Environment | National

Native Sun News: Author brings Lakota heritage to stewardship

The following story was written and reported by Clara Caufield, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Richard Sherman. Still image from Richard Sherman - Ethnobotanist / YouTube

'A Collaborative Stewardship of Nature’
Oglala writer wins John Mulvaney International Book Award
By Clara Caufield
Native Sun News Correspondent

RAPID CITY –– A natural resources management system based on traditional Lakota values, developed by Richard Sherman, Cante T’inza (Strong Heart), Oglala from Pine Ridge, has been selected for special honor by Australia. A book he co-authored, Indigenous Peoples and the Collaborative Stewardship of Nature: Knowledge Binds and Institutional Conflicts, received the prestigious John Mulvaney International Book Award from that country in 2011.

The award letter stated: The authors argue persuasively that it is vital to cultural heritage managers recognize the role of Indigenous people in all aspects of their heritage, not just in their ancient sites. The Indigenous author – Richard Sherman, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe – presents an innovative way to achieve such integrated management in his Indigenous Stewardship Model.

For several years in Colorado, Sherman worked with co-authors to produce the award winning book. His partners included: Kathleen Pickering anthropologist.; Jeffery G. Snodgrass, anthropologist, CO; Anne, anthropology, Australia and Henry d. Delcore, Anthropologist, CA.

Sherman, professional wildlife biologist was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation where he also worked for many years as a wildlife biologist. In his opinion, his Lakota heritage and belief system is more important than the award.

“I have been a traditional hunter/gatherer since childhood, a highlight of my career working with the tribal buffalo herd off and on for thirty years,” he noted.

The book is targeted to academics, but is meant for on-the-ground application, the powerful message directed to all concerned about natural resources management.

“My role was to give grass-roots example of a stewardship (natural resource management) model that can work in Indian country” Sherman explained.

The book reflects Native American views: lands and natural resources must be managed for the benefit of all species - “all our relations” - recognizing a cosmic web of interdependency, rather than for the primary economic gain of the human species.

“Lakota believe in a natural world imbued with wakan or power possessed by all animals and inanimate objects. This force also guides human actions and if violated has the potential to be harmful”, Sherman wrote. He explained that this view is common among native peoples throughout the world, one reason it strongly appeals to the Aboriginal Australians and other land managers in that country.

He knows what he writes about. For 10 years he was the lead wildlife biologist for the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Department and then Executive Director for another five years. During that time he developed the first comprehensive Tribal Fish & Wildlife Code and worked extensively to improve reservation lands, which have in many cases been overgrazed for years.

As he assessed the lands, wildlife and overall condition of his beloved homeland he came to simple conclusion: There must be a better way to manage and conserve limited tribal lands. We can still achieve Wakan, he decided.

“The Lakota emphasis on the extended family system (tiospaye) is a central principal of Reservation life. Generosity is still valued highly today ... sharing food resources among kin, purchased, harvested or gathered, is still operative. Natural resources figure squarely within the idea of self-sufficiency for Lakota households. That vision is not common among many non-Natives,” Sherman concluded.

In developing the Stewardship Model, Sherman tried to balance Lakota ideals with conflicting demands, such as small business, ranching or other economic development on an impoverished reservation. He recognized the limited reservation resource, the external pressures from funding sources such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Badlands National Park (now in control of traditional Lakota homelands), federal and state agencies.

“They propose the answers, but we, the Lakota, have additional objectives,” he remembers. “They rely on science and while we accommodate that, we also must incorporate the beliefs and knowledge from our ancestors. Lakota people still do this all the time. My efforts were to formally acknowledge and record the continuing vitality of our belief system.”

Sovereignty was key, defined as “the right to a clean and healthy environment and the right to manage natural and cultural resources according to the Lakota ideals.” Anthropologists loved it; it has been the subject of considerable academic study and debate and in 2011 won international literary award.

YouTube: Richard Sherman - Ethnobotanist

During his tribal tenure, many of those concepts and practices were incorporated at Pine Ridge, no longer the primary management style after changes in administration.

“That’s what happens in politics,” Sherman sighed.

He explains the concept in layman’s terms.

“We see with our eyes. Picking turnips and using them. Harvesting buffalo and eating them to get back to better health. Harvesting plants such as berries, wild potatoes and teas and using them. Above all, having the land and wildlife resource available our Lakota lands used in our Lakota ways is how it works. It works to keep us sustainable as a people. We remain Lakota people. What we say and what we do matters.”

Sherman is hopeful for other opportunity to apply Stewardship Model principals.

“We as Native people need to share our message with others in key positions of natural resource management. The challenge for Natives and non-native is learning to talk to one another – developing common language about resource management. Lakota people still know and practice traditional stewardship, but we need to share that with a greater audience. The model provides some guidance on how to do that.”

Sherman now lives in Rapid City, working on another book dedicated to traditional foods and plants among the Great Plains Tribes (ethnobotany). He also provides excursions (tours) of the Pine Ridge Reservation, ancestral Sioux lands, plant education and history for a wide audience, including international visitors. Richard Sherman can be reached at rtsherman43@gmail.com.

(Clara Caufield can be reached at acheyennevoice@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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