Tribal leaders from across the Southeast, including President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson of Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, left; President Gloria Burns of the Ketchikan Indian Community, center; and Marina Anderson, Tribal Adminitrator of the Organized Village of Kaasan, right; and many others attended a consultation with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service last week to meet and set the ground for replacing protections for the Tongass National Forest. (Courtesy photo / CCTHITA)

Tribal leaders from across the Southeast, including President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson of Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, left; President Gloria Burns of the Ketchikan Indian Community, center; and Marina Anderson, Tribal Adminitrator of the Organized Village of Kaasan, right; and many others attended a consultation with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service last week to meet and set the ground for replacing protections for the Tongass National Forest. (Courtesy photo / CCTHITA)

Federal officials meet with Southeast tribal governments

The current administration says they’re trying to have a better relationship than the previous one.

Members of federally recognized tribal governments from across the Southeast met with representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service last week, including a Zoom meeting with the secretary of the USDA.

The Roadless Rule, rolled back under the former administration, has been a hot-button issue for communities in Southeast Alaska as they seek to protect large areas of the Tongass National Forest from logging and road construction.

“The Secretary of Agriculture came on the introduction and apologized for how it was handled previously. Now that he’s there, [he said] he wants to make amends,” said Lawrence Armour, tribal administrator with the Klawock Cooperative Administration, who took part in the meeting, in a phone interview. “They were extremely respectful and accommodating. I’m cautiously optimistic because it’s just the first consult.”

[Conditions unchanged for ex-chiropractor charged with sexual assaults]

The previous administration largely failed to listen to public comment or urging from tribal governments not to rollback the 2001 protections that were in place, participants said, when the USDA was headed by Sonny Perdue. Tom Vilsack, the current secretary of agriculture, also served in that position for the full length of the Obama administration.

“I appreciate them coming and talking with us and meeting in person, which has been a long time coming. Dealing with these agencies has never been easy,” said Joel Jackson, president of the Organized Village of Kake, in a phone interview. “They come with their agenda under the guise of consultation, and not really coming to mutual agreement about what we’re talking about.”

This initial meeting exists as government personnel work to repeal the rollback of Roadless Rule, Armour said, looking for the quickest way to get those protections back in place. In the eyes of many, it shouldn’t take that long.

“They stated it could take up to 6-8 months. That’s not acceptable, and we let them know that’s not acceptable to us. They said they had to go through the process and take public comment and that upset some people,” Jackson said. “It shouldn’t take all that time in our minds. But they say it has to. To say the least, we weren’t very happy. But that’s the way bureaucracy works.”

Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson was among tribal leaders to attend the consult. The organization posted about the meeting on social media, echoing the sentiments voiced by Jackson and Armour: regret for the conduct of the prior administration and a cautious hope for an improved relationship.

“Under the previous Administration, the Department of Agriculture took actions that adversely affected our livelihood and did so without meaningfully engaging in government-to-government tribal consultation,” the post said. “We are hopeful that under this new leadership, the USDA will rectify these critical issues relating to our traditional lands in the Tongass.”

Trust will come slow after many years of inaction or worse from government organizations, Jackson said.

“What we experienced in the past couple of years wasn’t consultation. It was the Forest Service telling us what they were going to do. That’s not consultation, that’s telling us,” Jackson said. “I’ve been a tribal council member for 30 years. It’s hard for me to take anybody’s word — especially the government.”

More consultation is planned for the future as the government looks at options for getting protections put back in place, Armour said.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of June 26

Here’s what to expect this week.

The Alaska Department of Health And Social Services building in Juneau has no visible signs indicating the department is splitting into two agencies as of Friday. Top officials at the department said many of the changes, both physical and in services, are likely weeks and in some cases months away. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Little sign of big change for DHSS

No commissioner at new department, other Dept. of Health and Social Services changes may take months

Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, 320 W. Willoughby Ave., will be open as a cooling center through Wednesday for elders who need a cool place during the ongoing heatwave. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Tlingit and Haida opens cooling center for elders

Keep your cool during the heatwave.

An Alaska Seaplanes Cessna 208A, seen here on the tarmac, suffered damage after failing to achieve takeoff near Elfin Cove on Sunday, June 26, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Alaska Seaplanes)
No one hurt after plane’s takeoff goes awry

The aircraft failed to achieve take off and hit the beach while leaving Elfin Cove.

A 13-year-old girl was medevaced Saturday after being struck by a vehicle near the crosswalk across Egan Drive by Gold Creek. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Teen in serious condition after SUV strikes bike

Juneau Police Department is investigating.

The Norwegian Sun sat moored in Juneau on Monday after striking striking ice Saturday afternoon near Yakutat Bay on its way to Skagway. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Update: Cruise ship that struck iceberg departs Juneau

It’s heading to Seattle for repairs.

Drag queen Gigi Monroe reads a book about a wig during Drag Storytime at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
One for the books: Drag Storytime returns

Balloons, books, bustin’ moves.

FILE - Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Sweeney's campaign manager said, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, that the campaign did not plan to sue over a finding released by Alaska elections officials stating that she cannot advance to the special election for U.S. House following the withdrawal of another candidate. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen, File)
Alaska Supreme Court ruling keeps Sweeney off House ballot

In a brief written order, the high court said it affirmed the decision of a Superior Court judge.

President Joe Biden signs into law S. 2938, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun safety bill, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 25, 2022. First lady Jill Biden looks on at right. (AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday.

Most Read