Now the tribal relations program manager for Tonto National Forest, Nanebah Nez Lyndon has been working for the Forest Service since 2009. Growing up on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona, she was inspired by her parents, who both chose careers in public service to benefit their communities. Her father is a Hearings Officer, or judge, for the Navajo Tribe, and her mother is a special education school teacher. Because of their examples, she knew that she wanted a career that would in some way, shape, or form serve her tribe.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The people. My tribal colleagues are the best, and I consider many of them to be good friends. They are generous with their knowledge, their laughter, and their time. I’m pretty lucky to work with such great people.
Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re currently working on.
I’m particularly proud of the Tonto National Forest Tribal Monitor Program. In January of 2018, in collaboration with tribes, the forest designed a two-week training to teach tribal cultural specialists to identify and record traditional cultural properties, sacred places, and other areas of cultural importance. In their own words, the Tribal Monitors consider themselves the “eyes and ears” of their communities. The Monitor program consists of 32 tribal members who, this year alone, have completed thousands of acres of pedestrian survey on Forest Service land. Their presence ensures the Forest is taking tribal interests and concerns into consideration in decision-making processes. It also provides meaningful employment to dozens of tribal members. I hope other Forests see the value of this program and consider developing their own.
Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.
There are currently over 93,000 historic properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Of these listings, only 47 are Traditional Cultural Properties. In 2016, I authored a nomination for Oak Flat to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an Apache Traditional Cultural Property. Located east of Phoenix, Arizona, Oak Flat is an ancestral home place of the Western Apache. It is used as a site for conducting the Apache woman’s coming-of-age ceremony and is a favorite spot to gather acorns a traditional food. The application process was difficult, but with the support of the tribes, it was officially listed. This is significant because very few tribal places have been listed on the Register. Processes like this, which encourage the documentation of traditional ecological knowledge, can help us be better land managers.
Why do you think your field is important?
The Forest manages places that are incredibly important to tribes. In order to be the best land managers we can be, we also need to consider what the tribes care about, which is where I come in. I facilitate the sharing of information between the tribes and the Forest.
What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?
Tribal priorities for protection and preservation can conflict with the view of land users who would prefer development and modernization. As a multiple-use agency, the Forest Service allows many types of activities on the land in its stewardship, including recreation, mining, and grazing. Some projects, especially mining, are adamantly opposed by tribal communities.
What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?
Early and often communication. Meaningful consultation. Integrity.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I think publicly the Forest Service is still viewed as the wildland fire-fighting agency. Which is true, but we’re also so much more. The Forest Service consists of a lot of scientists, engineers, and public servants working hard to ensure future generations have access to natural resources and solitude.