It was in the early 1990s when the Kaibab National Forest and Hualapai tribe realized that establishing a relationship was important because of shared areas and issues of concern on the forest's Williams and Tusayan ranger districts.
That agreement was officially recognized last month on the Hualapai Reservation in Peach Springs, Ariz., when representatives of each group sat together in an informal round-table setting to sign a Memorandum of Understanding.
Mike Williams, Kaibab National Forest supervisor, and Sherry J. Counts, vice-chairwoman for the Hualapai, signed the MOU, and lunch, smiles and friendly conversation followed the official process.
"We're relieved that it's all done, and I'm satisfied we were able to complete the process successfully," said John Hanson, the recently retired forest archaeologist of the Kaibab. "It puts into writing all we've done with the Hualapai."
It's been almost a decade since the Kaibab and Hualapai began working on the MOU, which outlines specific issues they will converse with one another about, such as land boundaries, use of resources, projects and sensitivity to the traditions and sacred areas of the Hualapai.
Between 1992 and 1993, Hanson, along with other archaeologists, worked with the Hualapai regarding human remains found in an earlier archaeological dig around Bill Williams Mountain. The Kaibab consulted with the tribe and resolved to rebury the remains in the area where they were excavated.
In opening remarks prior to the signing, Loretta Jackson-Kelly, the tribal historic preservation officer, noted the human remains incident as the beginning of the relationship with the Kaibab that helped lead to the MOU.
"It formalizes the relationship between the Kaibab National Forest and tribe and our respect for each other," Jackson-Kelly said. "That says a lot because it ensures protection for both parties on conversations that will arise while working together on these projects."
Michael Lyndon, a Kaibab National Forest archaeologist and acting tribal liaison, said the MOU will allow the Kaibab to focus on what's important to the tribe instead of consulting on every issue.
"Instead of bombarding the tribe about everything on the forest, we'll focus on the cultural resources and archaeological sites the tribe is affiliated with," Lyndon said.
Even though the Kaibab's land is not part of the Hualapai Reservation, the historical and sacred connection it has with the tribe, as well as several others, has raised issues on how the land is treated, how sacred areas are preserved and the partnership the Forest Service has with each tribe.
Signing an MOU with each of the seven tribes associated with Kaibab National Forest land is a long-term goal, Lyndon said. So far, MOUs have been signed with the Cameron Chapter of the Navajo Nation in 1998, the Hopi in 1999, the Havasupai in 2001 and now the Hualapai in 2007.
Consulting with Native American tribes is not new for the Forest Service or the Kaibab National Forest.
The attitude of everyone present regarding the MOU signing was not one of completion of a task but one of continuance of an established relationship between the Kaibab and Hualapai.
Erin Forrest, director of public works for the tribe, said he was glad to see the issues of the tribe officially recognized and that there is sensitivity to tribal members' beliefs.
"This is a good day to do the things we are doing," Forrest said.