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Introduction: Model Plan for Tribal Resource Management

In recent history, resource management has been problematic for Alaskan Tribes, native organizations and corporations. This has not always been so, traditionally, Alaska natives have used a variety of traditional methods of stewardship, from clearing streams in Southeast Alaska to enhance the salmon returns, to maintaining traditional clan territories, which ensures that resources in an area were not over harvested.

The face of management in Alaska is changing rapidly. The legal question of Indian country is unresolved. As of this writing, the Venitie case will be heard before the supreme court in December 1997. The problem before Native organizations is to define what activities they can undertake without clearly recognized jurisdiction. The goal of this model plan is to briefly review activities that both landed and landless organizations can undertake which protect and enhance their resources.

A critical part of these activities is the tribes commitment to building internal management capacity. This needs to be addressed on several levels. First, the tribe needs to develop an active resource management body, either a committee, or active council members, or designated tribal representatives. This group should be empowered to write regulations, make recommendations for long range policy and pass resolutions. Many organizations have already formally developed some tribal governance structures for natural resources. The piece which is often missing is technical personnel. A primary need for Native organization is to build resident expertise on the resource management issues and needs in their region. Technical personnel prepare recommendations for the governing council, implement programs and fulfill the resolutions of the governing body. Technical capacity can be acquired in several ways. It can be hired, or built within the community. This plan and the accompanying portfolio are intended for communities who seek to increase the expertise resident in the community. Tribal members have an understanding of the value of the traditional knowledge in their community, and its relevance to resource stewardship.

A fast word about words. I have been part of several discussions by native organizations over the suitability of the words “resource management.” These words are an uncomfortable match to the traditional activities of caring for the environment and practicing respect for the spirits and lives of the animals whom we walk this world with. The phrase ?resource management’ implies that they are resources, to be used, without respect. Yet it is difficult to find alternate language. Stewardship, which is often used in this text, is one alternative, which carries a broader range of meaning. The generosity of the readers is asked, to look beyond words to the vision and possibilities which are contained within this document.

Resource Management: Building a Foundation

The first step to developing a resource management plan is to clarify the tribes long range priorities. This is done through meetings with the tribal council, planning sessions, working groups, and surveys, both formal and informal of tribal members. This is a vital part of stewardship that is often neglected. Many tribal governments move from one problem, one crisis to another, with too few people to meet the needs of the organization on a slim budget. To many, organizing a planning session sounds like just more work. Remember, planning is a vital part of moving from being reactive to pro-active. When planning, elder participation is critical.

The first task at hand for a tribe developing a long range stewardship plan is to begin to document traditional uses, record traditional knowledge, and document current uses. This work is the vital foundation from which all other work flows.

First, collect and review the information which has already been gathered about your region. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game has an incredible library on subsistence uses throughout Alaska. They are pleased to provide copies of their information on request. Contact (add)_______ for materials. Then, begin work with the elders. Their traditional knowledge and wisdom contains the baseline information on animal populations, harvest levels, key habitat areas and traditional practices for maintaining the health of the ecosystem. The traditional council will give guidance in conducting interviews. Maps, Mylar overlays, video cameras and tape recorders are all important tools for gathering this information. Recording is vital, as the information gathered will be a bench mark used to protect and document tribal uses in years to come. This information should be housed at the tribal offices, as it is the property of the tribe. By using maps to document traditional use area and key habitat areas, the information may be transferred into a Geographic Information System at some point in the future. There, it may interact with other ?data layers’ (i.e.: planned development) to provide guidance. More later on GIS uses for tribes.

Interviews should also be conducted with expert hunters and subsistence providers. They have a detailed knowledge of the health of the resource and the population fluctuations common to many animals. Interviews may be structured, i.e.; a specific list of questions, or open. In an open interview, the interviewer may lightly guide the discussion, but their focus is primarily to listen. This is especially valuable for coming to understand the interconnections between members of the ecosystem. A structured interview will give you more detailed information, and is valuable for gaining understanding about the habits of one species or the uses of one area. Interviews range between the two types, with each interviewer bringing their own style to the project. Please refer to the examples of elder interviews from the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and selection from Lore, in the portfolios for examples of interviews and documentation projects.

Documentation also gives you the baseline data for the health of plant and animal populations. State and federal agencies have only begun to gather baseline data within the last twenty-five years. Resident with the elders is the knowledge of the population trends for a much longer span of time. Their knowledge is detailed and accurate and is essential to creating a sound plan.

One role of documentation is to preserve access to traditional use areas. Many lands that were once used by Alaska’s native peoples are now managed by State and Federal agencies. If a tribe can document traditional uses, the case for retaining or regaining access is much stronger. Also, as more tribes become recognized as self governance tribes, they may be able to manage, through compacting or contracting, areas of key cultural significance. The following quotes are taken from a draft of the proposed rules for self governance. There may have been changes in the document since this writing, however, the concepts should remain the same.

According to the draft rules, programs eligible for self governance include “department of the interior programs of special geographic, historical or cultural significance to participating tribes, individually , or as members of a consortium . . .” The terms, geographic, historical, or cultural was defined as “(a) “geographic” generally refers to all lands presently “on or near” an Indian reservation, and all other lands within the “Indian Country” as defined by 18 U.S.C. 1151. In addition, geographic includes:

(1) Lands of former reservations;

(2) Lands conveyed or to be conveyed under the Alaska Native Settlement Act (ANCSA);

(3) Judicially established aboriginal lands of a tribe or consortium member or as verified by the Secretary; and

(4) Lands and waters and pertaining to Indian rights in natural resources, hunting, fishing, gathering, and subsistence activities, provided or protected by treaty or other applicable law.

(b) “Historical” generally refers to programs or lands having a particular history that is relevant to the tribe. For example, particular trails, forts, significant sites or educational activities that relate to the history of a particular tribe.

(c) “Cultural” refers to the programs, sites, or activities as defined by individual tribal traditions and may include, for example:

(1) sacred and medicinal sites;

(2) gathering of medicines or materials such as grasses for basket weaving; or

(3) Other traditional activities, including, but not limited to, subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering.


Last updated 04/28/03