Washington, D.C. — In November, the USDA Forest Service celebrates National American Indian-Alaska Native Heritage Month. The theme for 2019, as provided by the Society of American Indian Government Employees, is "Honoring Our Nations: Building Strength through Understanding."
This month is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Indigenous peoples. We acknowledge the important contributions of Native Americans to this agency and to the United States. We honor the unique challenges native people faced historically and continue to face in the present, as well as the ways in which tribal citizens and communities have worked to overcome those challenges.
The observation of National American Indian-Alaska Native American Heritage Month has its roots in Public Law 99-471. Over several years, the observation was moved to different months, but in 1990, Public Law 101-343 set the month-long observance in November. In 1990, a joint congressional resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month was signed by the president. Since 1994, similar proclamations have been issued annually under variants on the name, including National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, and Native American Heritage Month.
As Rocky Mountain Research Station biologist Dr. Serra Hoagland, member of the Laguna Pueblo, reminds us: “We celebrate and recognize the indigenous peoples and first stewards of the lands on which we conduct Forest Service research and management every day. Now, more than ever, it is critical to our success that we strive to improve our science by acknowledging the holistic, long-term, reciprocal relationship that native people have with the land – both historically and today. As we advance our goals of shared stewardship and cross-boundary work, tribal communities can be critical partners as distinct, federally recognized, sovereign nations.”
Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture honored the 25th anniversary of the legislation that recognized 29 tribal colleges and universities as land-grant institutions. Signed on Oct. 20, 1994, the Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act enabled tribal colleges and universities to receive federal support and train the next generation of agricultural professionals.
“For 25 years, tribal land-grant colleges and universities have enjoyed a strong partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Mike Beatty, director of USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. “Tribal colleges and universities draw on the strength of traditions while preparing graduates who can contribute to their communities.”
Tribal colleges and universities (aka “1994s”) play a significant role for tribal nations and Indian people. These institutions serve as anchors in their communities, advance tribal health, promote economic opportunity, further environmental conservation and prepare young people for the workforce. In addition to offering the distinctive land-grant mix of research, education and extension, they also frame that education in the context of Native American history, indigenous knowledge and traditions. Today there are 36 federally recognized tribal colleges and universities designated as land-grant.
The Forest Service is recognized as a leader among federal land management agencies in partnering with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal governments and communities for mutually beneficial outcomes.
Each year, the Forest Service participates in the national conference of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. The society is a national, nonprofit organization focused on substantially increasing the representation of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, First Nations and other indigenous peoples of North America in science, technology, engineering and math studies and careers. Forest Service recruiters and personnel conduct outreach about opportunities in the agency and recruitment for agency-specific hiring events.
In June of this year, the USDA Forest Service partnered with Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute, a 1994 tribal land-grant institution, along with high school students from the Mescalero Apache Tribe, to host a Natural Resources Discovery Camp for American Indian students. The week-long residential program introduced students to career paths related to forestry, range management, fire ecology, fisheries, recreation and soil science through experiential field activities and presentations by federal and tribal employees. Plans are well underway for the 2020 Natural Resources Discovery Camp.
As well, the Forest Service has actively supported the Native Student Professional Development of The Wildlife Society. This initiative is organized through the Native Peoples Wildlife Management Working Group and allows students to attend TWS Meetings and participate in a week-long professional development program. The agency partially funds this effort every year.
For the last five years Research & Development units (primarily the Southwest Research Station and the Pacific Northwest Region) have partnered with the Intertribal Timber Council to provide the Native American Natural Resource Research Scholarship. This program helped over two dozen Native American scholars by funding their tribally relevant research projects. Agency representatives mentored tribal students selected as scholarship recipients and consulted with university faculty associated with this program in order to familiarize participants with similar lines of scientific study underway within the agency.
For more information, please visit the Outreach and Diversity SharePoint site at https://usdagcc.sharepoint.com/sites/fs-cr-od/SitePages/Welcome!.aspx.
For information about the Native American Natural Resource Research Scholarship and other ways that the Forest Service is working with Tribal Governments and communities, please visit the Office of Tribal Relations website at https://www.fs.fed.us/spf/tribalrelations/.