October 09, 2008
The Tongass is the nation's largest national forest at almost 17 million acres. It covers most of southeast Alaska from Yakutat in the north to the islands south of Ketchikan, and is comprised of large and pristine wilderness and National Monument areas.
Secretary Schafer was a keynote speaker for a ceremonial dinner and tribal dance to honor Shukaá Kaa, or "Man Ahead of Us," whose remains were found during a paleontological survey at a cave within the Tongass in 1996. The remains were determined to be 10,000 years old.
"I am deeply honored to be with you this evening," Schafer said. "This is an historic and deeply meaningful ceremony and I am privileged to represent the Forest Service tonight."
Tongass NF archaeologist Terry Fifield and Tribal Relations Program Manager John Autrey worked together with tribal governments and leaders on Prince of Wales to complete the repatriation and reburial of the remains. Their collaboration was a key factor in the remains being identified through DNA testing, and their being repatriated in 2007 under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.
Schafer added that the deep and abiding respect that the agency has for the tribal governments and the culture of the recognized tribes in southeast Alaska is a special relationship that will lead to many more positive steps in planning and managing both cultural and heritage sites and the natural resources across the Tongass.
"The Forest Service and the Tongass National Forest have acted as the stewards for much of Southeast Alaska for more than 100 years," Schafer continued, "But tonight we pay tribute to you, the traditional stewards of these lands and your most ancient ancestor we honor tonight, Shukaá Kaa. As advanced as our country and society have become, it has taken a man more than 10,000 years old to bring true understanding and partnership to the cultural and resource management here on the Tongass National Forest."
Schafer concluded his remarks with 'thank you' ('gunalsch-cheessh' in Tlingit), repeated three times as a sign of deep and heartfelt thanks. His remarks and his attendance at the ceremony brought a standing ovation from about 400 tribal and community members who attended the ceremonial dinner. Schafer was also invited to participate in the tribal dances later that evening, donning ceremonial and traditional garb and dancing with one of the native dance groups. The Secretary also attended the ceremonial Tribal Breakfast in Craig the following morning.
Schafer also toured the Tongass National Forest. He began his tour of the Tongass Friday, Sept. 26, flying over to northern Prince of Wales to tour and review the extensive karst (limestone) structures and cave systems that are key to the rich vegetation and vibrant rainforest ecosystem of the northern part of the island. The remains of Shukaá Kaa were found in a cave in the same area more than a decade ago.
Tongass Leadership Team members provided Secretary Schafer with some first-hand understanding of the majestic natural resources, recreation and tourism features of the Forest, as well as the complex management issues the agency faces in the region. The landscape of the Tongass is about 60-percent forested, with the rest made up of snow-capped rocky mountain ranges and glaciers. The region is home to a wide variety of fish and wildlife, making it a haven for sport fishing and hunting, wildlife viewing, and wilderness exploring.
Lead by Tongass Geologist Jim Baichtal and Recreation Planner Tory Houser, Schafer accompanied the Alaska Region Regional Forester, Denny Bschor, Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole, and Deputy Supervisor Becky Nourse, through the 600-plus foot El Capitan cave system that is open to guided tours.
The Secretary experienced the challenges of travel and work on the Tongass, taking float planes from Ketchikan to El Capitan, and then flying along the west coast of Prince of Wales to Craig. He toured the city of Craig's centralized wood fired boiler facility, which provides heat and hot water for three municipal buildings: the local elementary and middle schools, and the community swimming pool and recreation facility. Schafer also toured Viking Lumber in Klawock, the source of the woody biomass that powers the boiler in Craig. Owner and operator Kirk Dahlstrom explained the mill's operations, and talked timber with the Secretary during the 90-minute stop.
Following a tribal breakfast on Saturday, Schafer met with Master Totem Carver Jonathan Rowan, Jr., and toured the carving shed and clan house in Klawock. He also visited a remote Forest Service recreation cabin on a small island 10 miles west of the Craig Ranger District office. The Tongass has about 150 cabins, mostly in remote locations, including Wilderness and National Monument areas.
Schafer has made numerous visits
to locations all across Alaska, but this was his first visit
to southeast Alaska and the Tongass National Forest.
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