By Anita Hales
March 19, 2007
There were some valid arguments brought out by Native groups that should be addressed. There are traditional places that should be preserved and exempted from the prospect of timber harvest.
My advice to the Native groups would be to vigorously document that usage to be prepared for testimony and to argue your cause.
If you traditionally harvest in certain areas, get a census of those who do, citing when and where it occurs.
If you traditionally use areas for ceremonial use or have sacred areas, document it with evidence of those uses.
Get written testimony from Elders and others who use the area.
There were complaints during the testimony at the hearing that Native concerns fell on deaf ears. If you want to be taken seriously, you must have solid evidence not just emotional testimony. The emotional testimony will hit a lot harder when things are seen in black and white.
There was also a comment that the Natives have never given up title to the land. According to the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act, title claimed by Native groups has been dissolved.
In a summary of the Act, it says,
SECTION 4. Declaration of Settlement.
When Alaska Natives accepted the offerings of the Land Claims Act, they conveyed title to the Federal Government. This act serves the same purpose as the treaties in the Lower 48. Arguing that the Federal Government doesn't have title does little to add credibility to your argument. It might be best to leave that argument for another forum.
I hope that the Forest Service will take your traditional needs into consideration when making a decision about the EIS and adjust it to preserve Native traditions.
However, all Alaskans are part of this now. There must be room for progress as well as preservation. Roads which start out as logging roads can become roads to recreation and tradition as well. Let's make sure that the roads will not be closed to all of us once timber is harvested. A viable timber harvest with proper ecological and aboriginal concerns protected can help all Alaskans economically and in many other ways.
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