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Partnerships with Native American Tribes

November 2015

This November marks the 25th anniversary of the designation of Native American Heritage Month.  The commemorative month provides the opportunity for all of us to learn more about Native American people and the diverse cultures they represent, and to acknowledge their contributions to stewardship of natural resources.  This month we feature an employee, research, a product and partnership all related to Forest Service partnerships with Native American Tribes.    

Environmental Education Link

The Northern Research Station, and Penobscot Experimental Forest staff, support the Wabanaki Youth in Science (WaYS) program, led by the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine. The program is designed to link Native youth to their “cultural heritage and legacy of environmental management and stewardship” through summer camps, seasonal mini-camps and internships.
Learn more about WaYS >>

Featured Employee

Peggy Castillo

Peggy Castillo has been involved with indigenous people, particularly the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe, her entire life.Peggy Castillo, Chief of Staff for the Northern Research Station’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) group, started her Forest Service career 25 years ago as a GS-2 Clerk Typist in Human Resources at the former North Central Research Station, now the Northern Research Station.  She has been involved with indigenous people, particularly with the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe (LCO), her entire life. She is proud to be an enrolled member of LCO and equally proud to be a Forest Service employee.

In addition to her connection with the LCO, Castillo started working with other tribes in the early 1990s when she became a Special Emphasis Program Manager for the Civil Rights Committee at the Research Station as well as a member of the national American Indian Council.   Since 1992, she has been able to work on a variety of issues from traditional ecological knowledge to education to hiring employees, and she considers herself privileged to work with many of the Lake States Ojibwe tribes, including the Menominee, Mohawk and the Abnaki.  Castillo shares program success with many Forest Service employees, supervisors, station management and outside peers who have graciously given their time and support throughout the years. 

What Castillo enjoys most about working with the tribes, besides the ability to work alongside her four brothers, existing friends and new friends, is a sense of community and shared accomplishment.  Together, they can enjoy seeing a young person become interested in the sciences because of a seminar or a class taught by a Forest Service employee, or because a tour inspired them.  “They may never become a Forest Service employee but we should share the success when that young person says they have decided to become an entomologist because of one Forest Service tour to an insect lab,” Castillo said. “That’s cool because we helped foster that curiosity and interest.”

“The ability to combine these two important pieces of fabric in my life (the Forest Service and the tribes) is a driver for me in advancing indigenous people, specifically Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe, beyond the borders of the reservation or someone’s stereotype of indigenous people,” Castillo said.

More Information >>

Featured Product

Climate Change Adaptation for Tribes

Menominee tribe forester Jeff Grignon plants seedlings to help forests adapt to climate change. Photo courtesy of Kristen Schmidt, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science.Native American tribes have started examining how climate change might affect forests and resources that are important to cultural traditions, ceremonies, and economic vitality. Many tribes are exploring how to blend traditional ecological knowledge with western science to better understand climate change impacts and how to adapt.  The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS), a collaboration of Forest Service units in the East (the Northern Research Station, the Eastern Region and Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry), universities, and non-profits, is helping the tribes in this endeavor.   

NIACS has worked with tribal natural resources departments and other partners to produce a series of eco-regional vulnerability assessments of forest tree species and ecosystems. These reports present information about the existing landscape, observed climate, a range of projected climates, modeled vegetation impacts, and a synthesis of regional studies.  They have been published as General Technical Reports (GTRs) by the Forest Service Northern Research Station (GTR-NRS-129, GTR-NRS-133, and GTR-NRS-136).

Demonstrations of real-world adaptation actions for tribal lands that work to achieve tribal goals and reflect tribal values are providing useful examples for land managers across the region.  These projects have been initiated and designed by tribal natural resources departments, with a flexible workbook process and in-person support from NIACS. Currently, 10 tribes have worked with NIACS to design climate change adaptation actions. A new video highlighting the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin demonstrates one of these projects.

More Information >>

Featured Research

Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Youth and an elder harvesting birch bark. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission.While scientific ecological knowledge (SEK) is grounded in standardized measures and designed to provide information that can be generalized, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is based on extensive observation and direct interactions in place by individuals and across generations.  The value of combining the two forms of knowledge has long been discussed, but actually combining and applying them to solve real world problems has only occurred recently.  

Two recent efforts at the Northern Research Station have combined SEK and TEK for research on paper birch and black ash trees, both of which are valued as cultural keystone species because of the many ways they are important to the cultural identities and economies of tribes throughout the Great Lakes and Northeast.   

Paper birch is used to make baskets, canoes, and other culturally important crafts.  In the late 1990s, tribal artisans in the upper Great Lakes region were having trouble finding birch bark with the characteristics they needed.  That concern led to the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), forming a partnership with the Northern Research Station to assess trends in the supply of birch bark.  Staff with GLIFWC gathered TEK from tribal members on how they assess birch bark for the characteristics they desire and translated that knowledge into discrete measurable characteristics that crew members with the Northern Research Station Forest Inventory and Analysis program could use to collect data on birch bark.  Data collected for three years indicated a decline in birch bark supplies.  In the coming year, the GLIFWC-Northern Research Station partnership will continue by engaging TEK experts to help interpret results of the birch bark inventory and developing silvicultural guidelines for producing the kind of birch bark needed for making canoes.

Black ash is part of the creation story of Maine tribes and has played an important role in the cultural renaissance of tribes throughout the Northeast and Midwest. The arrival of the emerald ash borer (EAB) in Michigan devastated ash trees in that state and threatens their populations elsewhere, potentially jeopardizing the availability of black ash for indigenous peoples throughout the region.  When Northern Research Station entomologist Therese Poland learned about the negative consequences of EAB for tribes and basket weavers, she wondered if her previous work on burying a pine species to kill an invasive insect might also work with black ash.  Poland contacted the Match-e-be-nash-she-wich Band of Pottawatomi Indians (also known as the Gun Lake Tribe) Environment Department, which referred her to master basket makers Ed and Angie Pigeon.  Poland began a research project that combined her scientific ecological knowledge with the Pigeon’s traditional ecological knowledge to test whether submerging infested black ash logs could kill EAB but preserve wood properties needed for basket making.  The submergence experiment resulted in a prescription for timing and water temperatures that kill all EAB while preserving the color, pliability, and strength needed for basket making.    

Marla Emery, a research geographer with the Station and a co-author on Poland’s black ash study, sees the strength of combining SEK and TEK.  “Traditional ecological knowledge and scientific ecological knowledge have complementary roles throughout the scientific process.  The integration of traditional ecological knowledge and scientific ecological knowledge is always a joint and iterative back and forth process.  Each type of knowledge is used either in a primary or secondary role based on the questions being addressed.”   

More Information on black ash submergence >>

More Information on using traditional ecological knowledge as a basis for targeted forest inventory >>

Featured Partnership

College of Menominee Nation

Samy Nelson and Citralina Haruo summer interns at the College of Menominee Nations Sustainable Development Institute in Keshena, Wisconsin present their research poster the Measuring the Pulse Community Meeting July 29-30, 2015. Photo courtesy of College of Menominee Nation.

Twelve years ago, a joint vision of the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, Wis., and Forest Service units in the East was achieved with the establishment of a formal partnership between these organizations. This partnership was created to support sustainable forestry practices through research, education, policy analysis and technical assistance. The Center for First Americans Forestlands, a center within the Sustainable Development Institute at the College, was established with support from the Forest Service. 

The Partnership seeks to create projects that distill and disseminate knowledge about sustainable forest management, use of forest products, indigenous knowledge and sustainable development on a local, national and international level.  The partnership also seeks to provide academic experiences and internships for Tribal college students as well as technical assistance to Tribal forestry departments. These opportunities are developing a diverse, knowledgeable and skilled workforce.  “Dozens of students have benefitted academically from internships and other experiences brought to us by the Forest Service, and among them have been several who have found career directions they might otherwise have not considered,” said Verna Fowler, College of Menominee Nation President.

The USDA Forest Service Tribal Liaison plays a crucial role in the success of the partnership between the College of Menominee Nation and the USDA Forest Service. In the beginning of the partnership, Michael Dockry, now a social scientist at the Northern Research Station, served in this role. Jen Youngblood, who came to the Forest Service from the Department of Interior in Alaska, has now assumed this role and contributes a long history of working with Tribes.  Youngblood is a descendent of the Muskogee Creek Nation and the first in her immediate family to attend college.  For Youngblood, her work as tribal liaison allows her to use her best skill sets and to reconnect with many of her Tribal colleagues. “This is not just a job,” Youngblood said. “Every decision I make and every project I am involved in has the potential to impact my family and friends, including people I have not even met, for generations to come.”

More Information >>