Sweetgrass, a sacred plant used in healing rituals, is also raw material for basket-weaving. Indians may soon be able to remove such plants from National Parks for spiritual and cultural purposes.

National Parks Service Proposal Would Allow Natives to Take Plants and Minerals

ICTMN Staff
7/27/11

According to Phil Taylor of Greenwire, in an article posted to NYTimes.com, the National Park Service may soon recommend a change in its rules that would allow American Indians to remove plants, plant parts and minerals from park lands for traditional purposes. Since the Regan era, such practices have been against the law.

A document (click here to download it in PDF format) outlining the proposed changes, stamped "confidential," was obtained by Greenwire. Its summary section reads, in part:

The agreements would facilitate continuation of tribal cultural traditions on ancestral lands that now are included within units of the National Park System without impairing park resources. The proposed rule respects tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the tribes and would provide system-wide consistency to this aspect of NPS-tribal relations. The proposed rule would provide opportunities for tribal youth, the NPS, and the public to understand tribal traditions, without compromising park values or significantly altering strategies for park management.

The document defines "traditional purposes" as "customary activities and practices rooted in the history of an Indian tribe that are important to the continuation of that tribe's distinct culture."

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, opposes the idea. He told Greenwire that, "in essence, it's going to be up to the tribes to decide what they consider a traditional use." He envisioned a scenario in which tribes could use commercial harvesting methods on Parks Service lands if the plants or minerals were to be used for traditional handicrafts.

Ruch also said that allowing Indians to use the park lands in a different way than the general public would violate a founding principle of the National Park Service, that parks should be maintained for "the common benefit of all the people of the United States."

The text of the document, though, takes the opposite view. "[T]raditional gathering," it reads, "when done with traditional methods and in traditionally established quantities, helps to conserve plant communities and supports the NPS conclusion that cooperation with Indian tribes in the management of plant and mineral resources is consistent with the preservation of national park lands for all American people."

NPS spokesman Jeffrey Olson told Greenwire that there is not a timeline for releasing an official draft of the proposed rule.

The new rule, if adopted, would not change NPS prohibitions on removing fish and wildlife from national parks.

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