CHEROKEE, NC (November 6, 2022) – The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and National Forests in North Carolina have collaboratively developed a Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA) proposal, the first of its kind in the USDA Forest Service (FS) Southern Region.
EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed and FS Regional Forester Ken Arney will sign the proposal today in a ceremony in Cherokee, NC. The signing ceremony at 5:30 p.m. precedes the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tour celebration at Oconaluftee Island Park.
“Our people have always maintained a strong connection to the earth. Cherokee culture is imbued with gratitude for our land and its countless resources,” Chief Sneed stated in preparation for this event. When asked about the importance of this year’s U.S. Capitol Tree being harvested in North Carolina, he replied, “The famous capitol Christmas tree was harvested in Pisgah National Forest this year, within the boundaries of our people’s historical homelands. We are proud to have partnered with the U.S. Forest Service in sharing this gift from our traditional land to provide for this historical occasion. It serves as a representation of our people and our beautiful home.”
EBCI Tribal Council unanimously approved a TFPA proposal for forest management assistance on nearly 54,000 acres of tribal forestlands near the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. EBCI already has a strong relationship with the Forest Service, helping to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge into forest management.
“I deeply value the relationship that has developed between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and our Forest Service team,” Arney said. “It is engagement and commitment like this that allows us to manage the landscapes for mutual benefit.“
Managing fire and white oak are important elements of Cherokee relationships with forests in the Southern Appalachians. Settlement, logging, and fire exclusion have altered forests and impacted culturally important forest products and practices. Integrating artisan and traditional ecological knowledge with silvicultural and fire research will inform forest management. Planned work includes prescribed fire, treating non-native and invasive species, and managing species and places valued by tribal members. Projects will provide multiple benefits to the Forest Service, EBCI, and the local community, including restoring forest resiliency and productivity.
“Our partnership with the U.S. Forest Service is a testament to what can be achieved for tribes when representatives of the government come to table with genuine, meaningful thoughts and dialogue. We have been able to advance our tribal interests, such as strategic forest management, along with pursuing mutually beneficial goals and objectives, that at the foundation of it all, co-stewardship of lands that we all come home,” said Joey Owle, Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“Tribal connections in Western North Carolina extend to time immemorial. As co-stewards of the national forests, we’ll continue working together to manage forests for shared values while simultaneously reducing fire risk, making forests resilient to climate change, and protecting places of tribal significance,” said National Forests in North Carolina Forest Supervisor James Melonas.