Cedar Stewardship on the Tongass

Cultural Uses of Forest Resources Workshop

For seven years, the Sitka Conservation Society has been collaborating with partners across the region to research and document the cultural value of cedar trees – a cultural and ecological keystone species in the landscape of Southeast Alaska. In 2021, SCS and fellow collaborators in the Sustainable Southeast Partnership put this research into practice by sponsoring a workshop for staff of the U.S. Forest Service on Prince of Wales Island titled ‘Cultural Uses of Forest Resources.’

The Organized Village of Kasaan and the Hydaburg Cooperative Association hosted a two-day workshop for Forest Service timber cruisers and silviculturists. Culture bearers, tribal staff, and youth taught Forest Service employees about the uses that the Lingít, Haida, and Tsimshian people of the region have for the local tree species. Forest Service employees had the chance to partake in many of the cultural activities, a unique opportunity for many of them. They wove cedar bark into headbands with Haida culture bearer Chris Tolson and witnessed the harvesting of cedar bark by Hydaburg community leader Tony Christianson. During the field day, they collaborated with tribal staff to identify and catalog trees on the landscape that would be suitable for totem poles, canoes, and bentwood boxes. This was a shared learning opportunity between people with a deep cultural reverence for cedar trees, and those whose decisions directly impact the future of this ancient resource.

This workshop and the continuing work are addressing the century-long struggle between the Indigenous people of Southeast Alaska and a land management agency that was not originally created to appreciate the broad value that these forest resources have for the original inhabitants of this land. SCS is proud to support this work as the Forest Service begins to implement its new direction outlined in the USDA’s 2021 Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy of “meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations.” We hope that this direction leads to management of this region in a more holistic manner that appreciates the diverse values that the Tongass encapsulates.