SUPAI VILLAGE — Kaibab National Forest and the Havasupai Tribe took a big step forward last week by signing an agreement to strengthen the relationship between those two agencies.
Corey Wong, Kaibab National Forest’s acting supervisor, left, signs an agreement with Havasupai Tribe chairman Augustine Hanna Friday. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Denk/KNF)
A memorandum of understanding was signed Friday at Supai Village by Kaibab’s acting forest supervisor Corey Wong and Havasupai Tribe chairman Augustine Hanna.
"This agreement demonstrates our commitment to continuing the trusting and respectful relationship we have developed with the Havasupai," Wong said. "The Kaibab National Forest greatly values the relationships that we have built with our tribal neighbors."
The tribe has not always had a productive relationship with its federal neighbors. Various issues have caused friction over the years, especially the construction of Canyon Mine in the mid-1980s.
"One of the reasons we worked so diligently on this … is because we had a rocky relationship in the past," forest archaeologist John Hanson said. "We wanted our relationship to continue."
Hanson, who has worked with the Havasupai for 15 years, said the Forest Service’s relationship with the tribe has been "very positive" for at least the past decade.
The agreement solidifies a framework for the forest and the Havasupai to consult on issues important to each. Those issues include allowing Havasupai access to natural resources in traditional-use areas on the national forest, ensuring appropriate treatment of discovered human remains and enhancing the exchange of information related to natural resource management.
"It’s bigger than any one issue," said Kaibab public information officer Jackie Denk. "It brings us together and provides us a way to work with the Havasupai on a myriad of issues."
Hanson said issues surrounding heritage, tradition and culture are especially important to the tribe. With the agreement, the Forest Service will consult the tribe on issues affecting areas where the Havasupai hunted and lived generations earlier.
"The most important thing is for us to oversee the aboriginal lands and resources and promote the preservation of those resources," said Roland Manakaja, natural resource director for the Havasupai Tribe.
Kaibab National Forest officials take their responsibility seriously.
"We realize and we’ve been told by the Havasupai and other tribes we work with that we are the current caretakers of the land," Hanson said. "They’ve been taking care of this land long before we got here and will long after we’re gone. We’re interested in sharing those experiences with them."
The Forest Service also has a similar agreement with the Hopi Tribe, as well as a memorandum of understanding with the Cameron chapter of the Navajo Nation.
"We’re looking to conclude agreements with the other tribes we work with," Hanson said.
The agreement with the Hopi Tribe was signed in August 1999. Similar agreements are being developed with the Kaibab-Paiutes, Hualapai and Yavapai. The Forest Service Southwestern Region, located in Albuquerque, N.M., plans to coordinate an agreement with the Navajo Nation, headquartered in Window Rock.
Friday’s signing ceremony took place in the late morning at Supai Gathering Place. Following the signing, Havasupai dance group, the Guardians, performed traditional dances. Smokey Bear was also on hand to visit about 100 kids at the Supai school.