ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said Tuesday that he and other officials are committed to strengthening the role Native American tribes can play in managing public lands in the United States. United.

He told members of a congressional committee in a virtual hearing that part of the effort included incorporating indigenous knowledge into management plans and recognizing that federal lands once belonged to tribes.

Sams was asked how the National Park Service could use existing authority and recent executive directives issued by senior federal officials to deliver on the latest round of promises to tribes regarding meaningful consultation and having a seat at the table. .

Sams, who is Cayuse and Walla Walla and a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, is the first Native American to lead the Park Service. He said education will be key to seeing changes on the ground.

“A lot of that was missing in our history books, this understanding that tribes are sovereign,” he said, adding that the federal government has an obligation to ensure that tribal voices are heard. .

There are currently four national parks where tribes share co-management responsibilities: Canyon de Chelly National Monument within Navajo Nation boundaries in Arizona, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska, Grand Portage National Monument at the Grand Portage Indian Reservation in Minnesota and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida.

Tribal leaders from New Mexico, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest also testified to the importance of including the voices of Native Americans when making decisions that may impact cultural sites, the supply of water or even forest health.

Sams said his agency has about 80 cooperative agreements in place with tribes and he expects that number to grow.

At Acadia National Park, the Wabanaki Nations of Maine participated in a multi-year project focusing on traditional sweetgrass harvesting that is the result of centuries of acquired ecological knowledge.

The Nisqually Tribe is working with Mount Rainier National Park officials to release a report on plant gathering there. Consultation with the tribe also resulted in a guide for developing interpretive programs.

Carleton Bowekaty, lieutenant governor of Zuni Pueblo and member of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, told lawmakers that tribes in the southwestern United States have come together to protect their mutual interests in the fight for Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

While some tribal communities are located hundreds of miles from the monument, Bowekaty said the region still plays a vital role in traditional practices and ceremonies and tribes are encouraged to share their traditional knowledge as the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service are working. on a monument management plan.

“What could be a better path to restorative justice than giving tribes the opportunity to participate in the management of the lands from which their ancestors were driven? he asked, adding that collaborative problem-solving and a frank exchange of views will be crucial for co-management to work.

Doug Kiel, a citizen of the Oneida Nation and assistant professor of history at Northwestern University, spoke to the congressional panel about a philosophy of long-range planning that is central to many Native American tribes. He said it focuses on what will be in people’s best interest seven generations from now.

Today’s land managers can learn from thousands of years of history, he said, as pressures from climate change and global instability increase.

“An important way to think about what it means to incorporate Indigenous thought into these dialogues is to think about the depth of time, a different perspective,” he said. “That’s a lot of what we’re talking about with traditional ecological knowledge.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.