, a second-generation rancher who will talk on how their ranch is preparing for a climate smart future through implementation of management that focus on building water capacity through soil management. 

Hannah Blankenship with Texas Agricultural Land Trust will follow with a conversation about additive tools in support of conservation. 

"Our Wednesday sessions are designed to give a practical and applied look at what it takes to excel in water management through land stewardship.  Millions of people, and hundreds of communities depend on land stewards for their water and healthy aquifers.  We want to let people know more about words they hear like 'climate smart' and 'conservation toolbox' and how to prepare for a better future," said Amy Hays, assistant director of Development and Outreach.

For more information on the Conference agenda or to register, visit


Conference Coordinator, Brandy Kaeshoefer, at or 580-272-8686. can assist members of the media who are interested in scheduling an interview with Duane Smith to learn more about pressing water issues facing Oklahoma, Tribal Nations and the region.

About the Oka’ Institute: The Oka’ Water Institute is a department of East Central University and was established in partnership with the City of Ada and Chickasaw Nation to achieve the institute’s mission “to create practical water solutions both locally and globally driven by research and directed by data that result in long-term sustainable ecological management and economic development.” At the Oka’ Institute, we recognize water as a critical resource for life as well as a powerful economic driver. We join with strategic partners for the purpose of safeguarding Oklahoma’s water for present and future generations.

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