EUROPEANS brought with them a series of convenient rationales for assuming control of the land. Prominent among these was the belief that Indians did not truly manage or even fully utilize the land; that the land was essentially an untouched wilderness, and that before the coming of Europeans the landscape was a 'natural' occurrence, unaugmented by human purpose, under-utilized and unmanaged by any agencies other than those of nature itself. In the past 25 years a slow groundswell of ethnographic and land management literature has come to recognize the role of Native American land management practices.1
1 [We would like to make clear that our work in the forest is land management. However, this is not a style of management which violates and attempts to overwhelm the nature of Nature, but an approach which is drawn from human need and responsibility based on close observation of the processes of nature.]
The President's memorandum of April 29, 1994 concerning government-to- government relations between USA Federal and Native American tribal governments, requires recognition that the cultural resources and values of tribes constitute "a unique and distinctive political relationship." As a result, tribal views cannot be classified simply as being on a par with those of other groups, such as recreationists, who in some manner utilize this area. Tribal sovereignty and government-to-government relations between the Karuk and the government of the United States now require government agencies to meet with us on a regular basis and make explicit certain rights within ancestral territory. Only recently have federal management agencies such as the Forest Service begun to realize that tribal involvement, together with that of the interested public, is necessary for the creation of a more adequate model of land management. Cooperative working relationships between the Tribe, the Forest Service and the public need to be encouraged and recognized as a necessary component of National Forest management. For our part, we bring with us to the new, ecologically based paradigm of land management the potential for unprecedented cooperation and significant contributions to the well-being of the forest. Ecologically-based management is neither new nor questionable to us. Indeed, it is the only management strategy which has ever worked. We are currently engaged in the development of institutional and political arrangements which will allow the Tribe to move in the direction of co-management of ancestral territory with the various arms of government, such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, which currently manage these lands. At the same time we must struggle with developing a tribal infrastructure which will allow full participation as opportunities arise.
The Karuk tribe inhabits some 1.4 million acres of ancestral homeland in northern California. This forested, steeply mountainous country through which the Klamath and Salmon Rivers flow, has been the home of Karuk people for thousands of years. Over this immense span of time the Karuk people developed land management to a fine science. These traditional management skills have never been fully recognized by Forest Service land managers and pre-contact land management was thought to have been purely a matter of natural processes. The systematic destruction of indigenous peoples without acknowledging the validity of their land management skills has been a world-wide effect of colonialism, extinguishing finely-developed, well-tuned techniques for sustainable management of ecosystems. These systems of management were maintained from the grass roots level and not by a powerful command structure imposing its will on the land.
While pioneer-age documents reveal an early recognition of the effect of Indian management in creating the park-like landscape encountered by the first Europeans to reach the far west, this awareness was soon overwhelmed in the juggernaut of gold fever and domination of the continent by the United States. Largely through the use of controlled burning, native peoples had created the astonishingly productive, varied and healthy landscapes which the first Europeans mistakenly assumed was solely the work of natural, not cultural processes. While this research was slow to find acceptance among federal land managers, it was no news to the Karuk people of the Salmon and Klamath Rivers.
The Karuk use of fire as a land management tool was complex and multi-faceted. As with other ceremonial and religious aspects of Karuk culture, the role of fire was one to be contemplated and learned from at the deepest levels. Johnny Bennett was a lifelong resident of the Salmon River country and a nephew of the famous Karuk Indian "Squirrel Jim." In the following statement, Mr Bennett discusses his sense of an appropriate relationship of humans to the process of natural succession. He considers the evolution of the forest to be a complex process, not entirely comprehensible, but nevertheless subject to penetrating study. One of the aims is to bring cultural processes into agreement with those of nature. This non-dominating but purposeful relationship to nature is enriched and raised to the level of philosophy by the contemplative quality of his observations. These considerations of the relationship between lightning, biological evolution and cultural practices reflect a uniquely Karuk perspective which is simultaneously sacred and utilitarian. He says:
"I'd like to know what the fire's for. I'd just like to know what was the fire for in a lightning, why did it have to burn? It's for some cause now. It could storm without that, y'know, but it had to burn. I think about it many times. The old Indians say the creator made it that way to clean out the forest. In places where it hit there would be a burn out, y'know, and they never put it out. They'd push it back up the mountain and it would burn... They wouldn't bother it because they claim it was put there for some cause, and they said it was good because they could sneak up on their game, pick up their acorns, and it generally never damaged much."
The history of Karuk adaptation is characterized by sustainability without landbase degradation. The ecosystem encountered by Euro-Americans in the mid-19th century had been created by tribal people. Their land management knowledge was derived through close observation of the processes of nature, e.g., fires started by lightning toward the top of a ridge burned downslope cooler than fires which were burning up a ridge. Such observations were then applied to the intentional and purposive management of the land and were fine-tuned over a period of time to include additional considerations such as time of year, humidity, wind and temperature. Despite the success of Karuk land management strategies, the Forest Service has opposed the use of controlled burns until recently, and even now continues to resist tribal input into this process which the Karuk are attempting to recreate.
Wildlife biologists have recently begun to consider certain "indicator species" of plants and animals in making management decisions. The Karuk also refer to indicator species in their understanding of nature and the sacred. The role in nature of the Pacific giant salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) provides an apt example of the differences and similarities in perspective between western biology and Karuk culture. In Karuk mythology the Pacific giant salamander (pu'f-puuf in the Karuk language) assumes the responsibility of purifying water, being placed here by the Creator and delegated the specific function of water purifier. The evidence lies in both legend and the empirical observation that where in the past pu'f-puuf and pure water were both present, the absence of the salamander in these same streams and springs is an unfailing indicator that something is wrong with the water. That in turn is a sure sign that something is not right in the watershed.
Norman Goodwin, a contemporary Karuk ceremonial leader descended from medicine people on both the maternal and paternal sides of his family, considers the role of pu'f-puuf in the following statement:
"This salamander brings luck to you. When it comes to visit your home, that's a good omen, good luck. I remember when I was a kid, my grandfather used to have Karuk tobacco which he gave to pu'f-puuf. He would put him in a basket and take him down to a spring. He used to say in Karuk, 'I'm going to help you. You are not in a good place. There are children around and somebody might step on you.' You see them in springs. They don't stay there [in one spring] all the time. I guess they just do their thing [purifying the water] and go on to the next one [spring]. They don't live in a certain spring. You don't see them travelling around like other salamanders. They are a very spiritual and sacred animal. Lots of people are scared of them. They won't harm you. They have respect for you, and you must respect them. They're sacred, you know. They're here for a good purpose."
Like the Karuk, academically-trained wildlife biologists recognize a relationship between the Pacific giant salamander and water purity. However, because they see the presence of the salamander in the water as just an indication and not the cause of water purity, the value of the Indian insight of this relationship is discounted. In turn, the Karuk perspective focuses less on specific cause and effect relations and is more concerned with the landscape as filled with spiritual significance and relationships.
Having a sense of the sacred at the heart of land management serves as a great stabilizing influence, one which constantly reaffirms the responsibility of humans to the rest of creation. The Karuk have at a central place in their attitudes toward nature and sacred ceremonies, the profound sense that the role of this tribe is to fix the world each year, making right the wrongs of the past seasons. Traditionally this has referred to reaffirming behaviour and perspectives which promote concerned and sustainable relations with nature. Having evolved over an immense period of time, Karuk land management finds multiple expression - environmental knowledge, technical and ritual practices, underlying attitudes toward nature and a conception of the role of humans in the natural system which is one of responsibility to all other living creatures. One aspect of this sense of the sacred is that one would never lie about or misuse a sacred relationship or responsibility. Similarly, the sacred associations and affinities held by the Karuk for their ancestral landscapes translate into that which would never be slighted or abandoned.
The Karuk, speaking on behalf of a sovereign aboriginal people, recognize that "rational or technical answers" are in themselves insufficient to comprehend the forest landscape as an inclusive system. Purely rational and technical approaches, unaugmented by a sense of the sacred or by the sensibilities specific to place, will necessarily become destructive and irrational over time in the search to achieve narrow purposes, necessarily ignoring consequences which are inconsistent with these ends. Technical knowledge in itself is insufficient to interpret the multi-leveled complexity of natural systems. Rational and technical approaches do have a role in tribal reckoning, but only as aspects of more inclusive approaches to knowledge.
Many of our common understandings elude specialists, although these comprehensions of connectedness do not require the accumulated experience and wisdom of a tribal elder or traditionalist. Simply being who we are and where we are has taught us some fundamental holistic sensibilities familiar to Karuk people of all ages. Consistent with this holistic view, forest health has always been and remains a central concern for the Karuk. Sustaining and putting into practice traditional technologies and perspectives in the post-contact forests of ancestral territory requires a paradigmatic shift on the part of Forest Service management, focusing not on resource extraction but on forest health. Placing forest health at the centre of management goals would in turn create a management environment more conducive to the recognition of traditional environmental knowledge.
Traditional Karuk environmental values may be best understood through an examination of specific cultural practices or institutional arrangements. The first salmon ceremony was an event in which the Medicine Man, a spiritual and ritual leader, cooked and ate the first salmon in the yearly fall run. Prior to this event, salmon were allowed to pass unimpeded to their spawning ground in order to guarantee future generations of this resource. This ceremony required complex institutional working relations between those tribes living along the Klamath River from its mouth at the Pacific Ocean to the headwaters deep in what is now Oregon. The prohibition on individuals taking salmon before this ceremony was of such gravity and was so strict that bad luck resulted from infractions as subtle as even viewing the smoke from the fire which cooked the first salmon. A person who raised his/her head and looked at the smoke might also view the medicine man at his tasks and this was said to have repercussions such as being bitten by a rattlesnake in the year to follow.
Taking forest health as our central
concern requires consideration of the forest as an inclusive system. Consequently,
we do not feel that development of zones of exclusion is a management strategy
that will propagate threatened species and promote their long-term survival.
Alternatives to management for individual species should be examined. Presently,
studies identify habitat for particular species, whether it be peregrine
falcons, goshawks, or northern spotted owl. In time, as additional threatened
species are identified, the forest map will be covered with overlapping
avoidance circles. The alternative style of land management is not to manage
for individual species, but to manage the overall landscape in such a way
that endangered species survive and thrive.
This perspective requires coordinated management of large tracts of landscape, rather than drawing exclusionary protective circles in which the present population of whatever species of concern exists.
Fishery restoration is an issue of
profound significance to the tribe. The tribes of the Klamath Basin have
a unique relation with anadromous2 fishery.
2 [ascending, going upstream; applied to sea fish spawning in rivers]
Although there are attempts to limit tribal voices regarding fishery issues, for the Karuk anadromous fishery is the premier example of a cultural resource. To say that some issues within ancestral territory are appropriate to tribal involvement while others are not, is not a conception of resource management acceptable to the tribe, or to the land. The dependence of the tribes on these fish, and the spiritual relationship that exists with them, makes it essential for the Karuk to be involved in all aspects of fisheries management and habitat restoration.
Our fishery-related interests extend to general land management practices that affect the health and vitality of fisheries. Many timber harvests must be considered as rearrangements of fish habitat, and cannot be separated from issues of fishery health. Forest Service reliance on specialists reflects the divergence from holistic tribal perspectives, the division of cultural resources into discrete islands on maps. Such compartmentalized perspectives are in fundamental conflict with tribal approaches to the land and do not provide a basis for effective land management.
The division of agency resource management into isolated spheres of interest has led to situations in which fishery biologists focus on riparian corridors and largely ignore upslope factors, such as clear cuts or burned areas fifty feet above a narrow stream course which are likely to carry levels of silt lethal to fish into the streams. This situation underlines the necessity of involvng the Karuk in all aspects of resource management as it is only they who have the broad-scale grasp of history and the closeness of experience which translates into management wisdom - the recognition of long-term consequences. Tribal leaders and land managers, unlike retirees or agency professionals, even those who work in a specific forest with the intention of retiring in that area, cannot restrict their thinking to the span of their own contact and involvement with the forest. Native Americans grappling with issues of forest management traditionally think in terms of two or three hundred years for the long-term good of the land and of future generations.
Karuk responses to their environment are the result of culturally directed life-long observation of nature and the landscape. This trait of patiently observing nature continues to be much admired in Karuk culture. Among contemporary Karuk people the origins of this trait are often discussed and debated. Is it genetic, having been selected through countless generations, or does the tendency to observe quietly and consistently originate in the womb, encouraged by the mother's prayerful thoughts for the path of watchfulness and balance to which the life of the yet unborn is directed? Irrespective of how this question might be answered, such tendencies are unquestionably encouraged by the cultural practice among the Karuk of strapping their children into a cradle basket from birth. Non-Indians are often observed to be appalled by the rapidity with which a young child is moved through the process of being strapped into the basket. The child is laid onto a blanket, two or three quick tucks are made and the child is placed into the basket, tied snugly with arms by the side, effectively immobilized. This practice is often observed from the very first day of an infant's life. For extended periods throughout each day the child is left with no other option but to observe, from birth until the time they can walk. Even then it is not uncommon for young children to seek out and voluntarily submit themselves to the familiar comforting snugness of their baskets when tired or cranky.
There is no more profoundly formative time than these first two or three years and the essential experience of early childhood undoubtedly carries over into adult perceptions. Where Indian children understand from their earliest and most consistent experience that their needs are cared for as part of larger schedules and relationships, non-Indian children often tend to be catered to in the larger society, becoming the dominant and displaying personality within the family structure. In contrast, Indian children have early on been placed in a life trajectory which establishes, at the deepest levels of mind, habits of quiet observation and a sense that they are not necessarily in control of, or at the centre of the world around them. The projection of this perspective into environmental relations leads to a spirit of care-taking and non-domination of nature. When people's actions are influenced by keen observations of nature, they are much less likely to attempt to dominate or desire to change natural processes.
No matter what specifics of management practices have been lost, the system as a whole can be revitalized by the same order of close observation which initially put into place the system of aboriginal land management. This perspective requires a concentration on the nature and needs of the whole system, and the links between that larger system and human beings with a unique potential for affecting the system - positively as well as negatively.
Bringing non-European perspectives and sensibilities to the table with the Forest Service often presents cross-cultural difficulties. Cross-cultural dialogue has an inherent potential for misunderstanding and persuading scientists that tribal people are knowledgeable land managers has proven to be a formidable challenge.
Acts of creation, in Karuk mythos, were largely conducted by trickster figures such as the Coyote, who are quite removed from the European sense of 'God the Father.' Creation by an act of the trickster recognizes all the complex processes of life - accidents, deaths, and sexual urges which impel creatures to act in ways which are only somewhat controllable. The truly religious aspect of this perspective is the spiritual linkage. Karuk beliefs - as exemplified in the world renewal ceremonies and creation myths, connect people from childhood to an awareness of relationship and responsibility. Recently the Karuk Chairman, Alvis Johnson, spoke to this sensibility as he recalled:
"Talking about those old stories grandpa used to tell us when we were kids... 'You know we were all animals' - animal people, I guess you'd call them. 'Put yourself in that context.' Used to tell us these old stories, 'just lay there on the floor, put yourself in the position of that animal going through the steps... That's me, going through the steps - how this came about, how this came about."
This relationship to other creatures has quite a different emphasis from that of western religions, which focus almost entirely on a creator which is a projection of human power, one which ignores the spiritual link and responsibility to the earth.
Probably the most obvious difference which exists between western civilization and Karuk society, is the tendency of western civilizations to separate - church and state, mind and body. And the ideas of church which they do recognize as legitimate are very limited. They believe it is of great importance to debate those issues of separation, but the heart of the question is never debated, i.e., whether they can be separated. It is taken as a matter of fact. The fine distinctions of who and what and why we are going to separate are constantly debated by the courts and society at large in an attempt to define those distinctions without examining the question of separation at more fundamental levels. Another way of stating this issue is to question what would constitute a working, spiritual link between humans and the environment.
When religion is nothing more than a sequence of rituals with no belief behind it, it makes for a hollow shell and does not influence destructive phenomena in society such as greed. These perspectives defined by divisions and 'set-asides' are not spiritual in nature and are not characterized by a sense of identification and responsibility. Such a religion seems hollow to us as it does not contribute to morals and a sense of right and wrong. If the sense of the spiritual linkage has been reduced to ritual expression influenced by special interests in society, then it will not have the necessary positive effect on people - and how they treat one another, the land and other creatures. When such considerations are conveniently separated, rationalization and justification of profit, greed and power become second nature. You can destroy yourself, other people or the planet with a clear conscience because part of yourself is not connected to that.
What is needed therefore is not simply another state-recognized religion serving to validate the position of those in power. The question is one of how to develop a link between awareness and relation to the earth at that deeper level of mind which will not be violated or sold out. That is never approached in the West. This is the great divergence between our two ways of approaching life at the fundamental level of how people think and relate to the world around them. This remains one of the key points in our struggles to assume land management responsibilities.
Government perspectives reflect a culture that has separated itself to the point that it cannot bring into the dialogue that deeper level of relationship to the concerns being voiced. Religion which is a matter of once a week, for a couple of hours, in a special place, will always tend to be separate from the rest of life. "We won't talk about it during the rest of the week or we might be mixing the two parts. We'll go and try and fix any of the damage that was done during that brief time set aside." Other than that, there is a constant, conscious effort to keep that spiritual level of responsibility to the land at arm's length and not let it influence management practices. That separation allows them to come up with some of the warped notions that are inonsistent even with their own religious teachings.
Among the Karuk, the spiritual emerges from a contemplation of the nature of Nature. This is not a sense of nature which is a narrow projection of rich and powerful mentalities. It is nature understood as a corrective process. With us the relationship to the land is an inclusive way of life in which the spiritual link is constantly re-emerging and making clear consequences which cannot be ignored. That linkage is a part of every consideration. It is a part of every act of survival. The artificial and purposive cutting apart of the whole picture by managing agencies is one of our constant problems in working to bring back a healthy landscape. While Indian perspectives always consider responsibility to future generations, the land management perspectives we and the forests have suffered under have largely ignored this linkage. Each generation sees little connection between itself and the succeeding generation other than the closest of relationships such as parents and children. There is essentially no link to the generations to follow for those who rape the planet and exploit other humans. It cannot be, the two are incommensurate. For the Karuk, the sense of obligation over generations is a way of life.
Looking ahead to the long-term management of ancestral territory, only the Karuk people provide a thread of stability and multi-level pragmatic and spiritual connections with this landscape. In the past 100 years we have observed numerous changes in National Forest land management policies. In recent decades the land and people have suffered from reckless over-reliance on herbicides, massive clear cuts in areas of highly unstable soil, the forced cessation of controlled tribal burning practices and the resultant development of frequent cycles catastrophic wildfires. In these times of rapidly changing conceptions of land management, the Karuk people have at their command the knowledge and traditions necessary to rehabiltate and sustain the landscape. Effective collaboration between the tribe and the Forest Service offers the surest means of achieving stable and sustainable forest management.
In the past two years the tribe has begun a series of collaborative projects with the Forest Service. In a tribal module located within a larger Forest Service watershed analysis document, we addressed many specific management issues. The following examples from this document suggest the range of our concerns.
We anticipate a growing range of cooperative management efforts and restoration projects between the Forest Service and the Karuk as a consequence of a series of convergent influences - timber gridlock has brought to national attention the problems occurring in forest lands managed by federal agencies. Government-to-government relations between the tribe and the federal government have contributed to a regularized and more equivalent dialogue, while the Karuk Department of Natural Resources has been instrumental in fostering a close working relationship with Forest administrators. Co-management with state and federal resource agencies is the most fundamental of the range of opportunites presented by these developments. Operating within a familiar and inclusive model of the ecosystem will allow the tribe to contribute substantially to the stability of the land and to the success of this new management model.
While conflict between commercial timber values and emerging environmental values are now broadly acknowledged, there is less awareness of the legitimate role of Native American values and the perspectives of tribal governments. For the Karuk, 'forest dependence' is much broader than a narrow economic relationship to logging and the wood products industry. Forest tourism or the forest as a retiremrent locale are not areas through which the Karuk seek to forge its future relationship to the land. Native American relations to ancestral lands are arguably the most multi-layered of such relationships.
Given these circumstances, we call for future tribal research, including identification, and mapping of cultural and natural resources within Karuk ancestral lands as a necessary step toward full recognition and realistic inclusion of tribal concerns into forest management directions. For the Karuk, the most desirable state for the future is the return of this land to its former state of health, diversity, and productivity. We must avoid forest planning driven by the interests of softwood production (as in the recent past) or by recreation developments as could be the course of the future.
We should not allow land and resource management to be driven by outside pressures. To illustrate this dynamic, large sections of the Salmon River Road are narrow and hazardous. Problems range from poor horizontal alignment and sight distance, to inadequate widths. While it makes sense to some federal officials to seek funding to develop and 'improve' this road, the tribe does not want to see major construction initiated with the goal of widening the Salmon River Road. The limitations imposed by this road system are among the most valuable attributes of the landscape, providing an in-place check on future development pressures. Resource management based on outside pressures will necessarily spiral out of control providing ever more services on demand. Land management and planning should provide informed direction, so that the landscape is protected from thoughtless impacts, whether these result from hydraulic mining, an economy solely dependent on softwood timber, or the use of recreation vehicles. Positive, proactive management requires development of responsible, informed decisions thst will protect the overall resource which is the landscape. Reactive management will not sustain those resources which the Forest Service, like the Karuk, has an obligation to protect.
There is potential for serious disruption
of local communities in the future if the expansion of recreation is not
shaped and monitored with local interests in mind. We feel strongly that
local benefits should always be realized in return for the use of local
resources. Recreation activities can be developed with these goals in mind,
but left to its own devices, the free market economy will shape the growth
of recreation to the same pattern seen in the history of mining and logging,
where resources were extracted without responsibility to affected communities
or the land. In reality, very little economic diversification occurs without
careful planning due to the imbalance of power between outside and local
interests. Purposeful management requires the conscious development of
just such a balance for the good of the environment and of local communities.
The Karuk have never supported and remain opposed to Congressional quotas
which mandate timber outputs of the National Forest system without concern
for the source. In recent years Karuk involvement, along with that of the
interested public, has been necessary for the creation of a more adequate
model of land management. Cooperative working relationships between the
public, the Karuk, and Forest Service personnel should be encouraged and
recognized as a management opportunity. At another level, we are keenly
aware of our place in a world-wide community of tribal peoples struggling
to balance traditional ways of life in an historical period of unprecedented
destructive potential. We feel that an assertion of indigenous land management
knowledge and philosophy has much to offer the non-tribal world. Recognition
of this alternative of responsibility to all creatures and to future generations
becomes increasingly necessary as the issues of sustaining humankind as
one of the many species sharing life on this earth assumes global proportions.
Leaf Hillman is the Director of the Karuk Tribe's Natural Resource Department which he founded in 1988. Leaf is a hereditary owner of the White Deerskin dance. Contact address: Karuk Tribe, Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 22, Orleans, California 95556, USA.John Salter is Karuk Tribal Anthropologist and has worked with the Karuk people and the Tribe since 1968. He knows the value of education and college degrees as he has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he studied with Gregory Bateson. Contact address: Box 510, Forks of Salmon, California 96031, USA.