National Park Service issues new policy guidance to strengthen Tribal co-stewardship of national park lands and waters
September 14, 2022
WASHINGTON - The National Park Service (NPS) today released new guidance to improve federal stewardship of national park lands and waters by strengthening the role of American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, Alaska Natives entities, and the Native Hawaiian Community in federal land management. The new co-stewardship policy provides a stronger framework – beyond traditional consultation – to help park managers facilitate and support working relationships with Tribes.
“All national parks are located on Indigenous ancestral lands and this policy will help ensure Tribal governments have an equal voice in the planning and management of them,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams. “I have been an advocate for co-stewardship of federal lands for more than 27 years and I am pleased to see a national emphasis placed on this necessary work. Through increased and collaborative engagement with Tribes, Alaska Native entities, and the Native Hawaiian Community, we will make better land management decisions, acknowledge and hopefully heal some deep wounds, benefit from Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and better interpret the history of the lands we administer and all the plants and animals that live in them.”
The Department of the Interior today announced that in addition to NPS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management also released co-stewardship policies, supporting an all-of-government approach to inclusive and equitable federal land management. The new NPS policy guidance will help further the directives from Joint Secretarial Order 3403 – signed by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture during the 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit – which outlines how the two Departments will strengthen Tribal co-stewardship efforts.
The new NPS policy supports co-stewardship of national park lands and waters through working relationships with American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, relevant Alaska Native entities, and the Native Hawaiian Community. Co-stewardship is a broad term that includes formal co-management (through legal authorities), collaborative and cooperative management (often accomplished through agreements), and self-governance agreements (including annual funding agreements).
Currently, the NPS has more than 80 co-stewardship agreements, four of which outline co-management of parks (Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Grand Portage National Monument, and Big Cypress National Preserve). The NPS is committed to identifying and increasing co-stewardship through opportunities like these:
• Acadia National Park has been involved in a multi-year project with the Wabanaki Nations of Maine on traditional gathering of sweetgrass within the park. The interdisciplinary work focuses on Wabanaki stewardship approaches through centuries of learned Indigenous knowledge, as well as cultural protocols to assert Indigenous sovereignty within natural and cultural resource management on ancestral lands. This research project aims to provide a template of culturally appropriate engagement between Native American gatherers and national parks. The results of the project have proven how effective incorporation of Indigenous knowledge can be, how plant gathering has a positive impact on the plant colonies when gathered in a culturally appropriate traditional manner, and how beneficial it is to include this knowledge at the initial stages of a project.
• Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island have cooperative agreements in place with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohicans, the Delaware Tribe of Indians, and the Delaware Nation. The agreements were critical pieces of the park’s efforts to greatly improve visitor experiences on Liberty Island and Ellis Island. In addition to increasing access to park areas and improving security screening, Tribal consultation resulted in a project to beautify Liberty Island through plantings and landscape changes.
• Mount Rainier National Park is currently collaborating with the Nisqually Tribe to publish a report on the results of five years of traditional plant gathering research on three species traditionally harvested by Nisqually tribal members on Mount Rainier. It will offer summary considerations and recommendations for administering traditional plant gathering activities in a manner that minimizes impact to harvested plants and associated plant communities. Furthermore, consultation with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Yakama Nation helped develop the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center exhibits to give visitors historical and contemporary context of the traditionally associated Taidnapam.
The new NPS policy released today cements and expands existing NPS policies and practices related to co-stewardship and supplements existing guidance found in Executive Orders, Presidential Memoranda, statutes, regulations, judicial decisions, Secretary’s Orders, and other Departmental guidance.