FAIRBANKS, Alaska (CN) — Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell on Friday made her fifth and probably last official visit to Alaska to announce a landmark partnership between her agency's land and water managers and the traditional knowledge of Native American tribes.
The Alaska Federation of Natives Convention is the largest annual gathering of Native American representatives in the United States.
Jewell's Oct. 21 secretarial order directs the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Reclamation to integrate traditional tribal ecological knowledge, practices and concerns into management of federal lands, waters and natural resources where there is a connection to tribal communities.
"I will say that traditional ecological knowledge that goes back for millennia is something we can all learn from," Jewell said. "We will be requiring tribal ecological knowledge, practices and concerns be integrated into the management of these lands and waters in the future. Our goal is to enhance land management decision-making to ensure a continued connection between tribal communities and Interior-administered lands."
Jewell reflected fondly on her previous official visits to the Great Land, citing the many places she visited and the jewelry she purchased from Alaska Native artists, including the kuskpuk, made by a Kivalina tribal leader and seamstress, she wore on stage.
"I bought these earrings from an artisan at a studio that the [North Slope] borough had put up for artisans to practice their craft," Jewell said of the polar bear-shaped baubles. "And, yes, they are walrus ivory. I do appreciate that this is an important part of your economy."
Alaska Native ivory carvers worry about declining sales due to public confusion over possession of art made from illegally obtained African elephant ivory and Native Alaskan art made from legally obtained walrus, mammoth and mastodon ivory.
Citing her trip to Alaska last year with President Obama, Jewell said how "profoundly moved" the president was by his conversations with Alaska Natives.
She told reporters the speech that the secretarial order had been in the works for some time, to help carry the partnerships and work already begun into the next administration.
The president's visit called attention to impacts of climate change that already have affected Alaska Native villages such as Newtok and Shishmaref.
"This secretarial order reflects the Obama Administration's deep commitment to strengthen respect between the United States government and Native American and Alaska Native leaders and communities while boosting our efforts to increase tribal self-determination and self-governance," Jewell said.
Jewell also cited the annual Tribal Nations Conference held at the White House all eight years of Obama's presidency. She said the annual conference will continue unless the next president decides otherwise.
Jewell asked the audience to hold the next administration accountable.
"I want to ask that you as Alaska Natives and leaders to use your voices to reinforce the importance of the nation to nation relationship that you have with your government as you have done with us throughout this administration. Let the presidential transition teams know that it is their job to keep this going."
That brought applause.
"Your voices really matter, and I'm not kidding. They really, really matter," Jewell said.
She added: "I will join you on the rabble-rousing side when I'm done with this job, 'cause that's really important" — referring to the integration of traditional tribal knowledge in decision-making and need for it to continue.
During her years as secretary of the interior and chairwoman of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, Jewell said, the Obama Administration helped bring renewable energy partnerships to tribal communities, gave greater representation to Alaska Natives on federal subsistence boards and implemented a final rule to use more flexible criteria to meet subsistence needs of Alaska Native and rural communities.
Jewell concluded by thanking the tribal representatives for the "honor of a lifetime."
Visibly emotional, the secretary said: "You've given me your wisdom and your honesty. You've shared your cultures and traditions openly."
And, she added: "You've got the best jokes."
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