In response to climate change and forest decline in various regions of the U.S., in 2022, President Biden signed Executive Order 14072: Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies, which calls for conserving and safeguarding mature and old-growth forests.

As part of the executive order, an unprecedented investment is being made to create an inventory and assessment of risks to mature and old-growth forests across U.S. federal lands and to create partnerships with Tribal Nations to increase the sustainability and climate resilience of U.S. forests.

To address EO 14072, Cristina Eisenberg, the Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence and Maybelle Clark MacDonald Director of Tribal Initiatives in Natural Resources and Tom DeLuca, the Cheryl Ramberg Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the Oregon State University College of Forestry have been awarded a $1M USDA Forest Service grant to work with Forest Service leaders and Tribal Nation leaders to convene four Tribal roundtable meetings in the Pacific Northwest region. These meetings, developed in partnership with U.S. regional Tribal colleges, will be a complimentary form of Tribal engagement distinct from consultation, designed to help Tribal Nations consult on their own with the U.S. federal government as early as possible in the process of defining mature and old-growth forests. These meetings will also discuss what active adaptive stewardship that incorporates all ways of knowing, including Indigenous Knowledge (IK), might look like.

“Such a decolonized approach is distinct from and complementary to the traditional agency Tribal consultation approach, which is often a fraught process, with low participation,” said Eisenberg. “Tribal roundtable meetings will be based on principles of reciprocity and respect, fully honoring government-to-government relations and Tribal Sovereignty Rights. Furthermore, by decolonizing these Tribal roundtables, we will be creating a safe space for Tribal leaders to openly express their thoughts about Executive Order 14072, while protecting data sovereignty, data security and honoring Tribal Sovereignty.”

Tribes have stewarded forest lands in North America for the past 20,000 years, using IK, defined as the wisdom about the natural world that Indigenous Peoples have had since time immemorial. IK is a form of adaptive stewardship, also known as learning by doing, based on the premise that nature is our teacher, and that by listening to nature, we can learn what we need to know to thrive. IK is also rooted in the concept of reciprocity – that our relationships with nature should be based on resource use that is sustainable for future generations. While Western science is a powerful tool for learning, U.S. leaders and Tribal partners have concluded that ecocultural restoration is needed to achieve climate resilience. Ecocultural restoration is the process of bringing together the best Western science with IK in a form of adaptive stewardship called Two-Eyed Seeing.

The Indigenous-led Tribal roundtables program will also provide several jobs for Indigenous students and help support career development of Indigenous peoples, through mentorship and leadership development.

Each Tribal roundtable will:
• Be an in-person two-day gathering, hosted by the USDA Forest Service.
• Include elders and ceremony to open and close the gathering
• Include traditional foods (e.g., salmon and huckleberries in the PNW)
• Be a closed event, to create a safe, decolonized space for speaking openly

Upon completion, the program will deliver a formal report to Congress to express the thoughts and feelings of Native people about mature and old-growth forests. All Tribal participants will be invited to co-author any materials produced from this event. The first Tribal roundtable meeting will convene PNW Tribes in early 2024.

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