Forest Service, Tribal leaders hold cultural products workshop on POW

Anthony Christianson demonstrates culturally respectful and sustainable cedar bark harvesting
Anthony Christianson, Hydaburg Cooperative Association Mayor and Natural Resources Director, demonstrates the culturally respectful and sustainable method of harvesting cedar bark

PRINCE OF WALES, Alaska - The USDA Forest Service Alaska Region and Tongass National Forest participated in a Prince of Wales workshop May 13-14, 2021, focused on the cultural importance of forest resources to indigenous people in Southeast Alaska. The workshop was hosted by Organized Village of Kasaan and Hydaburg Cooperative Association.

Collaboration began with recently retired Prince of Wales District Ranger Scot Shuler reaching out, seeking to create a process by which cultural trees and non-timber forest products could be identified, cataloged, harvested, set aside, or considered during timber project planning. There is also a need to explore existing permitting venues so cultural use, forest products may be identified and extracted outside of planned timber projects.

Hydaburg elder and weaver Chris Tolson teaches USFS employees to weave a cedar headbandHydaburg elder and weaver Chris Tolson teaches USFS employees to weave a cedar headband

Tribal leaders and artists opened the workshop with welcomes and the importance of cultural trees to Haida and Tlingit People. They explained how each cultural product has unique tree specifications. For example, large redcedar is preferred for totems and canoes, and bark that is stripped and utilized by weavers can be both redcedar and yellow cedar.

“Collaboration and consultation with Alaska Natives, tribes, artists, and cultural practitioners will allow for a better understanding of continued needs for access to traditional use materials to support cultural and spiritual wellbeing,” said Shona Donnelley, an archeologist for the Prince of Wales Ranger District Heritage Program who gave a presentation on the past of Alaska Native traditional use as observed through the presence of culturally modified trees across Prince of Wales Island.During the workshop, participants gained hands on experience with cultural resources by working on a cedar bark weaving project, taught by an elder from Hydaburg. The group also visited a log storage site to observe examples of trees with the characteristics for a potential canoe, totem, or other traditional project. 

The abundance of culturally modified trees across the Tongass shows how important cedar has been to Alaska Natives thru time. Heightened understanding of this importance will help foster an inventory program to identify where these trees are located on the landscape, guiding a pathway for land managers to help meet the cultural needs of Haida and Tlingit people.

“The goal is to identify where the trees are, how many are available, and share that information with the people who are looking for these cultural timber resources.,” said Nick Reynolds, a timber management assistant for the Prince of Wales Ranger District, who presented information about the Forest Inventory Program for cultural use and field data collection.

Forest Service and Tribal Hydaburg crews use the ArcGIS Survey 123 application that can be put on tablets or cell phones. Information collected includes tree type (totem, canoe, long house, bark, paddle, other uses) and species (redcedar, yellow-cedar, spruce, yew). The field data collection tools were put into practice during the field portion of the workshop by the timber crew, working alongside carvers to identify and catalogue trees.

The workshop closed with an expression of gratitude by Alaska Region Tribal Relations Program Manager Melinda Hernandez Burke and Terry “Hagoo” Peele led the group in a song and dance with the newly made headbands to properly complete  them and pay respect to the cedar used. This shared learning experience and collaborative work is part of an ongoing process to create a Cultural Tree Shared Stewardship Agreement between Alaska Tribes and the USDA Forest Service.

Kasaan Carver Glenn “Stormy” Hamar talks to Forest Service employees Tim Wold and Nick ReynoldsHamar talks to Forest Service employees Tim Wold and Nick Reynolds

“I hope the outcome of this workshop is the development of a clear protocol for future generations to gain access to cedar for art, culture, and to sustain our way of life,” said Anthony Christianson, Hydaburg  Cooperative Association Mayor and Natural Resources Director.

For more information on wood products for cultural use, view the storymap, Wood Products for Cultural Use, Sustaining Southeast Alaska Native Resilience and Vital Lifeways, produced by the USDA Forest Service  Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Funding for the workshop came from three USDA grants. Partners for the collaborative project include Sitka Conservation Society, Sealaska, and the Alaska Youth Stewards Programs.