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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Tribe's Forestry Practices Impressive
by Clint Patterson - The Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, TN)
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"Behold, my brothers, the spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our neighbors, even our animal neighbors, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land."— Tatanka Yotanka (Chief Sitting Bull), Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux

I grew up watching Westerns, and often found myself rooting for the Indians. Their supposed way of life — whether living in the pueblos of the Southwest, teepees of the Great Plains, or wigwams and long houses of the Eastern forest — is fascinating to me.

It is difficult to piece together a true picture of American Indians since their history has been interpreted — even romanticized — by the "white man." One aspect of American Indian culture which is inescapable, however, is their respect for the natural world.

As far as I know, there is really only one place in the United States where a tribe managed to continuously keep control of, and actively manage, their ancestral lands from pre-settlement times all the way through to the present day.

This place is the Menominee Indian Reservation in northeast Wisconsin.

The Menominee Indian Reservation provides a case study in what is possible when American Indian philosophy toward managing natural resources is practiced. In fact, the reservation's implementation of sustainable forestry was studied by leading German foresters visiting America. They credited the reservation to be the only successful implementation of "Dauerwald" (Perpetual Forest) management in America.

I have been to the Menominee Reservation and toured their forest management operations.

The impressive forest looks like "old growth," and gives the impression that the forest has never been harvested. However, responsible forest management here has been supporting the tribe for more than 150 years.

According to their oral history, the early chiefs directed the tribe in the following manner: "Start with the rising sun, and work toward the setting sun, but take only the mature trees, the sick trees, and the trees that have fallen. When you reach the end of the reservation, turn and cut from the setting sun to the rising sun and the trees will last forever."

This sounds like pretty good advice to me. But then, I may be a little partial, since I'm part Cherokee myself. My wife has a little more "Indian" in her ancestry, with some Cherokee on one side and Chickasaw on the other. We Americans are a diverse mix — this diversity has given us many wells of knowledge and experience to draw from, including America's first peoples.

Clint Patterson is city forester for the city of Clarksville. He can be reached at 645-7464 or by e-mail at

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