Establishing trust and building relationships are key factors in working with Indian Tribes across the country. One of the most historic partnerships between the U.S. Forest Service and an Indian Tribe has been forged between the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Chippewa National Forest.
“This [partnership] essentially took more than 100 years to craft,” said Fred Clark, director of Office Tribal Relations for the Forest Service. “It allows the Forest Service and the Tribe to move toward a positive future, while not forgetting the history that brought us all this far.”
The Chippewa National Forest and the Tribe have worked together on road maintenance, non-native species control, fuels treatments, tree planting and prescribed fire support since 2010.
By blending western science with the traditional knowledge of American Indians and Alaska Natives, the Forest Service is building relationships and creating a sustainable environment for tribal members and non-Native Americans for present and future generations.
The partnership pledges to work together in many areas, including hiring tribal members, contracting with the Tribe, technology transfer, training and more.
In 1908, the Federation of Women’s Clubs lobbied to create the Minnesota National Forest on the Leech Lake Reservation, now known as the Chippewa National Forest. Although many national forests were carved out of ancestral Indian lands and several still overlap and/or interlace with tribal lands, the Chippewa National Forest is the only national forest which encompasses nearly an entire Indian Reservation within its boundaries.
The federal government recognizes 566 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. The Forest Service works with Tribes in areas such as creating a tribal road map on climate change; creating a guide for Tribes who work on partnership projects; understanding how sacred sites overlap with historic preservation laws; and recruiting into the Forest Service indigenous people who are committed to giving back to their tribal communities.
“Many Tribes have no land, no reservation, no treaty rights and yet they still have vibrant cultures,” said Clark. “Our agency has a trust responsibility to them as well as to those with land and treaties.”
“We owe it to ourselves and to this great land of ours to continue building relationships with Tribes, as we carry out our Forest Service motto of ‘Caring for the Land and Serving People.’”