Northwest Tribes United With Southeast Alaska Tribes to Protect the Tongass

Op-Ed by Terri Parr, Executive Director, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest IndiansJan 27, 2020

The United States government is proposing to remove protections from nearly 10 million acres of critical national forest land in the state of Alaska. This rollback in important environmental safeguards threatens the food security and livelihoods of Southeast Alaska Tribal residents whose sovereign lands are nearby, impacts some of the world’s last remaining old-growth forests, and imperils efforts to grow a sustainable tourism industry. During our annual winter convention in October of 2017, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) passed a resolution calling on the Forest Service to fully protect designated roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest, our country’s largest national forest.

On October 17, 2019, the Forest Service, housed within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommended removing all currently protected roadless areas in the Tongass in its upcoming draft management plan. This initiated a 60-day public comment period that ended on December 17. Over a dozen Southeast Alaskan Tribal governments and many more individuals, from the Craig Tribal Association to the Organized Village of Kasaan and others, have spoken out in opposition to this plan. One of these Tribal leaders, Joel Jackson, President of the Organized Village of Kake, a federally recognized tribal government, has taken a stand against the U.S. Forest Service and brought the plight of his home, the Tongass National Forest, to our attention.

ATNI is a 65-year old nonprofit organization representing over 50 Northwest Tribal governments from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Southeast Alaska, Northern California and Montana. As an inter-Tribal, advocacy organization we are dedicated to promoting and protecting Tribal self-determination and sovereignty. Our purpose is to provide a forum for sharing information, discussing a range of issues that impact across the Tribes, and using our collective voices to pass resolutions on policy matters.

In passing our resolution on the Tongass National Forest, ATNI is fulfilling what we were created to do: supporting local tribes in Southeast Alaska in the fight to protect traditional homelands and way of life. ATNI recognizes that the pristine nature of the Tongass forests are integral to and inseparable from the cultural traditions and subsistence of local Tribal entities. Accordingly, we urged the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to “select the ‘no-action alternative’ as the preferred alternative in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska – Roadless Rulemaking process,” to maintain current protections for many Southeast Tribes’ customary and traditional use areas.

The Forest Service’s proposed removal of protections for 9.5 million acres would open some of the world’s last remaining old growth to logging that would impact local Tribes’ customary uses of these lands. President Jackson and other Tribal leaders in the area have told Alaska Senator Murkowski this, have presented at a U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, and testified during Forest Service hearings.

It’s clear that the only corporate special interests would gain from the removal of forest protections would be the timber industry which, using taxpayer subsidies, would immediately move to clear cut our traditional homelands. As Joel stated at our convention when he presented this information to us,

“we depend on our forests and salmon streams to sustain us, and logging threatens those streams. Our traditional hunting and fishing practices are critical because they put food on our tables.”

The Forest Service itself seems to agree that logging endangers salmon streams. In a Jan 28, 2018 Tweet, the Forest Service stated “past logging activities on the Sitka Island of Alaska damaged the intact salmon stream habitat” and announced a new program to restore the damaged watershed and improve salmon production. Additionally, over 200 commercial and recreational fishermen and fisherwomen in Alaska recently added their names to a letter to the Forest Service making the same point and urging roadless protections for the Tongass National Forest remain in place.

Let’s listen to what Tribes, fishermen and fisherwomen, and many others in Southeast Alaska are saying. We have a very limited time left to ensure the U.S. Forest Service doesn’t allow clear cut logging on some of our last remaining pristine lands. Tongass roadless protections are an integral part of the identity of local Tribes and should be protected as once they are gone, they are gone forever.

Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Northwest tribal leaders stand together to protect the environment

Northwest tribes call on federal government to respect tribal opposition to controversial environmental decisions that impact traditional lands

News Release

Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians

On January 30, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) concluded their successful Winter Convention.

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians’ Winter Convention is one of the largest Pacific Northwest regional convening of tribal leaders from across Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, Northern California and Montana. Tribal leaders engage in policy and legislative discussions, share emerging trends on critical issues facing tribal communities, and work collaboratively on committees to develop positions on policy, legislation, and help frame the future of Indian Country in the Northwest. 

A wide array of pressing issues were discussed this Convention ranging from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic to fighting climate change but a clear theme emerged: the United States Government needs to respect and hear tribal voices that are working so hard to protect their people and their traditional lands and waters. 

With the Trump administration’s recent rollback of protections to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), tribal leaders are increasingly concerned and, therefore, unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Council on Environmental Quality to consult with tribes on the regulatory proposal to change important regulations under the Environmental Policy Act. 

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) has become a leading voice for environmental protection for Indian Country nationwide and is a strong voice in support of Alaska tribes that are fighting efforts to remove environmental protections in Alaska, especially in areas like Bristol Bay whose waters and salmon are an integral part of Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians members’ traditional ways of life. 

“We are so thankful that the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians are standing with the people of Bristol Bay as fellow salmon people. We are doing everything we can to protect our people’s way of life,” said Alannah Hurley (Yup’ik), United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “The fact that Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and other nations across the U.S. are standing with us, makes a very big difference. This is a really big year for us. The Corps is talking about getting a permit decision out in 2020, so our unity and cooperation is paramount in the work we are doing.” 

At the convention, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians members also reiterated their support for the Alaska tribes fighting U.S. Government efforts to remove protections for 9.5 million acres of the Tongass National Forest. In October 2019, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians passed a formal resolution calling on the Forest Service to fully protect designated roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest, our country’s largest national forest. As the Federal Government seems content to ignore the concerns of tribes and the impact that widespread logging of the Tongass would have on traditional hunting and fishing grounds, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians felt it important to reaffirm their solidarity with Alaska tribes. 

“We fully support the Organized Village of Kake and tribes of Southeast Alaska that are advocating against removal of protections for the Tongass,” said Catherine Edwards, 6th Vice President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. “We urge the U.S. Forest Service to listen and have meaningful consultations with tribal leaders. The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska have strongly opposed the Forest Service’s handling of the tribal consultation process with tribal villages across Southeast Alaska. They should be the ones to determine what happens to their forests since this is their ancestral lands and they’ve been there since time immemorial.” 

As the original stewards of the Pacific Northwest since time immemorial, tribes and tribal leaders need the Federal Government to work in good faith and engage in meaningful consultation with tribes to ensure that our future generations will continue to benefit from these lands. 

About Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians  

In 1953 farsighted tribal leaders in the Northwest formed the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and dedicated it to tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Today, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians is a nonprofit organization representing over 50 Northwest tribal governments from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, Northern California, and Western Montana. Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians is an organization whose foundation is composed of the people it is meant to serve — the Indian peoples. Through its conferences, forums, networks and alliances, it is the intent of Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians to represent and advocate for the interests of its member tribes to national Indian and non-Indian organizations and governments.

International Research Experience for Students

Attention: undergraduates in geoscience (or allied) disciplines

Please consider applying for our National Science Foundation-funded International Research Experiences for Students program “Landscapes of Deep Time in the Red Earth of France— Research Training in Paleoclimate”

This program is particularly focused on recruiting undergraduates from under-represented groups. We especially encourage applications from students of Native American heritage. We also encourage applications from those who are first-generation college students.

For details about the program and how to apply, visit