An award ceremony honoring six American Indians who were instrumental in the development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service's new national Office of Tribal Relations was held Sept. 22 at the agency's headquarters.
The award recipients include Butch Blazer, Nolan Colegrove, Keller George, Carol Jorgensen, Susan Masten and Robert "Bob" Tippiconnie. Each guest received a blanket decorated with various Indian designs.
"These American Indian leaders were instrumental in building our tribal relations program to better serve Indian Tribes and communities," said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "My vision is to work with Indian Tribes to meet tribal forestry needs and to make the benefits of all Forest Service programs available to the Indian Tribes."
The Forest Service has worked over the last several years to articulate consistent policies in its government-to-government relationship with American Indians, including policies on consultation, traditional uses of forest products, confidentiality for traditional knowledge and reburial.
Bosworth also received an award from Mark Rey, agriculture under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, recognizing the chief’s long history of leadership in building strong government-to-government relationships between the Forest Service and Indian Tribes.
The award ceremony was held during an open house marked by warm- spirited fellowship to celebrate and highlight the partnerships among American Indian Tribes, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians and the Forest Service. Guests included members of federally recognized Indian Tribes, presidents of Indian Tribal Colleges, state foresters, representatives from state Indian commissions and other Indian organizations, White House and U.S. Congressional representatives and other federal agency employees.
The multi-event forum also included the opening of the agency's new Hall of Tribes, a permanent gallery of interpretive displays and artifacts that commemorate the many tribal and Forest Service partnerships. Two presentations on partnership programs were also held, highlighting archaeological research and cooperative fisheries assessments in Alaska.
“The award ceremony, the Hall of Tribes, and the establishment of the new Office of Tribal Relations are very significant," said Dale Kanen, the agency's first director of the Office of Tribal Relations. "We look forward to building on the legacy created by those who helped us develop this new office by strengthening our partnerships with American Indians, Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiians."
Creation of the office is linked to a vision statement developed in 2002 by the National Tribal Relations Program Implementation Team commissioned to implement task force recommendations concerning relationships between the agency and native partners. It envisioned a future where the Forest Service and Indian Tribes work collaboratively through government-to-government relationships--a future where the Forest Service possesses the organizational structure, skills and policies to redeem our responsibilities in this partnership.
Two recent legislative actions provide new ways for the Forest Service and tribes to work together on tribal forestry. The Healthy Forest Restoration Act establishes the Tribal Watershed Forestry Assistance Program that provides for the Forest Service to work directly with tribes on Watershed Forestry Assistance projects. The Tribal Forestry Protection Act encourages the use of stewardship contracting to address fire, disease and other threats to Indian forest land or tribal communities.
The open house and award ceremony were part of the remarkable week-long First Americans Festival of ceremonies and native music, dance and storytelling events held in conjunction with the Sept. 21 opening of the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian.
Electronic photos of the award ceremony and Hall of Tribes are available.
Award Recipient Profiles
Six American Indians were recognized during a Forest Service awards ceremony held Sept. 22 at the agency’s headquarters for their leadership, guidance, energy and support in helping the Forest Service design and establish its new national Office of Tribal Relations. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth also received an award from USDA for his long history of leadership in building strong government-to-government relationships between the Forest Service and tribes.
Butch Blazer has made wise natural resource management his goal for the past 25 years. A tribal council member of the Mescalero Apache and a co-founder of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, he presently serves the State of New Mexico and his people as the first-ever American Indian State Forester. His solid advice and collaborative help with the Forest Service has created successful tribal and agency partnerships in caring for the land.
Nolan Colegrove has also made natural resource stewardship his life's work. He currently serves as the Hoopla Valley Tribe's Forest Manager, the President of the California Indian Forest and Fire Management Council, and since 2001, as President of the Intertribal Timber Council (ITC). The ITC has consistently provided advice and guidance to the agency regarding natural resource issues that affect tribes and the need to redesign the agency’s Tribal Relations Program. His support and leadership, particularly in the last several years, was noted for its valuable role in natural resource leadership. Gary Morishma, an ITC representative, accepted the award for Nolan in his absence.
Keller George was recognized for his service to the Forest Service as the agency strived to determine how to work with tribes and to develop an internal organization and policies to support that work. He has served his people of the Oneida Nation for many years on many committees. He is also serving his fifth term as President of the United South and Eastern Tribes. His Indian name, which translates as "tree planter," perhaps foretold of his nurturing effect on young tribal organization within the Forest Service.
Carol Jorgensen, currently the director of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s American Indian Environmental Office in Washington, D.C., is a former Forest Service employee. Carol served as a line officer in Alaska and other regions and as manager of the Forest Service National Tribal Relations Program, where she provided invaluable leadership and support to the task forces and teams that led to the first-ever Office of Tribal Relations. Her new role at EPA is leading to closer working relationships and more consistent federal policy on tribal environmental issues between the Forest Service and EPA and provides a strong example for other land management agencies as well. She is a member of the Tlingit Tribe from the Killer Whale clan.
Susan Masten, a leader of the Yurok Tribe, was Yurok Tribe Chairperson in 2002 and 2003. The Yurok Tribe is the largest federally-recognized tribe in California. She has testified often before Congress on a wide range of issues, including water quality and healthy salmon populations in the Klamath River and for better infrastructure development--telephone, power, roads--on the Yurok reservation. As President of the National Congress of American Indians, she supported and advised the Tribal Relations Program Task Force, and the consultation Policy Task Group, providing invaluable strategic insights and counsel. She also graciously opened a dialogue between the Forest Service and the many members of the National Congress on American Indians.
Robert "Bob" Tippiconnie, retired from the Forest Service, now works with his people's young men's warrior society, the Commanche Little Ponies. He was recognized for his work as the "lead pony" for the agency's tribal relations program through his outstanding service and many years as the first tribal relations manager for the Forest Service. He single-handedly led the development of the agency's American Indian policy in the late 1980s to formally recognize the Forest Service's government-to-government relationship and responsibility to tribes. He also provided internal cultural training and awareness of Native American rights and interests. Over time, he helped establish regional and forest level tribal liaison positions in the Forest Service. He also mentored and encouraged many of the Forest Service's current leaders. In a moment of profound honor and homage for all ceremony participants, the award symbolized his circle of service.
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth is recognized in Indian country for dealing opening and honestly with American Indians, Mark Rey noted in his USDA award presentation. Bosworth's impressive record in building strong relationships dates back to his tenure as a deputy regional forester. The chief's award recognizes his role in working with line officers to emphasize agency responsibility to tribes, in modeling appropriate behavior in his relationships with tribes, and for working collaboratively with tribes as good neighbors. Bosworth was also recognized for issuing clearer, consistent policy; enlarging the national tribal relations staff, proposing new legislation to clarify some of the agency's responsibilities to the tribes and for increasing the contracting volume with tribally-owned businesses.