Indian country encompasses some of the most important and untrammeled land left in the country. More than 100 million acres, stewarded by people who understand the value of their natural heritage with the land.
|Penobscot Indian Nation Elder Butch Phillips performs a traditional smudging ceremony for purification before the July breaching of the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine. Credit: Meagan Racey/USFWS|
But even 100 million acres isn’t enough, if they are fragmented and separated from the lands around them. Wildlife doesn’t recognize the boundaries of federal, state, Tribal or private lands. We can’t either.
We are celebrating Native American Heritage Month in November, and Native Americans must be part of the conservation decision-making. They deserve no less, and the stakes -– the very future of the wild things and wild places we all hold dear -– are too great not to welcome a key partner to the table.
In 2013, I asked our programs and regions to develop innovative ways we can work with Tribes. And the Service put $1 million to begin this venture.
We are working to rewrite the Native American Policy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so we partnered with a highly respected council of Tribal representatives to guide us. The new policy will help guide and promote better working relationships with Native American Tribes and Alaska Natives.
Earlier this year, we awarded $4 million in Tribal Wildlife Grants to 23 Tribes in 14 states. Through this program, more than $60 million has provided support for more than 360 conservation projects administered by participating federally recognized Tribes.