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National Park Service Moving To Let Tribes Collect Plants, Minerals From Parks For Traditional Practices



A move by the National Park Service to allow Native American tribes to collect plants and minerals from units of the National Park System for traditional purposes is being condemned by Public Employees for Environmental Purposes.

“This is a radically misguided proposal which may do lasting harm to the core principles guiding the national park system,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.  “The proposed rule is loosely written and susceptible to broad but unintended consequences to the detriment of park resources.”

Documents the group obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that Park Service Director Jon Jarvis is a proponent of the rule change. During a meeting last July with representatives from the Cherokee Nation the director said the prohibition against gathering plants and minerals for traditional purposes was wrong and that as director it would be his "mission to fix the problem..."

A confidential draft of the proposed regulation that PEER obtained states that "(T)he agreements would facilitate continuation of tribal cultural traditions on ancestral lands that are now included within units of the National Park System without impairing park resources."

"The proposed rule respects tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the tribes and would provide system-wide consistency to this aspect of NPS-tribal relations," it continues. "The proposed rule would provide opportunities for tribal youth, the NPS, and the public to understand tribal traditions without compromising park values or significantly altering strategies for park management."

The document also noted that in some cases Congress specifically allowed tribes to gather plants and minerals for traditional cultural purposes. For example, at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, the document says, "enrolled members of the Pueblos of San Ildefonso and Santa Clara to collect plant and mineral resources ... consistent with the applicable laws governing the monument."

Similar conditions have been extended at Grand Canyon National Park, Big Cypress National Monument, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the document adds.

The document also pointed out that by allowing "traditional gathering, when done with traditional methods and in traditionally established quantities, helps to conserve plant communities, and supports the NPS conclusion that cooperation with Indian tribes in the management of plant and mineral resources is consistent with the preservation of national park lands for all American people."

PEER contends, however, that opening the door to this practice would "permit commercial-level harvest for Indian handicraft trade.  It would also allow felling of trees, stripping of bark and taking plants important to threatened and endangered species."

Additionally, the organization maintains that the Park Service lacks the legal authority to permit gathering of plants and minerals in parks where Congress has not explicitly permitted the practice.

“National parks should not be managed for political correctness.  By law, the national park system is supposed to be managed for ‘the common benefit of all the people of the United States,’” said Mr. Ruch. “Opening parks to ‘traditional’ and ‘cultural’ take of park resources by Indians will inevitably not be limited to Indians.  Nor do we know of a legal basis for protecting only the traditions of Indians and no one else.

“We are well aware that this is an emotional issue, with arguments on both sides,” he added. “What is crystal clear, however, is that this significant of a change cannot be dictated by administrative whim; it requires an act of Congress.”


What does this mean specifically?  Gathering rocks off the surface or digging mines?  Harvesting a few nuts and berries or stripping bark off trees?  Why the National Parks?  Are the plants and minerals only available there?

Why national parks? Because many parks are sacred to American Indian tribes and were for centuries before whites ever arrived. It's not just the plants, it's the plants in that particularl place.
For instance, for the Hopi, Hualapai, and Havasupai, Grand Canyon is as central and integral a place as a church for Christians. Thus, gathering a particular plant for a particular traditional ceremony is not the same when it's not done in Grand Canyon. Same with the Blackfeet and Glacier, as well as numerous other tribes and parks.

From what I've learned, many of these NPS units are their native lands and yielded some of the best natural resources.

For instance, I've heard that the obsidian used by many native tribes for tools and arrowheads often came from the Yellowstone area via trade.

NO. Aren't these the same people who got suction dredging banned in California because it "hurts the environment". Well, if they are taking plant material (seeds and whole plants) how can these plants replenish themselves. Sounds to me like they are hurting the enviroment so NO THEY SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO DO THIS.

Read M. Kat Anderson's "Tending the Wild." Even the first 5 pages. And Mark Spence's "Dispossessing the Wilderness." Our oh-so-noble park system is predicated on the forcible, often violent removal of Native peoples from their ancestral lands, lands that they had lived on and managed regeneratively for thousands of years. It has taken us about 200 to almost destroy it all. In many cases, lands that we consider "pristine wilderness" within National park boundaries are suffering from lack of careful, sustainable human use of plant materials-- some plants need human harvesting to flourish! I think this is one of the most hopeful things I've heard in a long time-- that the NPS is actually considering such a rule is wonderful.

Are you kidding me?  The Native Americans, who were here long before any of us and before national parks want to take some plants off land that has sustained their people for centuries and people are gripping?  The Native Americans have been caretakers of this great land long before we showed up, and did so without killing off all the animals or killing all the plants.  Come on people, they have always only taken what they needed to sustain themselves, they have no history of hoarding or overusing the land.  That label belongs to others.  If you need some "cause" to rally go after something that's truly a threat to our NPS plenty of them exist!!  This is a non issue.

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