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Traditional and Modern Knowledge Intersect at Ocean Planning Conference

Tribes are partners in regional planning bodies across the United States that govern the use of ocean resources.

Treaty rights, keeping shipping lanes from crossing tribal fishing grounds, and making sure that telecommunications cables won’t be routed across shellfish beds—issues such as these have engendered the formation of various planning bodies that regularly meet to coordinate ocean activities.

“Our treaty rights is a big area that we need to protect,” said Clarinda “Pies” Underwood, a Councilwoman on the Quinault Tribal Council and editor of the Quinault tribal newspaper, at a recent meeting of a planning body on ocean policy that taps into the confluence of traditional indigenous knowledge and modern science.

“There are other entities such as federal and state that have activities happening in our treaty area, and this forces us to be involved,” Underwood said, noting that Quinault Indian Nation treaty rights are at stake. “The real reason (for attending) is for information gathering, which helps us manage the area, like we do on land.”

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Planning for the myriad uses of our oceans requires the efforts of numerous federal agencies, states, tribal nations and our military. Together they navigate and interpret about 100 laws, regulations and policies that affect them. It’s a system that’s difficult to coordinate, and often inefficient at best.

One of these entities, the West Coast Regional Planning Body (WCRPG), is a voluntary forum for dialogue, information sharing and coordination of marine and coastal planning activities along the Pacific Coast between 12 federally recognized tribal nations as well as state officials in Washington, Oregon, and California, federal government agencies, and the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

It is one of five regional planning bodies throughout the U.S., in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic, the West Coast, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean that have been working with regional partners and stakeholders since 2015 to identify the role of marine planning. They grew out of the National Ocean Policy, created by Executive Order in July 2010 and with a plan that has been in effect since April 2013.

The Planning Group met in Portland in late October in its second round of talks that engage in marine planning, which uses science- and information-based tools to meet management challenges created by multiple uses of the ocean. Representatives from federal agencies, the states, and tribal nations sat together at the table, listening to testimony and taking questions from myriad ocean stakeholders, matching advocacy and knowledge that will advance economic and energy development priorities, and will help meet conservation goals.

Tribes hope that this type of negotiation can ensure that, say, shipping lanes won’t cross over tribal fishing grounds. For instance Mike Chang of the Makah Tribe, located at the northwest tip of Washington State, publicly expressed concern that certain ocean uses could interfere with Makah whaling.

In his opening remarks National Ocean Council Director Deerin Babb-Brott asked the Planning Body to embrace the traditional knowledge of the tribes in the region.

RELATED: Ocean’s Rising Acidification Affecting Shellfish That Coastal Tribes Depend On

This meeting picked up from an earlier February 2016 gathering at which the Planning Body finalized the draft of its charter, the result of more than a year of dialogue and collaboration between tribal, state and federal members of the Planning Body. The charter represents the starting point for the activities and processes to be carried out.

Once it is approved, each tribal government and each federal agency will designate a primary and alternate representative to fill a single seat on the WCRPB, and each state will do the same for up to two seats.

Approval of the charter and participation in the WCRPB is voluntary for state and federally recognized tribal governments in the region. While all but one of the tribal nations have signed on to the charter, all of the coastal tribes participate in the Planning Body process, as do some that lie just inland of the coast, such as the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in Oregon, which has historical shellfish gathering ties to coastal areas, and ocean canoe traveling ties.

The second day of the conference saw several hours spent in tribal caucus, facilitated by Meagan Flier of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, in Oregon. Flier currently serves as the liaison between the tribes involved in the Planning Body.

As the meeting broke for lunch that second day, meeting co-chair John Stein, who is also the science and research director for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, nodded his approval.

“The meetings went well,” he told the Indian Country Today Media Network. “The tribal participation was valued.”

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