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American Indian Advisory Council to help in management of Black Hills

CRAZY HORSE, S.D. - Plans for a Tribal Leaders Advisory Council to work
with the National Forest Service are moving forward and memorandums of
agreement will be signed in the near future so tribes will have input on
the management and protection of sacred sites within their ancestral lands.

The Black Hills Forest Service brought tribal leaders, elders and officials
together with National Forest Service personnel to discuss the prospect of
an advisory council. More consultation will take place to work out the

A policy for an advisory council has been written for the Black Hills and
on the national level, but neither policy has been set in stone and both
are up for more discussion and input.

No detailed discussions took place at the Feb. 22 - 23 gathering, but the
ideas presented by tribal elders, leaders and officials brought a more
in-depth understanding of the challenges that must be overcome to create
the MOA and a policy.

Conference attendees generally favored creating an MOA to form the council,
but the waters became muddied when it came to deciding who would be
appointed and the council's policy.

"Looking for something ... 'one size fits all' may be difficult," said
Charles Colombe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe president.

The council could range from young people to elders, from elected officials
to spiritual leaders. One goal may be difficult: keeping the council a
manageable size. Colombe said the Rosebud Treaty Council is important in
decision-making for the tribal government and should have input for the
council. Sinte Gleska University is part of the Rosebud Reservation's
overall climate and, like many other tribal colleges and universities,
could offer any council quality input.

The Black Hills National Forest Service made its first attempt to include
the tribal communities in 1999; bi-annual meetings took place with 14
tribal governments, and an MOA was written. The MOA wording today is
flexible and a blank page could be presented to start from scratch, said
Dave McKee, tribal liaison with the Black Hills National Forest Service.

Any MOA and advisory council will tackle numerous issues: timber sales,
identification of cultural sites, proscribed burning, sale and gathering of
herbs and plants, traditional plant identification and hunting and public
access. Tim Mentz, Tribal Historic Preservation officer for the Standing
Rock Sioux Tribe, said it was imperative that confidentiality be protected
so location and use of certain herbs and plants are not made public.
Another sticking point is that Freedom of Information Act requests could
uncover details that tribal spiritual leaders and medicine people try to
keep quiet.

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Consultation is complex and challenges to meaningful consultation could be
alleviated with a well-conceived MOA, tribal and forest officials agreed.

"There is an inconsistent consultation process; everyone does it different,
and I also feel the frustration. We can develop a consistent process of
consultation or borrow ideas. Consistency is the key," McKee said.

Concerned about the level of consultation, Mentz asked whether former
President Bill Clinton's executive order directing consultation at the
government-to-government level was to be used. The question puzzled the
Forest Service also. McKee said he hoped designated tribal members on the
advisory council would provide the answer.

By virtue of the treaty of 1868, the Sioux Nation retained timber, water
and rights to hunting and gathering, as do other tribes across the nation.
With input on the mission of an advisory council, nationally and locally,
those rights could be exercised fully.

Some culturally important sites in the Black Hills have been off-limits to
the general public and tribal members. A canyon containing petroglyphs has
been used as a ceremonial site, but youth and elders were turned away in
recent trips to the canyon. Policy changes to allow tribal members access
to sacred and cultural sites is a goal of the tribal members, and many said
an advisory council could help bring that about.

This meeting and others like it add to tribal members' healing process,
which will see a flood of people, elders, youth and elected tribal leaders
working toward the preservation of culture and sacred sites across the

"This reflects dialogue and input the national team received across the
nation. We heard the establishment of a national council would go a long
way to healing," said Mit Parsons, special assistant to the deputy chief of
the State and Private Forest Service division of the National Forest
Service. "It will take some courage for tribes to sign a memorandum of
understanding, and it will take some courage for the Forest Service. It
will require real thinking outside the box.

"What you do here will be followed nationally; how significant, when you
have the Black Hills with so many tribes from such a [wide] geographic
area. I'm hoping that we will hear miles from here that the MOU is signed
and in place. I don't see why nationally this couldn't be a role model."

For more information see page B1.