Tribal Relations


“Yesterday,   it was my privilege to join other cabinet members in addressing an estimated 500 tribal members from across the United States at the White House Tribal Nations Conference at the Interior Department.

Since taking office, President Obama has turned a new page in our government-to-government relationships with members of 566 federally recognized tribes.  The President and cabinet members including myself understand the need to improve program delivery to members of Tribes, including those on and off reservations.  While we have made strides in improving services to Tribes, much is left to be done.

One step we are taking today is the filing of our Sacred Sites report.  This has been a collaborative effort involving USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations and the Forest Service.  This report represents a commitment by USDA and other agencies to be better partners and improve communications about Sacred Sites, better protecting those sites, access and provide government-wide training to ensure that there is a better understanding of the relationship those sites have to decisions we make.

We have had great participation with other agencies, especially with the Department of the Interior, in formulation of this report. I especially want to thank Secretary Ken Salazar for his commitment.  We have also just finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) within federal agencies involved in land-based management.  The Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Defense, Energy and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation have all agreed to work a much more coordinated and collaborative process.  This MOU sets up an integrated effort which should make it easier for Tribes to understand and appreciate the steps being taken by the Federal Government.

The President is insistent that these Sacred Sites be protected and preserved: treated with dignity and respect.  That is also my commitment as Secretary of USDA.  I know my fellow Secretaries share in this commitment.  We understand the importance of these sites and will do our best to make sure they are protected and respected.”



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.


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.