Eastern Region Celebrates Rich Tribal History as part of National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month
November is nationally recognized as National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. What started as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S. resulted in a whole month designated for that purpose.
The Eastern Region is excited to celebrate this special emphasis month commemorating the American Indian heritage and history of the Region’s 20-state area, as well as the strong partnerships that have been formed with tribes today.
There are 76 federally recognized tribes that have rights and interest in the growth of national forest system lands and programs in the East. Included are 23 “removed” tribes located outside of the Region, primarily in Kansas and Oklahoma, whose ancestral homelands are here in the Eastern Region. In addition, the Region maintains active relationships with numerous intertribal organizations, tribal colleges & universities, American Indian professional associations, and urban Indian centers.
The protection of treaty reserved rights and the preservation of appropriate opportunities to exercise these rights on national forests within the Region are significant aspects of the Region’s Tribal Relations program.
Forest and Prairie Supervisors throughout the Region effectively engage the tribes with project-level consultation and collaboration. Many have developed meaningful and enduring relationships with tribal leaders. The Region also has a Tribal Relations Specialist who serves as the point of contact with the national Forest Service Office of Tribal Relations. Forest Service leadership in this area is exemplified in the Eastern Region’s tribal relations framework, which affirms that:
All national forest system lands are the ancestral homelands of existing American Indian people
American Indian tribes were the first stewards of these forests
Tribes are full partners in the conservation of shared landscapes
Treaty rights are retained rights, not rights given by the federal government
Our trust responsibilities extend to all Indian tribes with an interest in these national forests and Forest Service programs
The Forest Service is a leader among federal land management agencies in partnering appropriately and collaboratively with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal governments and communities for mutually beneficial outcomes.
Rollout of the 2015 Tribal Relations Strategic Framework for the Eastern Region.
“We often hear the words “trust responsibility” and may think of it in terms of some other agency’s responsibility and not our own. Nothing could be further from the truth. As long as we have lands to manage, we bear a clear responsibility to those indigenous communities whose ancestors were the first stewards of these lands and who continue to rely on these lands for their traditional, cultural and economic needs.
These are my expectations: We will, without exception, fulfil our trust responsibilities and treaty obligations to the absolute best of our ability.”
Kathleen Atkinson, Regional Forester
In 2010, the Regional Forester commissioned the first Tribal Relations Strategic Framework for the Eastern Region. Since then, several notable events precipitated the Region’s decision to conduct a complete review and revision of the original Strategic Framework. Two principal driving factors were the Report to the Secretary of Agriculture, USDA Policy and Procedures Review and Recommendations: Indian Sacred Sites (Report/2012) and the Secretary’s adoption and publication of the Report with all of its recommendations; and the promulgation of USDA Departmental Regulation 1350-002, Tribal Consultation, Coordination and Collaboration (DR 1350-002/2013).
Deputy Regional Forester Mary Beth Borst included the review/revision of the Strategic Framework on the regional Tribal Relations 2014 program of work and directed the Regional Tribal Relations Specialist to convene an interdisciplinary team to: 1) ensure the Strategic Framework’s consistency with the Sacred Sites Report and DR 1350-002; 2) expand the appendices to enhance greater field-level program consistency; and 3) expand the Framework’s scope to include, wherever possible, the other Forest Service branches within the Eastern Region footprint. A nine person team conducted the review and revision; participating team members represented the Eastern Region (NFS), Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry, Northern Research Station, and Grey Towers National Historic Site. Also noteworthy, four of the nine team members are enrolled members of federally recognized Tribes.
The 2015 Tribal Relations Strategic Framework for the Eastern Region provides Forest Service line and staff officers with foundational statements of Affirmation, Vision and Mission. It also provides a primer of federal Indian law and policy. The Strategic Framework follows a logic path from Scope of the Program, guiding the reader through Trust Responsibility and Reserved Rights, to Consultation and Accountability. The Strategic Framework concludes with a section called “The Framework,” which is--
“…a compilation of strategic objectives that displays the responsibilities and commitments of the Forest Service in the Eastern Region. It serves as a desk guide for line officers and field managers for the administration of the federal Indian trust responsibility and treaty obligations as it relates to the delivery of Forest Service programs, products and services to American Indian tribes and Native communities.”
A robust body of Appendices provides the user with practical field guidelines for numerous topics: The Lead Forest Consultation Guide; a comprehensive Land Cession Analysis for Forest Service Lands in the Eastern Region; background information for Treaty Rights in the Lake States; guidelines for Tribal Use of Timber and Forest Products and Closure Guidelines for Traditional and Cultural Purposes. There are also guidelines for Tribal Use of Recreation Fee Sites; Confidentiality of Culturally Sensitive Information; NAGPRA and Reburial, as well as examples for crafting practical Memoranda of Understanding between the agency and Tribes.
EASTERN REGION TRIBAL RELATIONS
Fulfilling our Trust Responsibilities and Treaty Obligations
The Eastern Region Tribal Relations Program provides advice, counsel, and training services to the Forest Service workforce to promote a culture of understanding that results in proactive, effective, and meaningful dialogue with Indian Tribes. The program’s principle clients are the Forest Service line officers, decision-makers, and planners. The program’s goal is to provide them with the appropriate context and knowledge to ensure trust responsibilities are recognized and fulfilled and that decisions respond to the current and future needs of Indian Tribes and tribal members.
Regional efforts are focused on 74 federally-recognized Tribes that have rights and interests in the management of NFS lands and programs within the 20 states of the Eastern Region. Included are 20 “removed” Tribes located outside of the Region, primarily in Kansas and Oklahoma, whose ancestral lands are here in the Eastern Region. The Eastern Region also maintains active relationships with numerous inter-tribal organizations, tribal colleges and universities, American Indian professional associations, and Indian urban centers.
The protection of treaty rights and the preservation of appropriate opportunities to exercise those rights on national forests within the Eastern Region are significant aspects of the Region’s Tribal Relations Program. Twelve forests within the Eastern Region are components of lands ceded by Tribes through treaties with the United States. Indian Tribes have asserted reserved treaty rights on more than 7.5 million acres (64%) of NFS land within the Eastern Region.
TRIBAL RELATIONS STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK FOR THE EASTERN REGION
In 2010, Regional Forester Kent Connaughton approved the Region’s first comprehensive framework for tribal relations. The Tribal Relations Strategic Framework for the Eastern Region is an aspirational document, focusing on trust responsibility and consultation; with more practical and prescriptive material in the appendices. From the Tribal Relations Strategic Framework for the Eastern Region—
That all national forests are the ancestral homelands of existing American Indian people;
That American Indian Tribes were the first stewards of these forests;
That the Tribes are full partners in the conservation of shared landscapes;
That treaty rights are retained rights, not rights given by the federal government; and
That our trust responsibilities extend to all Indian Tribes with an interest in these national forests and Forest Service programs.
The Eastern Region demonstrates the highest standards for support of tribal sovereignty, recognition of indigenous values as shared values, protection of reserved rights and cultural properties, and consultation, collaboration, and partnership in landscape scale conservation.
To recognize and respect tribal sovereignty;
To recognize and fulfill our trust responsibility;
To respect traditional knowledge and tribal connection to the land;
To maintain a government-to-government relationship with federally-recognized Tribes; and
To facilitate effective consultation between Tribes and agency decision-makers.