Celebrating 20th Anniversary of Tribal Memorandum of Understanding

In honor of National Native American Heritage Month, the USDA Forest Service (USFS) would like to highlight a successful 20-year partnership with member Tribes of the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC).

In December 1998, the Forest Service and 10 federally recognized Tribes of GLIFWC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that articulates the Forest Service’s recognition of retained tribal treaty rights, tribal sovereignty and tribal capacity to self-regulate. The MOU provides the structure to facilitate communication and integrate the Tribes’ needs and perspectives into management of National Forest System lands in Michigan and Wisconsin. Components highlight a shared goal of protecting, managing and enhancing ecosystems that support the natural resources. The resulting work emphasizes a collaborative approach to natural resource management.

A number of accomplishments center on gathering rights including Tribal harvest of wild plants, establishment of maple tree sugarbushes and increasing opportunities for the harvest of paper birch bark from National Forests located in treaty ceded territories. There has been a steady increase of camping permits issued to tribal members, who are allowed to use national forest campgrounds without paying a fee in the exercise of their treaty rights, a provision of the MOU.

Other accomplishments center on fostering resilient ecosystems and restoration. For example, with provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill, the Forest Service works with Tribes to provide timber, free of charge for domestic, non-commercial, traditional and cultural purposes. This is realized through Appendix C of the MOU called Tribal Timber Harvest Framework.  Tribes implement a prescribed silvicultural treatment to a timber stand and keep the timber for fuelwood for tribal members.  .

Camp Onji-Akiing is a 10-year collaborative effort under the MOU between GLIFWC and the Ottawa National Forest.  It is a cultural outdoor adventure-based summer camp for tribal youth that focuses on natural resource career exploration and treaty rights. Each year about 40 to 50 youth attend this camp.

Collaborative research is emphasized under the MOU.  Several key projects include the study of American marten, comprehensive issues surrounding paper birch trees, and the impacts of logging on understory plants. 

Another accomplishment was regular consultation between the Forest Service and the Tribes in regards to national forest planning and decision making. This led to GLIFWC, at the request of its member Tribes, becoming a partner in the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science in 2017.

Implementation of the MOU has been successful because of the shared dedication and commitment of the Tribes and the Forest Service. As the MOU enters its third decade, the parties to the MOU look forward to following a similarly successful path. In addition to ongoing collaborative work, they will address new issues such as incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge into management, planning and decision-making on national forest system lands.

National forests included in the MOU are the Chequamegon-Nicolet, Hiawatha, Huron-Manistee and Ottawa National Forests. The signatory Tribes (all GLIFWC members) are: Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Bay Mills Indian Community, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (added in 2012), Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin and Sokaogon Chippewa Community of the Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

American Indian tribes are sovereign nations that have inherent and reserved rights on  USFS  system lands as codified in treaties, the U.S. Constitution, statutes, case law, Presidential Executive Orders, USDARegulations, and the USFS Handbook (Wilkinson 2004, USFS 2009). These rights include, but are not limited to, harvesting materials for cultural activities, hunting and fishing, spiritual and religious ceremonies, and access to sacred sites (USFS 2010). These rights are implemented through government-to-government consultation between each of the 567 federally recognized tribes and the USFS. Along with mandated consultation, the Forest Service seeks to create opportunities to work in collaboration and partnership to manage land, whether this be through an exchange of Western and Traditional Ecological Knowledge, environmental education and outreach programs or joint research projects for mutual benefit.