Published On: Fri, Jul 20th, 2018

Park in comment phase of sochan gathering agreement

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are one step closer to being able to legally gather sochan in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Officials from the National Park Service NPS) announced on Thursday, July 19 that a proposed agreement between them and the Tribe is entering the comment phase.

The NPS approved changes to 36 CFR Part 2 (Gathering of Certain Plants or Parts by Federally Recognized Tribes for Traditional Purposes) in late June 2016.  Tribes must enter into agreements with the NPS and must have a “traditional association to lands within the national park and the plants must be gathered only for traditional purposes”.

Park officials released a statement on Thursday stating, “The Plant Gathering Rule authorizes agreements between the National Park Service and tribes to facilitate continuation of tribal cultural practices in national parks where those practices traditionally occurred.  The proposed agreement would establish a management framework for sustainable gathering of sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata) by EBCI members for traditional purposes.”

An Environmental Assessment (EA) with a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) is required for this process.  In their statement, Park officials noted, “As an integral part of the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act compliance processes, the park is asking for public input on matters related to the proposed action, environmental issues, potential alternatives, and sources of data that should be considered.”

Public comment is now being sought until Friday, Aug. 17.  Comments can be made online by visiting https://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm and following a link entitled “Sochan Gathering for Traditional Purposes” or by mailing them to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Attention: Environmental Planning and Compliance, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

During an Annual Council meeting last October, Tribal Council allocated funds, not to exceed $68,100, for the costs associated with the Environmental Assessment.  The resolution was submitted by the EBCI Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and states that the funds will be donated to the Friends of the Smokies, a non-profit organization, which shall facilitate the study.

Information from the EBCI Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, submitted to the One Feather earlier this spring, states, “The EA to execute the plant gathering regulation will be conducted over the next year.  During that time, the EBCI Natural Resources Department will also be working on developing the permitting system, monitoring protocols, remedies for noncompliance of a permit, and other key components.  The goal is to begin permitting a set number of EBCI tribal members for sochan gathering in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by next spring (2019).”

Once the federal gathering rule was changed in June 2016, then-NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a statement, “The changes to the gathering rule support continuation of unique cultural traditions of American Indians and support the mission of the National Park Service.  This also respects tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the tribes.”

Former Director Jarvis actually visited Cherokee in 2010 and spoke with various tribal leaders and community members to hear concerns on the issue.  “It became a mission of mine to fix this,” he said in a tribal consultation meeting at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center on July 16, 2010.

Once the study and formal agreement is finalized on the gathering of sochan, the Tribe will seek a similar study and agreement on the gathering of ramps.

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