Daniel is a disabled Vietnam Veteran and is the Tribal Relations Program Manager on the San Bernardino National Forest in California.
What are you most proud of?
Well, I am a disabled Vietnam Veteran, and I think one the proudest moments was when I had the opportunity to return to Vietnam and Laos and participate in the Joint Task Force, Full Accounting Missing-In-Action work. It was personally and professionally very rewarding to participate and lead teams in the recovery efforts. Both trips were successful in identification and recovery of soldiers missing in action.
How did you get started doing Tribal work for the Forest Service?
The forest had been working with a tribal family on some sensitive areas and made a commitment about protective sites and doing a study. They were having a hard time getting the goals accomplished, so I was invited to come to work for the Forest Service as a term employee in 1994. During the first several years, the forest needed someone knowledgeable working with tribal issues and at that time the national program of Tribal Relations was forming its new office and staff. I worked half time as tribal relations program manager and half time as an archeologist. The two program areas overlapped and it is was a nice fit on this forest.
Why is your job important?
In describing my role and responsibilities with the forest, I sometimes characterize my position as an ambassador for the forest representing the federal government working with tribes. An ambassador knows the culture and customs of the nation he works with and is familiar with important issues and concerns. Protection of sensitive cultural resources and access to traditional gathering areas are two examples, of what I do. In having worked with tribes before, I knew that Agave deserti(desert agave) was an important plant used for food, medicine and utilitarian purposes. It was once a staple food for the Cahuilla Indian people, but the knowledge and experience of how to prepare agave for food had been lost. I have been working with the Cahuilla Elders a long time trying to understand the technology of when to gather and how to prepare agave for food. By the way, it takes about 36-40 hours to cook in a rock-lined pit.
As I continued working with the Elders, I thought it would be a good opportunity for a venue to help educate the public on agave harvesting and cooking. This annual spring event has been open to the public now for 16 years. Participation started out slowly, but has increased each year. The public gets to participate in the three stages: harvesting the plant, cooking and tasting. (agave tastes something between a pineapple and a candied yam).
What haven’t you done that you wish you could have done?
Well, I can think of some archeological sites in some remote areas that are important to tribes that need some baseline information needed so we can better protect them. Martinez Mountain area and Palm Canyon are just two examples of areas that deserve more attention. There is always something to do.
What is the public’s perception of your job?
I don’t think they have one. I often say that I work just as hard informing the agency about what our responsibilities are as I do the Tribes. I don’t think the general public realizes the responsibilities the federal government has with all tribes. I like including the public in the various projects I oversee because it is a learning experience for all and promotes understanding and tolerance of different beliefs and customs.
Who has had the biggest influence on you during your life?
Boy, that’s a tough question, but I would have to say, a number of people who were working in archeology about 30 to 40 years ago. I had the opportunity to meet and learn directly with some of them. In 1969, I met and worked at an archaeological site where Dr. Louis Leakey was the project director. From a tribal perspective, I would have to say a lot of the Elders that I have been in contact with for the past 35 plus years have had a great influence on who and what I am today. They have certainly influenced me in the work that I am doing right now.
If you could have dinner with 5 famous people from History, who would they be?
Oh, I could think of several Cahuilla Indian Elders (Joe Potencio, Juan Siva or Pedro Chino), Lewis and Clark, Charles Darwin, and Howard Scott Gentry, renowned botanist who studied agave world wide.
What’s the one thing few people know about you?
I have been learning and recording string figures (cat’s cradle) for 40 years.
String figures are known world-wide. The cat’s cradle is actually a series of figures made with a loop of string between two people passing the string forming different images.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.