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Earth Notes: Ancient Traditions, Modern Needs

On contemporary maps, tribal peoples in the U.S. are closely identified with particular reservation lands. But long-standing ties to land connect Native tribes with a much broader network of places.

That was evident two summers ago, when land managers for the Kaibab National Forest worked with a group of Hopi elders and youth to restore two cherished spring areas in the forest north of Grand Canyon. The sites, Castle Springs and Big Springs, were suffering from human impacts ranging from graffiti and trash to unregulated and eroding networks of trails.

For a week in midsummer, 18 Hopi youth helped remove old barbed wire and invasive weeds, constructed water catchments, and built a new fence to protect sensitive areas from livestock.

While learning hands-on skills, the project participants also learned about ancestral sites that show how their ancestors used the area. And they connected their hard work with traditions of stewardship that were passed on by the tribal elders who accompanied them.

The week allowed Forest Service staff to improve their management of two valuable wetland sites—which are among the places in southwestern forests that support the greatest populations of plants and animals. And it also showed the Hopi youth that viable career paths exist in stewarding of natural resources.

This cooperative accomplishment has been recognized with a Forest Service Rise to the Future award that will be presented to Hopi and Kaibab National Forest representatives in mid-May. It’s a public reminder that ancient traditions can do a lot to meet modern needs.

Peter Friederici is a writer whose articles, essays, and books focus primarily on connections between humans and their natural surroundings. His most recent book is Beyond Climate Breakdown: Envisioning New Stories of Radical Hope (MIT Press, 2022). He also teaches classes in science communication and sustainable communities at Northern Arizona University.

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