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At the annual General Assembly of the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska in 2008, Alaska Regional Forester Dennis Bschor and Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forest Cole acknowledged the removal of Alaska Native fish camps, smokehouses and cabins by the Forest Service in the mid-1900s.
"I am here today to stand before you and acknowledge that these things happened, that the Forest Service, in its efforts to manage uses of the Tongass National Forest, did burn and remove many fish camps, cabins and smokehouses that once belonged to Alaska Native families and clans," Bschor said then.
With the removal of fish camps and smokehouses, an essential aspect of the traditional pattern of life was lost. Opportunities for families to work together harvesting fish, to pass cultural knowledge from one generation to the next, and to learn respectful ways of harvesting and processing traditional foods were diminished. Alaska Native identity was seriously damaged with the loss of the seasonal camps.
By acknowledging the past, Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the Forest Service paved the way for respectful and honorable relationships, and continued partnerships.
On April 21, that acknowledgment was commemorated with the presentation of two ceremonial staffs from the Forest Service to the Central Council during the 75th annual Tribal Assembly of the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Central Council is the governing body for more than 27,000 tribal citizens.
Lillian Petershoare, Tribal Government Relations specialist for the Alaska Region, coordinated the creation and presentation of the staffs.
"To me, the staffs represented our integrity; a representation of our good will," she said. "The acknowledgement ceremony (in 2008) was a beautiful thing to have happened. At that ceremony we heard, for the first time, tribal elders say, "this is the first time I"m using the word, 'trust' when working with the Forest Service."
"We did a series of interviews after the acknowledgement ceremony (in 2008) and would get comments where people would say, 'I would visit district ranger offices and I never really felt welcome but now I know that the Forest Service wants to work with the tribes,'" Petershoare said. "We had a huge paradigm shift take place. You would talk to people about it and you could feel the anger, the pain, the hurt. In acknowledging this, that was pretty tremendous."
Deputy Regional Forester Paul Brewster also attended the ceremony.
"The ceremony had a deep impact on me," he said. "By acknowledging the past, Central Council and the Forest Service have paved the way for respectful and honorable relationships and continued partnerships. My hope is that these staffs will serve as a powerful symbol for our future relations."
Forest Service Tribal Relations Liaison Donald Frank, his son Steven Frank and Angoon resident Jamie Daniels carved the staffs. One depicts a raven, the other depicts an eagle. The eagle and the raven are symbols of unity between the Tlingit and Haida people in Southeast Alaska. Each staff has a plaque commemorating the 2008 announcement.