Monday, July 15, 2019

Tribal Land Management: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation

Date of Visit: June 21, 2019
Type of Event: Study tour
Topic: First Foods Upland Vision
Organization: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Location: Pendleton, Oregon
Hosts: Eric J, Quaempts / Director, Department of Natural Resources; Andrew Addessi / Supervising Forester; Gordy Schumacher / Program Supervisor, Range, Agriculture and Forestry; Brian Endress / Assistant Professor, Oregon State University, Eastern Oregon Agriculture Research Center
International Fellows: Temitope Dauda (Nigeria), Richard Banda (Malawi), Fen-hui Chen (Taiwan), Zhongyuan Ding (China), Ana Kanoppa (Brazil), Rodolfo Vieto (Costa Rica) Will Maiden (United Kingdom), Romain Matile (France).
WFI Staff: Vivian Bui / Professional Programs Coordinator, Rick Zenn / Senior Fellow

International Fellows with CTUIR tribe members and hosts at the Nixyaawii Governance Center in Pendleton, Oregon
The study tour trip of the 2019 International fellows to eastern Oregon would not have been complete without learning about the local Native American tribes. For this reason, we headed out to visit the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) on our return trip to Portland on June 21, 2019. We were welcomed at the Nixyaawii Governance Center in Pendleton. At the Center, one could notice the intentional effort and dedication put in place to create an atmosphere of culture, from the display of beautiful handmade traditional crafts that represent the rich culture of the CTUIR to the exceptionally warm reception that we received. Instantly, an aura of appreciation of Native culture and traditional values filled the air. Another reflection of their warm hospitality was the gifting of beautiful tribal accessories to all the International Fellows.

The CTUIR includes three Native American tribes - the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla-Walla - who all share the reservation. Originally, the reservation covered 6.4 million acres of land, which was ceded to the US government in 1855. This amount of land represents the minimum area needed for CTUIR ceremonial and subsistence needs. Currently, the CTUIR have about 172,000 acres of land within their reservation boundary, which constitutes just 3% of the ceded land. 

One of the most interesting cultural aspects of the CTUIR is their tradition of First Foods. First Foods constitute an array of products collected from the land by the CTUIR. These foods serve a fundamental role in the health, wellbeing and cultural identity of the tribes. The CTUIR consider these First Foods as the minimum ecological requirements necessary for the sustenance and cultural needs of their members. The CTUIR’s First Foods are water, salmon, big game, roots and berries, and they represent the grouping of similar species. For example, the salmon category also represents the other fish species collected by tribes. Among the CTUIR, the First Foods have a serving order, and observing this protocol is very important. The CTUIR creation belief has it that this serving order is based on the order in which each of the First Foods volunteered to take care of humans in the time before people. In their narrative, the creator asked the plants and animals, “Who will take care of the Indian people?” Salmon was first to promise his knowledge, then came the other fishes lined behind him. Next was Deer and other big game, then Cous and other roots, then huckleberry and other berries. In return, the CTUIR people promised to respectfully harvest and take care of the First Foods. The First Foods serving order is followed during festivities and in homes. The serving order serves as a reminder of the promise by the First Foods. It also signifies the tribe’s reciprocal responsibility to respectfully harvest and take care of the First Foods.

The need for the CTUIR to ratify their own agreement to take care of the First Foods has made forest and landscape management of great importance to them. The CTUIR’s management of their land predates pre-European times, as evident in the description of their wild land and food production system. The CTUIR have been described as hunter-gatherers or foragers. Traditional knowledge and intuitions passed down through generations have been used to manage their land and resources, taking into consideration the need to respect the land. For example, fire is used in such a way that both promote the prevention of future wildfire and their traditional values. So, for the tribes, management of their land to continue producing goods in perpetuity has been more like a lifestyle and a significant part of their tradition. Although the current size of the CTUIR reservation does not stop traditional management practices, it significantly limits certain activities and the flow of management practices due to multiple land ownership types within the reservation. Within the reservation, the type of land ownership determines land management. The types of land ownership found within the CTUIR reservation are:
  • Fee land
  • Allotted trust
  • Tribal trust, and
  • Tribal fee

Currently, the CTUIR manage their land with a variety of management practices. This includes, but is not limited to, pruning, sowing seeds after harvesting, thinning, and coppicing. The land is managed for:
  • Maintenance and improvement of timber, grazing, wildlife, fisheries, recreation, aesthetic and cultural or other traditional values
  • Regulating water run-off and minimizing soil erosion
  • Healthy, resilient and dynamic upland ecosystems able to support the continued natural production of First Foods

Although the types of management practices applied allow commercial thinning to some degree, CTUIR land is not predominantly managed for economic profitability. Ecosystem services, cultural values and habitat seem to be of greater interest to the management of tribal land. Somehow, they all go hand in hand. For example, the use of fire as a tool for forest management allows Native Americans the privilege of restoring ecological functions as well as tradition, as fire was used in the past in 20- to 25-year intervals.

Lessons Learned

Land ownership systems have great impact on management. In places where the land ownership system is not well-structured, or where the land is too fragmented, there could be negative consequences for sustainable management. The First Foods approach is important to the local Native American tribes, and, in turn, the land is important to First Foods - the relationship is mutual. This has led the CTUIR to constantly explore better ways to manage their land and resources sustainably.
The idea that the people must harvest the first foods as part of their responsibility to the first foods is legendary and very consistent with the concept of sustainable management. It promotes use and not preservation. The concept of ‘no logging’ or ‘no collection’ is not sustainable management; rather, use in a very respectful manner is. 

Every landscape has a story behind it. Learning about the story of this landscape and the traditional practices behind it can contribute significantly to sustainable management. One way to do that is by incorporating indigenous peoples in the decision-making and planning process.

Temitope Dauda, International Fellow
from Nigeria, in her "Yor-Walla" outfit,
a combination of a CTUIR tribal necklace
and a Yoruba (from Nigeria) dress
An International Fellow’s Thoughts and Perspectives 

Among the Yoruba tribe of southwest Nigeria, there is a saying that no matter how much clothing a child has, he would never have as many rags as an elderly person. In a conservation and sustainable management context, modern science is the child’s new clothing, and traditional knowledge is the elderly person’s rags. The role of indigenous knowledge in the sustainable management of forest and landscapes cannot be overemphasized, and this has become very evident. Not that modern science is irrelevant, but for a holistic solution to a sustainable management problem, exploring the insight from local people on their ways and manners in which forest and landscapes have been managed is very useful. For example, among the Yoruba, it is considered taboo for women to enter certain forests, which are called sacred groves. Women who do so forcefully do not live to tell the story. Over the years, this restriction has helped to maintain forest ecosystems. Some of the oldest and largest trees in Nigeria can be found in such forests. The logic behind this is that women constitute the greatest disturbance to the forest through the collection of fuel wood, wood bark, etc. This taboo restricts their movement and, as such, promotes the wellbeing as well as sustainable management of these forests. So, finding out about the First Foods upland vision approach and restoring its practice will promote sustainable management, as evident on CTUIR land. 

Furthermore, the First Foods upland vision approach is holistic at a landscape scale. It encourages sustainable use and management of certain products from across all landscapes for the CTUIR, and, interestingly, these resources follow an elevation gradient, from the lower-elevation river, wetland, and riparian systems (water and salmon) to the higher-elevation grasslands (roots) and forests (berries), highlighting the importance of the entire landscape to support and produce the full array of First Foods. Also, big game occupies the full elevation gradient, with several species like mule deer and elk seasonally migrating across the ecosystem. So, it’s a whole landscape thing. This idea gives in to the fact that all landscapes are connected and constantly interacting, and management of landscape should be done at a scale that incorporates such interactions and connection.

One very important take-home lesson for me is to learn more about culture and traditions as well as historical trends of landscapes when addressing conservation issues. This, with the realization that current landscape habitants (flora and fauna) may have different interestsand that the wicked problem of our changing climate shapes a lot of things, will help change the lens through which we view conservation and thus promote a more sustainable landscape.

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