National Native American Heritage Month

November 2021

All or part of every national forest and grassland is carved out of ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples, and Indigenous communities across the country still maintain strong historical and spiritual connections to the land. This month, the Northern Research Station honors the past, present and future of Indigenous peoples’ ties to the land with stories about empowerment of Indigenous people as a driver of change in forestry, and a partnership in Maine focused on plant stewardship.

Environmental Education

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Who lived on the land before you? Native Land Digital is an indigenous-led, Canadian not-for-profit that provides information on territories, languages, and treaties where you live. Some educators use this site to better understand the history of where they work and live and to help craft territory acknowledgements.

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Drivers of Change in U.S. Forests and Forestry Over the Next 20 Years

Inauguration Protests Washington, D.C. Indigenous Peoples, Taken on January 20, 2017.Following European settlement, Indigenous peoples in North America retained sovereign rights to ceded territories but lacked a voice in natural resource decisions beyond the boundaries of tribal lands. The times are changing, though, and through the legal system, protests, and collaboration with a variety of entities, including state and federal government, Indigenous peoples are asserting rights and empowerment in natural resource issues. This trend was identified in a recent Northern Research Station report as a driver of change that will likely influence the nation’s forests over the next 20 years.

Michael Dockry, then a scientist with the Northern Research Station and now an assistant professor with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Forest Resources and affiliate faculty in American Indian Studies, co-authored the report, “Drivers of change in U.S. forests and forestry over the next 20 years,” with Northern Research Station scientists David Bengston and Lynne Westphal. Increased recognition of Indigenous rights was one of eight drivers of change investigated in the report, along with climate change, technology, demography, trends in the forest product industry, the economy, shifting forest values, and education. 

Dockry describes three possible scenarios that could play out in the future as a result of increased recognition of Indigenous rights. In the first scenario, Indigenous peoples become partners supporting landscape-level natural resource management, contributing to greater ecological resilience to disturbance, climate change, and invasive species. In this scenario, support from Indigenous partners results in agencies and organizations having more people and funding to devote toward natural resources management, and incorporation of traditional ecological knowledge in research.

The future could be less collaborative, too. In another potential future scenario outlined in the report, Dockry describes Indigenous peoples gaining empowerment in natural resources through litigation of management decisions related to pipelines, water, mineral extraction, timber harvest, and transportation, with the costs of litigation resulting in reduced capacity for resource management.

In an even more negative future, Indigenous protest becomes more violent, both in terms of violence against Indigenous protestors and violence adapted as a strategy by Indigenous peoples and groups. A fourth scenario, one that Dockry believes is playing out, is a combination of the previous three scenarios.
However the future unfolds, Dockry believes forests and forestry will be influenced by Indigenous peoples. “Indigenous peoples are and will continue to be important drivers of change in forests and forestry in the United States and globally,” he said.

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Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge and Values into Forest Management

Muskrat root.

Indigenous peoples and their values are often underrepresented in North American forest management. In a partnership with Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq communities of Aroostook County, Maine and western New Brunswick, Northern and Southern Research Station scientists are examining ways to broaden understanding of forest benefits and are offering recommendations for natural resource management agencies to include Indigenous forest stewardship, knowledge, and values in land management planning.

Marla Emery, a research geographer with the Northern Research Station, participated in a study that conducted small group interviews with tribal members to understand how Indigenous values and practices and biocultural approaches can promote consideration of diverse values and cultural practices in resource management frameworks.

Tribal gatherers in the Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq communities value and care for plants and habitats that are not priorities for traditional forest managers. Gatherers, who maintain a reciprocal relationship with the forest, are often uncomfortable describing their actions as management because of the term’s connotations of dominance and control. Instead, they are guided by concepts of relationship and responsibility to their communities and the environment. Emery shares that this approach aligns with a stewardship paradigm. “Adopting the language and concept of stewardship may be a useful way to characterize, legitimize, and communicate approaches to caring for forests,” says Emery, “This is but one step we can take to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and values into western-centric forest management.”

Through this partnership, five actions were identified as being particularly useful to land managers and others interested in incorporating biocultural consideration into their management practices. These actions include: (1) Consider herbaceous and shrubby species important to Indigenous communities, (2) Provide plant gathering opportunities in multiple habitat types, (3) Respect traditional knowledge, (4) Adopt language that Indigenous forest users relate to, and (5) Seek meaningful Indigenous community participation when creating regulations.

The USDA Forest Service strives to be in the top tier of federal land managing agencies in partnering appropriately and collaboratively with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal governments and communities for mutually beneficial outcomes.

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Last updated: 11/01/2021