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Tribal Engagement at the Rocky Mountain Research Station

The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) recognizes that the lands where our scientists conduct research are also the homelands of numerous American Indian communities. RMRS’s geography is home to 48 National Forest System units and more than 100 federally-recognized Tribes with rights and interests in those forests and grasslands. These lands are intertwined with indigenous culture. Indigenous cultures and communities hold vast knowledge systems from generations of living on the landscape. This traditional ecological knowledge is often viewed by leading Indigenous scholars such as Vine Deloria Jr. as the “intellectual twin” to western science. Collaborating with first land stewards increases the depth of research conducted at RMRS. These partnerships improve the relevancy of knowledge gained from RMRS research, as the health of indigenous communities is dependent upon healthy, functioning ecological systems.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” Because Native American tribes are federally recognized as sovereign nations, the Forest Service has a moral and legal obligation to uphold the trust responsibility and maintain positive government-to-government relationships with tribal partners. To advance the mission of the agency and uphold these trust responsibilities, RMRS strives to create meaningful relationships with tribal communities and Indian people. Many of our scientists collaborate directly with these communities on tribally relevant, management-driven research questions. Additionally, RMRS is currently the only Forest Service research station to host a USFS employee at a tribal college, with a primary objective of recruiting and retaining the next generation of Native scholars in natural resources management. In addition to working with the first land stewards in the United States, RMRS scientists also engage in projects with indigenous communities in other countries.

RMRS collaborates in innovative ways with our tribal partners, in alignment with the objectives identified in the Forest Service Research and Development Tribal Engagement Roadmap. This may be as straight forward as co-development of research priorities and objectives with tribal natural resource managers. Or it may go further to include, as one example, management initiatives to protect wildlife species that are culturally significant to native communities.

Examples of how RMRS strives to honor and include the first land stewards of North America in meeting the goals of our agency include:  

  • Co-production of knowledge through tribally-relevant research projects
  • Fulfilling consultation mandates with Tribes on specific research priorities and objectives
  • Conservation education and other targeted outreach projects
  • Land acknowledgements at large gatherings with help from the USFS Tribal Connections viewer
  • Supporting the Native American Research Assistantship program
  • Hosting a Liaison Officer at Salish Kootenai College
  • Encouraging RMRS employees to engage with students enrolled in tribal colleges.  

Links to more information about Forest Service tribal engagement:

For questions regarding tribal engagement at RMRS, please contact Alison Hill.

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Tribal engagement