[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Wed, 11 Jan 1995 12:26:21 -0800
Sender: NATIVE-L Aboriginal Peoples: news & information <NATIVE-L@tamvm1.tamu.edu>
From: native-l@gnosys.svle.ma.us
Subject: nanews03.002 (part A)
To: Multiple recipients of list NATIVE-L <NATIVE-L@tamvm1.tamu.edu>

Original Sender: gars@netcom.com (Gary Night Owl)
Mailing List: NATIVE-L (native-l@gnosys.svle.ma.us)

Date: 8 Jan 95 21:14:57 GMT
From: milo@scicom.AlphaCDC.COM (Michele Lord)
Subj: The Dilemma of Indian Forestry

Newsgroup: alt.native

The Dilemma of Indian forestry

By Winona LaDuke, Earth Island Journal, Summer 1994

[The following is being posted by Alpha Institute at the request of Dine' C.A.R.E. The organization does not yet have access to computer networks. -Michele]

Leroy Jackson, a Dine' (Navajo) man from Arizona who had dedicated much of his life to protecting the Chuska Mountain forests on the Navajo reservation, died mysteriously last fall. His body was found in his van after he disappeared during a business trip to northern New Mexico.

In 1991, Jackson began a crusade to protect Navajo forests from over- cutting, spearheading the efforts of Dine` Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (Dine CARE). The groups attempted to negotiate with the Dine` Nation's tribal-owned logging enterprise, Navajo Forests Products Industry (NFPI), to manage the Chuska Mountain forests, home to many old-growth trees, more responsibly. Dine` CARE was particularly opposed to logging in Navajo sacred and cultural areas like the Chuska Mountains, which represent the male deity of the Dine` religion.

When negotiations failed between Dine` CARE and the Dine` Nation. Jackson reluctantly undertook a legal challenge to compel the tribe to comply with national environmental-forestry standards. When he died, Jackson was three days away from flying to Washington D.C. to meet with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to argue against a proposal policy that would have exempted the Dine` Nation from logging prohibitions designed to protect the Mexican spotted owl, a species that was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1993. At the time of Jackson's death, Dine` CARE was preparing to propose an integrated forestry management plan, based on sustaining and culturally sensitive harvesting practices, and on, reforestation, to replace the Dine` Tribal Council's plan.

He never made it to Washington, prompting some of his supporters to peculate that he might have fallen victim to foul play in the often divisive debate over reservation logging.

Neither the police investigation nor a private detective hired by Jackson's supporters have been able to substantiate suspicions of murder, however. The coroner's report attributed his death to an accidental overdose of methadone, although Jackson's friends and family say that he never used illegal drugs.


If successful, the struggle that Jackson left behind could reform the entire US government policy regulating logging on Indian Land. The Navajo tribal dispute highlights the conflicts in Indian forestry, particularly the internal battle on many reservations between economic pressures and traditional cultural practices and values. On the Dine reservation, as elsewhere in North America, these struggles will play out with increasing intensity as the value of Indian timber in a shrinking market adds new pressures to the ecology and cultural fabric of Indian Country.

Much of North America's remaining forests are found on Native land, all of which appear to be up for grabs. Last summer, the Clinton administration announced a plan to provide federal assistance to bring to market backlogged timber sales from Indian reservations. Some Native activists have called this the Clinton administration's equal opportunity logging policy. Terry Virdon, Assistant Director of BIA Forestry, has remarked that the Clinton administration and federal government have always looked to tribal timber as 'their reserves.' They basically say, 'We'll carry on business as usual and have those (trees) for later...' according to the BIA, US Indian reservations contain an estimated 56 billion board feet of timber on some 15 million acres of Native forests and woodlands.

Make no mistake: this is a battle about deforestation and cultural transformation. Throughout Indian country, lines will be drawn and ecosystems may be transformed. Tribal sovereignty issues are surfacing in the conflict as tribes decide whether to exercise their rights to cut their old growth forests, even if it circumvents the ESA protection for northern and Mexican species of spotted owls (a proposal forwarded by both Northwestern and Southwestern tribes). On the other hand, Native nations could decide to use their tribal sovereignty to build sustainable forestry programs based on cultural and ecosystem management. Both scenarios are possible and are currently being played out on US reservations.

Dine' Forests

The Navajo Forest Products Industry (NFPI) was formed in 1958 on the advice of BIA consultants. By 1963, NFPI was operating the largest lumber mill in the Southwest. Over the years, NFPI borrowed heavily to re-tool its plant for smaller trees, since so much of the reserva- tions old growth had been cut, even though the lumber market was diminishing. By the early 1980s, NFPI had become mired in debt. By the end of 1993, NFPI was almost $8 million in debt to the tribe. The environmental impact of logging on the Dine reservation has been significant. The tribe did no replanting from 1880 to 1975. In 1981, the tribe's forestry department estimated that it would take 160 years of concerted regeneration to return the forests to a condition capable of supporting sustainable-yield harvests. After reviewing tribal records, Jackson concluded that NFPI had greatly overcut the Chuska Mountain forests and badly mismanaged its finances.

Disturbed by NFPI's perceived mismanagement, Dine' CARE demanded a reduction in logging, an independent audit of the operation and an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the tribe's Chuska Mountain logging plan- all of which the Tribal Council refused.

In the process of defending Navajo forests, Dine' CARE and Jackson made some enemies. The group's activism had forced NFPI to reduce its harvests by more than half. Last summer, angry Dine' loggers hanged Jackson in effigy, blaming him and his organization for layoffs at NFPI. However, George Arthur, a member of the tribe's economic development board admitted that it was mismanagement rather than environmentalists that led to a portion of the layoffs from 1991.

The BIA plays a significant role in the management of Indian forests. All reservation timber-harvest plans must be approved by the agency, which is also responsible for monitoring the cuts. The BIA considers Indian lands exempt from such national environmental laws as the ESA, because reservations are technically sovereign nations. In fact, the agency seems intent on increasing reservation logging and has never required an EIS for timber harvests. Dine' CARE argued that BIA forestry practices are based on industrial models that do not reflect traditional culture and represent only pro-development segments of the Navajo community.

Building on its earlier success in proposing the circumvention of the ESA on the Navajo and some other Southwestern reservations (the Mescalero, White Mountain, and San Carlos Apache; and the Hualapai), the BIA is seeking to follow suit on the Quinalt and Coquille Indian reservations in the Northwest to secure exemptions from the ESA's protections of northern spotted owl habitat.

It is a tribute to Jackson's life that since his death Dine' CARE has accomplished much of what he was trying to achieve. The Navajo tribal Council has decided to conduct an audit of NFPI and has agreed to an EIS on its logging plan - a first for an Indian reservation. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has also ruled that the Navajos cannot ignore regulations protecting the Mexican spotted owl.

Seventh Generation Forestry

Successful stewardship models for native forestry do exist. the only Indian forest certified as sustainable in the US is on the Menominee Indian reservation in a largely clearcut region of northeastern Wisconsin. The Menominee forestry program is verified by Scientific Certification Systems, an independent environmental certification company. Early timber records indicate that approximately 1.5 billion board feet stood on the Menominee reservation in 1865. Since that first estimate, roughly two billion board feet have been cut. Even so, according to a 1980 tribal inventory, there were still 1.5 billion board feet of timber suitable for logging - the same volume of trees after more than a century of harvesting the same land.

The tribal corporation, Menominee Tribal Enterprises, has carefully crafted a management plan based on the sustainable and intensive management of its forests. The system involves computerized assessments and inventories for some 109 different logging areas on the reservation. With an eye to the cultural and spiritual needs of the Menominee, more than 220,000 acres are currently under sustainable management, serving as the resource base for the Menominee Tribal Enterprises sawmill and employing one-third of all those working on the reservation. Sustainable timber management on the Menominee reservation has survived for more than a century and is viewed as a model for the seventh generation.

The Grand Portage Ojibwe (Anishinabe) reservation, nestled at the tip of Lake Superior, has a similar story. All 56,000 acres of the reservation wooded and support a chipping mill and a pallet mill, allowing the tribe to capture added value for its timber.

In 1985, tribal forester Rick Novinsky recalls, the BIA wanted to upgrade the forest management plan and....came up with its forest management planning staff from the central office...When they got here, we wanted to do something completely different [from] what they wanted to do. We wanted to look at things in a holistic way - timber, recreation, aquatic life, wildlife, resources - and manage each one with the others in mind. We ended up [using] that plan and it turned out to be the first integrated forest resource management plan approved by the BIA.

The Ojibwe forestry program sets aside land into distinct designations - recreation, wildlife and forestry - and designs a management program based on the reality that there are more moose than people in the country. When approached by timber interests to expand its mill capacity and double its shifts, the Grand Portage Tribal Council pointed out that the reservation already had almost full employment and that upping the capacity of the mill would only require it to import a non-Indian labor force.

There is much to be learned from native forest management experience. There are also larger discussions in which Native people need to be heard. For instance, a good portion of North American wood leaves the continent as raw product. Neither Indians nor any other timber- dependent communities capture many value-added benefits of milling, woodworking or other income-generating activities - the profits and the supplementary jobs go elsewhere.

For over 100 years, native people have fought to protect their forests, their medicinal plants, animal relations and the knowledge of generations of ancestors. There are many who will argue that Indians 'are' those forests. Now they need to face those challenges in their communities with the honesty and courage that their ancestors had. Perhaps a Costa Rican Indigenous leader summarized it best, saying, The difference between a white man and an Indian is this: a White man wants to leave money to his children. An Indian wants to leave forests.... Leroy Jackson would probably agree.