Three Questions for the Big Stage: A Conversation with Panelists Dawn Blake, Serra Hoagland, and Nisogaabokwe Melonee Montano

By Amy Juliana

The plenaries at SAF National Convention excite and re-ignite attendees’ spirits about being forestry and natural resource professionals—jolting us to learn, grow, inform, and influence as a professional community. This year’s plenary speakers will fulfill attendees’ diverse learning preferences and enrich the continuing education experience of convention. In this three-part blog series, you will read first-hand accounts from our plenary speakers about the plans for their presentations and thoughts on the sector. 

Our final plenary “Moving beyond 'Traditional:' Indigenizing Forestry at its Roots” will be hosted on Friday, October 27 at 1:15 pm.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) has recently been gaining attention throughout the world. However, local indigenous communities and the knowledges they hold have been in existence and evolving since time immemorial. Panelists Dawn Blake, Dr. Serra Hoagland, and Nisogaabokwe Montano will discuss cultural and ecological significance of fire on landscapes, indigenizing forest management, building inclusive collaborations with indigenous partners, and respecting and valuing indigenous knowledges. 

1. SAF: "What is the best resource for people who want to dive deeper into this topic?"

Blake: The Indian Forest Management Assessment document is a good resource. It’s a compilation of goals, trends and issues that Tribes throughout the country are embarking on and facing. I was quite surprised in my participation that my shared perspectives were not dissimilar to those of other forest managers. In addition, the Karuk Tribe as a Tribe has embarked on compelling projects that juxtapose food sovereignty to forest management, which are inextricably linked.

Hoagland: Check out the independent, congressionally mandated, Indian Forest Management Assessment Team (IFMAT) IV report on the Intertribal Timber Council webpage that provides specific findings and recommendations on the status of tribal forests and forest management in the United States. Folks can also check out our recent contributed volume entitled Wildlife Stewardship on Tribal Lands, which is a great resource for people to learn more about how tribes are managing their wildlife today. Lastly, several Journal of Forestry articles including our recent Assessment of Tribal Research Needs (Dockry et al.) and our special issue on tribal forest management featuring more than 2 dozen articles focusing on tribal forest management may be of interest. 
Montano: There are several wonderful books, guides, webinars, groups, etc. that are out there. To name a few:

Tools: Climate Change Tribal Adaptation Menu. I was a co-author on this resource and a co-facilitator of workshops.
Books: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Social Forestry: Tending the Land as People of Place by Tomi Hazel Vaarde with a foreword by Starhawk
Webinars: Webinar Series: "Incorporating Indigenous Knowledges into Federal Research and Management."
Podcasts: The Native Seed Pod - Ep 22 TEK Warriors and The Water We Swim In - Ep “Fire, Blueberries, and Treaty Rights.
2. SAF: "What advice do you have for decision makers?"

Blake: The advice that I have for decision makers is to build relationships. I see that happening, but as an analogy just as it’s important to have a relationship to the Forest to properly care for it, that relationship to Tribes and people is also important. Although Tribes have a similar plight, there is not a one size fits all solution to address Tribe needs. There must be some flexibility, and understanding those nuances comes from relating. 

Hoagland: Get to know the real history of the United States and the consequences it has had on American Indians historically and today. Our collective history (in terms of broken treaties, mismanagement of trust assets, land acquisitions, severe underrepresentation and colonization) creates immense challenges for the future of Indian Country but there is a unique model to how tribes are managing their natural resources that we can learn from. 

Montano: To create and hold space for Indigenous voices and when subjects such as natural resources and forestry are being discussed, especially when major decisions are being made that can impact tribal people, invite tribes to the table. Also, that the time should start now when it comes to engaging in conversations with tribal people and understanding TEK, Treaty Rights, sovereignty, government to government obligations and related policies. 

3. SAF: "What do you want the audience to walk away with after your presentation?" 

I would like the audience to know that forests and habitats in California are managed for the use and benefit of the forest products that natives are in relationship with, and that differs slightly for every Tribe. The lack of management in the last century has been devastating to the species of plants and animals that evolved with fire. Natives, because of their management are a part of the ecosystem, and the imbalance that we are currently witnessing is because that role has been removed. 

Hoagland: I hope audience members will consider how they can 1) de-colonize their forestry work, 2) increase American Indian and Alaskan Native representation in natural resource management decision making, and 3) think critically about the 7th generation principle while supporting efforts that amplify and strengthen tribal self-determination.  

Montano: Same answer as question two. 

Krause (Moderator): As the moderator for this session, I hope that the audience walks away with the ability to internally reflect upon their view of diversity in natural resources. I want folks to walk away pondering how we can do better, wondering why including Traditional Ecological Knowledge into our forestry and fire practices hasn't been taking place with white foresters for years. I hope the audience asks themselves "why haven't we been doing this all along?" and I urge each and every forester in the room to come up with the next step they can take to incorporate TEK into their work before they leave the room. 
Save the date for our “Moving beyond "Traditional": Indigenizing Forestry at its Roots?” panel discussion at the 2023 SAF National Convention Friday, October 27 from 1:15–3 p.m. The awards ceremony will begin our presentation followed by the panel.

For more details, visit our plenary webpage

About the Panelists

Dawn Blake, Forestry Department Director for the Yurok Tribe 

Dawn Blake is an enrolled Hoopa Tribal member and Yurok descendent. Blake is the Forestry Department Director for the Yurok Tribe and serves on the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. She has an MS in natural resources and 20 years of real-world experience in land administration, fire prevention, and forest restoration, ranging from wildlife research to cultural burning. Blake is well-versed in all aspects of traditional and western forest management. As the Yurok Forestry Director, she manages more than 70,000 acres of Yurok-owned forest. These forests are managed for maximum biological diversity, climate change resilience and for the benefit of current and future generations of Yurok people. Blake oversees the Tribe’s 15,000-acre Old-Growth Forest and Salmon Sanctuary on Blue Creek. The Tribe is restoring the forest surrounding this vital Klamath River tributary back into an uneven aged trajectory. Blake also administers sustainable and selective timber harvest and thinning operations on tribal lands. 

Dr. Serra Hoagland, USDA Rocky Mountain Research Station

Dr. Serra Hoagland (Laguna Pueblo) currently serves as the Tribal Relations Specialist for the USDA Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) of the USDA Forest Service. She focuses on building local, regional, and national partnerships with tribes and intertribal organizations, mentoring students in natural resources, and conducting research that is relevant to Native communities. Hoagland recently detailed as the National Program Lead for Tribal Research for the USFS as well as with region 4 as the Regional Tribal Relations Program Manager. Prior to joining the RMRS, Hoagland worked as a Biological Scientist and as the Tribal Relations co-point of contact for the Southern Research Station in Asheville, North Carolina. Hoagland began her Forest Service career working on the Lincoln National Forest in 2010 as a SCEP wildlife biologist trainee. As the first Native American to graduate from Northern Arizona University with a PhD in forestry, Hoagland studied Mexican spotted owl habitat on tribal and non-tribal lands in south-central New Mexico. In 2020, she was nominated for a professional of the year award and was selected as the most promising scientist by the American Indian Science & Engineering Society. Over the years, Hoagland has been actively involved with the Society of American Foresters, the Intertribal Timber Council, the Native American Fish & Wildlife Society as well as The Wildlife Society.

Nisogaabokwe Melonee Montano, Great Lake Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission

Nisogaabokwe – Melonee Montano, is a mother, grandmother, and an enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Outreach Specialist for Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) where she helps assess climate change impacts on treaty resources and potential threats to Ojibwe culture and lifeways. She is also a graduate student at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in the Natural Resources Science & Management Program under the Forestry Department. Prior to GLIFWC she was Red Cliff’s Environmental Programs Manager where she has also served on various committees including EPA’s Regional Tribal Operations Committee, Alliance for Sustainability, Treaty Natural Resources, the Integrated Resources Management Plan, and is currently serving on the Great Lakes Compact Commission. She holds a BS degree in Healthcare Administration with a Native American and Environmental Studies emphasis. Lastly and most importantly, she is a lifelong student of her cultural ways.

Amy Juliana is the Science and Technology Manager at SAF. For more information about the science and technical program, email [email protected]