Tribal needs concerning native plants often parallel those of federal and state agencies, and private enterprise described in this report including seed collecting, increase, testing, seed zone implementation, storage, contracting, and dedicated funding. Still, tribes face unique issues that complicate actions needed to enhance native plant needs and uses. These include historical federal land policies and complex government-to-government interactions. In addition to ecological restoration, native plant uses also include food, spiritual, and medicinal applications (Mike et al., 2018).
The Dawes Act, also known as the Allotment Act of 1887, resulted in the loss of two-thirds of reservation land deemed “in excess of Indian needs.”1 It also assigned small land allotments within reservations to tribal members. The allotted land could be sold to non-tribal entities and so privately owned land became scattered within reservation borders and is commonly referred to as checker boarding. Additionally, there has been a fractionalization of land by the legal requirement that inheritance be equal and undivided among heirs and over generations, resulting in some parcels with hundreds of owners (Murray, 2021).
After the federal cultural assimilation policies ended with 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, tribes have sought and obtained new levels of self-determination and sovereignty, and pursued active reclamation and maintenance of traditional culture, including native plant uses (Mike et al., 2018). Still, land management is a balancing act between tribal sovereignty, complicated land ownership categories, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) legal and fiduciary obligation under the Federal-Tribal Trust to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources.2 Limited resources and the multifaceted interactions of tribal governments with federal and state governments, and the BIA, continue to complicate land-management actions in general, including native plant uses for restoration and cultural needs.
Although viewpoints on land use, conservation, and management differ widely among and within tribes, there are unifying aspects of conservation and use of native plants. With enhanced self-determination, tribal nurseries supporting cultural uses and ecological restoration have been strengthened over the last 20 years by the Inter-Tribal Nursery Council (INC). There are also efforts to expand tribal conservation districts in partnership with the Natural
1 See https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/dawes-act (accessed October 23, 2022).
Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).3 These districts can assist tribes and tribal members in agricultural production, including growing native seed for tribal use and general sales. Since indigenous people traditionally lived close to the land and its resources, they developed management regimes over centuries to secure and benefit their livelihoods (Reyes-Garcia et al., 2019). This has led to the recognition and implementation of tradition ecological knowledge as an asset to tribal land management and ecological restoration (Eisenberg et al., 2019).
Jeremy Pinto, a US Forest Service (USFS) Research Plant Physiologist, presented information about the Inter-Tribal Nursery Council to the committee. Starting in 2001, tribal emphasis and outreach programs were developed within the Reforestation, Nurseries, and Genetics Resources (RNGR) program,4 a USFS-sponsored effort to supply growers with needed technical information for growing native plants. The first meeting of tribal nurseries under the aegis of RNGR was in 2001 at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, which led to the establishment of the INC. The Council is critical to improving nursery operations and management, and to strengthening connections among tribal nursery leaders. The INC meets annually to focus on topics that include technology transfer, conservation, education, traditional ecological knowledge, and general restoration.
The Tribal Nursery Needs Assessment (Luna et al., 2003) documented the scope, interest, and potential for nurseries to serve tribal needs. In a related need, tribes also requested native plant propagation literature and guidelines including cultural, medicinal, and spiritual plants. This resulted in the Nursery Manual for Native Plants (Dumroese et al., 2009). Both the Needs Assessment and the Nursery Manual still provide critical information concerning tribal nursery activities and technical needs, though funding constraints and limited personnel have delayed their updating, a reoccurring theme among tribal nurseries.
The 2003 assessment included responses from 68 tribes, 7 tribal colleges, and 2 nonprofits. Fifty-two respondents (86%) requested further nursery and restoration training and 38 percent requested environmental education information and lesson plans for their schools. Twenty-seven (35%) of the tribes and tribal colleges had existing nurseries. Most respondents were from small nurseries, ranging from outdoor planting beds for basket materials to small, prefabricated greenhouses. Twenty-four (31%) did not have a nursery but wanted to start one. Most small, existing nurseries wanted to expand the scope of their projects. Ongoing issues identified in the assessment still resonate today:
- Little if any permanent funding for INC activities.
- Lack of availability of some native plants that have high cultural value.
- Loss of traditional ecological knowledge.
- Fragmentation and degradation of important habitats.
- Unemployment and lack of new natural resource professionals to work on reservations.
- Poor relationships among federal, state, and tribal governments.
Although viewpoints on land use, conservation, and management differ widely among and within tribes, to native peoples the land represents their sense of place; a physical, cultural, and spiritual connection which relates to the traditional use of land for subsistence, livelihoods, and well-being (e.g., Hornborg, 2006; Viveiros de Castro, 2004). Dr. Christina Eisenberg of Oregon State University described traditional ecological knowledge as the indigenous wisdom which native people have successfully used to manage natural systems. Such knowledge and practices are passed as narrative histories from one generation to the next to enhance ecosystem management for stability and productivity for food, medicine, and ceremonial items. This knowledge was disregarded by white settlers, who introduced destructive land-management practices, the effects of which persist today (Eisenberg et al., 2019).
Historically, research on tribal land has rarely included tribal perspectives even though they often differ from those of non-tribal scientists (Dockry et al., 2022). The integration of tribal viewpoints and traditional knowledge into land management and research (see Chapter 8) is an emerging practice that will advance the capacity of tribal land management to improve ecological restoration and ecosystem function.
The Diné Native Plant Program
The committee learned of a 2017–2018 feasibility study conducted to assess nursery interest and needs in the Navajo Nation. One questionnaire was developed for Navajo Agencies and organizations (tribal, federal, and state agencies, and nonprofits working on Navajo land), and one for Navajo community members. As a result, a comprehensive report and plan for native plant needs was developed (Mike et al., 2018). Among agency responses, 67 percent used native plant materials. Common uses included restoration (68%), education (61%), and range rehabilitation (35%). Eighty percent expected a growing need for local plants in the next 5–10 years. Among Navajo communities, 95 percent of respondents reported using native plant materials, most commonly for food (68%), cultural/ceremonial (63%), and medicine (58%). There was an interest in learning about traditional uses of plants (69%) and in partnering with a native plant program to grow and utilize native plants.
The Diné Native Plants Program (DNPP) was established in response to the documented interest and needs of the Navajo Nation. It is designed to meet the needs of both the agency/organizational groups and the interests of community members. For agencies, the focus is on collection of workhorse species for ecological restoration, and for communities, to provide members access to culturally important species. There is no base funding, so grants are essential. Current support for the DNPP comes from the Navajo Nation Government, BIA, Bureau of Land Management (BLM),5 nongovernmental organizations, and a private foundation.
The Fort Belknap Native Seed and Restoration Program
In fall 2019, the Fort Belknap Indian Community launched a 5-year partnership with BLM and the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) to implement the Seeds of Success (SOS) Native Seed and Grassland Restoration Program (Eisenburg, 2021). The program focuses on the role of traditional ecological knowledge in ecological restoration, working in close partnership with the Fort Belknap Indian Community on BLM and adjacent tribal lands in Montana’s Northern Great Plains. The program applies seed collection in compliance with BLM’s SOS program, BLM Assessment, Inventorying, and Monitoring protocols, and ecological restoration based on the SER International Principles and Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration.
Tribal Native Plant Materials Program Development Plan for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde
The Institute for Applied Ecology partnered with Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (CTGR), the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the City of Corvallis, and the NRCS to obtain an Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board restoration grant, which was implemented from 2016 to 2019. The resulting “Plants for People” project focused on utilizing culturally significant plants applying traditional ecological knowledge to restoration. The Institute for Applied Ecology and CTGR created a development plan for an expanded tribal native plant materials program. Continued restoration at Herbert Farm and Natural Area near Corvallis Oregon and the Champoeg State Park adjacent to the Willamette River includes invasive weed control and prescribed burns prior to planting native seed. Prairie and riparian monitoring and photo points are tracking the establishment of native vegetation at these sites.6
5 The sentence was modified to add BLM as a supporting organization of the DNPP.
6 See https://appliedeco.org/report/plants-for-people-bringing-traditional-ecological-knowledge-to-restoration-2018-post-implementation-status-and-plant-establishment-report/ (accessed October 26, 2022).
There is undoubtedly much more to uncover about the activities of the tribal nations with respect to native seed that was beyond the ability of the committee to reach, and a deeper exploration of these activities would shed light on seed needs and the tribes’ ecological understanding of the landscape. In addition to the insights the tribes could bring to the federal land-management agencies, it is hoped that tribal nations would benefit from greater partnership and support that could contribute to their land-management objectives.
Conclusion 5-1: The historic complexity of land-management issues and interactions with federal and state governments and former Bureau of Indian Affairs policies associated with cultural assimilation have constrained all aspects of tribal land management including native plant needs and capacities.
Conclusion 5-2: Tribal nurseries are producing plant materials for native plant programs, but the capacity of current nurseries, and interest of many tribes to establish nurseries, is resource limited relative to the needs for native plants among tribes.
Conclusion 5-3: Historically, tribal nations have rarely had their perspectives fully integrated into research projects conducted by non-tribal scientists. This has led to mistrust and a dampening of innovative approaches to restoration and integration of traditional ecological knowledge with western science.
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